Mr Hugh Woolner

Mr Hugh Woolner was born on 28 September 1866 at 29 Welbeck Street, Marylebone, Middlesex, England, later being baptised on 22 November that same year in St Mary's Church.

He was the son of Thomas Woolner (b. 1826), a sculptor, poet and art-dealer, and Alice Gertrude Waugh (b. 1845), the latter a native of Middlesex; they were married on 6 September 1864. His father hailed from Hadleigh, Suffolk and trained with the sculptor William Behnes, exhibiting work at the Royal Academy from 1843 with his detailed busts and medallions.

Woolner had five siblings: Amy (b. 1865), Geoffrey (1867-1882), Clare (b. 1869), Dorothy (b. 1873) and Phyllis (1875-1960).

Hugh first appears on the 1871 census when he and his family were still residents of 29 Welbeck Street, living among four servants (two nursemaids, one housemaid and one cook). The family were at the same address by the time of the 1881 census but Hugh and his brother Geoffrey were listed as students at Marlborough College, an elite private boarding school in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Geoffrey would die there in 1882 aged just 14 whilst Hugh went on to become a graduate of Cambridge University.

His father later passed away on 7 October 1892, leaving an estate valued at £65,766, 19s, 3d and that same year Hugh began his career with the London stock exchange, later founding the brokerage firm Woolner & Co.

Both the 1901 and 1911 census records show his mother and siblings continuing to reside at 29 Welbeck Street. His mother died here on 9 March 1912, leaving an estate valued at £3445, 0s, 1d of which Hugh was the recipient.

Hugh was married in Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1892 to Mary Simpson (b. 1868), a native of Thurnscoe1, Yorkshire and the couple had five children: Christopher Geoffrey (b. 1893), Juliet (b. 1895), Cynthia Mary (b. 1896), Katherine Amy (b. 1898) and Rosalind Frances (b. 1900).

The 1901 census shows the family living at Ford's Grove, Winchmore, Middlesex and Hugh is described as a stockbroker. He was later widowed on 18 December 1906 when his wife Mary died aged just 38. Hugh is not listed on the 1911 census but his children are shown residing at 10 Glebe Road, Bedford, Bedfordshire and in the care of their maternal great-aunt Mary Frances Alice Sheppard (1859-1943) and their mother's sister Frances Harriet Fleetwood Simpson (1870-1951). By 1912 his home address was 29 Welbeck Street, London and he was a director of various companies.

He boarded Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger (ticket number 19947 which cost £35, 10s) and he occupied cabin C52. Aboard he became acquainted with Helene Churchill Candee and others that be known as "our coterie"; others included Archibald Gracie, Edward Colley, James Clinch Smith and Mauritz Håkan Björnström-Steffansson.

On the night of the sinking Woolner had been in the smoking room at the time of the collision and was sitting with Mr Björnström-Steffansson and Edward Kent, possibly also James Clinch Smith. When the collision occurred Woolner reported that there was no sensation of an impact but that the ship stalled slightly and that the smoking room seemed to twist somewhat. All those present in the room jumped to their feet and hastened to A-deck promenade; whilst there he heard another man exclaim that he had seen an iceberg astern.

Woolner proceeded to try and find Mrs Candee and located her just outside her cabin and suggested that they go for a walk, explaining that something had went amiss but that he did not consider that it was anything serious. They appear to have spent around 10 minutes strolling around the aft end of the promenade deck when they saw people inside walking around with lifebelts on. Enquiring from a steward nearby whether orders had been given to start wearing lifebelts, the steward acknowledged this was the case. Woolner escorted Mrs Candee back to her cabin and assisted her into her lifebelt and went to his own cabin and took the two lifebelts there with him, giving one to a passerby who had none.

He then escorted Mrs Candee to the boat deck; here he saw Captain Smith giving out orders that he wanted all passengers down on A-deck where he intended the lifeboats to be filled from. Woolner approached and saluted him; Woolner had noticed on his ascent to the boat deck that all the windows on the forward promenade deck were closed; during the voyage he had observed crewmen opening and closing these windows which entailed the use of a spanner device and which was reportedly a slow process. The Captain acknowledged this and gave orders for those passengers who had went down to A-deck to return. He waited to see Mrs Candee off in lifeboat 6 before he and Björnström-Steffansson assisted in filling other boats, even descending to A-deck to find more women and escorting three women who were lost. He witnessed Mr and Mrs Strauss at lifeboat 8 with Mrs Strauss refusing to leave her husband; later in the night he encountered them again and said to Mr Strauss "I am sure nobody would object to an old gentleman like you getting in. There seems to be room in this boat." He said: "I will not go before the other men."

Woolner and Björnström-Steffansson watched collapsible D being prepared and filled; he heard a scuffle and pistol shots coming from the starboard side and the two men crossed over and saw a scuffle taking place with men attempting to board collapsible C, preventing a crowd of "foreign" women taking their places. The two men helped pull some male interlopers out of the boat before assisting the nearby women take their seats.

After this Woolner turned to his friend and said "There is nothing more for us to do here," and they made their way down to A-deck which they found to be deserted along the whole length. The overhead lights had begun to glow red and Woolner said to his friend that "This is getting a rather tight corner. I do not like being inside these closed windows." The two men made their way to the door at the forward end of A-deck but upon opening it were met by sea water coming through, covering their feet. Looking out they saw collapsible D being lowered in front of their faces and decided to take their chances, noticing how there was space at the bow of the boat.

Björnström-Steffansson jumped first, tumbling into the bow of the boat; Woolner followed but clumsily misjudged and, hampered by his lifebelt, bounced off the gunwale and fell backwards, finding himself clinging by his fingers to the gunwale and with his legs dangling in the water. He got his right leg onto the gunwale and Björnström-Steffansson assisted in trailing him into the boat; another man was also pulled into the boat just after, possibly Frederick Hoyt. He estimated there were six men and 30 women in the boat, including a "bunch" of children. He ended up sitting beside Mrs Irene Harris, describing her as dressed in a white woollen jacket and nursing her broken elbow. When biscuits were passed around the boat Woolner recalled feeding some to one of the Navratil boys who had woken up crying. 

Following the disaster Woolner was called to testify at the American Inquiry into the disaster. He returned to Britain on 4 June 1912 aboard Lusitania.

Woolner was remarried to Mary Aglaia Dowson, née Ionides (b. 27 Nov 1871) in July 1912. Mary, a native of Kensington, London, had Turkish roots on her father's side2. She had first been married in 1895 to Benjamin Houghton Dowson (b. 1867) and had a daughter Mary Euphrosne (b. 1896). The couple lost their daughter aged 11 in 1908 and the following year they were divorced as a result of Benjamin's infidelity and cruelty. The marriage between Woolner and his new wife produced a son, Alexander Hugh (b. 1914).

Hugh and his family continued to reside in London, principally at 815 Salisbury House. By 1925 his address was 60 Crooms Hill, Greenwich.

Hugh Woolner died on 13 February 1925 whilst in Budapest, Hungary. His estate, valued at £1574, 0s, 10d, was administered to his widow on 10 July that year.

His widow Mary never remarried and remained living in London. She died at Bradley Manor in Newton Abbot, Devon on 26 December 1945.

His son Christopher Geoffrey was commissioned into the Royal Engineers and served in both World Wars, rising to the rank of Major General and becoming a recipient of the Military Cross. He retired in 1947. He was married with one daughter and died in Ashford, Kent on 10 January 1984. His daughter Daphne Mary died in 2013.

Juliet, Woolner's eldest daughter, was married in 1921, becoming Mrs Eric Roberts Greer. She died in Richmond upon Thames, London in 1973.

His daughter Cynthia Mary was married in 1928 to Ronald Frank William Fletcher (1890-1950), an Oxford graduate, lecturer of English literature and chaplain at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and acquaintance of C. S. Lewis. They had a son named Christopher in 1931. Cynthia died in Macclesfield, Cheshire on 4 September 1978.

His daughter Katherine Amy was first married to in 1923 to John Charles Home Stapleton (1885-1937) of Scarborough, a garage manager, and they had a daughter named Bridget in 1925. She was widowed in 1937 and remarried in 1956 to a nephew of her stepmother, Ingram Amyas Ionides (1901-1984), a native of Maldon, Essex. Katherine died in Kent on 9 October 1981.

Woolner's youngest daughter from his first marriage, Rosalind Frances, was married in 1920 to Laurence Henry F. Irving, OBE (1897-1988), an artist, book illustrator, and at one point art director to Douglas Fairbanks. The couple had two children, Pamela and John. Rosalind died in Kent on 14 December 1978.

His youngest son Alexander later served in the Royal Navy. He was married in 1939 to Diana Helen Firth (1908-1999) and had two sons and two daughters: Freda, Alexandra, Thomas and Peter. The family lived in Devon and Alexander passed away there on 25 February 1993.

 

Articles and Stories

ET Comment (2006) 
Toronto Daily Star (1912) 
ET Comment (2006) 
ET Comment (2006) 
Titanica! (2007) 
ET Comment (2006) 
Calgary Herald (1912) 
The Times (1925) 
 

Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Robert L. Bracken, USA
Pat Cook, USA
Michael A, Findlay, USA
Phillip Gowan, USA
Brian Meister, USA

Notes

  1. Born in Thurnscoe in 1868, baptised on 14 August 1868; daughter of Reverend John Curwen Simpson and Frances Maria Sheppard.
  2. Parents: Luke Alexander Ionides (1837-1924), of Constantinople; and Elfrida Elizabeth Bird (1848-1929) of Middlesex.

References and Sources

Death Certificate
The Times (London), 15 Feb 1925, Death Notice
Senate Hearings, 29 April 1912, Testimony
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279])
List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer At Port Of Arrival (Date: 18th-19th June 1912, Ship: Carpathia) - National Archives, NWCTB 85 T715 Vol 4183
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912

Link and cite this biography

(2017) Hugh Woolner Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #322, updated 15th August 2017 08:43:01 AM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/hugh-woolner.html

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