Miss Kate Elizabeth Smith1 was born in the closing months of 18662 in Bredon, a village near the Worcestershire-Gloucestershire borders in England. She was later baptised on 6 January 1868 in Norton, Worcestershire.
She was the daughter of Charles William Smith (b. 1828), a solicitor's clerk, and his wife Harriett, née Evans (b. 1840) who both hailed from Gloucestershire and who had married in Bristol on 23 September 1863. She had two siblings: Emily Jane (b. 1864) and Charles Henry3 (1875-1932).
The 1881 census shows Kate and her family living at Pitchcombe, Brookthorpe, Gloucestershire and they would they would be in the same locale by the time of the 1891 census. By the time of the latter census Kate was described as unemployed whilst her father was living on his own account. Her father died on 8 July 1897 aged 69 whilst they were residents of 2 Fair View Villas on Bath Road in Stroud.
Kate, her mother and brother were listed on the 1901 census living at Slad Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire; her profession was not stated but what is known is that she had already commenced a career at sea. Her first sea voyage was in 1893 when she was a passenger on the Vancouver of the Dominion Line and where she was in charge of immigrant children en route to Canada who were under the care of Painswick, Gloucestershire philanthropist Harriett Wemyss. Miss Smith found that voyage so agreeable that she decided to commence her own career at sea and joined the Cunard line shortly after.
Kate was shown on numerous voyages aboard Cunard's Lucania between April 1898 and June 1899 when she was earning £4 per month as a stewardess and for the most part gave her address as 104 (on later voyages 98) Upper Hill Street. By June 1900 she was a stewardess aboard Ivernia and gave her address as Hawthorne Villa, Slad Road, Stroud.
Miss Smith's stint with Cunard was followed by working for the American Steamship Company and the White Star Line. Among the estimated sixteen vessels Miss Smith served aboard up to 1912 were: Servia, Umbria, Lucania, Ivernia, St Louis, St Paul and Olympic.
A veteran of sea disasters, Kate was aboard Olympic at the time of its collision with the HMS Hawke in 1911, reportedly only leaving the area of damage minutes before impact. On 25 April 1908 she was aboard the St Paul when, in adverse weather conditions, she collided with HMS Gladiator, a Royal Navy cruiser.
Kate would be absent from the 1911 census but her by-then-married brother Charles and his wife, Edith were listed as living at 55 Slad Road, Stroud with their widowed mother Harriett and he was described as a post office clerk.
When she signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912 Kate gave her address as Balmoral, Cebbett Road, Southampton. Her previous ship had been the Olympic and as a stewardess she received monthly wages of £3, 10s. It appears that whilst aboard she shared a cabin with stewardess Alice Prichard.
Kate was rescued but it is not currently known in which lifeboat (lifeboat 11 contained several other stewardesses and is a possibility); an interview conducted with Miss Smith and Mrs Prichard points to them being rescued together:
Mrs M. Pritchard (sic) and Miss Kate Smith, two of the Titanic’s stewardesses who have been rescued, describing the scene of the wreck said: “We had retired when the crash came, and did not believe there was any trouble.” Miss Smith added: “Some of us returned to bed, but were soon aroused by a second call of danger. We were fairly hurled into the lifeboats and rowed away. What followed was the most horrible sight I have ever witness. There were women and children screaming for help. The water was filled with human beings, and the deck was covered with persons bravely facing their end. — The Evening Chronicle, 20 April 1912
Her brother Charles, known as Harry, received a telegram confirming her survival on 19 April 1912.
Kate returned to working at sea and up until April 1914 had been a stewardess aboard Olympic when she was suspended for “a slight breach of the regulations”. Expecting to return to work aboard Olympic, in June 1914 Kate found herself hauled before the magistrate court, accused of stealing a £5 note from a Mrs Prangnell, a shopkeeper from Eastleigh. For this offence she was placed on probation for six months.
On 18 December 1914 Miss Smith arrived in New York via Liverpool aboard Cameronia; this time travelling as a passenger she stated no profession and gave her age as 39 (she was in fact 47) and listed her next of kin as her brother Harry. Headed to 72 West 124th Street, New York, she was described as standing at 5' 6" and with brown hair and eyes and a dark complexion. It is evident that she eventually returned to England and continued working at sea for a period, until at least the early 1920s.
Kate’s activities in the following years remain obscure; she and her sister Emily were still active in July 1932 when they were mourners at the funeral of their brother Charles. Their mother lived to the grand age of 94 and died in September 1934.
Whilst Kate’s later movements are ambiguous, there are indications she remained in Stroud for a period; she apparently spent her final days at The Elms, a workhouse on Swindon Road in Cheltenham, but whether she was an employee or inmate is not clear.
Kate Elizabeth Smith, a late resident of The Elms, died aged 81 on 26 September 1947. She was interred on 1 October 1947 at St John the Baptist Church graveyard in Pitchcombe, Gloucester in a family grave where her parents are also buried. She is commemorated on their headstone.
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