Miss Mary Ann Charlotte Davis

Mary Davis

Miss Mary Ann Charlotte Davis was born on Park Place in Southwark, London, England on 18 May 1883, later being baptised on 10 June that same year in St Saviour's Church.

She was the daughter Henry Davis (b. 1855), a general labourer and later a carman, and Eliza Gill (b. 1853), both native Londoners who were married in 1876, and she was one of seven surviving children from a total of eight. Her siblings were: Henry (b. 1877), Eliza (b. 1879), William (b. 1881), Maud (b. 1886), Nellie Elizabeth (b. 1888), Frederick Thomas (b. 1890) and Alice (b. 1894).

Mary first appears on the 1891 census living with her family at 1 Cooke Buildings, St George's, London and would still be at this address by the time of the 1901 census and was then described as a domestic servant. Her parents were listed on the 1911 census living at 29 Fleet Lane, Old Bailey, London but Mary was not present and her precise abode at this time is unclear although she is known to have been living and working in London as a domestic cook for wealthy families. She later recounted working for a "titled lady" who ran a home with 22 servants, including an Italian cook with whom she did not get along with.

Mary decided to emigrate to New York where she had several siblings. She boarded the Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912 as a second class passenger (ticket number 237668 which cost £13). Whilst aboard she shared a cabin with an elderly nurse, Lucy Ridsdale.

Speaking of the night of the sinking, following her awakening by a steward: "I threw a coat on over my nightgown and put on some shoes. Then I gathered up a few trinkets, and things my parents had given me." She then began making her way up to the boat deck, assisting her cabin mate Lucy Ridsdale who was afflicted with a club foot. On the way a sailor ran by, hitting Mary painfully in the shoulder with his life jacket. It was then she realised she and Miss Ridsdale were not wearing any so she retreated back to her cabin to fetch them, leaving Miss Ridsdale to carry on. By the time she reached the boat deck Lucy was already in a lifeboat (possibly boat 14) which was beginning its descent. An overzealous crewman saw her and threw her into the boat, already a few feet down, and she landed awkwardly in the bottom of the boat, striking her knees painfully.

Whilst aboard the lifeboat she recalled hearing Nearer my God to Thee and how the occupants of her boat sang Pull for the Shore, Sailors to drown out the sound.

She also recalled helping a poor steerage woman with her two small children. For most of the night, she held one of the children while its mother cared for the other (this may refer to Agnes Sandström and her children Marguerite and Beatrice).

Arriving in New York aboard Carpathia, Mary was met by her sister and brother-in-law. She did not remain in New York long and returned to England but returned to the USA shortly after.

She was soon married to John Archibald Wilburn (b. 31 January 1891), a painter and decorator and native of Tottenville, Staten Island, New York. Their only child, a son named Carl, was born on 16 July 1915. Her husband later served in the American Navy during WWI and he ran a hardware store in his native Tottenville before becoming a machine operator. The family appear on the 1925 census living in Richmond, New York and Miami, Florida by the time of the 1930 census. By 1940 they were back in New York and living in Syracuse. Mary was an active Red Cross Volunteer for many years and became a widow when her husband died on 23 April 1972. She then entered a nursing home in Syracuse, the Loretto Geriatric Centre, but remained surprisingly bright even for her advanced years and continued to give interviews for interested Titanic enthusiasts and newspapers by the time she was over 100-years. By the time the wreck of the Titanic was discovered in 1985 she was 102 years old. Even to the end she retained her native London accent and was described by all who met her as a very pleasant lady.

Mary Davis Wilburn

Visiting Mary Davis Wilburn in 1985
(Courtesy of Frederick Rueckert)

Mary died at the Community-General Hospital, Syracuse on 29 July 1987 aged 104 years, 2 months and 11 days. As a Titanic survivor she became the one to hold the record for longevity of life and she was one of only five survivors who became centenarians, the others being Edwina Troutt Mackenzie (100), Edith Brown Haisman (100), Ellen Shine Callaghan (101) and Marjorie Newell Robb (103).

Mary was buried with her husband in White Chapel Memory Gardens in DeWitt, Onondaga, New York. Her son Carl was married to a lady named Anna Possenti (1914-2006) and had one son and one daughter, Carol and Robert. He lived in Syracuse and died on 9 November 1994.

Pictures

Visiting Mary Davis (1)
(1986) 
VISITING MARY DAVIS (1)
Visiting Mary Davis
(1985) 
VISITING MARY DAVIS
Mary Ann Charlotte Davis
MARY ANN CHARLOTTE DAVIS
Mary Davis
MARY DAVIS
 

Articles and Stories

Syracuse Herald-Journal (1987) 
Unidentified Newspaper (1987) 
Evening Star (Washington DC) (1912) 
Staten Islander (1912) 
Perth Amboy Evening News (1912) 
 

Videos

Video Interview with Mary Davis Wilburn
 

Comment and discuss

  1. Jillynn Grow said:

    Well I have temporaily/permenently given up on my mrs. j.j. astor charater in the exhibition I work at. Because the other day I found mary davis in the Woman And Children First book. I was so taken with her kind and friendly nature I starde protraying her yesterday. But more subsantuial information and stories would be most helpful,or more storie from lifeboat 13. Also I have heard may version of what happened when she was thrown in the lifeboat. All help would be most apperecated. Thanks, Jillynn

  2. Mikael Jonsson said:

    Hi. Did any of you meet Mary Davis? I found an article about her on She said that she is sure the band played "Nearer My good to thee" "Until the end, she recalled, the ship's orchestra continued to play "Nearer My God to Thee." "I can hear it like it was being played now," she added. She also said that she saw William Murdoch shoot himself as you can read here:... Read full post

  3. Michael Findlay said:

    Dear Mikael, I never met Mary Davis Wilburn but I did speak with her on the telephone once in 1985. She was 102-years-old then. Unfortunately, her advanced age prevented her from answering many of my questions in great detail, but she did relate what she could remember about the sinking and was happy to do so. A friend of mine, Fred Rueckert, was a friend of Mrs. Wilburn's and visited her on several occasions before her death in 1987. He has many pictures of her, as well as an audio tape of her recollections. I would be happy to put you in touch with him if you would like to... Read full post

  4. Frederick Rueckert said:

    Hi Mikael, I interviewed Mrs. Wilburn in the late 80's. She was a very humble woman. If you have any questions I would be happy to help you out. Fred

  5. Mikael Jonsson said:

    Thank you Michael for your interesting reply and thank you for helping me contact your friend. best regards. Mikael

  6. Carol Anne Robinson said:

    Hello, as I recently just registered I haven't had time to introduce myself yet but was just browsing and came upon info regarding Mary Davis. My name is Carol A. Wilburn Robinson, and I am the only granddaughter of Mary's. I grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., born and raised in a 2-family home with my grandparents living upstairs. So as you can imagine I heard the Titanic story hundreds of times. I also have one brother, Robert, the only grandson. I due recall many times she mentioned hearing the song "Nearer My God to Thee." But never heard her mention witnessing William Murdoch shooting himself... Read full post

  7. Kelley Regester said:

    Lucy Ridsdale was my Gt Gt Gt cousin on my mothers side of our family. I delighted in the fact that Mary remembered her so well and wish i could have met her to ask just what Lucy was like.Mary's kindness towards Lucy probably contributed to her survival and my family will be forever greatful.

  8. Carol Anne Robinson said:

    Hello Kelley, I see by your recent post we have alot in common. To think that your cousin and my grandmother were roommates on the Titanic is amazing. I remember my grandmother mentioning switching berths with Lucy and the turmoil of leaving the ship. And with as many conversations I'm sure they had I don't recall anything personal she talked about. You would have liked Mary, she was a kind, humble and religious lady who always had a nice word for everyone. I would love to know more about your cousin's life, such as why and where was she traveling to aboard the ship, her occupation,... Read full post

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Judith Geller, USA
Phillip Gowan, USA
Rob Ottmers, USA

References and Sources

Unidentified Newspaper (New York) 1987 Obituary
Staten Islander (New York) 20 April 1912
Syracuse Herald-Journal (New York) 30 July 1987
Judith Geller (1998) Titanic: Women and Children First. Haynes. ISBN 1 85260 594 4
National Archives: Passport Applications (1916)
Search archive British newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) Mary Ann Charlotte Davis (ref: #394, last updated: 24th August 2018, accessed 8th August 2020 05:26:58 AM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/mary-davis.html