Miss Mary Jane Sloan was born at 59 Little Patrick Street in the northern quarter of Belfast, Ireland on 5 August 1866 and was therefore much older than she professed to be when aboard Titanic, being closer to the age of 46 than the age of 28 that she stated1.
Coming from a Presbyterian family, she was the daughter of John Sloan (b. circa 1837), a van and cab driver, and Mary Todd (b. circa 1832) who had married in Ballyeaston near Ballyclare, Co Antrim on 2 December 1854. Her mother was a native of Co Antrim but her father's exact background remains uncertain although there are good indications that he hailed from the same area, most likely Ballyclare.
The number of siblings Mary had remains uncertain; the 1911 census states that her mother had four children, two of whom were still alive at that point. However, birth and baptismal records tell a different story. Amongst Mary’s identifiable siblings were: Elizabeth (b. circa 1859), James (b. 27 August 1864), Margaret (b. 27 August 1868), James (b. 19 November 1872) and William (b. 1874). Another two unnamed children, both born in the early 1870s, were stillborn; what became of the two boys named James remains unknown but her brother William, a labourer at the time, died at age 19 from tuberculosis on 18 August 1893, then a resident of 12 Earl Place, Belfast.
Mary's father died aged 52 on 4 April 1889 and the home address was then, as above, 12 Earl Place, Belfast. Miss Sloan and her widowed mother appear on the 1901 census as residents of 18 London Road, Ormeau, Belfast and Mary was described as an unmarried stewardess aged 25; she worked aboard the SS Magic, a ferry operating between Belfast and Liverpool.
Her sister Margaret was married around 1898 to William James Brown (b. circa 1873), a warehouse keeper. They had no children and by the time of the 1911 census were residing at 1 Kerrsland Crescent in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast. Mary and her mother also appear on the 1911 census as residents of 5 Lomond Avenue, Victoria, Belfast and Mary was described as a 40-year-old unmarried stewardess on the Liverpool boats.
When Mary signed on to the Titanic in Southampton on 9 April 1912 she gave her age as 28 and her address as her sister Margaret's home in Belfast, 1 Kerrsland Crescent; she was the only female from Belfast aboard the ship. Her previous stated ship was given as Olympic and she had been aboard that vessel at the time of her collision with HMS Hawke.
Miss Sloan survived the sinking and messaged her relative Thomas Sloan2 in Marlow, Buckinghamshire to advise him of her safety, the cablegram arriving on Friday 19 April. She also relayed her safety to family and friends in Belfast:
Miss M. Sloan, a stewardess, also belonged either to Belfast or the adjoining counties... She resides at 1 Kerrsland Crescent, Belfast, and yesterday her brother-in-law received a cablegram from New York containing one word "safe."
...Miss Sloan is well known to cross channel passengers on the Liverpool route, as for some years she was engaged as stewardess on the s.s. Magic - Belfast Weekly News, 25 April 1912
She also took time to write to her sister Margaret whilst aboard SS Lapland, the letter dated 27 April 1912:
My Dear Maggie,
I expect you will be glad to hear from me once more and to know I am still in the land of the living. Did you manage to keep the news from Mother? I hope you got the cablegram all right.
I never lost my head that dreadful night. When she struck at a quarter to twelve and the engines stopped I knew very well something was wrong. Dr. Simpson came and told me the mails were afloat. Things were pretty bad. He brought Miss Marsden and me into his room and gave us a little whiskey and water. I laughed and asked him if he thought we needed it, and he said we should. Miss Marsden was crying, he was cross with her. He asked me if I was afraid, I replied I was not. He said, "Well spoken like a true Ulster girl". He had to hurry away to see if there was anyone hurt. I never saw him again. We helped him on with his great coat, I never saw him again. I felt better after, then I saw our dear old Doctor Laughlin [sic], I asked him to tell me the worst. He said, "Child, things are very bad." I indeed got a life belt and got on deck. I went round my rooms to see if my passengers were all up and if they had lifebelts on. Poor Mr. Andrews came along, I read in his face all I wanted to know.
He saw me knocking at some of the passengers doors, he said that was right, told me to see they had lifebelts on and to get one for myself and go on deck.
He was a brave man. Last time I saw and heard him was about an hour later helping to get the women and children into the boats, imploring them not to hesitate, but to go when asked as there was no time to be lost. Mr. Andrews met his fate like a true hero realising the great danger, and gave up his life to save the women and children of the Titanic. They will find it hard to replace him and I myself am terribly cut up about him. I was talking to him on the Friday night previous as he was going into dinner. The dear old doctor was waiting for him on the stair landing, and calling him by his Christian name Tommy. Mr. Andrews seemed loth to go, he wanted to talk about home, he was telling me his father was ill, and Mrs. A. was not so well. I was congratulating him on the beauty and perfection of the ship. He said the part he did not like the Titanic was taking us further away from home every hour. I looked at him and his face struck me at the time as having a very sad expression. He is one of the many who can be ill spared.
Well, I got away from all the others and intended to go back to my room for some of my jewellery, but I had no time at the last. I went on deck the second time, one of the little bill [sic - bell] boys recognised me, and pointed me to a crowded boat said, Miss Sloan, thats your boat No.12. I said, child, how do you know, I will wait for another, so it pushed off without me. I was still standing when I saw Captain Smith getting excited, passengers would not have noticed [but] I did. I knew then we were soon going. The distress signals were going every second, so I thought if anyone asked me again to go I should do so, then there was a big crush from behind me, at last they realized the danger, so I was pushed into a boat. I believe it was one of the last ones to leave. We had scarcely got clear when she began sinking rapidly.
We were in the boats all night. I took a turn to row. The women said I encouraged them, I was pleased. We picked up 30 men. Standing on an upturned boat, among them was one of our officers, Mr. Lightoller, we then took charge until the Carpathia picked us up, about seven in the morning. I only hope I shall never have a like experience again. Mr. Lightoller paid me the compliment of saying I was a sailor. We are arriving about midnight on Sunday night. I don't know what the White Star people are going to do with us, I shall wait and see. I have lost everything. I will stay in Marland Terrace, so you can write to me there.
Should love to see you all and talk to you.
We are arriving on the Lapland, I think I told you this before. Trusting this will find you all safe and well.
Your Loving Sister,
Upon arrival in Britain aboard Lapland the Ulsterwoman spent time with friends there before returning home to Belfast, arriving back in late May as reported in the Belfast Newsletter (25 May 1912). Interviewed at the time by that newspaper, she did not wish to dwell on the disaster but felt able to speak of people connected with it. She was high in praise for Thomas Andrews and related that he:
"...realised from the first the gravity of the accident, and I saw by his face soon after the collision how serious he knew it to be. But he worked nobly and like a true hero, going round the vessel to see that all women had lifebelts before they went on deck to take their places in the boats. He thought of everyone except himself, and the last I saw of him was when he was rendering assistance in getting the women and children into the boats, telling them not to hesitate, as there was not a moment to lose..." - Belfast Newsletter, 25 May 1912
She again recounted meeting fellow Belfast native Dr John Edward Simpson and remained in high praise of him. Much of her praise, however, remained centred on Thomas Andrews and she eventually received a visit from members of his family who were anxious to know more about his final hours, they later referring to her as “the little stewardess.”
Following the disaster Mary drops off the radar for a while but it appears she resumed her career at sea following her recovery and may have also returned to working aboard Olympic, although this is not certain.
Mary spent a brief period in Oromocto, New Brunswick in 1916; in August that year she crossed from Canada into the USA, stating her next of kin as her sister Margaret Brown, intent on meeting a friend Mr William A. Gleason of Cleveland, Ohio. She arrived in Michigan from St John aboard the Pretorian and was described as a stewardess standing at 5' 4", with brown hair, blue eyes and with a ruddy complexion.
Mary appears to have remained in Ohio for an extended period, having family there (see note 2), whilst back in Belfast her mother later lived at Floretta on Sandown Road and died aged 84 on 18 February 1919; the informant was her son-in-law William James Brown. The older Mary was buried with her husband and son William in Belfast’s City Cemetery (plot F1 556).
Mary Sloan was married in Cincinnati, Ohio on 30 May 1919 to divorcee William Angus Gleason3 (b. 21 October 1870), a native of St James, New Brunswick, described as a builder and contractor and the son of Michael Douglas Gleason and the former Margaret Morrison McLeod. Mary was described as a nurse and her address was stated as 4917 Prospect Avenue.
Gleason, an engineer, was a widely travelled man and well-known and active in his local community in Victoria, British Columbia and served as a city councillor for two terms, 1907-1908 and again from 1911-1913 whilst in 1914 he unsuccessfully contested the mayoralty. He spent much of the duration of WWI working in England before spending time in the USA where he worked with the H. K. Ferguson Construction Company, being associated with the construction of many new buildings in Cleveland at the time of his marriage to Mary.
Gleason’s first marriage had been on 11 March 1895 to Victoria A. McLennan of Ontario; they had no surviving children and by 1911 were still residents of Victoria. Victoria was a gifted vocalist and elocutionist and gave many receptions to showcase her talent. What became of Victoria Gleason remains uncertain but it appears she abandoned her husband and later moved into the USA, later settling in California where she spent the rest of her life. She died in Los Angeles on 25 June 1939.
Having married so late in life, Mary and her new husband had no children. A 1922 immigration record shows Mary crossing from the USA into Canada; she then gave her age as 44 and her last permanent residence as Fort Madison, Iowa and that she had last arrived by sea to the USA in May 1916 aboard Olympic.
Mary and her husband eventually settled in Vancouver, British Columbia where William Gleason went on to hold the vice presidency of several companies in that city and is also believed to have been a lay preacher. In October 1927, as reported in the Times Colonist (26 October 1927), Mary and her husband sailed aboard President Lincoln bound for Yokohama, Japan where Gleason would supervise the construction of the new Ford motor plant in that city, intending to spend the next two years there.
The two-year stay Japan was apparently shorter than planned and in 1929 Mary and William made a visit to Belfast; for his departure from that city William Gleason was shown travelling alone aboard the Montclare, having departed from Belfast and arriving at St John, New Brunswick on 3 March 1929; his destination was listed as his home at 3486 16th Avenue West, Vancouver whilst his wife Mary was left with relatives, a W. Graham at Sandown Road, Belfast. Mary made the trip a few months later, arriving in Québec aboard Andania on 5 May 1929 and stated her point of contact as her sister Margaret at Floretta in Belfast.
Following their return from Japan and Ireland Mary and her husband made their home in Victoria, British Columbia where Mr Gleason reportedly gave lectures as to the culture of Japan; he also remained active in the local community. The couple’s last known address in Victoria was 118 Beechwood Avenue, a house which is still in existence. They spent many holidays with William’s sister and brother-in-law Mr and Mrs W. D Kinnaird at West Saanich Road in Victoria.
Mary became a widow when William Gleason died, coincidentally, on 14 April 1944 and he was buried in a family plot in Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery.
Already in advanced years, Mary, a financially-comfortable widow, did not remarry and made the choice not to remain in Canada; she soon returned home to her mother city Belfast where she lived with her sister Margaret and her husband at 104 Sandown Road in Knock, Belfast, a house still standing to this day. Upon her return to what is now Northern Ireland, one of the members of the Stormont parliament, the devolved government of Northern Ireland, was John Miller Andrews (1871-1956), the elder brother of Thomas Andrews, who served in several ministerial positions since 1929 and served as Northern Ireland’s second Prime Minister between 1940 and 1943, remaining as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party until 1946.
Over her long and colourful life, it appears that Mary remained silent on the topic of Titanic; no latter-day interviews or mentions of her being a Titanic survivor have ever come to light. Despite her oft-quoted status as a Titanic survivor, her eventual passing saw no such attention.
Her sister Margaret died on 21 May 1949 and was buried with her other sister Elizabeth, who died 1 April 1947. Both were laid to rest in Dundonald Cemetery, Dundonald, Co Down, situated on the outskirts of east Belfast.
After an eventful life Mary Gleason, née Sloan died from cardiac failure on 28 February 1953 aged 86; at the time she was a patient at Purdysburn Hospital on the outskirts of Belfast in Ballylesson, but her last residence was stated as 104 Sandown Road and her death certificate describes her as the widow of a building contractor and at age 81 at the time of her death. No known local Belfast newspapers carried any death notice or obituary for her.
Mary was buried with her brother-in-law William James Brown (who died aged 90 in 1963) and niece Wilhelmina Muir4 (1896-1958) in Dundonald Cemetery, Dundonald, Co Down (plot F3, 1037, an unmarked grave), the resting place to fellow Belfast Titanic survivor John Haggan.