Miss Sarah Agnes Stap

RMS Titanic Stewardess

Miss Sarah Agnes Stap was born at sea off the coast in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean on 1 August 1864.

She was the daughter of Henry Stap (b. circa 1829), a native of Skipsea near Bridlington in east Yorkshire, and his wife Stella, née Cawkwell (b. 14 October 1835), a native of Bermondsey, London. The couple were married in Mile End, London on 31 August 1861 and Henry was then described as a master mariner. Sarah was born on board one of the vessels he commanded and he reportedly held several commands in the White Star and Leyland Lines.

Sarah was one of five children, her siblings being: Stella (1862-1943, later Mrs Edward Wood Tagg), Edith Mary (1868-1953), Henry (1871-1933) and William Cawkwell (1875-1923). Her sister Stella was also born at sea whilst her sister Edith was born in London. Both of her brothers were born in Essex, her brother Henry later working as teacher where he was a master at Oake's Institute in Liverpool for twenty-five years.

Sarah first appears on the 1871 census when she and her family are living at Willesly Road, Wanstead, Essex. Aged 16 and without profession by the time of the 1881 census, Sarah and her family were by now living at 3 St Philips' Terrace, Kensington, London. The whole family later shifted northward and settled in Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire, being listed there at 48 Church Street on the 1891 and 1901 censuses. Sarah would be absent from the latter, perhaps at sea. Her mother died in 1903 aged 67 and Sarah, her widowed father and several siblings appear on the 1911 census living at 41 Bidston Avenue, Birkenhead.

Sarah Stap had been on the maiden voyage of the Baltic and Adriatic and also served on the Celtic, and most recently the Olympic, then as a nurse.

When she signed-on to the Titanic on 9 April 1912 Miss Stap gave her age as 31 and address as 41 Bidston Avenue, Cloughton, Birkenhead. She signed on as a first-class stewardess although according to her great-nephew Gordon Stap, she was not a stewardess but a ship's matron. In her position, she received monthly wages of £3, 10s.

Miss Stap later recalled that on the night of the sinking she was in bed at the time of impact and was awoken by a "slight bump" but took little heed, claiming she had become accustomed to "a ship's bumping before" and she lay in bed for a further three quarters of an hour before rising. When she reached the boat deck the lifeboats had already been slung out. Sarah claimed that she owed her survival to a young cabin boy beside her who, when she was told to get into a lifeboat by the crew member in charge of that lifeboat, that there was room for her, she told the young cabin boy that as she was into her thirties and had had her life, he should take her spot. The cabin boy's answer was to simply pick her up, and put her in the lifeboat, which she described as the last-but-one (some historians place her in lifeboat 11). She later recalled the crowded conditions in her lifeboat (over 70 persons) and the bitter cold of the night, the ordeal lasting for over six hours: 

"We could see the lights of the ship slowly disappear beneath the waves one by one, until there remained alone the masthead light. Then suddenly the great ship gave a lurch and disappeared gracefully out of sight. All this time the people on board were shrieking in their death agonies, and the passengers in the boats were under the impression that it was the people in the other boats cheering. Only the members of the crew knew what it was, and we dare not say. After the ship had gone down an explosion rent the air, and the shrieks of the dying were positively awful." - 1912 interview, reprinted Birkenhead News, 3 April 1937

Sarah returned to the sea and maintained her residence at 41 Bidston Avenue for a time; she lost her father on 2 March 1914 when he died aged 85, later being buried in Rake Lane Cemetery in Liscard, Cheshire. After this loss Sarah moved to Egremont in Wallasey where she spent a few brief years. Her 1924 crew card describes her as standing at 5' 3" and with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.

By August 1917 Miss Stap was serving as a stewardess aboard the Justicia, another ship that eventually met a brutal demise. Towards the close of the decade, she was again working as a stewardess aboard the Olympic, later transferring to the Baltic and alternating between both ships between 1919 and 1921. On 25 August 1920, she was working aboard the Olympic when that ship entered New York; three of her fellow stewardesses at the time were Mabel Bennett, Elizabeth Leather and Violet Jessop

She ultimately transferred to the new flagship Majestic sometime around 1922 and where she would spend the rest of her career. During her tenure aboard the Majestic, she was presented to King George V, Queen Mary and the Duke of Connaught, who shook her hand and congratulated her on her bravery during the Titanic disaster. Her last known recorded voyage aboard Majestic was in September 1930 when she was described as standing at 5' 2", weighing 108 lbs and aged 48 (she was in fact 66 years of age).

Sarah Stap moved from Egremont, Wallasey back to Birkenhead where she spent the last two decades of her life. Her last few years were spent living with her two sisters at 414 Park Road North and she died there in her sleep aged 72 on 27 March 1937. She was buried on 1 April 1937 in Rake Lane Cemetery following a service at the same venue.

 

Articles and Stories

Birkenhead News (1912) 
 

Comment and discuss

  1. ian Hough said:

    Just thought I'd drop you a line to say I have managed to locate Sara's Grave - sadly I wish I could have posted this earlier as it would have been a good opportunity to share it with you all in time for her anniversary (27 March) along with the Ex-white Star building - which is up 'To Let' I have also posted a page for Cpt Smith featuring a: Views of his... Read full post

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  2. Andrew Maheux said:

    Nice find. My best, Andrew M.

  3. Justine Cousin said:

    We know so far that among the 19 stewardesses, 16 of them were serving the 1st class,2 the 2nd class, and 1 was a 3rd class matron. Yet I was wondering if there was some hierarchy among all those women, that is to say if some of them were second or chief stewardess. Thanks to whoever has a thought on that matter

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  4. Bob Godfrey said:

    Lester and Justine, I'm sure I have a 1912 news cutting somewhere in which Miss Stap is referred to as Head or Chief Stewardess, but I'm not sure of her status. In Titanic People Craig Stringer states that she "signed on the Titanic as Chief Stewardess" but there's nothing to indicate that in the paperwork, nor in her rate of pay - Chief Stewards were paid considerably more for the extra responsibility. Perhaps any such role among the stewardesses was an informal arrangement, designating a spokesperson rather than a position of authority.

  5. Lester Mitcham said:

    Hello Bob, Thank you the added information. Hope you are keeping well. With my best wishes, Lester

  6. Bob Godfrey said:

    Thanks, Lester, and the best to you too. Miss Stap's claim to be Chief Stewardess was made in an interview for the Birkenhead News, May 4 1912. But she also claimed to be 31 years old when she signed on - a slight exaggeration as in reality she wouldn't see 45 again! But then she was the daughter of a White Star Line Captain, and that kind of pedigree could take you right to the front of the job queue.

  7. Justine Cousin said:

    Thanks Lester and Bob for the information, it will help me quite a lot in my search! Best wishes to both of you

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    Ana Florencia Pinton said:

    Wow I never read that! I always wondered at what time did the crew embark. 6am! Sorry for the OT remark! Returning "in topic", Lester you said that she had her own cabin on E deck, but most stewardesses had their own cabin in their designated part of the ship (at the most they would share it with another stewardess).

  9. Bob Godfrey said:

    When we say in English "I had my own room" (or table, or whatever) we mean we had it for our own exclusive use, with nobody else sharing.

  10. avatar

    Ana Florencia Pinton said:

    Yes, I expressed myself badly. I wanted to say that one of the arguments to prove that Snaps was Chief Stewardess (in an informal arrangement) was the she had "her own cabin" on A Deck. In the map I have in fact that cabin is labelled "Stewardess", singular. Other cabins were labelled in plural ("2 Stewardesses" or a generic "Stewardesses"), but there were in fact also other singular "Stewardess" cabins, making me think she wasn't the only one having a cabin for herself. Now that is all obsolete thinking, because by doing the math on the other thread (14 stewardesses divided by 7 cabins) it... Read full post

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Brian Stap
Gordon Stap (great-nephew of Sarah Stap)
Phillip Gowan, USA
Mike Scott-Williams, South Africa

References and Sources

Birkenhead News, 4 May 1912, Experiences of a Birkenhead Stewardess
Birkenhead News, 3 April 1937, Titanic Disaster Recalled, Death of Miss S. A. Stap
General Register Office Certified Copy of an Entry of Death
Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Sheila Jemima (1997) Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage, Sutton Publishing, Southampton City Council. ISBN 0 7509 1436
Search archive British newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2019) Sarah Agnes Stap (ref: #2131, last updated: 22nd October 2019, accessed 2nd August 2020 19:15:25 PM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/sarah-agnes-stap.html