Reverend Sidney Clarence Stuart Collett was born 8 January 1887 to Reverend Mawbey Ernest and Ann Collett. He was emigrating from London, England to join the remainder of his family in Port Byron, New York, where his father was pastor of the First Baptist Church. His parents had made their crossing in 1910.
Sidney was commonly known as Stuart, because a paternal uncle was known by the same Christian name. This uncle was the author of the Christian apologetic The Scripture of Truth, a book that told of the origin, history, symbols, alleged errors and contradictions in the Bible. Stuart was himself ordained into the Baptist ministry in 1909.
Stuart was the last but one member of his immediate family to emigrate from England. In addition to his parents were three sisters, Lillian, Daisy, and Violet, who resided in Port Byron but were in Rochester preparing for college. A brother, Thomas Collett, came to America in 1904 and was living in Syracuse, New York, where he attended the College of Liberal Arts of Syracuse University. Another brother resided in Ontario, Canada. Another brother, Frederick P. Collett, was employed by the General Electric Company in Shanghai, China. Only the fourth brother, Ernest Collett, remained in England, where he was employed by an electrical company based in London.
Reverend Collett had originally intended to book passage on the St. Louis, but was too late in booking to secure a berth. He then attempted to sail on the Philadelphia, but that voyage was cancelled due to the coal strike. His passage was then moved to the Titanic. He travelled by train from Waterloo with his uncle, Sidney Collett, and boarded in Southampton, England on the morning of 10 April as a second-class passenger. He brought with him the family possessions that had not previously been brought to America by other members of the family, including a valuable library, family documents, and a considerable amount of money.
The day before sailing, Stuart had mailed a letter to his mother from London containing a second sealed envelope that was self-addressed. The first letter instructed his father and mother that should anything unforeseen happen to him during his journey to them, they should open the second envelope.
Stuart was seen off at Southampton by his uncle Sidney Collett and a maternal aunt. Just before departure, Stuart would later explain, this aunt instructed him to look after Miss Marion Wright, a young lady who was travelling alone to join her fiancé. According to Stuart, “…since I became her protector, she playfully suggested that in order that I might not make love to her she get another friend as our companion.” This companion was Miss Kate Buss. He took both ladies into his charge, an action that would end up saving his life.
On Sunday evening, 14 April, Reverend Collett, along with Marion Wright and Kate Buss, participated in a hymnal service held in the second-class dining saloon. The service was led by Reverend and Mrs. Ernest Carter of East London. Marion Wright sang several hymns, including “There Are Green Hills Far Away” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which Stuart called “For Those in Peril at Sea.”
Stuart stated that when the collision occurred, he had been in bed for about ten minutes. He described feeling “two heavy throbs, just as if we had hit something, rebounded, and then hit it again by going forward.” He donned clothing and a lifebelt and went to find Miss Wright and Miss Buss.
Reverend Collett assisted Marion Wright and Kate Buss into Lifeboat No. 9. “The ladies stepped into the boat, then the officer, with drawn revolver, said to me, ‘Well, what of you, where are you going?’ To which I replied I have these young ladies in my charge and felt it my duty to take care of them. ‘Get in’ said the officer and a moment later the boat was lowered.”
After disembarking from the Carpathia, Stuart was met by his father and mother at the New York Central Station.
Unlike the majority of survivors, he claimed to have never heard the band play during the sinking. “I did not hear any music at all. I don’t think there is any proof that there was any music. The quartermaster who was one of the last to leave the Titanic says that he did not hear the band.” Also differing from the statements of many survivors, he held no contempt toward Bruce Ismay for his survival. “I’d like to know why they are blaming Mr. Ismay. If he did not have a position like the captain why shouldn’t he get away when there were no more women to go? I heard not a word against Mr. Ismay on the Carpathia.”
Stuart also made the odd statement that the lifeboat he and his companions were rescued in was at one point surrounded by a school of large fish. “After we floated for an hour or more there came our first real scare for our safety. All about us we could see the backs of monster fish, their shining skins or scales glimmering grew in the moonlight. They were terrible looking monsters and we feared that they would swim under our boats and upset them, but they did not.”
Just a year after surviving Titanic, Reverend Collett was the unfortunate victim of a hazing incident that may have left him disfigured. He was attending Denison College in Granville, Ohio with intentions of entering the Rochester Theological Seminary upon completion of his course. Family would later describe to the press how Stuart was having difficulty fitting in at the college, his father attributing it to the fact that he was an Englishman and much older than the other students.
This reported mistreatment escalated into a hazing attack in early June 1913, when six masked students, led by Kent Pfeiffer of St. Paul, Minnesota, held Stuart down and branded his forehead with nitrate of silver. Acid used to remove the nitrate stain added further to the disfigurement. The incident was investigated by the British Embassy.
Reverend Collett eventually married and returned to London. He died there on 6 May 1941. He was laid to rest in the Hendon Cemetery in London on the 13 May.