Encyclopedia Titanica

Thomas Knowles

Thomas Knowles

Thomas Knowles was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England on 2 May 1867 1 although his birth was seemingly never registered.

He was the son of Benjamin Knowles (b. 1836), a dock labourer, and his wife Elizabeth (b. 1840). His father was a native of Winchester, Hampshire and his mother was from Wimborne, Dorset. The couple married around 1858, but again there is no record of their marriage. Thomas had six known siblings: Elizabeth (b. 1860), William (b. 1865), Harry (b. 1872), Louisa (b. 1874), Anne (b. 1877) and Charles (b. 1879).

Thomas first appears on the 1871 census and at that time he and his family were living at 90 Bevois Street, Southampton. The family would be living at 1 Goater's Alley, Holy Rood, Hampshire by the time of the 1881 census with Thomas still at school. His mother died in 1884. When the 1891 census was conducted Thomas was absent, perhaps already at sea by this stage and his widowed father and younger siblings were listed as lodgers at 23 Alexandra Road, Shirley, the home of his married sister Elizabeth and her husband James George Sanger. His father would pass away two years later.

Only a few months after his father's death in early 1893, Thomas was married in Southampton to Clara Jessie Hendy (b. 1865 in Beaulieu, Hampshire). The couple would have a total of two children, losing one in infancy. Their surviving child was Dorothy Louisa Maud (1893-1975, later Mrs Howard Mace).

The 1901 census show's Thomas' wife and child Dorothy living at Buckler's Land (?) in Beaulieu, Hampshire, Thomas absent and perhaps at sea. Thomas would again miss the 1911 census; his wife was by then living at Tanners Lane, East End, Lymington and his daughter was listed as a visitor to her paternal great-aunt Ellen Knowles' home at 92 Shelbourne Road, Bournemouth.

When he signed-on to the Titanic, on 6 April 1912, Thomas gave his address as Tanners Lane, East End, Near Lymington and gave his previous ship as the Oceanic. As the firemans' messman he received monthly wages of £6.

His daughter later recalled:

"..My father, off duty went down to his bunk and was roused by the impact, grating and shuddering. He guessed what had happened and came up [on deck]. Many cabin doors were jammed and many passengers were unable to get out. Seeing the seriousness of the conditions, my father tried to return to warn others, but found water rising quickly up the companion way. It was hopeless. The carpenter was sent down to measure the depth of water and he never returned. This was a fatal sign. My father then returned on deck and stood just beneath the captain's bridge and advised many people not to join the rush to the stern of the ship which was already rising in the air, the bows slowly sinking. ''If you want a chance, stay here, or we shall all cling together as drowning rats''. Only a few stayed. He could not swim, strange to say, but as the Titanic gradually sank, he stood on the rails, water over his feet, and Captain Smith pacing the bridge..."

Although Thomas disliked talking about the Titanic, he later recalled the horrible sounds of everything moveable in the ship crashing toward the bow as the ship upended.

Thomas Knowles was rescued (he is generally accepted to have escaped in collapsible C although documentary evidence is lacking).

Thomas returned to England and continued to work at sea 2, later serving on patrol ships during World War I and surviving at least one more shipwreck before serving on private yachts. He and his wife later lived in the New Forest area. He was widowed on 5 December 1947 and Thomas himself died on 8 January 1951 in Lymington.

Mr T. Knowles of 2 Belmore Cottages, East End, Boldre died on 8 of January 1951.
Lymington Times

He is buried in South Baddesley Cemetery, Lymington.

In Remembrance Clara Jessie Knowles
passed away in her sleep
9th December 1947 aged 82 Resting
Thomas husband of the above
Passed away 8th January 1951 aged 82
in this peace they are reunited


  1. He gave his dirthdate in the 1939 Register as 2 May 1867.  Though his daughter claimed in a 1973 letter that he would have been 104 years old in May 1973. His 1914 discharge book indicates a birthdate of 1873.
  2. His 1914 discharge book includes details of servcice aboard Oceanic, Olympic and SY Lady Blanche.

References and Sources

1939 Register
The Lymington Chronicle
, 25 April 1912, p.5
Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
Craig Stringer (2003) Titanic People, CD-ROM

Newspaper Articles

Brian J. Ticehurst Atlantic Daily Bulletin The Story of Titanic Survivor Mr. Thomas Knowles
Search archive online

Comment and discuss

  1. Mike Herbold

    There's an interesting item up for auction on eBay, # 446261973. This one looks like it could get very expensive. The description of the item itself provides a good addition to the information about crewman Tommy Knowles available on ET. As good as ET is becoming its amazing how much of the story of the Titanic is still out there.

  2. Martin Pirrie

    Isn't strange? One would have thought that all the articles to do with Titanic were now catalogued, researched and analysed. Then, something else turns up! Martin Pirrie

  3. Geoff Whitfield

    Mike & Martin, Indeed, it is strange how much unchartered Titanic material is still out there. My position, as Secretary for the British Titanic Society, often means that I am approached by people who have Titanic related items that they had not "until recently!" realised was of any interest, let alone value. I have been fortunate enough to obtain some of these items for my collection, and, of course, seen many more heading towards the auction houses in both Great Britain and the United States. There are still masses of letters, postcards etc. mailed from Queenstown to addresses here in... Read full post

  4. George Behe

    Hi, Geoff! It's great to hear that many families intend to keep their letters and postcards no matter what their financial value might be to strangers. I'm wondering, though, if the folks you mentioned have shared the texts of these previously-unknown documents with you? The original documents themselves are not nearly as important as the *information* they contain, and it would be nice to know that this information has been shared with you and that we might look forward to some articles about them in the BTS journal. (Hint, hint.) :-) All my best, George

  5. Barbara DeCrow Goldberg

    Barbara DeCrow Goldberg

    The E-bay listing for the Tommy Knowles items has very good photographs of all the items, including a photograph of Tommy wearing his whistle rope. If you have a printer it is worth going to the site just to print out copies of the pictures, as well as the write-up, which as Mike mentioned, is quite extensive. The E-bay number, again, is 446261973. Barbara

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Titanic Crew Summary

Name: Mr Thomas Knowles
Age: 44 years 11 months and 13 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Married to Clara Jessie Hendy
Last Residence: at Tanners Lane, East End Lymington, Hampshire, England
Occupation: Firemens' Messman
Last Ship: Oceanic
Embarked: Southampton on Saturday 6th April 1912
Rescued (boat C)  
Disembarked Carpathia: New York City on Thursday 18th April 1912

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