Thomas Knowles was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England in May 1869 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. He was rescued in collapsible C.
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.
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
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- His daughter claimed in a 1973 letter than he would have been 104 years old in May 1973. The census records corroborate this approximate date. His 1914 discharge book indicates a birthdate of 1873.
- His 1914 discharge book includes details of servcice aboard Oceanic, Olympic and SY Lady Blanche.
References and SourcesThe Lymington Chronicle, 25 April 1912, p.5
Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)