Thomas William Jones was born in the coastal village of Cemaes in Anglesey, Wales on 15 November 1877 1 and baptised on 27 January 1878 in Llanbadrig Parish.
He was the son of Griffith Jones (b. 1832), a fisherman originally from Amlwch, and Mary Roberts (b. 1838), both Anglesey natives who had married in 1875.
Thomas had two known siblings: Annie (b. 1875) and Peter (b. 1880), and his father had several children from a previous marriage: Griffith (b. 1856), Hugh (b. 1867) and Edith (b. 1870).
Jones first appears on the 1881 census as a resident of 4 Sea View Street, Llanbadrig and his father was described as a captain of a smack (a small traditional fishing boat). Following this the family drops of the radar and Thomas' movements over the following years are difficult to trace. It seems likely that Jones lost both his parents at a young age and he went to sea around the same time.
Jones joined the Royal Navy on 12 September 1894 on what he claimed to be his 18th birthday, and his first voyage was in December that year aboard Impregnable; he also served aboard Lion, Boscawen, Vivid I and Rupert. Of very good conduct, he stood at 5' 1" and had brown hair, grey eyes and a dark complexion. He was invalided from service on 1 September 1894 and spent a brief period in the Royal Marine Artillery, enlisting on 13 October 1897. Following this he apparently joined the merchant service sometime around 1901.
He was shown on several crew lists for the Majestic in 1907, operating out of Liverpool and on which he reportedly worked for six years. At that time he stated his local address as 68 Nesfield Street.
Following a voyage as able seaman aboard Oceanic in April 1912, Jones was in Southampton when Titanic was preparing for her maiden voyage. He was shown around the ship and met one of his friends, an unidentified officer, who persuaded him to transfer, which he did. He signed on for the Titanic's maiden voyage on 6 April 1912, giving his age as 32, address as 68 Nesfield Street, Liverpool and his previous ship as the Oceanic. As an able seaman he could expect monthly wages of £5. Jones reported that lifeboat drills were held before the ship left Southampton but stated he could not say if any were held during the voyage.
Jones' position at the time of the collision is difficult to ascertain. He stated he was sitting on the forecastle deck (presumably he meant under the forecastle deck in the seaman's mess on C-deck) when he heard a noise, the same as a ship makes when it passes through a lot of ice. He and his mates hastened out to the deck (presumably the forward well deck) and saw chunks of ice. It appears that he made his way up onto the forecastle deck for further inspection and observed a large number of firemen pouring up from below, carrying their kits.
Whilst on the forecastle Jones looked over the side to check for damage and could hear the rush of water. He then descended the decks alongside the #1 hatch and here observed the tarpaulin that covered the hatch lifting as if air was escaping from below. Deciding to return to the open deck he encountered more firemen ascending from the boiler rooms and soon heard an order for "all hands on bridge." He complied, making his way to the boat deck where he was ordered to prepare the lifeboats.
Assigned to lifeboat 8, Jones prepared that craft before being sent by an officer to retrieve a lamp. Fetching one from a passing crewman up forward, he returned to boat 8, finding it filled with what he estimated to be around 35 ladies. He jumped in and the captain asked him if the plug was in the boat; he confirmed that it was before the captain beckoned for any more ladies. Jones observed a lady come forward, gesturing for her husband to follow but he backed away and the lady and her little girl entered the boat (the identity of the lady and child is not known). He also observed an elderly couple (possibly the Strauses), the lady having no inclination to get into the boat.
Despite further calls for more women no more came forward and the boat was lowered away. Instructed by the captain to row toward the light of a ship spotted on the horizon, drop of the passengers and return, Jones did as instructed but found the light was further than estimated and ended up standing by the ship for a time. He soon put one of the ladies in the boat who "had a lot to say" to steering and identified her as the Countess of Rothes.
In a 1956 interview Jones stated:
"The first time that I realised she was going to sink was when we had moved away from her and I could see the water lapping round the bridge. The sight around us as she went down was terrible, and I am thankful that I have never had to experience another like it... As we watched the Titanic sink tears streamed every eye, and men and women fell on their knees and prayed. Sometime later we were picked up by the Carpathia but I had no idea of the time. After we had been hauled on board we were given large glasses of brandy to warm us up." - Liverpool Echo, 13 March 1956
Following arrival in New York aboard Carpathia Jones was examined by the American Inquiry and was questioned about his previous experience as a lookout and the use of binoculars. He stated that the half-filled lifeboat he was in could have comfortably taken at least 65 persons and also assured that he and his fellow crew members were not of the knowledge that the ship was in any danger, believing her unsinkable. Asked in 1956 about the low rates of survival he gave the same opinion:
"The answer is that they [the passengers] would not get into the boats. The night was so fine and the Titanic was so large that they did not think it possible she could go down. Time and time again I heard Captain Smith appealing to them to board the lifeboats, but they did not and the boats, in many cases, left half full." - Liverpool Echo, 13 March 1956
Jones also gave an interview which was published in the New York Times (20 April 1912):
One able-bodied seaman who shipped aboard the Titanic when she left Southampton is tired and a little listless and subdued from the things he lived through last Monday, but his eyes light up and his speech becomes animated when you ask him what part the women played in the trying hours after the Titanic sank.
"There was a woman in my boat as was a woman," he said yesterday, straightening up in her honor. "She was the Countess of Rothes, and let me tell you about her. I was one of those who was ordered to man the boats, and my place was in No. 8. There were thirty-five of us in that boat, mostly women, but there were some men along.
"I was in command, but I had to row, and I wanted someone at the tiller. And I saw the way she was carrying herself, and I heard the quiet, determined way she spoke to the others, and I knew she was more of a man than any we had on board. And I put her in command. I put her at the tiller, and she was at the tiller when the Carpathia came along five hours later.
"And there was another woman on board who was strong in the work we had to do. She was at the oar with me, and, though I never learned her name, she was helping every minute. It was she who suggested that we should sing. 'Sing, you say?' I should think we did. To keep up our spirits, I guess. We sang as we rowed, all of us, starting out with 'Pull for the Shore,' and we were still singing when we saw the lights of the Carpathia. Then we stopped singing and prayed."
In thanks for his valour the Countess presented him with a silver fob watch engraved with:
"April 15th 1912, from the Countess of Rothes."
His reply letter read:
I have only today received your very gracious present, and I appreciate, very much, the honour extended to me by your Grace in acknowledging any service rendered by me at the time of the disaster – which was my duty to those of whom I was in charge. May I say how much service you rendered myself and others by your example and courage under so heart-rending circumstances.
I shall always treasure your kind gift as my priceless possession. I have the honour to be Your Grace’s obedient servant,
Jones apparently admired the Countess of Rothes very much indeed and reciprocated the gesture by sending her the brass number 8 taken from the lifeboat, mounted on a wooden plinth. His letter read:
I beg to ask your acceptance of the number of my boat from which you were taken on board SS Carpathia.
This number is the original taken from the boat by myself. In asking you to accept the same I do so in respect for your courage under so terrifying circumstances.
Trusting you are now fully recovered to health, I am, Your obedient servant, Tom Jones AB Late SS Titanic
Gladys Cherry, the Countess' cousin was also in boat 8 and later wrote the following letter which was printed in a number of newspapers:
WANTED TO GO BACK
LETTER TO TITANIC HERO
Thomas Jones, a native of Anglesey, who was an able seaman on the Titanic, has received the following letter, dated from the Great Northern Hotel, New York:
I feel I must write and tell you how splendidly you took charge of our boat on the fatal night. There were only four English people in it-my cousin Lady Rothes, her maid, you and myself-and I think you were wonderful.
The dreadful regret I shall always have, and I know you share with me, is that we ought to have gone back to see whom we could pick up; but if you remember, there was only an American lady, my cousin, self and you who wanted to return. I could not hear the discussion very clearly, as I was at the tiller; but everyone forward and the three men refused; but I shall always remember your words: "ladies, if any of us are saved, remember, I wanted to go back. I would rather drown with them than leave them." You did all you could, and being my own countryman, I wanted to tell you this.
Yours very truly, Gladys Cherry.
Following the disaster Thomas continued to work at sea. He was married in 1916 to Clara Elizabeth Moulton (b. 9 July 1882), a domestic cook originally from Irchester, Northamptonshire. The couple went on to have three children; daughter Mary Ada arrived in 1917 and was followed by son William Frank in 1919 and completed by another daughter Ellen in 1920. The 1939 register shows the family living at 84 Jacob Street, Liverpool where Thomas would live for the rest of his life; at the time he was described as a landing stage seaman. His son William was also in the Merchant service, he as an assistant refrigeration engineer. He served in that capacity aboard the cargo steamer SS Samala when, on 30 September 1940, that ship was en route from Kingston, Jamaica to Britain and was torpedoed. William was amongst the fatalities.
In later life Jones was stationed on the lightship in Liverpool Bay. Family tradition has it that Thomas rode his bicycle through the Mersey (Queensway) Tunnel before it was officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary in 1934.
Jones continued to correspond with the Countess of Rothes up until the latter's death in 1956. As a child his daughter Ellen said that she thought this was nothing out of the ordinary and believed "everyone knew a countess!" She also recalled how the Countess would write every Christmas and send a gift of £1.
Thomas was also active in the renewed hype during the 1950s surrounding Titanic following the publication of the book A Night to Remember and its film adaptation two years later. At that time he gave several interviews and became reacquainted with other Titanic survivors.
Thomas died in Liverpool in June 1967 aged 89, still a resident of 84 Jacob Street. He was survived by his wife and two daughters. He was cremated on 25 June 1967 and his ashes were scattered in the garden of the remembrance section 25 at Liverpool's Anfield Cemetery. His widow Clara died in Liverpool on 21 July 1980, not long after turning 98. She was later cremated.
His daughter Ellen kept the watch gifted to her father for many years before auctioning it in the late 1990s to raise money. Believing it to be gone forever, it later transpired that descendants of the Countess of Rothes had purchased the watch to keep it in their family. Angela Young, the Countess' great-granddaughter later visited Ellen in April 2012 and brought with her the watch and associated letters to show her. That same year Ellen was a special guest at Liverpool's Maritime Museum to coincide with the centenary of the sinking.