Mr Walter John Perkis

Walter Perkis

Mr Walter John Perkis was born in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England on 11 August 1874. He was baptised on 17 January the following year at All Saints Church, Ryde and was named for his paternal grandfather. 

He was the son of James Perkis (1838-1899), a carpenter, and Emily Ricketts (1841-1908), both natives of Ryde who were married in 1863.
He had eleven known siblings: Emily Julia (b. 1864), George Henry (1866-1940), Charles James (1866-1927), Florence Elizabeth Ricketts (1868-1954, later Mrs George Henry Gray), Robert Edward (b. 1871), Alfred Thomas (1873-1924), Herbert Ricketts (b. 1876), Eliza Kathleen (b. 1878), Jenny Gertrude (b. 1879), Amy Louisa Nancy (1881-1931, later Mrs Ralph Purdey Plummer) and William Horace Michael (1883-1960).

Walter first appears on the 1881 census when he and his family were living at 32 Swanmore Road in Ryde. By the time of the 1891 census Perkis' family were still living in Ryde but he, then aged 16 was working as a domestic waiter and residing at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London. 

He joined the Royal Navy on 3 September 1891, his first ship being the St Vincent. He stood at 5' 3½" and had dark brown hair, hazel eyes and a florid complexion. Other ships he would sail aboard included: Australia, Hawke, Cruiser, Victory, Prince George, Duke of Wellington, London and Victory I with his final ship being Excellent before he was discharged on 18 July 1905. Rising to become an able seaman by the turn of the century, his conduct over his period of service varied and he spent at least four spells in the cells for misdemeanours. He was shown on the 1901 census whilst aboard Prince George which was then docked at Gibraltar. 

He was married in Southampton in 1909 to Phoebe Lavinia Collins (b. 1881), a native of Bitterne, Southampton; the couple had only one child, a son named Robert Edward (b. 1910). By the time of the 1911 census Walter and his wife were living at "Olympic" on Victoria Road, Bitterne and he was described as a seaman for the White Star Line. Also living with them was Phoebe's mother Martha Sybilla Collins (b. 1858). 

When he signed-on to the Titanic on 9 April 1912 Perkis gave his address as Victoria Road, Bitterne, Southampton. He had been transferred from the Olympic and as a quartermaster he received monthly wages of £5. Also serving aboard was his brother-in-law Alfred Olliver who was married to his wife's sister Amelia Gertrude, née Collins.

Aboard Perkis served on the 6-8pm watch; at the time of the collision he was off duty when the ships joiner came to his quarters and advised the men to "turn out." Having felt no impact Perkis stayed put and waited until 12 o'clock  when it was time to relieve the previous watch. 

Arriving on deck Perkis went to his assigned lifeboat, boat 4, and helped lower her before heading aft. Shortly after a voice from boat 4 called out to him that another hand was needed to help man the boat so he grabbed one of the falls and slid down into the boat where he assumed command. 

Perkis estimated that, including three crew, there were 42 people aboard his lifeboat; after rowing aft a further eight crewmen who had swam out to the boat were hauled from the water, two of whom died, one fireman and a steward. 

When Titanic sank Perkis approximated that lifeboat 4 was about six lengths of Titanic away and could not discern any suction. 

Following the sinking Perkis was required to give evidence to the American Inquiry into the sinking. 

Perkis returned to Britain and in June 1912 returned to working aboard Olympic. He worked as an able seaman for a number of years aboard Berengaria and records show him still board her as late as October 1935.

In 1930 Walter and his wife suffered the loss of their son Robert aged just 19. They continued to live in Southampton where Walter died in the General Hospital on 4 August 1954 aged 79; his widow Phoebe died on 1 April 1964. Husband and wife were buried with their son in Holy Saviour Churchyard, Bitterne and their resting place lay unmarked until July 2001 when a headstone depicting Titanic was erected. 

Perkis old age
Walter John Perkis in the early 1950s
(Courtesy of Rob Daniel,UK)

Perkis Grave
(Courtesy of Alan Daniel,UK)


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Walter John Perkis (9 posts)
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Gavin Bell, UK
Pat Cook, USA
Alan Daniel, UK
Rob Daniel, UK
Chris Dohany, USA
Peter Morrall, UK
Bob Olliver, UK
Inger Sheil, UK
Monika Simons, UK
Kerri Sundberg USA
Brian J. Ticehurst, UK
Bill Wormstedt, USA

References and Sources

Photo: National Archives: BT350/CR10 Reproduced with Permission
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

(2020) Walter John Perkis Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #1366, updated 13th January 2020 13:20:11 PM)