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)

 

Comment and discuss

  1. avatar

    Sam Brannigan said:

    Hello all I managed to catch the tail end of a programme on ITV in the UK tonight called "Find Your Family" Normally I hate these typically sentimental, gut wrenching programmes, but one segment in it really caught my eye. There was a gentleman who had checked his genealogy and discovered that he was a close descendent of QM Perkis of the Titanic. The segment ended with this man standing at his ancestors unmarked grave weeping uncontrollably and chastising himself for doing so as he had only come to know of QM Perkis very recently. He could not give a reason for his emotional reaction,... Read full post

  2. Andrew Williams said:

    Sam, In Tuesday night's Echo (Southampton edition) they gave a beautiful artilce reporting about Perkis. In fact, I can confirm the whole family, relations as well, have clubed together and erected a headstone honouring the bravery of this man. If you wish to have a photocopy of this report, then you can contact me on Regards-Andrew Williams. P.S-Sadly I missed this programme after speaking to one of the relations on Wednesday morning, and what a strange coincidence, would you believe she lives just a few hundred yards down the... Read full post

  3. Andrew Williams said:

    Yes I know Phil, and that upset's me more than anything else. Still, I can only try and make contact with Meridian in Southampton, and see if I can obtain a video copy of the first programme. Regards-Andrew. Yes I am also including a copy for your web-site Phil.

  4. Robert Daniel said:

    Sam, I'm the gentleman to whom you refer. I am from Southampton and my family were in the Merchant Navy. I've been past the Titanic Memorial in Southampton to the engineers many times, they say "every street in Southampton lost someone that night" I also caught a programme on the TV the other week (not the one I was in)they showed a map of Southampton, then superimposed upon it a red dot at every address where a man was lost. It was shocking. Southampton was a mass of red dots - especially the inner city where the Merchant sailors who crewed her would have lived. These are some of... Read full post

  5. avatar

    Kate Bortner said:

    Rob~ our hearts are with you. Yours is a moving story I'm glad you (and Sam)shared it with us. -kate bortner

  6. Andrew Williams said:

    Hi Rob, It's so good to see that somebody on this Board is possibly from the Southampton area just like myself. I can share many stories with you Rob because I had a grandfather who was a Sotonian man, and he can vividly recall when the Town received the most devastating news when Titanic had founded. Do remeber, Southampton was a large Town then before been granted as city-status in 1964. It is true, "nearly every street in Southampton did loss someone or somebody that night"! Perhaps the other surprise came when I was speaking to one of your relations, the day after the Southampton... Read full post

  7. James Hill said:

    I don`t know quite what to say here.But very few websites and books with this site being a notable exception have mentioned Perkis as having gone back.After all he did pull 8 crewmen out of the water though unfortuanatly 2 died.What I`m saying is doesnt Mr Perkis deserve more credit.Anyone agree with me.

  8. Bob Godfrey said:

    Whilst it might be argued whether Perkis alone made the decision to do so (there were several other highly experienced seamen on board) there is no doubt that his was the only boat's crew which rowed to the aft gangway as instructed, and waited there until it was no longer safe to do so. Thus they were still close enough to rescue several men from the water just before and after the ship sank. As you say, this achievement is one which has not been neglected in these threads. And Perkis' previously unmarked grave has recently been provided with a fine stone which draws attention to his role:... Read full post

  9. James Hill said:

    Well said Bob.

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Credits

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 newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) Walter John Perkis (ref: #1366, last updated: 1st January 2018, accessed 9th August 2020 11:39:23 AM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/walter-john-perkis.html