Mr William Burke

William Burke

Mr William Burke (Saloon steward, 1st class) was born in Queenstown, Co Cork, Ireland around 1872. 1 He was the son of James Burke.

Details about his early life are not clear although it is possible he had been living with his family in Liverpool since the mid- to late-1880s. 2

By 1912 it appears that Burke had been living and working out of England for at least a decade. With 1902 he had already been serving as steward aboard the Haverford of the American Line before making several trips aboard Cymric of the White Star Line; at that stage his Liverpool address was 8 Grove Street. During 1903 he was living at 23 Belmont Drive and was serving aboard Suevic before joining the Majestic on which he would serve for several years. By 1907 he was a resident of 7 Aubrey Street, Liverpool.

When Burke signed-on to the Titanic, on 4 April 1912, he gave his address as 57 Bridge Road, (Southampton). 3 His last ship had been the Olympic and as a Steward he received monthly wages of £3, 15s.

On the Titanic his two charges were Isidor and Ida Straus, who, he remembers, came to dinner at 7:15 on the night of Sunday 14 April. He never saw them again after that.

When the collision occurred Burke was in his cabin located on the forward starboard side but was not asleep. He registered that it felt like the ship had dropped a propeller. About twenty minutes later the order came down for everyone to put on life belts and get on deck. At the time he didn't bother to put a lifebelt on and dressed as he would any other time in his uniform but was reminded by another steward to fetch one before he left his cabin.

His assigned station was the lifeboat 1 on the starboard side but he found it was already gone when he got there. He then assisted with lifeboats 8 and 10 on the port side. After the "Chief Officer" found there weren't enough men in 10, he ordered Burke into it, where the steward helped load women into the boat. The last woman slipped and fell between the boat and the ship but Burke caught her (along with Buley) by the feet. Someone on the ship on A-deck also caught her shoulders and they pulled her back on the Titanic. Burke stated that he never saw her again and boat 10 began lowering, with lifeboat 12 lowering around the same time.

Later, in the water, they took on passengers from boat 14 commanded by Lowe and later still 'made fast' with the overturned collapsible B. He remembered fireman Rice and Gretchen Longley and Kornelia Andrews in boat 10 as well as two male interlopers, one which he took to be Japanese and another, whom he estimated to be 18 stone and Italian. Neither could speak English and the only sense they could get from the latter man was that he as an Armenian; Burke put the two men to rowing.

Upon arrival in New York Burke was called as a witness to the US Inquiry, giving evidence on day 9 (27 April 1912).

Burke resumed his career at sea. He was married in Liverpool on 23 June 1917 to Mary Elizabeth Osborne (b. 1894) and they had three children: William F. (1918-1918), Lilian W. (b. 1921, later Mrs Ronald Jones) and Harold Edmund (b. 1922). During the 1950s William spoke of his experiences whilst Titanic-Mania was at its height following the publication of A Night to Remember and the following movie of the book.

William lived out his days at 42 Albert Edward Road, Liverpool but died at 41 Connaught Road, possibly the home of his son Harold. His wife Mary died on 28 September 1959 in a hospice and William himself passed away on 2 April 1961 aged 88. He is buried in Yew Tree Cemetery in Liverpool (plot 1E 187).

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Notes
  1. At the time of signing on to Titanic he gave his age as 31. His age at the time of his death was listed as 88, suggesting a birthdate of 1873, whilst on a later crew card gave his own birthdate as 1872. Even upon earlier voyages Burke was shown to be shaving years off of his true age. Based upon note (2), he was born on 5 November 1872.
  2. A William Burke, of the correct estimated age and of Cork birth, appears on both the 1891 and 1901 census records, living with his parents James (b. 1837), a ship's carpenter, and Kate (b. 1843) and his siblings: Ellen (later Campbell), Catherine Mary, James, Agnes and Rebecca. Both records state that this William Burke was a grocer's assistant.
  3. At the American inquiry he gave his address as 15 Dodge Street, Southampton.
References and Sources
United States Senate Hearings, 27th April, 1912, Testimony of William Burke United States Senate, Washington 1912. n° 806, Crew List United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912
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