Mr Austin Blyler van Billiard, was born on 9 February 1877, at Hellertown, Pennsylvania, the son of James Wilson van Billiard, a successful marble merchant (b.21 December 1847, d.1921), and Phoebe (née Blyler; b. 4 May 1853; d. 1932) from Pennsylvania. His parents had married ca. 1875. His known brothers and sisters were Florence A., b. August 1880, Myrtle May, b. May 1882, Roy James, b. 21 May 1887, Iva Jane, b. 21 May 1887, Monroe Abraham (also listed Morris A.), b. July 1890, and Penroe John, b. 9 July 1890.
Austin left the USA at a relatively young age emigrated to Europe and ended up in France seeking work during the arrangements for the Universal Exposition that was opening in Paris. It was while working in France that he met his future wife, Maude Murray (b. 19 April 1873 in France or England?), whose father was in Paris on business. They married on 3 November 1900, in Paris after only a few months courtship, they would go on to have five children1.
The family had, from 1902, resided in South Africa, where Mr. Van Billiard owned a part of a diamond claim, they also travelled in the Congo, trying to mine diamonds, and in Rhodesia.
But he had sold his share of the business and was expecting to locate permanently in the United States, near his brothers. In 1910, he said to the American Consul in Cape Town:
’I came to South Africa for the purpose of establishing an international trade in diamonds. Owing to the depression following the war and by reason of unfortunate business reverses, my financial condition has been such that I have been unable to return to the United States thus accounting for my prolonged absence abroad. It is not my intention to make this country my permanent home, but on the contrary, I have always regarded and do now regard the United States as my permanent residence. It is my purpose to return to the United States as my permanent residence at an early date as soon as my financial circumstances permit to permanently reside.
They first returned to London, England on board a French steamer, after smuggling their children on board.2 Maude's parents lived in London.
In 1912, they were staying with W. Bartlett, 4, Armitage Mansions, Golder's Green, London.
The van Billiard family belonged to the Episcopal Church.
Austin decided to take his two eldest children with him to America ahead of the rest of the family. He and his two sons boarded the Titanic at Southampton as third class passengers (ticket number A/5. 851, £14, 10s). Austin carried with him on board the Titanic several (at least 12) uncut diamonds (which were found on his body when it was recovered) by the MacKay Bennett (#255).
NO. 255. - MALE. - ESTIMATED AGE, 40. HAIR, DARK; RED IMPERIAL AND MOUSTACHE.
CLOTHING - Grey suit; green flannel shirt; brown boots.
EFFECTS - Pipe; £3 5s. in purse; gold watch, "J. B." on back; 12 loose diamonds; 1 pair cuff links.
NAME - AUSTIN VAN BILLIARD.
The body of his son Walter was also found (#1) but James' body, if recovered, was never identified.
Austin van Billiard was married, and left his wife and four children in England, intending to visit his old home in South Wales, Pa. It was his first visit to this country in ten years. He had been in the diamond mines in South Africa, and in letters to his brothers in this city looked forward to the visit. Monroe Van Billiard had planned a trip to South Wales on the arrival there of his brother, whom he had not seen for ten years. The Central New Jersey Home News, 23 April 1912, p. 1
Austin's wife Maude received compensation of £100 from the Red Cross and £540 from other assorted relief funds.
Red Cross Files: No. 464; (English) The husband and two sons, aged eleven and nine years, were drowned. The family had resided in South Africa, where the man owned a part of a diamond claim, but he had sold his share of the business and was expecting to locate permanently in the United States, near his brothers. The wife, 36 years old, and four younger children, ranging in age from eight years to two months, remained with her parents in England, owing to an illness which continued for many months. Upon her recovery in February, 1913, she and her children came to live in this country. The English Committee, after it was known that the family would come here, granted $170 and discontinued pension payments. The husband had only burial insurance. Upon his body, which was recovered, were 12 small uncut diamonds, and there were two larger diamonds held by a bank in this country, to secure a loan of $734.28. The diamonds were sold for $1,372.18, net. After the arrival of the widow in this country she received from American relief funds, other than that of the Red Cross Committee, the sum of $2,700.00 ($500).
Maude did eventually make the trip to North Wales, Pennsylvania with her four remaining children: she never remarried and died in a Philadelphia nursing home on 15 January 1968, aged 94.