Encyclopedia Titanica

Ernest Portage Tomlin

Ernest Portage Tomlin
Ernest Portage Tomlin

Mr Ernest Portage Tomlin was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada on 29 September 1890.1

He was the son of English parents, Edwin Tomlin (b. 1858) and Harriet Levinia Statham (b. 1854), natives of Uxbridge and Pinner, respectively who had married in Kensington, London in 1878. His father was a baker and later ran his own business in Notting Hill, London.

One of ten children, with seven surviving infancy, Ernest's known siblings were: William (b. 1879), Edwin (b. 14 November 1883), Lillie (b. 1887), Grace (b. 1891), Albert (b. 1895) and Mary (b. 1896). He was the only one of his siblings born in Canada and his family's reasons for being there at the time are not certain. 

On 11 January 1897 Tomlin was enrolled in the St Clement's Road School in west London which his other siblings also attended. He and his family appear on the 1901 census as residents of 39 St Ann's Road, Notting Hill, alongside several of his father's employees. 

Tomlin, travelling with a friend Harry Cook left British shores on 21 August 1907 aboard the Majestic; described as a clerk, he arrived in New York six days later and stated his destination as Des Moines, Iowa to the home of a friend, Reverend J. N. Williams of 1212 388th Street in that city. He was described as standing at 5' 7" and with brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. Intent on entering the ministry, Tomlin enrolled at The Bible College of Drake University located in Des Moines. An A-grade student, he took difficult courses which included advanced arithmetic, physics, botany, Hebrew history, Latin, among others.

In January 1910 he paid a return visit home, travelling aboard the New York (which two years later nearly collided with the Titanic), and for his return to the USA on 7 April that year aboard the St Louis he was described as being in good health and that he had grown three inches since his last entrance to the USA, by now standing 6'.

His father passed away at 1 Saunders Hill, Notting Hill on 20 January 1911, leaving an estate worth £4440, 15s, 5d. There are conflicting contemporary reports as to whether Ernest returned to Britain following his father's death to attend his funeral or whether he returned at a later date on account of his own ill health. The latter scenario appears more likely as that fact was more widely circulated in the contemporary press. Also, Ernest does not appear on the 1911 census when his family were listed as living at the same 1 Saunders Hill, Notting Hill address. 

By early 1912 Tomlin had decided to return to Drake University and complete his degree. He purchased a third class passage on the Titanic (ticket number 364499 which cost £8, 1s) and was apparently travelling alone.

At first there was hope that Tomlin was not on the Titanic but that was quickly dispelled. The Des Moines Register (17 April 1912) revealed that he had written wrote two letters to friends in England, a Will Mander from Birmingham, and A. H. "Harry" Cook. 

Mr Mander, whose home is in Birmingham, Eng., is a personal friend of Mr Tomlin.

"I received a letter from Ernest last week, stating that he was sailing for America on April 10, from Southampton," said Mr Mander. " We find that the Titanic was the only boat that left Southampton on that date and have every reason to believe that he was one of the passengers. I believe that he travelled third class."

"I came over from England with Mr Tomlin four years ago to study at Drake University," said Mr Cook. "He attended school at Drake for more than two years and left for home last year on account of sickness. We have every reason to believe that he was a passenger on the Titanic."

(The Des Moines Register, 17 April 1912)

It soon became clear that Tomlin was among the lost. Repeated requests were made to the White Star Line to determine if Tomlin actually sailed. Wireless messages listing the names of survivors were searched but his name was not among the listed saved. Finally, word was received in a telegram to H. W. Warren, a Des Moines ticket agent that read: "Ernest Tomlin appears on the list of third class passengers of the White Star line as having sailed, but not on the list of rescued."

Further confirmation came tragically when his body was discovered floating near the scene of the tragedy by the ship Mackay-Bennett on 21 April 1912. His body was the fiftieth recovered and he was buried at sea on the same day. The Webster City Freeman (23 April 1912) reported that his remains had been recovered:


Found by Searchers Where Titanic Sank

Des Moines, April 23--The body of Ernest Tomlin, the Drake Student who was drowned on the ill-fated Titanic, was among the first to be recovered by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett yesterday. Tomlin left Southampton last week to return to the local institution to complete his work for graduation this spring...

His name was among the first received by wireless from the cable ship which sailed at once for the scene of the disaster to search for bodies of the victims. Nothing else is known of Tomlin's death further than the fact that his body easily was identified by the searchers.

At Drake university Tomlin was well known and had a wide circle of acquaintances and friends. He was a student in the Bible college and was one of a number of Englishmen from Southampton who are attending the local school. When he was compelled to return  home last year because of ill health it was with the promise that he would return as soon as possible to complete his studies and obtain his sheepskin.

(Webster City Freeman, 23 April 1912)

His body and effects were described:

N0. 50. - MALE. - ESTIMATED AGE, 30. - HAIR, FAIR.

CLOTHING - Black coat; no vest, blue striped flannel shirt.

EFFECTS - Two pocket books; silver watch; pencil; papers, diary, fountain pen; comb; $87 in notes; £1 10s. in gold; and 2s. 9d.



A memorial service was held in Des Monies on Wednesday May 1, 1912 at the University Place Church for Tomlin.

Tomlin sent a postcard from the Titanic to his sister Lilly. The Tomlin family sold the postcard for £2,400 in 1992. Relatives of Tomlin still carry on the family bakery in Cornwall, England.


  1. Date as per Manitoba birth index; other sources state he was born in 1889

Titanic Passenger Summary

Name: Mr Ernest Portage Tomlin
Age: 21 years 6 months and 16 days (Male)
Nationality: Canadian
Marital Status: Single
Last Residence: in Notting Hill, London, England
Occupation: Scholar
Embarked: Southampton on Wednesday 10th April 1912
Ticket No. 364499, £8 1s
Died in the Titanic disaster (15th April 1912)
Body recovered by: Mackay-Bennett (No. 50)
Buried at Sea on Sunday 21st April 1912

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References and Sources

James Leonardo A "TITANIC" VICTIM FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD! Reference Dept., Cowles Library, Drake University)
Des Moines Tribune, 16,21,23 April, 1912
Record of Bodies and Effects (#50)
Des Moines Register, April 20, April 21, 1912
Drake Daily Delphic April 30, 1912
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279])
Marriages, births, deaths and injuries that have occurred on board during the voyage (PRO London, BT 100/259-260)
Names and Descriptions of British Passengers Embarked at the Port of Southampton, 10 April 1912 (PRO London, BT 27/780B)
Record of Bodies and Effects: Passengers and Crew, S.S. Titanic (Public Archives of Nova Scotia)
The Des Moines Register, 17 April 1912, DRAKE STUDENT WAS ON ILL-FATED SHIP
Webster City Freeman, 23 April 1912, Body of Tomlin recovered early

Newspaper Articles

Des Moines Tribune (16 April 1912) Student at Drake university, was a passenger on the wrecked Titanic
Webster City Freeman (23 April 1912) Tomlin returning to complete his work for graduation
Milwaukee Sentinel (24 April 1912) Titanic victim was on way to Milwaukee
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Comment and discuss

  1. Raymond Jolliff

    Raymond Jolliff said:

    Ernest Tomlin sent a postcard to his sister Lilly, who was my grandmother her surname was Jolliff. We the Jolliff's decided as a family to sell the poscard . 

  2. Debbie Fontaine

    Debbie Fontaine said:

    Ernest Portage Tomlin lived in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba with my Great-Grandmother Emma Sarah Tomlin who was his Aunt.  Many of the Charles Tomlin & Mary Jane Shelvey children emmigrated there from England; I am still working on their family tree

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Gavin Bell, UK