Mr Escott Robert Phillips was born in Cardiff, Wales on 24 November 1868, later being baptised on 17 December that same year in St John's Church, Cardiff.
He was the son of James Page Phillips (1830-1883), a police constable, and Charlotte Phillips (1) (b. 1841). Both his parents were English and both from Devonshire, his father from Barnstaple and his mother from Ilfracombe and they were married in early 1866 in Ilfracombe before moving soon after to settle in Cardiff.
Robert had three siblings: William (b. 1867), James (b. 1871) and Frances (b. 1876).
He appears on the 1871 census living at 2 Windsor Road, St Mary, Cardiff but the family later moved back to England, settling in Ilfracombe, Devon where they appeared on the 1881 census and his father now being described as a naval pensioner. Escott would go on to work as a shop porter and later a hotel porter, cellarman and barman in the Royal Clarence Hotel.
He was married in 1890 to Hannah Maria Knight (b. 1868), also a native of Cardiff, and their only child Alice Frances Louisa was born on 26 January 1891. The family appear on the 1891 census living at 85 High Street in Ilfracombe. They appeared on the 1901 census living at 9 Belvedere, Ilfracombe and on the 1911 census at 23 Westbourne Grove, also in Ilfracombe where his wife had run a boarding house since 1904.
In 1911 his wife fell ill as a result of tuberculosis and would pass away in August of that year; plans were therefore made to emigrate. His brother William had already crossed the Atlantic in 1892, working as a painter, and lived with his wife Bessie and daughter Ethel (b. 1893) in New Brighton near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was here that Robert decided to resettle and he had secured a position as a factory foreman.
With the sale of their house complete they stayed for a short while at the Central Hotel in Ilfracombe from where, they were to travel on to Southampton to take passage aboard the American Line's Philadelphia. However the ongoing coal strike forced the cancellation of that ship and they were transferred to Titanic. On Tuesday 9 April 1912 Robert and his daughter left Ilfracombe by train, arriving in Southampton 9 hours later. That evening they walked down to berth 44 to view the ship and later Alice wrote to her grandmother in Ilfracombe:
'Dad and I have been to look at the Titanic. It is a monstrous great boat as high as the Clarence Hotel, and I cannot tell you how long! We are going to embark tomorrow morning soon after breakfast.'
They embarked the ship as planned the following morning (ticket number 2 which cost £21) and enjoyed the first few days of the voyage, making friends with a family of four (possibly Samuel Herman and his family) who shared their table at meal times. Father and daughter were boarded in different cabins.
On the Thursday Robert wrote a short letter to his mother in Ilfracombe:
We called at Cherbourg last evening and shall be calling at Queenstown today - We have made some very nice friends on board. There is a gentleman and wife and 2 daughters that sit at the same table with us.
Robert also sent a postcard to his friend Bill Squires in Ilfracombe which left the ship at Queenstown dated 11 April 1912. The message read:
Bill, Just a line to let you know we are all right up to now and having a jolly time. I wrote to Bill yesterday, if you will call in he will tell you what I have said. Kindest regards to you and the wife from one of the old school. R Phillips Alice has made friends with a gentleman and wife and two daughters that sit at the same table.
The original postcard is now an exhibit held by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra, Co Down, Northern Ireland.
On the night of the sinking, Phillips went to the cabin of his daughter to fetch her. From Alice's account it is possible that they went topside before returning to their cabins to fetch lifebelts and again ascending to the boat deck. Phillips saw his daughter off in a lifeboat but he remained behind and was lost. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
His brother William remained living in America. At the time of the 1940 census he was aged 73 and still living in New Brighton but what became of him is unknown.
Articles and Stories
Ilfracombe Gazette (1891)
Brooklyn Daily Times (1912)
Western Morning News (1912)
- Maiden name sometime often incorrectly listed as "Worthy". Marriage between James Phillips and Charlotte Phillips registered in first quarter of 1866 in Cardiff.
References and SourcesBritish Census 1891
Exeter Flying Post
Western Morning News (photo: 19 April 1912)
The Ilfacombe Gazette