Fr Thomas Roussel Davids Byles 1 was born in Shelton, Staffs, England on 26 February 1870, to Louisa Davids and Alfred Holden Byles; he was the eldest of seven children.
Byles' father, the Reverend Dr. Alfred Holden Byles was a congregational Minister and a successful businessman. He was the first pastor of Headingley Hill Congregational Church, Leeds. Records show the family's home address as York Road Council Schools, Leeds, Yorkshire. In the 1890s he was the Minister of Shelton-Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent and also lived for a time in Omaha, NE, USA with his wife and two of their children (a daughter and Winter, their son). Whilst in America he supplied the First Congregational Church in Omaha with a pulpit. The family later returned to England. Rev Byles senior died on 8 December 1911 2.
Byles' uncle, Mr F. Byles, lived in Bradford, and another uncle?who was born in Bradford?was Sir William Pollard Byles (1839?1917), radical, social reformer and member of Parliament for Salford North (elected 1906). One of Roussel's sisters became a missionary in China.
Byles was educated at Leamington College and Rossall School, Fleetwood, Lancashire (1885?89) where he was a 'scholar' and school monitor for Crescent House.
In 1889 Byles went to Balliol College, Oxford  where he studied mathematics, modern history and theology. He was also Vice-President of the Arnold Society (a select undergraduate debating society at Balliol). He graduated as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1894. While studying at Oxford he converted to Catholicism and the following year went to work as a Master at St Edmund's College, Ware, Hertfordshire, a boys' school and Roman Catholic seminary. In 1897 he wrote 'A School Commentary on 2nd Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians', his only published work.
Byles it would appear was not in generally good health his letters allude to occasional beak-downs and fits:
I hope to enter some Religious Order early in next year, but I want to wait a little, partly because I have not yet found out which Order I am best fitted for, & partly because my doctor tells me that by next February, if I have not recurrence, I may consider myself quite cured of my fits, & till that is safe it would probably be difficult to find any Order willing to accept me.
Sept 14, 1897
Byles worked at St Edmund's until 1899 when he travelled to Rome to study for the priesthood. He received a B. D. (Bachelor of Divinity) from Gregorian University in 1901 and was ordained on 15 June 1902; he finished his studies in Rome in 1903. From 1905 to 1912 he was the Roman Catholic Rector of Ongar, Essex.
Byles' younger brother William also converted to Catholicism but moved to America to run a rubber business and fell in love with Katherine Russell of Brooklyn. When they planned to marry William asked his brother to officiate at the ceremony (planned for the Sunday after his arrival). He and his brother Winter (living in America) made arrangements to travel to New York. Fr Byles was initially scheduled to travel on another White Star liner but switched at the last minute to the Titanic. His second class ticket was number 244310 and cost £13. He boarded the Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912.
While the Titanic lay at anchor at Cherbourg he wrote to his housekeeper, Miss Field back at his parish in Chipping Ongar, Essex
(© Joan Barry Collection)
In the letter, which left the ship at Queenstown the following day, he gives a description of the ship and the journey from Southampton to Cherbourg. He found the vibration of the ship unpleasant but said that although the sea appeared rough there was no reflection of this on the ship itself. He also mentioned meeting two other priests in second class  one a Benedictine from Bavaria, and one is a secular from Lithuania .
On the morning of Sunday 14 April Father Byles held the Catholic mass with second class passengers in their lounge and afterwards with the third class passengers for whom Fr Byles delivered a sermon in English and French, Fr Peruschitz followed with a sermon in German and Hungarian. According to an article in The Evening World the two priests preached on the need to have a "lifeboat in the shape of religious consolation at hand in case of spiritual shipwreck".
After the collision ? by many accounts ? Father Byles was a hero till the end, helping the third class passengers up the stairs, into the boats, hearing confessions and praying with those that had been unable to escape. Some newspapers reported that he was offered a seat but had refused.
(Courtesy Joan Barry, USA)
'Continuing the prayers, he led us to where the boats were being lowered. Helping the women and children in he whispered to them words of comfort and encouragement.'
The Evening World, April 22 1912 Miss Bertha Moran
Father Byles died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
Memorial Card for Fr. Byles
(© Encyclopedia Titanica / Courtesy Joan Barry, USA)
Katherine and William did not reschedule their wedding. They had another priest perform the ceremony. In a Brooklyn newspaper it reported the bride and groom went home from the wedding and changed into mourning clothes and returned to the church for a memorial mass. The couple then left for a short honeymoon in New Jersey.
Later that year Katherine and William travelled to Europe. They visited London and the Houses of Parliament to meet 'Uncle Willie' (Sir W. P. Byles). Katherine had to wait outside in a parlour ? women could not enter. According to family legend, a young man came to her and said "Hello Mrs Byles, I am here to give you a tour, my name is Winston Churchill". From London they travelled on to Rome where they had a private audience with the Pope, who declared Father Byles a martyr for the Church.
A door installed by his brothers at the Roman Catholic Church in Chipping Ongar, Essex, stands as a memorial to Father Byles. A memorial photograph of him also hangs there.
Articles and Stories
Brooklyn Daily Times (1912)
Evening World (1912)
Newark Evening News (1912)
The Times (1912)
Daily Mail (1912)
The Globe (1912)
|FR THOMAS BYLES OF THE TITANIC|
Fr. Scott Archer, USA
Joan Barry, USA (Great niece of Father Byles, granddaughter of Katherine Russell and William Byles)
George Behe, USA
Dr John Jones, UK (Dean and Archivist, Balliol College Oxford)
Karen Kamuda, USA
Don Lynch, USA
Steve Rigby, UK
John Russ, UK (Librarian, Rossall School)
Brian Ticehurst, UK
Geoff Whitfield, UK
2. Probate for Alfred Holden Byles:
1912: Byles, Alfred Holden of Oak-terrace, Headingly, Leeds; Congregational Minister died 22 December 1911 at 8
13 March to Frederick Glyde Byles gentleman and Arthur Stanway le Mare,schoolmaster.
Effects ï¿½5926 16s. 9d.
3. At Balliol College, Oxford Roussel had two principle tutors J. W. Russell and A. L. Smith:
'[J. W. Russell] was an erratic mathematical genius; he was an FRS [Fellow of the Royal Society]; alcoholic [and] spent the last part of his life in a mental hospital. [A. L. Smith] was later Master of Balliol'.
It would appear that Byles was hardly an outstanding student:
'he was a Scholar of the College, elected as a mathematician. In his Mods. (intermediate examination) it appears that he got 3rd class Honours (Scholars were and are expected to do better) and then changed to modern history in which he got a 3rd class Honours degree (not bad considering he had started as a mathematician); then in the following year he took finals in theology and got a 3rd in that too'.
Dr John Jones, Dean and Archivist, Balliol College, Oxford.
4. 'Liverpool St.' Fr Byles would have arrived from Essex at Liverpool St. Station - the station that serves the east of the country. He would have then taken taxi, omnibus or London Underground to Waterloo Station (platform 12) where he would have joined the Boat Train for Southampton.
5. The other priests were Rev Juozas (Joseph) Montvila (from Lithuania) and Rev. Joseph M. Peruschitz (from Bavaria, Germany). Lawrence Beesley recorded the following observations of passengers in the Second Class library:
'In the middle of the room are two Catholic priests, one quietly reading-either English or Irish, and probably the latter-the other, dark, bearded, with a broad-brimmed hat, talking earnestly to a friend in German and evidently explaining some verse in the open Bible before him...'
Second Class passenger Ellen Toomey told reporters after the disaster that Montvila, Peruschitz and Father Byles said Mass every day on board the Titanic.
6. This word is almost illegible. Secular can refer to a priest not bound by a specific religious rule, see the entry for Rev Joseph Montvila for more details.
References and SourcesThe Evening World, 22 April 1912, Article
MKKZ (Germany), 12 April 1987, Mrs Agnes McCoy (translated by Hildegard Wechs)
Lawrence Beesley (1912) The Loss of the Titanic: Its Story and Lessons. Houghton Mifflin
Bridgwater Mercury, April 24, 1912, "Honeymoons on the Titanic"
Colchester Gazette (Essex), April 24, 1912, page 4, "Ongar priest among the missing"
John P. Eaton & Charles A. Haas (1994) Titanic: Triumph & Tragedy, 2nd ed. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1 85260 493 X
Sir Ivo Elliott (1934) The Balliol College Register, 2nd ed. 1833-1933. Oxford, Oxford University Press
The Evening World, April 22 1912, "Heroic priests gave up lives to quiet crowds"
Don Lynch & Ken Marschall (1992) Titanic: An Illustrated History. London, Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 56271 4
MKKZ (Germany), April 12, 1987
Omaha World Herald (Omaha Nebraska), April 17, 1912, "Byles' father Omaha preacher"
Rossall School Records
Somerset House Index of Wills 1912
The Times (London), April 22, 1912 "Some of those lost"
Unidentified Newspaper (Germany), 1912
Who Was Who. Vol. 2.