Mr Francis William Somerton

Mr Francis William Somerton, known as Frank, was born at Tewkesbury Road in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England on 22 June 1881 and was later baptised in St Peter's Church, Cheltenham on 5 October that year.

He was the son of William Henry Somerton (b. 8 September 1839 in Marylebone, Middlesex), a gasworks clerk, and Hannah Soanes (b. 1850 in Oxfordshire) who had married in Buckinghamshire on 30 October 1875. 

He had three siblings: Annie Helena(1) (b. 2 January 1877), Henrietta Susan(2) (b. 7 March 1878) and James Frederick(3) (b. 24 May 1885).
In the months prior to Frank's birth his family appeared on the 1881 census living within the Gas Works in Cheltenham. When he finally appears on the 1891 census the family were by then living at Gloucester Road, Cheltenham. Francis was educated at Christ Church schools and afterwards went through a course of training as an engineer at Whitehead's Torpedo School near Weymouth. He appears on the 1901 census as a boarder at 1 West Bay House, Wyke Regis, Dorset and he is described as an unmarried engineer's fitter.

He first emigrated to the USA in April 1902 aboard the St Louis and returned home shortly after for a visit. In November 1904 he returned to the USA aboard the Oceanic, destined to the home of a friend in New York City. By 31 May 1906 he was a resident of 202 Campbell Avenue in Schenectady, New York which was when he applied for US citizenship.

Frank Somerton Signature

Frank's signature in his US citizenship papers

He became a US citizen on 10 January 1910 and went on to make his home in Canastota, New York where he worked as a machinist at Marvin & Casler's, making many friends and acquaintances. He later married a woman named Mae Fryer. 

Frank his wife returned to Britain aboard the Lusitania, touching down on British soil on 23 December 1911. In January 1912 he was one of the guests at Christ Church Old Boys Dinner. For a short time he took a job in Rugby, but the works were closed down on account of the coal strikes, so he accepted an offer from the American firm by whom he was formerly employed, and was on his way to take up his duties again in Canastota when he booked passage on the Titanic.

Somerton boarded the ship at Southampton as a third-class passenger (ticket number 18509, which cost £8, 1s), intending to resume his duties at Marvin & Casler's in Canastota on 22 April. 

Francis Somerton died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified. When he did not appear in Canastota as planned his friends and colleagues there began to wonder what became of him and confusion erupted as to whether he was a member of the crew or if he had even been aboard the ship :

STILL THINK SOMERTON PERISHED ON TITANIC
Canastota Friends Maintain Belief, but White Star Denies He Was Member of Crew

SPECIAL TO THE POST-STANDARD

CANASTOTA, April 30--A telegram stating that Frank Somerton, formerly of this village, was not a member of the crew of the Titanic was received from the New York office of the White Star Line by the Marvin & Casler Company today. The telegram stated a complete list of the crew was in the steamship company's possession and his name was not included.

A telegram from George Jackson, who left Canastota Sunday for Halifax, Nova Scotia, to meet the funeral ship Mackay-Bennett, and search for the body of Mr Somerton, was received by the local company today. It said Mr Jackson arrived in Halifax at 10 o'clock last night.

At a late hour tonight no further word has been heard from Mr Jackson. The White Star Line telegram failed to shake the belief of many of many of Mr Somerton's former fellow workmen at Marvin & Casler factory that he perished in the disaster. They say it is strange cablegrams to him sent to England have not been answered and wonder also why, if he was not on Titanic, he has not arrived in Canastota, as he wrote he would start to the United States  at about the time the Titanic was to sail from Liverpool, England.

The Post-Standard, 1 May 1912


Former Canastota Man Lost?

Canastota, April 29—George Jackson, employed at the Marvin & Casler Company's factory, left yesterday for Halifax to ascertain if the funeral ship, Mackay-Bennett, arriving from the scene of the Titanic disaster, has the body of Frank Somerton, formerly of Canastota. Mr Somerton was thought to have sailed on the Titanic. Efforts by cablegram and telegram to locate him since the disaster have failed. Mr Jackson awaited Saturday an answer to a cablegram he sent Friday to Mr Somerton's wife in England. He received no reply. When Mr Somerton was a machinist in Canastota he boarded at the home of Mr Jackson. The two men became close friends. Daniel Marvin, the son of H.N. Marvin, by whom Mr Somerton is employed, was one of the victims of the shipwreck.

Rome Daily Sentinel, 29 April 1912

His widow later set the record straight.

Frank Somerton of Canastota, who went to England last December to visit relatives, is counted as another Titanic victim. His wife writes from England that he was to sail on the Titanic, and as he has not showed up at Marvin & Casler's shop where he was to resume work April 22, the worst is feared. 

Homer Republican, 9 May 1912

His estate, valued at a meagre £5, was administered to his widow Mae on 29 March 1913. Mae possibly remarried within a few years after the loss of her husband but her further whereabouts are unclear.

His father died on 22 August 1913 and his mother on 9 January 1938. Francis is remembered on their headstone in Holy Trinity Cemetery, Devon:

WILLIAM HENRY SOMERTON
(FORMERLY OF CHELTENHAM)
DIED AUGUST 22 1913
AGED 74 YEARS
ALSO OF
FRANCIS WILLIAM
SON OF THE ABOVE
WHO PERISHED
IN THE TITANIC DISASTER
APRIL 14 1912 AGED 30 YEARS
ALSO OF
HANNAH
WIFE OF WILLIAM HENRY SOMERTON
DIED JANURARY 9 1938
AGED 86 YEARS

Notes

  1. Annie Helena Somerton; married in 1903 to Frank Eynon Morgan (b. 14 March 1879), a law clerk, and had several children. She died in Windsor, Berkshire on 10 January 1959.
  2. Henrietta Susan Somerton; married in 1906 to Alfred William Elliott and raised a family. She died in Barnstaple, Devon in 1963.
  3. James Frederick Somerton; married in 1938 to Winifred L. Darch (b. 1899). He died in Barnstaple, Devon in 1961.
 

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Rob Ottmers, USA

References and Sources

Cheltenham Echo, April 20th 1912, "Anxiety of Cheltonians"
Cheltenham Echo, April 22nd 1912, "The Missing Cheltonian"
Search archive British newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

(2020) Francis William Somerton Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #1231, updated 10th January 2020 00:24:56 AM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/francis-william-somerton.html