William Edward Lowe Bessant was born in Totton, Hampshire, England on 8 August 1871 (1). He was the son of Walter Lowe (1833-1893) and Ellen Bessant (1837-1876), both Eling, Hampshire natives who were never officially married and all their children would carry the name Bessant.
William had eight known siblings: George (b. 1856), James (b. 1858), Walter (b. 1860), Frank Albert (b. 1864), Rose Leah Lowe (b. 1869), Bertie (b. 1872), Edith Kate (b. 1874) and Annie Louisa (b. 1876).
On the 1871 census, taken only a few months before William's birth, his family were living at Bears Lane, Bramshaw, Eling, Hampshire and his father was described as an agricultural labourer. His mother passed away in 1876 aged 39, possibly during childbirth. William first appears on the 1881 census whilst still living at the same Bears Lane address. Also present at the address was a widow named Harriet Laver (b. 1834 in South Stoneham, Hampshire), with whom William's father may have been in a relationship. William is absent from the 1891 census, perhaps already at sea, but his father is now listed at an address in Calmoor Road, Eling, Hampshire.
William was married, possibly in Eling, Hampshire, in late 1893 to Emily Ellen Cull (b. 1 March 1874 in Netley Marsh, Hampshire) and together they would have a total of six children, with five living past infancy: Charles William (1897-1961), Gladys Lillian May (1900-1977), Florence Ellen Maude (1906-1981), Leonard Stanley (1908-1968) and Albert Edward (1910-1979).
William is absent again from the 1901 census, but his wife and first two children are living at 3 Heysham Road, Shirley, Southampton. By the time of the 1911 census William and his family are residing at 36 Henry Road, Freemantle, Southampton and he was described as a labourer for the Union Castle Company. His son Charles was described as an errand boy.
When he signed-on to the Titanic, on 6 April, 1912 William gave his local address as 36 Henry Road, (Southampton) (2). His last ship had been the Oceanic. As a fireman he received monthly wages of £6.
Bessant was lost in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified. The following death notice appeared in the Southern Daily Echo (28 April 1912):
BESSANT--April 15th, on the S.S. Titanic, William Edward, the dearly beloved husband of Emily Bessant, of 5, Henry Road, Freemantle, Southampton. "God be with you until we meet again."
His widow Emily never remarried. She remained at 5 Henry Road, Freemantle for the rest of her life and died on 15 April 1935, the anniversary of her husband's death. His last surviving child was Florence Ellen Maude (later Mrs Charles Cook) who died in Southampton in 1981.
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- One source gives his birthdate as November 1871. His birth was registered in the third quarter of 1871, indicating the August date to be accurate.
- The 1911 census and the ship's articles give his address as 36 Henry Road. A move must have taken place in the interim between William's signing-on and his death. In his obituary the given address was 5 Henry Road and when his wife died her address was also given as 5 Henry Road in her probate.