Mr William Henry Gillespie

Mr William Henry Gillespie was born at Burrin Street in the town of Carlow in Co Carlow, Ireland on 7 October 1880.

He was the son of Richard Gillespie (b. 1838), a staff sergeant in the British Army and later a clerk, and Eliza Houlihan (b. 1860). His father was originally from Co Cork and his mother from Co Limerick and they had married in Dublin on 1 August 1870.

From a Church of Ireland family, the Gillespie's first child, a son also named William Henry, was born in the capital on 25 May 1871 but later died whilst still a small infant. He was followed by twins Eliza Annie and Caroline Bridget (b. 6 November 1874) who were born in Parsonstown (modern-day Birr) in Kings County (modern-day Co Offaly). Whilst residents of the Military Barracks in Carlow, when her father was the barracks sergeant, daughter Catherine Jane was born 10 December 1876. The family moved to Burrin Street in Carlow later; his brother Richard George was born there on 3 October 1878 and William followed in 1880. 

The family were back in the military barracks in Carlow when his brother Daniel James arrived on 19 June 1882 and brother Emmanuel on 25 December 1883. After this the family moved to Abbeyleix Demesne in Abbeyleix, Queen's County (modern-day Co Laois) and whilst there daughter Ester Deborah was born on 7 June 1886 and was followed by Ada Ruth (b. 26 May 1888), Uriah Adam (b.21 January 1890) and Matthew Humphrey (b. 23 October 1893).

When he appears on the 1901 census William is described as a grocer's clerk and still living with his family at house 9 in Abbeyleix Demesne. His father, by then an estate clerk, later died on Christmas Day 1908. William and his family were listed on the 1911 census still living in Abbeyleix, then 20 Market Square, and he was described as an unmarried law clerk. His mother ran a coffee house named Coffee Palace.

Working as a clerk in a prestigious carpet factory in Abbeyleix, William was travelling to Vancouver on business. He boarded the Titanic at Queenstown on 11 April 1912 as a second class passenger (ticket number 12233 which cost £13), one of only a handful of Irish passengers not travelling third class. His brothers Emmanuel and Uriah had also previously crossed the Atlantic, with Emmanuel known to have returned to Ireland by 1910. Another brother, Daniel lived in Manhattan but the family had not had contact with him since around 1906.

William Gillespie was lost in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified. He is remembered on the family headstone in St. Micheal and all Angels churchyard, Tullyrae, Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Ireland

William Henry Gillespie Memorial William Henry Gillespie Memorial 
(Courtesy of Trevor Baxter)

His mother later received compensation from the Titanic Relief Fund. She died on 10 January 1914. 

His brother Emmanuel, a chemist's assistant, later signed up for the war effort in the run-u to the outbreak of WWI, joining the Royal Army Medical Corps. What became of him is not certain.

In a strange twist, in 1926 his brother Daniel living in New York sent letters via the Irish Department of External Affairs to try and contact William. He stated that he had not had contact with him in twenty years and believed he was working as a grocer in Dublin. With enquiries made and the local Gardai (the Irish police force) informed of the search, Daniel eventually learned of his brother's fate. Daniel, who worked as a painter and lived in Brooklyn, was never married. He died on 15 August 1929 aged 47.



In search of William Gillespie (letter 1)
In search of William Gillespie (letter 2)
In search of William Gillespie (letter 3)
In search of William Gillespie (letter 4)

Articles and Stories

Chicago Inter Ocean (1912) 

Comment and discuss

  1. Carolyn Elizabeth Williams said:

    I'm 80 yrs old, born in New York City, have lived in California for many years. My mother and father, both immigrants, were married in New York prior to the 1st world war. My father told her about his brother William Henry Gillespie who had booked on another ship but changed his ticket for the Titanic's maiden voyage. He was 34, 2nd class passenger, law clerk from Abbey, leix, Ireland. His body was never recovered. My parents separated when I was 2 mos.old and I know very little about my father's family. I came across a "Vera R Gillespie" recently in the editor's acknowledgments for ET. I... Read full post

  2. Carolyn Elizabeth Williams said:

    In regard to my uncle William Henry Gillespie who went down with the Titanic, perhaps Hans Soldner would have knowledge of the whereabouts of VERA R GILLESPIE who was a contributor to ET. I am wondering if she is a family member. I am searching for info about my uncle's family in Ireland and/or America. I understand he was my father's favorite brother. I never knew my father or much about the family. Please help!!

  3. Iain Stuart Yardley said:

    Afternoon Carolyn, Go to "Titanic Books" on the topics page and scroll down to "Who Sailed On The Titanic". Debbie Beavis, the author of this book, is conducting further research into the passenger you mention, and she may have further information for you. Cheers, Boz

  4. Carolyn Elizabeth Williams said:

    Thanks Boz for your referral to Debbie Beavis" book. Heard from Mike re Vera and John Gillespie. No connection to my uncle William Gillespie. I'm hoping to hear from Debbie. It appears she may have found important info perhaps about the family in Ireland. This message board is terrific! Cheers, Carolyn

  5. avatar

    Phillip Gowan said:

    Carolyn, I have Mr. Gillespie's birth certificate if you'd like a copy. Contact me privately at: Regards, Phil

  6. Carolyn Elizabeth Williams said:

    It has come to my attention that Senan Molony recently posted 4 letters to ET from the Irish Archives re Gillespie. In 1926 the Irish police conducted an extensive investigation after receiving an inquiry about his whereabouts. The police report clearly concluded that Uncle Will was aboard the Titanic and did not survive the shipwreck. I have read old accounts in area newspapers like the San Francisco Examiner which confirmed the deaths of local people on Titanic although bodies were never recovered or identified. I'm grateful for Senan's excellent research and for the help of other ET... Read full post

  7. Senan Molony said:

    Final proof that William Henry Gillespie died on the Titanic: It is a panel on the tombstone of Richard and Eliza Gillespie in Abbeyleix, Church of Ireland graveyard, Co Laois, Ireland. It says: William Henry (Gillespie) Who was lost at sea in Titanic disaster 15th April 1912 Aged 32 years.

  8. avatar

    Brian J. Ticehurst said:

    Senan - Many thanks for the information on Mr. Gillespie's memorial - I have now added it to my book Titanic Memorials World-wide - Where They are Located (unashamed plug) it is the 1,067th reported memorial and the 977th person to have a memorial or be mentioned on a memorial. Anyone know of any more? Regards - Brian

  9. Iain Stuart Yardley said:

    Brian, I owe you a memorial to bandsman John Wesley Woodward, as promised many months ago. He has a headstone or dedication to him in West Bromwich, West Midlands. If I plan my time better, I will hopefully have something for you soon and also for the other four West Bromwich men who died in the disaster. Cheers, Boz

  10. avatar

    Brian J. Ticehurst said:

    Boz - Many thanks for the above. I look forward to receiving your information. Keep Planning! Cheers brian

  11. Carolyn Elizabeth Williams said:

    Senan, Truly appreciate seeing this memorial to William Henry Gillespie on the tombstone of my grandparents in Church of Ireland graveyard at Abbeyleix,Ireland. Recently, learned from a Sadie Bennett in Abbeyleix, who is related by marriage to the Wilde family, that "Jim Wilde was married to a Gillespie whose brother was lost at sea in the sinking of Titanic." This, of course, is the same James Wilde mentioned in the 1926 letter from the Irish police that you found in the archives, verifying my uncle's death on Titanic. Again, thanks for your help. Best regards, Carolyn

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Trevor Baxter, UK
Gavin Bell, UK
Hermann Söldner, Germany
Peter Engberg, Sweden

References and Sources

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)
Ireland Births and Baptisms, 1620-1881 (
Search archive Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2019) William Henry Gillespie (ref: #428, last updated: 22nd April 2019, accessed 2nd June 2020 21:54:55 PM)