Encyclopedia Titanica

William McMillan Small

Mr William McMillan Small (Leading fireman) was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 9 January 1870, later being baptised on 17 January that same year in St Peter's Church, Liverpool.

He was the son of Scottish parents, Thomas Small (b. 1825), a coachbuilder, and Jane Hope (b. 1830), a former tailoress, who had moved to Liverpool around the late 1850s from their native Glasgow.

His known siblings were: Isabella (b. 1851), Jennie (b. 1853), John (b. 1855), Thomas (b. 1857), James (b. 1860), Catherine (b. 1862), Ann (b. 1864), Robert (b. 1867) and Mary (b. 1873).

William first appears on the 1871 census as a resident of 11 Bute Street, Everton and was living at 23 Bute Street by the time of the following census in 1881 and by which time his father had passed away. His family were still living on Bute Street, Everton by the time of the 1891 census but William was absent and presumably at sea. He joined the Royal Naval Reserve Marines around 1893 but it is not clear if he saw any naval service. By 1894 was serving aboard Lucania and he also went on to serve aboard Campania, both of the Cunard Line. In the latter half of that decade he began a long association with the Majestic which lasted until at least 1907, rising to become a leading fireman by that stage. He also saw some short spells aboard other ships, including Cymric, Cedric and Winfredian. 

He does appear on the 1901 census, still living with his mother and brother James, now described as a marine fireman and still residing at 23 Bute Street. By 1907 he was living at 57 Prince Edward Lane.

He was married to a fellow-Liverpudlian, Elizabeth Andersen, née Ridgway1 on 19 June 1905. 

Elizabeth was the daughter of mariner John Ridgway and had first been married in 1895 to Lorens "Louis" Peter Andersen (b. 1852), a ship's steward originally from Norway, and had a son named John Louis on 26 December 1895. What became of Lorens Andersen is not certain but Elizabeth was described as a widow at the time of her remarriage.

There is confusion as to how many children William and Elizabeth actually had together: their known children were Jane (b. 6 January 1904), Alice (b. 23 September 1905), Catherine (b. 1908) and Margaret (b. 1911); the middle two girls, Alice and Catherine, both died in Liverpool in 1907 and 1909 respectively. The 1911 census states that the couple had been married for sixteen years and had a total of eight children, with three surviving; this may be taking into account, however, children from Elizabeth’s previous marriage.

The family possibly moved to Southampton around 1910 and William, his wife and daughters Jane and Margaret appear on the 1911 census living at 14 Russell Street, St Mary, Southampton.

When he signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912 Small gave his address as 14 Russell Street, Southampton and his previous ship as the Olympic. As leading fireman his wages were £6, 10s per month.

Fireman John Thompson testified at the US inquiry that, after he and some other firemen had gone on deck after the collision, Small ordered them back below, apparently to go back to the boiler rooms.

William Small died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

His widow had been pregnant at the time of the sinking and on 4 December 1912 she gave birth to a son and named him William Arthur. What became of Elizabeth and her daughters remains unclear.

William’s posthumously-born son William Arthur Small later worked as a dock stevedore; in 1936 he married Violet Lilian White (b. 28 January 1915) and their son Anthony William was born later the same year. William died in Bognor Regis on 14 November 1982. 


  1. Elizabeth Ridgway’s exact origins are unclear; as per her marriage record her father was John Ridgway, a mariner. No individual matching this profile has yet been identified. However, there is an Elizabeth Ridgway, born in Liverpool on 13 November 1874, daughter of porter John Ridgway and the former Maria Fraser. 

Titanic Crew Summary

Name: Mr William McMillan Small
Age: 42 years 3 months and 6 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Married to Elizabeth Andersen (née Ridgway)
Occupation: Leading Fireman
Last Ship: Olympic
Embarked: Southampton on Saturday 6th April 1912
Died in the Titanic disaster (15th April 1912)
Body Not Recovered

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    One of my Ancestors.

  2. Matthew Bishop

    Matthew Bishop said:

    William Small was my great grandfather on my mother's side. His son John Small, my grandfather, was married to Fanny Gillespie. My mother, Patricia Jean Small, was born in 1925.

  3. Jenny De Gruttis

    Jenny De Gruttis said:

    William small was my Grandfather his daughter,Margaret Small b.1911 was my mother, She died 1991, I was her only child I was born 1940 sadly she knew little about William as she was only a year old when Titanic sunk in 1912. Margaret died in Richmond upon Thames and is remembered in the garden of rest at Richmond cemetery. Her sister Jane was married and living in Lancaster,Lancs in the 1940’s and had two children.

  4. Fiona Williamson

    Fiona Williamson said:

    William was my great grandfather. His daughter Jane b. 1903 married Thomas Moffatt in 1927. They lived in Lancaster and had 3 children Josephine b. 1928, Dennis b. 1929 and William b. 1932 (- my father.)

  5. Arun Vajpey

    Arun Vajpey said:

    That's interesting. On Leading Fireman William Small's ET bio here, there is very little information about what happened to his (then pregnant) wife Elizabeth Small (nee Ridgeway) or their daughters Jane and Margaret. Obviously, Jane Small (later Moffat) was your grandmother and so does the family have any information about Elizabeth post-disaster? Did she remarry?

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