Mr William Thomas Stead, 62, of Cambridge House, Wimbledon Park, London SW and 'Holly Bush', Hayling Island, Hampshire was a well known journalist and author.
Stead was born in Manse, Embleton, Northumbria on 5 July 1849, he was the son of Rev. W. Stead a congregational minister and Isabella, daughter of John Jobson a Yorkshire farmer.
Birthplace of WT Stead
In 1850 the family moved to Howden-on-Tyne and until the age of 12 W.T.Stead was educated by his father. In 1861 Stead went to Silcoates School near Wakefield. In 1863 when he was 14 he was apprenticed office boy in a merchants counting house on Quayside in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In February 1870 he began to contribute articles to the 'Northern Echo', a liberal paper that had been recently founded in Darlington. His work was much admired and in April 1871 he was appointed editor even though he had never been inside a newspaper office, he remained at the post until 1880, a period during which he became renowned for his strong support for Gladstone in the agitation against Turkey over recent Bulgarian atrocities.
In 1873 he married Emma Lucy Wilson daughter of Henry Wilson of Howden-on-Tyne and together they had six children. Stead later listed his interests at cycling, boating and playing with children.
In September 1880 Stead moved to London to be assistant editor of the 'Pall Mall Gazette', a liberal publication under the editorial control of John (later Viscount) Morley. Together they formed a successful partnership until August 1883 when Morley was elected to parliament as MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Stead was thus appointed editor and over the next seven years developed what Matthew Arnold described as 'New Journalism'. From being a relatively quiet chronicle of the day's events the Gazette was transformed into an innovative and daring organ, the initiator and supporter of numerous political and social movements. An example of its influence is that of General Gordon who was on the brink of retirement when, in January 1884 he was interviewed by the Gazette, the publication of the interview was followed shortly after by an editorial from Stead urging the government to send Gordon on one last mission to Khartoum. It was a mission from which Gordon would never return. In 1885 the government was forced to supply an extra £3½m to bolster weakening naval defences, this was in response to Stead's series of articles in the gazette entitled 'The Truth about the Navy.'
Controversy surrounded Stead in 1885 when he published The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. His text exposed criminal vice and specifically child prostitution. An an almost immediate consequence of his revelations was the ressurection of the dormant Criminal Law Amendment Act which raised the age of consent to sixteen. However, Stead had failed to secure evidence to protect him from prosecution and, as a result of a civil indictment, he was jailed for three months. Widely vilified by the British press and public as a peddler in pornography, Stead received much support from influential reformers including Cardinal Manning, the Bishop of London (Dr Temple), and Lord Shaftsbury. Read more in pages of the "War Cry" from the Salvation Army.
Gradually Stead tired of daily journalism and in 1890 he left the Gazette to found the 'Review of Reviews' followed in 1891 by the 'American Review of Reviews' and in 1892 by the 'Australian Review of Reviews' the 'Masterpiece Library of Penny Poets, Novels and Prose classics' was founded in 1895.
Around this time Stead became interested in spiritualism and between 1893 and 1897 he edited 'Borderland' a periodical devoted to the subject. Although his fascination with the subject continued until he death Stead's reputation diminished a decline that was to some extent compounded by his increasing pacifism at a time when the government was rallying support for the war in South Africa. Despite this he continued to campaign for a strong navy under the banner 'two keels to one.'
In 1898 Stead had visited the Tsar of Russia and this visit spurred him to found and edit the 'War against War' which was a weekly paper. At this time he also preached what he termed a 'Peace Crusade'. After the Hague conference, which he attended, he strongly opposed the war in the Transvaal and wrote 'Shall I Slay my Brother the Boer' and also published the weekly organ of the Stop the War Committee, 'War against War in South Africa'. In 1900 Stead supported the formation of a Union International to combat Militarism and to secure the adoption of the recommendations of the Hague Conference. At the same time he maintained his interest in publishing and began a series of portfolios of pictorial masterpieces.
Until his death Stead continued to preach 'peace through arbitration' and when he boarded the Titanic in Southampton he was travelling to America to take part in a peace congress at Carnegie Hall on 21 April at the request of the president William Howard Taft.
Stead occupied cabin C-87 (? C-89) but while the ship sank he sat quietly reading a book in the First Class Smoking Room.
Curiously, on 22 March 1886 Stead had published an article entitled 'How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor'. In the story an unnamed steamer collides with another ship and due to a shortage of lifeboats there is a large loss of life. Stead wrote 'This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats. - Ed'.
An 1892 edition of the 'Review of Reviews' carried the fictional story of an accident involving a White Star Line vessel. In the story - entitled 'From the Old World to the New' - the Majestic carries a clairvoyant who senses a disaster to another ship that has collided with an iceberg. The survivors are rescued and the Majestic manages to avoid the ice.