The final Titanic tales from Portswood part two

Titanic leaving Belfast from Wikimedia Commons

25 July 2019

Finding houses on Portswood Road was never going to be easy. For a start, quite a few are shops and don’t have house numbers. There are also many gaps where houses used to be but have disappeared, either through modernisation, bombing or a combination of the two. To compound the issue we soon realised that if 368 was opposite 535 we were going to have to concentrate hard. We had four houses to find but it was clear from the outset we would be lucky to find any still standing.

Portswood Road

The first on our list was number 446, the only even number. Just as I suspected, it wasn’t there. All we found were modern flats and businesses. The little terraced cottages on the opposite side of the road gave us an idea of the kind of house Hugh Hatch lived in. It was the best we could do. 

Portswood Road

Hugh was born in East Wellow, Romsey, in the summer of 1891. His father, Charles, was a market gardener from Bramshaw in Hampshire and his mother, Emily, was from Tisbury in Wiltshire. They had seven children. Charles died in 1901 and, in 1910, Emily married Francis Gannaway, a labourer from Southampton, and set up home in Blackhill, East Wellow. By this time Hugh had moved in with his sister Mabel and her family at 446 Portswood Road and was working as a colonial butcher. What prompted him to go to sea isn’t clear but, by 1911, he was working aboard Oceanic, probably as a scullion and, in 1912, he joined Titanic. A scullion did not have an easy life, cleaning the kitchens, fetching and carrying and washing dishes on Titanic must have been a relentless task. Hugh would have earned just £3 10s a month but, for an unmarried twenty three year old, it was a living wage. 

What happened to poor Hugh on that fateful night isn’t clear but he didn’t survive the sinking and his body was never identified. Mabel, the sister he lived with, died in Southampton in 1966 but what became of the rest of his family isn’t known. 

We had quite a long walk to our next house, number 405. It took us past the Immaculate Conception Church, lots of new houses, new houses that were once pubs and a dilapidated old abandoned shop with a very faded ghost sign and an intriguing basement window.

Sadly, the house we were looking for had been swallowed up by new housing on the street behind so all we saw was a long brick wall. We were well prepared for the disappointment by now though and the house beside this, an end of terrace cottage, gave us a clue what our next crew member’s house must have looked like. 

Percival Stainer Deslandes was born in Islington, London in 1874. Both his parents were from the Channel Islands. His father, Theodore, was a draper from St Helier, Jersey and his mother, Clara, was from Guernsey. Percival had one older sister, Ada, and was known to his friends and family as Percy. 

By 1881, the family had moved to Weymouth in Dorset and Theodore was working as a commercial traveller. At some time around the turn of the century Percy went to sea, probably as a steward. This may well have coincided with a move to Southampton and it was here, in 1910, that he married Elizabeth Myra Jones, a local girl. The couple settled at 495 Portswood Road but had no children. Percy left the St Louis to join Titanic as a first class saloon steward. The tips from the rich passengers on Titanic were probably the reason for this change and would easily have doubled his £3 15s a month wages. 

Exactly what happened to Percy when the ship sank isn’t certain but it is likely he was on deck, perhaps helping to load the lifeboats as his body was later recovered from the sea by the Mackay Bennett. It was the 212th body recovered. Percy was wearing his first class steward’s uniform and had a knife, corkscrews and an empty purse in his pocket. This suggests he was probably on duty at the time of the collision. 

Percy was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 6 May 1912. He left his estate, worth £185 3s 8d, to his wife Elizabeth, who never remarried and stayed in Southampton until her death in 1961. Tragically, Percy’s sister, Ada, died in June 1912. Losing both their children in such a short space of time must have been a terrible blow to the family. Percy’s grieving parents continued to live in Dorset until their deaths in the 1920’s

Neither of our final two Portswood Road houses have survived. All the houses, from the little row of terraces a few doors from Percy’s old house, to the junction with Highfield Lane, were modern and the numbers we were looking for seem to have been replaced by apartment blocks. It was pretty much what we’d expected to find but it was disappointing nonetheless.

We might not have been able to find the original 377 Portswood Road but it was once home to Henry Joseph Bailey. Henry was born in Highfield, Southampton in June 1865. He was originally named Job Henry after his paternal grandfather but was known as Henry, like his father, a labourer from Dorset. His mother, Charlotte, was from Somerset. The couple married in Southampton in 1859, had six children between 1860 and 1872 and lived somewhere on Portswood Road.

In 1880 Henry, aged just fifteen, joined the Royal Navy as a deck boy on Tricomalee. Life at sea must have suited him because, three years later, he was an ordinary seaman on Minotaur and, by 1885, he was working on Canada as an able seaman. He served on many ships, including St Vincent, Fantome, Excellent, Victory I, Boscawen and Duke of Wellington I and, by 1890, had become a petty officer aboard Australia. 

Henry Joseph Bailey from Encyclopaedia Titanica

In 1894, Henry married  Mary Jane Hopper from Cucklington Wincanton. Between 1895 and 1902, they had five children, one son and four daughters, only four survived infancy, Olive, Alma, Hilda and Agnes. Although Henry spent the majority of his time at sea, his family lived in Cucklington for some time and later moved to Portland in Dorset. 

Henry’s rise up the ranks continued when he was promoted to first class petty officer aboard the Royal Arthur in 1901. He was pensioned out of the navy in December 1903. According to his discharge papers he was five foot ten, had dark brown hair, blue eyes, a ruddy complexion and flags tattooed on his right forearm. 

Henry Joseph Bailey from Encyclopaedia Titanica

Exactly what he did for the next few years isn’t known but, by 1911, he was living with his family at 377 Portswood Road and working as a coxswain on a steam launch in Southampton Docks. On 6 April 1912 he joined the Titanic as master at arms. It was his first time serving in the merchant navy but his friend and in law, Arthur Bright, was Titanic’s quartermaster. Bright was married to Mary Jane’s sister, Ada, and both men had served together in the Royal Navy. Bright left Olympic to join Titanic and may have persuaded Henry to join him.

There were two masters at arms aboard Titanic, the other being Thomas Walter King, from Great Yarmouth. They both earned £5 10s a month and probably worked opposite shifts to police the ship. Master at arms is a naval term and, in the navy, the job involved teaching sailors to fight with small arms. On a cruise ship like Titanic, their duties were mainly stopping any pilfering or fights and generally acting as security guards. 

He rly Joseph Bailey from Encyclopaedia Titanica

During the evacuation of Titanic Henry took charge of the port side of the ship, while King took charge of the starboard. The details of what happened aren’t clear but it’s likely Henry was one of those crew members more or less forcing women and children into the boats. Most of the passengers and even some of the crew were unaware of the danger they were in, although, as a seasoned sailor, it’s likely Henry would have been.

Henry escaped on lifeboat sixteen. Able seaman Ernest Archer later testified that Henry had slid down the falls into the boat after it was launched and taken charge. He had probably been ordered to do this by one of the officers, possibly Second Officer Lightoller. There were  between  thirty and fifty people aboard the lifeboat, mostly woman and children from second and third class, along with three female crew members and five male crew members  to man the oars. 

One of the passengers, Mrs Wells, later described seeing men, looking ‘sober and serious’ watching the lifeboat being lowered. She believed the whole thing was a drill until she noticed an officer with a revolver in his hand. As soon as the boat hit the water the men rowed for all they were worth but the boat kept drifting back towards Titanic. Mrs Wells then saw lots of ‘wild eyed’ men rushing up from steerage but they were forced back by an officer brandishing a gun. As there were empty seats in the lifeboat, some of those men could have been saved but Officer Lightoller took the order ‘women and children first’ literally and let boats sail half empty rather than allow men aboard. Lifeboat sixteen did not pick up anyone from the water but did transfer a fireman into lifeboat six to help with the rowing. It reached Carpathia as dawn was breaking.

Strangely, given his job, Henry was not called to testify at either of the inquiries. His counterpart on the starboard side, Thomas King, did not survive. Henry didn’t return to the merchant service after the disaster but he did return to sea. During World War I He re-enlisted in the Royal Navy as a petty officer. He sailed on Victory I and 2, Eagle, Excellent and, finally, Attentive II. He spent the rest of his life living in Southampton. He died in 1943, aged seventy seven, and was cremated. His widow died in 1965. What became of his daughters isn’t known.

CJ and I were pretty relieved to tick off our last Portswood Road house, number 309, even if the original was long gone. We were overheated and in need of coffee and a sit down so the nearby supermarket cafe was a welcome sight. The crew member in question was Albert George Locke. The son of Hampshire natives John, a coastguard and former naval seaman, and Amelia, he was born in Chichester, Sussex in January 1872. Albert had at least eight siblings born between 1860 and 1877. 

The family lived at various addresses in East and West Wittering but, by 1891, Albert had left home and was living with his brother in law and employer, Edward Bolt, in Fishbourne, Sussex and working as a grocer’s assistant.  By 1901 he had moved and was lodging at 54 Tollington Road, London but was still working as a grocer’s assistant. 

In April 1904, Albert joined the Royal Naval ship Good Hope as a cook. What prompted this change of career isn’t clear but he went on to serve aboard Furious, Pandora, Crescent, Psyche, Terrible and Victory before being discharged in 1909. His discharge was due to ‘lack of suitability’ and he seems to have had a chequered record, having spent time in the cells at least twice for misconduct. 

HMS Good Hope From Wikimedia Commons

Exactly when he joined the merchant service isn’t known but, in 1912, he was working as a scullion on the Avon and living at 309 Portswood Road. He joined Titanic as a substitute at the last minute and had to sign on aboard the ship. It was an unlucky move. He died in the disaster and his body was never identified. 

It was a relief to get out of the relentless heat and sit for a while in the air conditioned cafe sipping coffee. We couldn’t relax for two long though. We still had two more houses to find and, like the last four, they were not going to be easy. Both the roads in question are in two halves, divided by St Denys Road and no amount of looking at maps told us which half they were on. The last thing we needed was a lot more walking but it looked inevitable. With some reluctance we left the cafe. Walking out into the street felt like walking into an oven. 

The next house was 94 Belmont Road and It belonged to William McMaster Murdoch. Many years ago I lived in a flat at number 24. Knowing the road didn’t mean I knew where the house was but my gut said it was probably on the south side, the side I’d lived on. When we reached the corner though it was clear I was wrong so we had to cross the road.

We walked along slowly, looking at all the house numbers. When we came to 92 I got my phone out ready to take the photo. There was a little cut way between it and the next house but, when we looked closer, the number was 96. It was very strange. There were no missing houses but there was no number 94 either. Later I discovered  the houses have been re-numbered and number 94 is now number 116. Google Street View helped me find the right house but, when I get the chance, I will go back and photograph it properly.

Where we expected to see 94 Belmont Road
94 Belmont Road, now renumbered 116, from Google Street View

William was born on 28 February 1873 in Dumfries, Scotland. He was the fourth son of Samuel and Jane. He came from a long line of Scottish seafarers, his father and grandfather were both captains as were four of his grandfather’s brothers. William looked set to follow in their footsteps. After he’d finished school and gained his diploma he was apprenticed to William Joyce and Coy in Liverpool for five years. He was so advanced he passed his second mate’s certificate after just four years. By the time he was twenty three he’d gained his Extra Master’s Certificate and between 1909 and 1912 he progressed from second Officer to First Officer on a series of White Star ships, including the Medic where he worked alongside Charles Lightoller. 

William McMaster Murdoch Fromm Wikimedia Commons

In 1903 William began to correspond with Ada Florence Banks, a New Zealand school teacher he’d met travelling to England on one of his ships. That same year he became Second Officer on the new liner Arabic. He proved himself one dark night when a ship was spotted apparently on a collision course with Arabic. William overrode a command to steer hard a port from Officer Fox and dashed to the wheelhouse to hold the ship on course. His quick actions and good judgement averted a disaster. 

On 2 September 1907 William married Ada in St Denys Church Southampton. By 23 September he had to return to sea on the Adriatic and left his new wife living at a guesthouse, Oakfield, in Manor Farm Road. While he was away she dealt with the purchase of their permanent home 94 Belmont Road. The couple had no children but, from his letters to his family in Scotland, it seems they were very much in love. 

In May 1911 William became First Officer for the maiden voyage of RMS Olympic under Captain. Edward Smith. That September William was at his docking station at the stern when the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke collided with Olympic. No one was killed but both ships were badly damaged. William was called to give evidence at the inquiry into the incident. 

His next promotion came when he learned he was to be Chief Officer aboard Titanic for her maiden voyage. He would be working with old friends Charles Lightoller as First Officer, Davy Blair as Second Officer and Joseph Boxhall as Fourth Officer. He was also well acquainted with Captain Smith. Things did not go to plan however. Olympic was laid up and White Star sent Chief Officer Henry Wilde to join the ship, feeling experience on Titanic’s sister ship would be helpful on the maiden voyage. This meant William was demoted to First Officer, Lightoller to Second Officer and Blair was left in Southampton. It must have been a disappointment but the men knew their promotions would only be delayed for one voyage.

From left to right: Murdoch, Chief Engineer Joseph Evans, Fourth Officer David Alexander and Captain Edward J. Smith, From Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, the next voyage was not to be. On the night of 14 April,William was on the bridge and Quartermaster Robert Hitchens was at the wheel when the bells from the crows nest alerted them to danger. Then the news came through on the phone that there was an iceberg dead ahead. William didn’t hesitate, he gave Hitchens the order, hard a starboard, to turn the ship away from the iceberg, and ordered the engines to full astern. There has been much debate about the exact wording of these orders, whether they were correctly carried out and whether they were the correct action to take. Exactly what happened will never be known but, as the ship struck the iceberg just thirty seven seconds after it was sighted, it’s doubtful there was anything William or the crew could have done to avoid it. 

After the collision William was put in charge of the starboard evacuation. Passengers who found themselves on the starboard side of the ship trying to get onto a lifeboat had more chance of survival than those on the port side. William interpreted the order ‘women and children first’ to mean if there were no more women and children to be found empty seats could be filled with men. Two thirds of those who survived that night owe their lives to William McMaster Murdoch. 

Exactly how William met his death is also surrounded with controversy. Several survivors gave reports of an officer on the starboard side of the ship shooting himself and the finger is firmly pointed at William. Charles Lightoller testified that he saw William being washed into the sea as he tried to launch Collapsible Lifeboat A. As Lightoller knew William so well it seems more likely his account is correct. Whatever did happen, William perished with the ship and his body was never identified. 

For William’s family in Scotland and his beloved wife Ada the allegations of suicide and intimations that his actions on the bridge somehow caused the disaster must have been devastating. Thankfully, Charles Lightoller was able to offer them some comfort with his own first hand account of that night. 

William’s mother died in 1914, her decline probably hastened by the loss of her son. His father followed in 1917. Ada went to live in Brittany for a time and returned to New Zealand in 1918. She never remarried and died in April 1941.

The final house on our Portswood list was on Osbourne Road. Which side was anyone’s guess but at least we were walking towards home now. After a little unnecessary road crossing because we chose the wrong side to start our search, we were finally on the right track, or so we thought. Unfortunately, it was soon clear that 125 Osbourne Road is no longer standing. In its place are modern houses and flats and, such is the numbering, we couldn’t even be sure exactly where it once stood.  

Wherever on Osbourne Road it was, Owen Wilmore Samuel once lived here. Owen was one of seven children born to school master, William and his wife Ann. He was born in around 1865 in Llandilo, Wales and grew up in the school house Cilybebyll, Cadoxton, Glamorganshire. In 1874 his mother died and his father remarried. After his father died, in 1890, Owen left home. He got a clerical job and lodgings at B Evans and Co in Swansea. By 1901 he’d moved into lodgings in Ecclesall, Sheffield and was working as a commercial clerk. In the second half of the year he married Elizabeth Mortimer Lamb, a Welsh girl. The wedding took place near Liverpool but the family seem to have been living in Sheffield as their daughter, Nina or Mina, was born there in 1902. 

Exactly when Owen went to sea or why isn’t clear but, by 1911, he was working as a seaman in the merchant service and the family were living at 125 Osbourne Road Southampton. He left Oceanic to join Titanic as a second class saloon steward. 

Osbourne Road

Poor Owen was not one of those lucky enough to find a place in a lifeboat but his body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett. It was numbered 217. There were no marks on Owen’s body and he was wearing a green overcoat and brown waistcoat over his steward’s uniform, suggesting he had been on deck at the time of the sinking and had probably succumbed to the cold water. In his pocket was a gold stud, glasses, a corkscrew, scissors, a purse containing 1s 8d and a knife bearing the name O W Samuel. He was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 8 May 1912.

Poor Elizabeth never remarried and died in Surrey in 1945. Owen’s daughter married Frederick Cyril Hands in Surrey in 1940 but had no children. She died in the New Forest, Hampshire in 1973.

Both our searches for crew houses in Portswood and been hampered by the hot weather and a large area to cover. In many respects it had been disappointing as many of the houses are no longer standing but we had uncovered some interesting stories. As we trudged back towards the roadworks at Bitterne Triangle we knew there was one more Portswood house we had not yet looked for. The house was in Winn Road, near the Common. It was quite some distance from all the other Portswood houses and, as it’s owner was Captain Edward John Smith, it really warrants a post all of its own. This, of course, will have to wait for another day.

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Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

6 thoughts on “The final Titanic tales from Portswood part two”

  1. This is so interesting Marie – makes the sad story so personal when one gets to know about individual crew members. Just last night, in Western Australia, I watched a programme on the sinking of the Titanic – and the fact that there had been an out of control blaze on it before it even left Southampton – all these lives lost or ruined due to the greed of the company in insisting that the ship set out on time. Thank goodness for Occupational Health and Safety rules these days! Vera

    1. It has been interesting researching these men. Fires in the coal bunkers on steam ships were fairly common. The bunkers were usually very close to the boilers and got very hot. The coal often spontaneously caught fire and the trimmers would shovel the burning coal down to the boilers. The fire on Titanic was burning before the ship left Belfast but it’s unlikely it played any part in the tragedy. Fire or no fire, the hull would have been ruptured when the ship hit the iceberg. The fact that the hole was along the side of the ship and let water into so many of the watertight compartments was what doomed it. The lack of lifeboats was the biggest problem.

  2. Once again a very interesting post. I do appreciate the huge amount of research you have done to make this series about the Titanic men and their families, which I’ve found absolutely fascinating. I can’t help but wonder what was the cause of Ada Deslandes death so soon after Percy’s. Devastating for their parents. I’m glad that Henry Joseph Bailey survived, but sad again for all those that didn’t.

    1. The stories of the men and their families is so interesting to uncover. I’m not sure why Ada died but it must have been terrible for her parents so soon after losing Percy. Finding a survivor always makes my day.

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