I have always felt a strong connection to the history of the Titanic and was unaware of its significant connection with Cornwall. This changed when I visited the Titanic Exhibition at the Falmouth National Maritime Museum on 29th July this year.
Shipwreck Charlestown writes:
“RMS Titanic – This ‘floating palace’ was built with the intention of being more of a hotel than an ocean liner and succeeded in becoming one of the most lavishly appointed ships ever to be built. It took over 11,000 workers at Harland and Wolff Shipyard 26 months to build, she was said to be unsinkable and had a speed of 21 knots.
In 1912, after colliding with a massive iceberg, R.M.S. Titanic began her final passage to the bottom of the ocean with the loss of over 1500 lives.
Since her discovery in 1985, Titanic is slowly disintegrating and experts predict that she will gradually deteriorate beyond recognition.
The ship is ripped into two pieces on the sea bed and because of such extreme depth has encouraged divers and scientists to find new ways to explore such tragic wrecks.
A Cornish Connection – One of the lives lost on this fateful voyage was that of a young Cornishman by the name of Frederick James Banfield. Born in Helston in 1884, he worked as a mining engineer in the Cornish tin mines. After marrying, he emigrated to the USA to work as an engineer in the gold and silver mines, leaving his wife, Cecilia, living with his mother. In 1911, he returned for a holiday and was due to join his brother in Michigan to work. His wife was to follow later. He boarded Titanic in Southampton and his body was never found. There is a memorial at the family grave in Helston”
The exhibition focusses on four Cornish stories, revealing some of the human faces involved in this mass movement.
Local historian and author Ernie Warmington has come forward with a Christmas card and memorial postcard.
The Christmas card was sent to Lulu Drew, the widow of James Drew, originally from Constantine. Lulu and James had emigrated to America in 1896 and in 1912 they returned to Cornwall to visit family. For their return journey to America they travelled on Titanic, and their cabin was next to that of Emily Richards of Newlyn. Remarkably descendants of Emily Richards have also lent items to the Museum for the exhibition.
Sadly James lost his life in the disaster on 15 April 1912. The Christmas card reads: “At this time of year our thoughts are with Lulu Drew who lost her husband James when the Titanic sank. From Aunt Bessie xx”
Ernie Warmington has also lent the Museum a memorial postcard that was sent from Portscatho to Mylor. Memorial postcards were printed after the disaster to help raise funds for the survivors.
Ernie Warmington says: “I’ve visited the Museum to see the Titanic exhibition and the Cornish connections on display have made a real impact. I knew I had these objects and that they would be of great local interest, I just didn’t know where to lay them.
Here are some of the Cornish passengers of the Titanic:
.Mrs William Rowe Hocking was born as Eliza in Tresco in the Scilly Isles off Cornwall, England on 12 April 1858. She first appears on the 1861 census living at Bay on Tresco but the family later settled on the British mainland and appear on the 1871 census at an unspecified address in Penzance, Cornwall. She was married in Penzance in 1880 to William Rowe Hocking (b. 1854), a confectioner’s foreman, and the freshly married couple appear on the 1881 census living at 27 Leskinnick Terrace, Madron, Penzance. Her daughters and two grandsons were rescued in lifeboat 4. Her son George was lost.
Mr Edwy Arthur West was born in Perranzabuloe, Cornwall, England on 20 November 1875. Edwy first appears on the 1881 census when he and his family are residing at Point in Feock, Cornwall. When the family appear on the 1891 census they are residents of Kenwyn, Truro and Edwy, then aged 15, is still attending school. Edwy had struck out by himself by the time of the 1901 census and he was recorded as boarding at 76-86 Rings Road, Portsmouth and he was described as an unmarried house furnishers assistant. Arthur had served as a chorister for many of his young years in Truro Cathedral and to mark his passing a memorial to him was placed within the Cathedral by his wife and daughters who, after the tragedy, returned to live in Cornwall.
Ada Mary West was born 1879, Truro, Cornwall. Ada and her family appear on the 1881 census living at Prospect Place in Truro. Ada West died in St Vincent’s Nursing Home in Plympton, Devon on 20 April 1953 aged 74. One keepsake that remained in her possession for the remainder of her life was the flask that her husband had passed to her the last time she ever saw him.
Mrs William John Wilkes was born as Ellen Needs in Tresco in the Scilly Isles off Cornwall, England on 13 June 1864. She first appears on the 1871 census living with her family at an unspecified address in Penzance, Cornwall. Also travelling with her, albeit in second class, were her sister Eliza Hocking and her son George and two daughters Ellen and Emily with the latter’s two sons. Ellen was rescued on lifeboat 16. Her sister, nieces and great-nephews were rescued in lifeboat 4.
Master Sibley George Richards was born in Newlyn, Cornwall, England on 17 June 1911. He was the second son of James Sibley Richards (1887-1939), a general labourer, and Emily Hocking (1887-1972). His parents were both Cornish and had married in 1908. By 1912 he had one sibling, his elder brother William Rowe (b. 1909). On the night of the sinking Sibley and his brother were asleep in their cabin with their mother when their grandmother came to alert them of the danger. The family escaped in lifeboat 4 but his uncle was among the lost. Arriving in New York, he was met by his father who had travelled from Akron.
Master William Rowe Richards was born at 6 St Mary’ s Street, Penzance, Cornwall, England on 1 April 1909. He was the eldest son of James Sibley Richards (1887-1939), a general labourer, and Emily Hocking (1887-1972). His parents were both Cornish and had married in 1908. He was named after his maternal grandfather. On the night of the sinking William and his brother were asleep in their cabin with their mother when their grandmother came to alert them of the danger. The family escaped in lifeboat 4 but his uncle was among the lost.
Mrs Sidney Richards (Emily Hocking) was born in Penzance, Cornwall, England on 22 April 1887. She first appears on the 1891 census living at 39 Adelaide Street, Penzance. Her father is believed to have settled in South where he died and her mother remarried, becoming Mrs William Guy. The family appear on the 1901 census at 34 Mount Street, Penzance. Emily was married in 1908 to James Sibley Richards (b. 9 October 1887), a general labourer from Newlyn, Cornwall. The couple appeared on the 1911 census living at 6 St Mary’s Place, Penzance, a boarding house ran by her mother. The couple would have two sons whilst in England: William Rowe (b. 1909) and Sibley George (b. 1911) and later lived at ‘The Meadow’, Newlyn. Their boat was only a short distance away from the Titanic went it went down. The people in the boat pulled seven men out of the water. The Richards and Hockings hoped that George Hocking had been rescued by another ship, but he was lost. After leaving the Carpathia, the Richards stayed at Blake’s Star Hotel at 57 Clarkson’s Street in New York City and she was reunited with her husband Sibley Richards who had travelled from Akron.
Frank Thomas Andrew 1 was born as Thomas Francis Gribble in Perranarworthal, Falmouth, Cornwall, England in the closing months of 1885. Frank grew up on his father’s 25 acre farm, Gilly Tresamble, in Perranarworthal and appears there on both the 1891 and 1901 census records. Frank was married on 4 July 1908 at the register office in Helston, Cornwall. His bride was Rhoda Tripp (b. 11 December 1887). Rhoda hailed from Redruth, Cornwall and was the daughter of Henry Tripp, a farmer, and his wife Emily. Frank and Rhoda settled in Illogan, Cornwall and lived at Forest Gate, Four Lanes in that village, appearing there on the 1911 census. At that time they had one daughter, Lucy (b. 30 November 1908). Frank worked as a tin miner. Frank Andrew died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.
Robert Hichens 1 was born in St Peter’s Square, Newlyn, Cornwall on 16 September 1882. He was the son of a fisherman, Philip Hichens and Rebecca Hichens (née Wood) who was originally of Whitby, North Yorkshire. By 1906 he was shown on his marriage certificate to be a “master mariner”. He had married Florence Mortimore at the parish church of Manaton, Devon on 23 October in that year. On the night of 14 April 1912 Robert Hichens was at the ship’s wheel (having relieved Q.M. Oliver at 10 p.m.) when the warning came from the lookout that an iceberg had been spotted ahead of the ship. When the order came to hard a’starboard he immediately swung the wheel as far as it would go. At about 12.23 he was relieved by QM Perkis at around which time one of the officers shouted ‘That will do with the wheel, get the boats out.’ Later, Second Officer Lightoller told Lookout Fred Fleet to get into Lifeboat 6 on the port side and put Robert Hichens in charge of that boat. The lifeboat (capacity 65) left the ship at about 12.55 with only 28 persons on board with the order that they were to make for the lights that could be seen in the distance.
Robert’s conduct on the lifeboat would later come under intense scrutiny. After being rescued and landing in New York, Senator William Smith had subpoenaed 29 crew members for the US Inquiry and the remaining crew were to return to England on April 20 aboard the steamer Lapland. Robert hadn’t received any notification, and so he was aboard Lapland when it left New York at 10 a.m. Shortly after departing the ship received a wireless to stop and await a boarding party. When the boarding party arrived 5 more crew were taken ashore, among them was Robert.
Mr Richard George Hocking, 22, was born 26 July, 1889 at 39 Adelaide Street, Penzance Cornwall, the youngest son of Mr William Hocking (Confectioner and Baker) and Mrs Eliza Hocking (née Neads). After the death of his father in South Africa the family moved to 6 St Mary’s Street, Penzance.
George perished in the disaster, his body, if recovered, was never identified. His mother had asked him to enter her lifeboat but he replied, ‘No, these men are good to stand back for you, and I must stay back and let their wives and mothers go’. A brass plaque in memory of George Hocking and his friend Harry Cotterill was placed in St John’s School, St Michaels’s Street, Penzance shortly after the tragedy.
Miss Ellen “Nellie” Hocking was born in Penzance, Cornwall, England on 5 November 1891. She was the daughter of William Rowe Hocking (b. 1854), a baker and confectioner, and Eliza Needs (b. 1858). Her father hailed from Cornwall whilst her mother was born in Tresco on the Isles of Scilly and they were married in 1880. When Nellie appears on the 1901 census she is 34 Mount Street, Penzance. Her mother was on her second marriage by this time–the ultimate whereabouts of her father being unknown–to a Mr William Guy. Mr Guy died in 1907 and the family later show up on the 1911 census living at 6 St Mary’s Place, Penzance where her mother ran a boarding house. She remarked at one time to Nora Keane that as night had fallen the previous night she had heard a cock crowing (a sign in Cornish folklore of impending disaster). Nellie was told that she had imagined it but she was adamant. Nellie, her mother, sister and nephews were rescued in lifeboat 4. Her brother George was lost.
Mr Joseph Charles Fillbrook was born in Truro, Cornwall, England in early 1894. He was the son of William Fillbrook (b. 1868), a mason, and Catherine Vincent (b. 1866). His father was native to Truro whilst his mother was Canadian-born. Joseph first appears on the 1901 census living at the home of his maternal grandparents Edward and Mary Jane Fillbrook at 10 Victoria Square, Kenwyn, Cornwall and again on the 1911 census with his now widowed grandmother at Williams Row, Calenick Street, Kenwyn; he was described as a house painter by the time of the latter record and had been apprenticed as such since leaving school. His parents and siblings are listed on the 1901 census living at 8 Lemon Row and on the 1911 census at 16 Charles Street, Truro. Joseph Charles Fillbrook was lost in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.
Mr Joseph Charles Nicholls was born in Nancledra, Cornwall, England on 24 July 1892. He was the son of Richard Henry Nicholls (b. 1867) and Agnes Friggens (b. 1861), both Cornwall natives who had married in 1886 and he had two known siblings: Mary Ethel (b. 1886), Richard Henry (b. 1890). His father was a stonemason who worked at the quarry at Trenowith Downs.
The family appeared on the 1891 census living at an unspecified address in Nacledra, Cornwall. When Joseph’s father Richard Nicholls died is not certain but his mother was listed as widow on the 1901 census when she and her children were living at Corbis Bay, Uny Lelant, Cornwall. Joseph was lost in the sinking. On 23 April 1912 his body was recovered from the sea by the MacKay Bennett.
Mrs Robert Davies was born as Agnes Friggens 1,2 in Ludgvan, Cornwall, England on 23 November 1861. She was the daughter of Grace Friggens (b. circa 1841 in Gulvall, Cornwall) who was unmarried at the time of her birth (3). Grace seemingly married a few years later to a man named Thomas Victor and had at least one more child before emigrating to the USA, leaving Agnes behind.Agnes was apparently raised by Henry White (b. 1820) and Dinah (4) (b. 1819), the latter née Rowe, natives of Ludgvan who already had a large family. Agnes first appears on the 1871 census living with them at an address in Lennor, Penzance. By the time of the 1881 census, Dinah (now a widow) and Agnes are the only ones present at their home on New Mill, Madron, Penzance and both are described as charwomen. Agnes survived the sinking, probably in lifeboat 14, the events immediately before and after the sinking were recounted by her to a Calumet newspaper on arrival in Michigan.
Here are some of the images captured on my visit to the Museum.
There were also costumes on display from the popular Titanic movie:
Even though the creation of a romantic story was the main focus of this movie it still highlighted the tragic loss of many lives along with the intensity of that night. A time in history that will always be remembered. It is also a reminder of how helpless humans can be when dealing with the power and energy of the sea.