Suffolk Connections to the Titanic


One Hundred Years Ago – Suffolk Connections to the Titanic

This article has been reproduced with permission, granted by the Editorial Team of Suffolk Roots, the Journal of the Suffolk Family History Society. It is part of a larger publication about all the people who had connections with Suffolk.

One of the biggest and most famous maritime disasters took place one hundred years ago, just before midnight on Sunday 12th April 1912. The brand-new “unsinkable” pride of the White Star Line fleet, the RMS Titanic, the most luxurious liner of its time, struck an iceberg on a still, moonless night in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. She had been travelling at 22.5 knots, and sank less than three hours later. Of the 2208 people on board, only 705 were saved. One hundred years on, it still ranks as one of the greatest maritime disasters in history.

 Several of the people caught up in the disaster had connections with Suffolk.

Violet Constance Jessop led a truly remarkable life. She died at Great Ashfield in 1971 and her grave is at Hartest.

 Violet was born on 2nd October 1887 in Argentina, the oldest of nine children whose parents were William Jessop and Katherine nee Kelly, Irish immigrants who lived near Bahia Blanca. William was a sheep farmer, and on his death Katherine moved the family to England. The children were sent to a convent school, and Katherine found a position as a stewardess with the Royal Mail Shipping Line. When poor health forced her to retire, Violet took over her mother’s job to help support the family.

 Violet actually survived three shipwrecks. In 1911 when she was aged twenty-three, she was aboard the RMS Olympic, the largest liner of its time and sister ship of the Titanic. Working as a stewardess, her duties included looking after young, elderly and sick passengers. Shortly after leaving port, Olympic collided with a British warship, HMS Hawke, off the Isle of Wight. Two watertight compartments flooded and a propeller shaft was twisted, but Olympic was able to limp back to Southampton unaided. Violet was not among the casualties of that collision.

 Once again working as a stewardess, Violet boarded the RMS Titanic on 10 April 1912. Of the 885 crew members there were only about twenty women, namely the stewardesses and the matron of the ship’s hospital. After the ship struck the iceberg, she recalled in her memoirs that she was ordered up on deck and instructed to set a good example to those passengers who did not speak English, and she watched as passengers were helped into lifeboats. She herself was ordered into Lifeboat 16, and given a baby to look after. After eight cold hours, the occupants of the lifeboat were taken aboard the Carpathia, and she was able to return the baby to its relieved parents.

 Violet Jessop’s third shipwreck occurred during the First World War. She had volunteered as a Red Cross nurse aboard the hospital ship HMHS Britannic. In 1916 the ship was in the Aegean Sea and collided with a mine, subsequently sinking with the loss of thirty lives. Violet was thrown into the sea by the explosion and narrowly avoided being sucked under the keel and drowned.

 In 1950, after a lifetime of working for some of the most famous shipping lines of the time, Violet retired to Great Ashfield. She died peacefully in 1971 and is buried at Hartest Cemetery.

Tyrell William Cavendish and Julia Florence Cavendish nee Siegel.

The village of Thurston was given a new village hall in 1915, which is known as the Cavendish Hall. An inscription inside reads:

“This hall was built and given to the People of Thurston by Julia F Cavendish in Memory of her husband Tyrrell William Cavendish who lost his life on the SS Titanic, April15 1912.”

 Tyrell William Cavendish, born in Scarborough, Yorkshire on 12 October 1875 was the second son of Charles Tyrell Cavendish and Elizabeth formerly Dickinson, of Crakemarsh Hall, Uttoxeter. Charles was a JP and Gentleman, grandson of an Irish baron. Julia Florence Siegel was born on 3 November 1886, the only child of Henry Siegel of New York, one of the wealthiest men in America. Henry opened the famous Siegel-Cooper department store on Lower 6th Avenue in 1906 and also had business interests in Chicago. Julia was brought up at Orienta Point in wealthy upstate New York, attended a convent school and then a finishing school in Dresden. Julia and Tyrell met at a ball in London when she was “doing the season”, en route back to the USA. It must have been love at first sight, as only five days after meeting they became engaged. They were married in Buckinghamshire on Boxing Day 1906, Tyrell aged thirty-one and Julia only twenty. They moved to Suffolk and rented Battlies House on the Rougham Estate, where their son Henry Siegel Cavendish was born in August 1908. Shortly after, they moved to Little Onn Hall in Staffordshire where their second son Geoffrey Manners Cavendish was born in 1910.

 By 1912 Tyrell had bought and begun renovating Thurston House. He was hoping to go into politics, and was actively seeking nomination for a parliamentary seat such as Bury St Edmunds. Tyrell wanted to obtain support and sponsorship from his wealthy father-in-law, so a trip to the USA was planned. It was to be a family visit, so that their young sons could meet their grandfather for the first time. However, Geoffrey fell ill so the boys’ tickets were cancelled. But Tyrell and Julia did travel, along with their maid, Nellie Barber, on the fateful maiden voyage of the new RMS Titanic. It seems Tyrell was ill-at-ease about the voyage, as he made his will the day before the voyage began.

 Tyrell and Julia travelled as First Class passengers. After the order to abandon ship was given, the crew helped passengers to board the lifeboats. As well as the “women and children first” rule, there was another that favoured First Class passengers over Second and Third. The statistics show that a far greater percentage of First Class passengers were among the survivors than those in Third Class. Added to this, there were only 1178 lifeboat seats available [more than required by the laws of the time], but there were 2208 people on board. Many people, mostly men, who were unable to get into a lifeboat had time to don lifejackets, jump from the ship and swim away before it sank, but the water was bitterly cold and those who weren’t pulled into lifeboats quickly succumbed to hypothermia.

Thus it was that Julia and her maid were saved, but Tyrell died. She described their parting: “I was asleep with my husband in our stateroom when the accident happened. He awakened me, I remember it was midnight and he told me something was the matter with the boat. I hurriedly put on a wrapper and one of my husband’s overcoats and we both rushed to the upper deck.

“My husband kissed me and put me into a boat, in which were 23 women. He told me to go and that he would stay on the ship with the other men. They were happy to see their wives lowered away in the boats. They kept telling us they would be alright because the ship could not sink.

“We were lowered into the water without any light, only one man tried to get into the boat. He was pushed back by a sailor. Most of the women in the boat I was in were in their bare feet. I can still see those husbands kissing their wives and telling them goodbye. I can see the sailors standing by so calm and brave. The sight of those good men who gave their lives for others will always be with me. Words can’t tell the tale of their sacrifice.

“The hours we spent in that small boat after those heroic men went down were hours of torture. When we got on the Carpathia [the first ship to arrive, 5 hours later, and pick up survivors] we were treated with the utmost consideration. I am prostrated by the loss of my husband, but rejoice in the fact that my children are safe, having been left at home.”

After the tragedy, Julia never stayed at Thurston House again and it was sold soon afterwards. On 4th December 1913 the Parish Council of Thurston met, and one of the items on the agenda under Chairman’s Business was “consideration of the offer from Mrs Tyrell Cavendish to present the Parish with a Village Hall to be erected in memory of her late husband who lost his life on 15th April 1912 by the foundering of the Steamship Titanic.” The offer was accepted with gratitude, and a proposal passed that the Chairman be asked to convey to Mrs Cavendish how greatly her kind offer was appreciated.

Julia never remarried, but devoted her life to bringing up her sons, moving to Crakemarsh Hall in 1932 on the death of her mother-in-law. Julia Cavendish died in 1963 aged 77 years.

Thomas Mudd

Thomas Cupper Mudd was born in Huntingfield, in 1895 to Thomas and Elizabeth Mudd [formerly Coe, bn Spexhall], the seventh of their thirteen children. The Mudd family was long-established in Huntingfield, and Thomas’s father had worked as a carrier since at least 1881, while his grandfather was a blacksmith for many years. Thomas’s older brothers George and James had emigrated to America in search of a better life, and it was decided that Thomas should join them. He travelled to Southampton and boarded the RMS Titanic as a Second Class passenger. His ticket cost ten guineas. Sadly, Thomas died in the sinking, aged only sixteen years.

 Before embarking, he sent his mother a postcard, which survives. It reads:

Dear Mother, Arrived at Southampton safe. The Titanic is a splendid boat and you hardly know you are moving. Will write more fully later. Your loving son Tom. PS Please send Edie’s address also send He[sic] this card as I do not know it.”

Following the disaster, several relief funds were established, both in the USA and Britain. The biggest by far was the Titanic Relief Fund started by the Lord Mayor of London. It amassed more than four hundred thousand pounds within a year and remained active for more than fifty years, making payments to dependants of those lost. Distribution was supervised by the Corporation of the City of London, and Thomas’s parents received the sum of seven shillings weekly.

Frederick Sutton

Frederick Sutton was born in Blything Registration District on 15 June 1850 and, according to one source, was educated in private schools in Cambridgeshire. In 1851 he was aged 9 months, born and living in Wangford with his father George, a shoemaker born in Worlingham, mother Elizabeth and three older siblings. By 1861 George and Elizabeth had moved with Frederick to Walsoken, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. The 1871 census finds a Frederick Sutton aged 20, lath render, boarding in Wisbech, his birthplace Wallingham, Suffolk [which may be Worlingham].

From the census entries, there seems to be no evidence that Frederick was educated privately. Possibly it was said to impress American colleagues as he was making his way in the business world. Whatever the truth, he was a very successful businessman, and in his will he left more than $50,000 to his family

Edith Martha Bowerman Chibnall nee Barber

Martha Edith Barber (known as Edith) was born in Badingham, Suffolk on 27th February 1864, the fifth child of seven born to Charles and Eliza Barber. Interestingly Edith’s older sister Elizabeth’s birthplace is recorded as Melbourne, Australia, about 1856. Her father Charles was described as a landowner in the 1861 census, when the family, a visitor and two servants were living in Swan Street, Hoxne. By 1871 they had moved to North Hall Farm in Wrentham, and Charles was a farmer of 250 acres employing 6 men and 5 boys. Some time before 1881 they moved again, this time to Sinnock Cottage, Hastings Old Town, Sussex. Edith found work as a draper’s assistant for a William Bowerman, who owned several drapery shops and rental properties in the area, employing ten people. William’s first wife died in early 1888, and before the year was out William had married Edith, who was thirty-three years his junior. Their daughter Elsie was born on 18th December 1889 at Tunbridge Wells, Kent. By 1891 William had sold his businesses and retired, moving to St Leonards on Sea. In 1895, Edith was widowed when William died of bronchitis.

Elsie had been raised in a fairly well-to-do household, but her parents Edith and William led unostentatious lives and were very careful with money. The family was very interested in current affairs, both local and national, and believed that the way to happiness and enjoyment was through working for the betterment of others. Elsie was a talented student and studied at Girton College, Oxford. In about 1907, her mother Edith remarried, this time to a wealthy widowed farmer, Alfred Benjamin Chibnall. There is no evidence to show that they actually lived together, and he is not mentioned in any of Edith’s letters, nor did he travel with Edith and Elsie on any of their frequent holidays. During 1908, Edith and Elsie, being politically aware, became involved with the women’s suffrage campaign. They joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), more widely known as the “Suffragettes”.

In 1912, one of Edith and Elsie’s holidays was to be to the USA to visit relatives of William Bowerman and also a Mr Guthie in Ohio, before travelling across the USA and back through Canada. They bought two First Class tickets for fifty-five pounds, and travelled to Southampton to board the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage. They both survived the disaster.

Elsie wrote of the shipwreck:

“The silence when the engines stopped was followed by a steward knocking on our door and telling us to go on deck. This we did and were lowered into life-boats, where we were told to get away from the liner as soon as we could in case of suction. This we did, and to pull an oar in the midst of the Atlantic in April with icebergs floating around about, is a strange experience”.

Edith and Elsie were in Lifeboat 6, with about twenty-two others. One woman demanded that the women should be allowed to row to keep warm. This was eventually permitted and warm clothing and furs were shared among those on board. They were picked up after many hours by the Carpathia and taken on to New York. Undeterred, Edith and Elsie continued their vacation and visited British Columbia, the Klondyke and Alaska before returning to Sussex.

 Frederick made a substantial fortune as a real-estate developer, especially through financing the development of the fishing village of Wildwood on the east coast of New Jersey. He was having a house built there in 1912 when he decided to make a visit to England, as he had often done before. He was away for about a month, and was returning home on the Titanic as a First Class passenger. Sadly he was lost in the disaster, his body being recovered and buried at sea.

Possibly slightly inaccurate regarding the date, another biography states that Frederick moved to the city of Philadelphia in 1870 and entered the coffee trade. Frederick was married in New Jersey in 1878 to Ellen Craswell Underdown, born in London on 27 May 1852. He moved to Haddonfield, just across the state line in New Jersey in 1877, bought some land in 1879 and built a house in 1886. Frederick rapidly moved up in business circles in Philadelphia. By 1893 he was a Director and Member of the Committee of Municipal Affairs of the Trades League of Philadelphia, Director and Treasurer of the Electric Light Company of Haddonfield, and a Director of the Haddonfield Mutual Building and Loan Association.

By on March 14th, 2012