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The RMS Titanic One Century Ago: the Canadian Allison's Family Tragedy
A Tragic Opportunity
Alice Catherine Cleaver had only been with the wealthy Allison family for two weeks when they set sail for New York. She had been working as a nursemaid to some of England's finest families and was a last minute replacement for the nanny that had decided to not join the Allisons returning to Canada. Once they landed in New York, they would travel on to Westmount, Quebec.
Alice was not the only new employee taken on by the young Quebec couple. There was also "Mildred" Amelia Brown who was hired to become the family's cook. The wealthy couple had residences and a farm in Canada. One home in Westmount, Quebec, a stock farm near Winchester and a summer home in Chesterville, Ontario, the hometown of Mr. Allison (Hudson).
On the trip accompanying the family, was Sarah Daniels, 33, the personal maid of Bess (Mrs Allison). Sarah was also Bess' older sister.
Also in the entourage was 19 year old George Swane, who was the chauffer, a heady job for a young chap who had never been abroad and who came from a family of nine children in England. To work as a chauffer for a wealthy 30 year old stockbroker may have been quite the plum job... driving cars only he could have only dreamed of.
Mr Hudson Allison and his wife Bess had two children, Helen Lorainne, a toddler and Hudson Trevor, an infant with them on the journey. The fates of these eight people would would ever be entwined by one fateful event - the sinking of the Titanic.
A Ship of Nationalities...
Alice and Sarah shared a room in first class. The family required their services for the trip.
Mildred and George wouldn’t be needed until they reached Canada, so they had separate quarters in second class. That wasn’t too shabby, what with meals prepared and such a beautiful ship to sail in.
Mildred shared her cabin with three other women, Mrs. Selena Cook, Amelia Lemore, and Elizabeth Nye. George was in with some blokes having fun, after all, there wasn’t much else to do
The future looked promising and spring was in the air !
Hudson Allison and his wife Bess were reputed to be devoted Methodists. They had come to England to attend a meeting of the British Lumber Corporation and use the opportunity to have young Trevor baptized at Epworth at the church where the reknowned Methodist, John Wesley had preached. They also had bought antique furniture for the new residence and had made a side trip to Scotland to purchase stock for the farm in Chesterville, Ontario.
They set upon the voyage to Canada from Southhampton, crossing the channel to Cherburg where more dignitaries and immigrants embarked on their journeys.
From Cherburg, France, the ship set sail to Queenstown, Ireland to pick up the last passengers, mostly third class immigrants set to try their fortunes in the Americas.
There were many passengers aboard consisting of entire large families, mothers going with their children to join a husband who had gone ahead and a host of young singles leaving the world they knew on new adventures. The passenger list had numerous nationalities, most of them in third class. The quarters were more cramped but one passenger who had come to Southampton from Europe had remarked it was pure luxury compared to the cattle ship he had travelled on to get to England. There were bunks and a washbasin in each cabin and cooks and stewards and a dining room. Quite adequate.
A problem had been averted when the tow from the embarking Titanic has set the SS New York free from it's mooring almost causing the other ship to collide with Titanic even before the journey had begun. The incident began some gossip that it was a bad omen, however as the journey began and the sailing was quite smooth, passengers relaxed.
The trip was into the fourth day. Everyone had settled into a routine; in a few days they would be at their destination. That evening was moonless and dark, but the skies were filled with stars as bright as diamonds. The sea was calm in the windless night. A serene evening by all accounts.
The mighty ship was cruising .5 knot short of it’s top speed. Everything was peaceful as people settled to sleep. The likes of George and his mates were just enjoying themselves keeping Mildred awake in the adjoining cabin, but even she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.
The fact that they were sailing right into an iceberg field had somehow been missed. A message from another ship never was relayed to the captain. The Titanic should have been slowed down, even possibly stopped until morning when the icebergs were visible to navigate around.
The Moment of Doom...
Unfortunately, an iceberg was spotted too late. The captain made evasive action but the ship struck a glancing blow along the iceberg. Though most people were unaware, a gash in the hull was the result. The six compartments in the hull that had been gashed allowed water to pour into the hold.
It was April 14th at 11:40 P.M.
No alarms were sounded. Many passengers were unaware they were in immenent danger. However stewards and stewardess' did wake up passengers and asked them to put on lifebelts and go above as a precaution. Even as the crew was trying to round up people to the lifeboats many were reluctant to leave what they believed was the safety of the gigantic ship to a decidedly smaller lifeboat dangling over the side. The general consensus was that the Titanic was unsinkable, so many passengers simply refused to believe the obvious.
Many others were just awakened by a thud and a jerky movement of the ship and decided to investigate themselves. Among those curious people was Major Arthur Peachen, a millionare and yachtsman from Toronto, who had sat with the Allison’s at dinner that evening. Bess had even brought her two year old daughter up to see the beautiful room before the family had retired for the night.
The Major had initially assumed the ship had been hit by a huge wave since he had felt the ship roll and then remembered it was a windless night. It was only when he came on deck, that he learned the truth. Ice shavings from the iceberg were on the deck. Yet no one seemed unduly alarmed. It had been a grazing blow rather than a head on collision and after all the Titanic had been touted as "unsinkable". The major went back down to his state room, but fortunately for him; he came back up after 25 minutes and was alarmed to note the ship was now listing on the gashed side.
It became evident at that point the ship was taking on water. However the people who knew the Titanic was taking on water were under the mistaken impression the boat would not sink and were reluctant to board the lifeboats. The Titanic ominously settled deeper and deeper into the water.
Below decks, there was some confusion. George who had a cabin next to the one Mildred shared with the other women, came and knocked on the door and told Mildred to get dressed, put on a life belt and go on deck immediately. Fortunately for her, he persisted because she did not want to wake up; she assumed it wasn't serious. George and his buddies had kept her awake with pillow fights and she was tired.
Upstairs a stewardess woke up Alice and Sarah telling them the same. Sarah went to wake up the Allisons and got an earful for waking up her employer, they were fast asleep. Bess looked worried, but there wasn’t much Sarah could do. They were her employers and they did what they wanted.
The accounts conflicted after that. One thing is known, the Allisons did get dressed finally and there were accounts of them being on deck trying to locate their son. some even claimed Mrs Allison was in a lifeboat at some point and got back out to look for her husband. No one really knew what had happened. However, little would they have known, their son was already safe with Alice in a lifeboat. Why she never let her employer know what she was about remains lost to history.
When the boats found Mr Hudson Allison, he was dressed in a leather coat over his blue suit with a grey scarf. He was listed as body #135. His wife's body if ever found wasn't identified. His daughter was the only child drowned from 1st class and her body was either lost or not identified either.
Mildred survived.Young George was nowhere to be found. George was eventually identified by his motor licenses... he had most likely saved more than Mildred's life alerting passengers. All her cabin mates made it to lifeboats and safety.
Back on Terra Firma
Alice and Trevor were claimed by the Canadian Allison family who met them in New York. They also brought Mildred back with them to Canada. Trevor's aunt and Uncle raised the young boy until he was 18. Unfortunately, at that age, he succumbed to food poisoning after ingesting a spoiled sandwich. Ironic.
Alice stayed with the Allison relatives long enough so they could arrange passage back to England where she eventually married Edward James William, had children and lived until 1984 in Winchester, Hampshire. There was a mix-up at one point in her identity and she was wrongfully idenified as another Alice Cleaver causing a lot of distress for her family.
It wasn't until 1955 that Alice allegedly wrote a letter describing that fateful night. She related that she was in charge of both children and had alerted the Allison's asking Mr Allison to go above to see what happened and he had refused. He had thought she was just imagining things. Finally, he did go and in the meanwhile, Alice helped dress the children and Mrs. Allison. Mrs Allison had become hysterical. Alice calmed her down and they went upstairs and found Mr. Allison who appeared dazed. Once above deck, Mrs. Allison had become hysterical again and the last Alice saw of the couple was Hudson Allison trying to calm his agitated wife. The crowd pressing to get to lifeboats separated her (she was holding Trevor) from the Allison's. Is it the truth ? We may probably never know. However, to my ear, it sounds logical.
Mildred Brown also returned to England and married Edward Barrow in 1931. She passed away in 1976.
As for Sarah, she survived the wreck, but there is no record of what became of her. She was on an entirely different lifeboat than the other women in the entourage indicating she had probably made her own way from below decks. No doubt this whole experience was traumatic to say the least.
Addendum of Facts and Commemorations Planned
So it was 100 years ago the life paths of 2224 assorted people was altered permanently by an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
That night, reputations were lost as well as lives. Entire families went down with the ship. Confusion reigned and so many lifeboats were not full. Speculation still reigns to this day about the reason why so many had to die. In one report, it was estimated a total of about 470 lifeboat seats went unused. That would have saved all the remaining women and children with 300 more men to add to the list of possible survivors. As it was, only 50 people survived after being thrown or jumping into the frigid waters. Most succumbed to the numbing cold waters as opposed to drowning.
Yet, there was one factor that did help save countless lives and that was how the Titanic sank. She settled into the water sinking deeper without a huge list allowing most of the lifeboats to be deployed. Apparently, most shipwrecks capsize, with the ship rolling over trapping victims.
In the end, the front section of the Titanic sank first, after the ship split in the middle. The prow plunged some 60 ft "into" the sea floor. The prow remains buried with the damage created by the iceberg. The back section came to rest some 1970 ft separate from the front section.
One theory on what damage the iceberg did has recently come to light. It had to do with the huge rivets used to fuse the steel hull plates together to form the double waterproof hull. Metallurgists have compared the metal of the iron rivets with newly prepared rivets made in an identical fashion. These newly formed rivets were then fastened to new metal plates the same way as Titanic. In a lab, the scientists then exerted the same force as a colliding iceberg would have caused . The result was a failure in the rivets.
The foundry process used to create the "Titanic" rivets involved adding a small amount of slag to the iron to make it harder. An expedition to the sunken Titanic brought back actual rivets that were compared with the rivets that failed in the lab test. Those original rivets contained even larger slag pockets, proving they quite likely caused the hull failure rather than any massive gash. The plates were loosened by rivet failure from the pressure of an immovable iceberg against the force of a huge ship moving against it. The loose plates along the contact area opened a seam where water came in
the wreck lies some 2.3 miles below the ocean’s surface, only rediscovered 74 years later in 1986. Bacteria is busily creating "rusticles" as the hull is being consumed atom by atom. It is speculated that within twenty years the mighty unsinkable Titanic will be a heap of rust on the ocean floor.
The last living survivor, Millivina Dean, who was merely a 9 week old baby that day, passed away on May 31st, 2009...and so the Titanic will be lost to legend.
One thousand five hundred and seventeen lives were lost.
Has that much changed?
What is interesting to note from all this is that 100 years later... a cruise ship hits a rock and lives are lost because a crew once again is totally disorganized, no alarm is raised and people were left to fend for themselves. Luckily this time land was nearby and the waters balmy. If not for those conditions, we would have had something eerily similar to remember...
In remembrance... On April 12, 2012 at 4:30 P.M. the Azamara Journey sets off from Halifax to the site of the sinking Titanic, where the ship will meet th MS Balmoral that set off from Southampton to recreate the original voyage. Eeerily, it has had delays and is anticipated to arrive almost at the same instant the original Titanic arrived on the scene.The ship carries descendants of those original Titanic passengers! Both ships will do a countdown from the moment of impact with the iceberg to the moment the Titanic finally sank. Memorial wreaths will then be released to the ocean. Perhaps, finally, all souls will be at rest.