Journal Article

Loose Connections No. 4 – The Titanic

David Sansom

From Royston, the Cambridgeshire side.

April 1912 will be long remembered as the month that saw the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the North Atlantic. One hundred years later the response from the media approached almost hysterical proportions as the anniversary of that dramatic event came ever closer.

It was an excuse for a series of programmes of varying merit being broadcast, particularly on television, and included, naturally, the American “Titanic” movie of 1997 (the 1958 British film, “A Night to Remember” is still regarded by many as the definitive cinematic version of the story).

The most informative and poignant programmes and published articles were however those that told stories of the ‘ordinary’ passengers and crew; men and women, many of whom lost their lives in that cruel, cold sea and whose stories have rarely been aired in any depth previously.

How many of you were tempted to search the records on the Ancestry web-site just in case there were any relations on board of whom you knew little or nothing? I admit that I did search for a few of my more common family surnames and in fact I found the names of two people whom I thought could be related to my family, albeit somewhat distantly.

The first name that I came across which looked interesting was one ‘W Snooks, aged 26 years, a trimmer from Bristol’. My 2x paternal great grandmother Mary was a Snook. The family came from the Taunton area of Somerset and her brother Edmund lived in Bristol; could there be a connection?

Starting with the information I already had regarding the Snook family I spent some time checking various census returns and births for the Bristol area covering the period 1881 to 1911;
I was unable to identify any ‘W Snooks’. Although the information given on the Titanic documents is limited and of course there is the question of the surname being slightly different there is a high probability that he is William Henry Snook, the grandson of Edmund. ‘My’ William Snook had a brother, Edwin, who served as an ordinary seaman on the battleship ‘Victorious’ and their father was a dock labourer.

The Titanic records for W Snooks state that he previously served on the RMS Royal Edward which sailed from Avonmouth which is only a few miles from Bristol. So, quite a few ‘boxes ticked’ but not sufficient to be certain enough to add him to my family tree!

Thanks to Wikipedia I did however find out exactly what role a trimmer played on the ships of the period - not a pleasant occupation judging by this account;

“A trimmer worked within the engineering department of a coal fired ship and was responsible for handling the coal from loading into the ship to delivery to the stoker.
They worked inside the coal bunkers located on top of and between the boilers using shovels and wheelbarrows to move coal around to keep it level and to shovel the coal down the chute to the firemen below who fed it into the furnaces. If too much coal built up on one side of a bunker the ship would actually list to that side.
Trimmers were also involved in extinguishing fires in the bunkers which occurred frequently due to spontaneous combustion of the coal and had to be extinguished with fire hoses and by feeding the burning coal into the furnace.
Of the engineering crew, the trimmers were paid the least and the working conditions were poor. All the residual heat from the boilers rose up into the coal bunkers which were poorly lit and full of coal dust.”

W Snooks was reported as ‘presumed drowned’ suggesting that he may have been one of the many who went down with the ship.

The second name I found was ‘Edward Lockyer aged twenty-one years’, a third class passenger who also lost his life that night. The published documents offer an interesting account of how Edward’s body, and those of many others who did not survive were dealt with in the immediate aftermath of the sinking. This is certainly an aspect of the tragedy of which I was not previously aware.

The cable ship ‘Mackay-Bennett’ was contracted by the White Star Line to recover bodies from the area of the sinking. She recovered 306 bodies in total (of which 116 were buried at sea) all were first logged with a number, identified if possible and any personal effects recorded.

Edward Lockyer’s body was one of those returned to the sea but we do have a description of him, what he was wearing and the items which he carried. Letters were found on him which enabled accurate identification including his home address.

Again, I checked the information which was available against my existing records and found that Edward, a grocers assistant, was a member of an extended family of Lockyers who came originally from Sandhurst in Kent. My maternal great Aunt Emma was a member of this family, her daughter married my mother’s brother. Thanks to a contact on Ancestry I have established the link between Emma’s grandfather and Edward Lockyer which goes back to the late 18th century. Most definitely a loose connection!

Hopefully I have found two of my (distant) relations on board the Titanic when she set off on her maiden voyage one hundred years ago. I have also learnt a little about what life may have been like for the men working deep in the ship and the way in which those who died in the sea were treated by the authorities. The captain and crew of the Mackay-Bennett sponsored the burial in Halifax, Nova Scotia of an unidentified two-year old boy who they had recovered from the sea; he was just one of the 150 people buried in three Halifax cemeteries. His gravestone bears the inscription;

"Erected to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the disaster to the Titanic, April 15th, 1912".

The unknown child was identified incorrectly on two occasions over a period of ninety years and finally, in 2008, a positive (with a 98% certainty) identification using DNA samples was made. The family of the child, 19-month old Sidney Leslie Goodwin, decided to leave the original inscription unchanged as a memorial to all the children who died in the disaster.

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Royston and District Family History Society

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