Every single person has a story to tell. Some stories are more publicised than others and there has certainly been a lot written about those involved in the Titanic disaster. William Nutbean is remembered as a Titanic survivor but his story does not just begin in the Grapes pub on Oxford Street on the morning of 10 April 1912. His story begins in 1881 and, whilst this story does involve him surviving a terrible maritime tragedy, it is also a story of a young Victorian criminal.
This is a timeline of some of notable events in the life of William Nutbean.
16 September 1881: William James is born in Sherborne, Dorset. He was the son of Georgina James, a native of Southampton who, three years later, would marry the boy’s father, William Lionel Nutbean. We’ll call him William Snr to avoid any confusion.
3 May 1886: William Nutbean Snr is sent to prison for four months. The marriage between William Snr and Georgina was not always a happy one. By this time, the Nutbean family were living in Union Place, a small court off College Street in Southampton, located in the densely-populated slum area south of East Street. Georgina was fed up with William Snr staying out all night and, one Sunday, she tore up one of his coats to illustrate her displeasure. William Snr stopped out again that same night, arriving home at around quarter to six on the Monday morning, claiming that he was only there to change into his work clothes. The couple began to argue and William Snr allegedly told his wife that he would seek a separation. He then reportedly struck her several times in the face, pushed her out of the house, punched her again several times, and then kicked her. As she was falling, he reportedly kicked her again from behind and two of their neighbours witnessed this assault. The chairman of the magistrates, John Henry Cooksey, said that ‘nothing could justify such a cruel and unmanly attack’ and he then sentenced the man to four months in prison where ‘he could have time to reflect upon his conduct’.
It is not known whether the five-year-old William Nutbean witnessed his father beating his mother, and it is not known what he might have thought of his father’s four-month absence. However, despite his father’s talk of separation, by 1890 the family were still together.
25 January 1890: William’s first brush with the law. The Nutbeans did not live in the most salubrious part of Southampton, and young William would have likely witnessed plenty of petty crime. When he was eight years old, he was brought before the Southampton magistrates for stealing a tin of beef. Perhaps pitying the boy, the magistrates decided not to give him a proper punishment and instead bound him over to stay out of trouble. William Nutbean would not stay out of trouble.
5 April 1891: 6 Castle Square, Southampton. 1891 was a census year and the Nutbean family were living at 6 Castle Square when the enumerator came knocking. Castle Square had been home to Jane Austen much earlier in that same century, but by the time the Nutbean family were living there, Castle Square was on the periphery of one of Southampton’s most deprived and notorious slums which centred around the southern end of Castle Lane and Simnel Street. In 1891, William Lionel Nutbean was a general labourer and Georgina was a licensed hawker, or somebody who sold goods on the streets. Living with the nine-year-old William and his parents were his younger siblings, Esmerelda and Lionel.
1892: William’s in trouble again. William Nutbean found himself before the magistrates again, this time accused of stealing money from a till. The case was dismissed. However, later that year, the eleven-year-old stole some tobacco and this time the magistrates did not take such a lenient view. They ordered William to receive six strokes of the birch rod, a painful form of corporate punishment.
24 July 1894: Another theft. By now, the Nutbean family were living in Horseman’s Buildings, part of a small court accessed by a covered alleyway on the east side of Southampton High Street, just south of East Street. Horseman’s Buildings were, in 1893, singled out by the town’s Medical Officer of Health in his report on the dilapidated and unhealthy houses in the borough and the Nutbean family would have experienced its poverty first-hand. It may have been this poverty that had led William to steal. He had been accused of stealing some milk in 1893 but the charge was withdrawn and then, on 23 July 1894, he was caught red-handed stealing some barley from stores at Town Quay. The following day in court, the magistrates pointed out that, although William was only thirteen years old, this was his fifth appearance on a charge of larceny. They ordered him to receive eight strokes of the birch rod this time. Unfortunately for them, it did not act as much of a deterrent.
4 April 1895: William is fined for being a troublemaker. The Southampton police and magistrates seemed to spend a lot of their time dealing with people who would deliberately obstruct pavements. On 4 April 1895, the magistrates fined William along with two other lads, Bertie Marlow and Alf Baker, six pence each for ‘constantly obstructing the footpath’ on Above Bar Street. The young defendants simply said that they were waiting to get a copy of the Southern Echo, who had their main offices on the street. However, the Echo workers had made complaints about the behaviour of lads outside their premises and had even asked a police sergeant to keep them in order. Detective Sergeant Smith told the magistrates that it was ‘absolutely useless’ trying to talk to the lads because they became ‘impudent and repeated the offence as soon as the backs of the police were turned’. The magistrates said that the public could not be disturbed like this and fined the boys.
24 June 1895: William goes to jail. Not long after being fined for obstructing the pavement, William was charged with playing pitch and toss, an outlawed form of gambling which involved throwing pennies and trying to get them to land closest to a wall. William was offered the option of a fine of two shillings and six pence or, alternatively, four days in prison. For some reason he decided to go to jail. William was not yet fourteen and this was his first prison sentence. It would not be his last.
30 May 1896: William witnesses a fatal accident. It was half past ten on a Saturday night and the fourteen-year-old William Nutbean was near the railway station on Terminus Terrace, opposite Oxford Street. Labourers were shunting the carriages and William saw a drunk man called Frank Davies run over and lay down near the stop block. William shouted out but it was too late, the men shunting the carriages hadn’t seen Davies and he was crushed between the buffer and the stop block. It must have been a distressing incident for the teenage William to see a man lose his life like that.
27 August 1896: William Snr appears in court again. Despite their troubles, William’s parents were still together by 1896 and later that year, another resident of Horseman’s Buildings threatened William Snr with an iron bar, telling him that he would ‘scatter his brains’. William Snr took out a summons for assault against John Woods but in court he apparently behaved in a ‘very childish manner’, using the iron bar to impress upon the magistrates the way in which he was threatened by Woods. The magistrates had to warn him about his conduct a number of times and they eventually dismissed the case, ordering William Snr, who was supposed to be the complainant, to pay the costs of the court.
3 April 1897: William is given one month in prison. For unknown reasons, William Nutbean returned to his county of birth – Dorset – where he decided to steal some earrings. He used an alias of William James, the name he was given at birth, but the magistrates were able to identify him and they sent him to prison for one month, which was his most severe punishment yet.
29 May 1897: William Snr and Georgina Nutbean get involved in a squabble. St Thomas’ Court was near the modern-day St George’s Street, between East Street and Hoglands Park. Fights and rows were common in Southampton’s crowded Victorian courts, and those involved often later found themselves in a different type of court. On 5 June 1897, the magistrates had before them William Snr and Georgina Nutbean, as well as Eliza Street and her mother, Jane Hoare. Georgina was the first to enter the dock as the defendant. Eliza Street claimed that Georgina had called her mother an ‘offensive name’. Eliza said that when she defended her mother, Georgina struck her in the mouth, making it bleed. Street also said that William Snr was there, encouraging Georgina to give Eliza a ‘good hiding’.
Georgina then left the dock and she was replaced by Eliza, who now became the defendant because Georgina had accused her of assault too. Georgina told the magistrates that she was ‘having a bit of a row’ with her husband when Eliza began interfering. The two women exchanged some words and Georgina claimed that Eliza then punched her first, and they then ‘fought for a bit’. Leonard Nutbean, one of the other Nutbean children, said he saw his mother and Eliza Street fighting together but upon being cross-examined, he admitted that his mother had told him to say that. After some evidence from a woman called Ellen Ward, Georgina was fined five shillings and costs for the assault, whilst her own summons against Eliza Street was dismissed. William Snr then had a turn at being the defendant, for he faced a charge of assaulting Jane Hoare, Eliza Street’s mother. Hoare claimed that whilst her daughter and Georgina were fighting, a drunken William Nutbean Snr came up to her and knocked off her hat and attempted to kick her. However, William Snr accused Hoare of assaulting him, and so Hoare then became the defendant. William Snr told the court that Hoare had hit him with a metal poker. Ellen Ward, the witness in the last case, confirmed that Hoare had indeed hit him with a poker, and the magistrates decided to just dismiss both summonses. There was, however, yet another summons between Georgina and Jane Hoare but at this point, they both decided to withdraw the charges.
16 August 1897: William is given three months in prison. SS Moor was a Union Line ship which plied its trade between Southampton and Cape Town. On 16 August 1897, the Moor was moored in Southampton and in its forecastle were a pile of coats. For whatever reason, William Nutbean and his friend, Anthony Marlow, saw this as an opportunity for yet more thieving. Anthony Marlow appeared to be a troubled youth. He would have been very familiar with prison by the time he was eleven years old, mostly serving time for stealing and robbing other children. In February 1892, Anthony Marlow and James Foreman, both around eleven or twelve years old, robbed a little girl of her purse and spent the money on pipes, cigarettes, and spinning tops. In April 1892, Marlow, Foreman, and two other lads, robbed another little boy of his money and books. In the May of that year, Marlow and Foreman deliberately damaged a fence and in July, Marlow threw a stone through a tram window. The previous year, in 1891, Marlow and Foreman had smashed fourteen panes of glass at the Ascupart infants’ school. Anthony Marlow was described by a magistrate as the ‘worst boy in Southampton’ in August 1892 when he deliberately started a fire on Southampton Common and then, around three months later, Marlow and Foreman were sent to reformatory homes for allegedly indecently assaulting a three-year-old girl at the school where they had previously smashed the windows.
Marlow didn’t reoffend until January 1896 when he was sent to prison for a month for smashing a shop window. His accomplice, Percy Baker, was made to pay the costs. Marlow and Baker were together again in the June of that year and they violently assaulted a young man, for which Marlow was given another month in prison. Baker was given two weeks and, upon hearing the sentence, his mother fainted. In the December of 1896, Marlow got two months for stealing a belt. It is worth bearing in mind that Marlow was still only around fifteen years of age by December 1896, yet he had spent around nine-and-a-half months of his life in prison, not including the time he had spent at a home.
The story behind William Nutbean and Anthony Marlow first becoming acquainted is not known, but when William had been charged with obstructing the footpath on Above Bar Street in 1895, he had been with Anthony Marlow’s brother, Bertie. On 16 August 1897, William Nutbean and Anthony Marlow climbed aboard SS Moor and helped themselves to a coat each. They were spotted. The lads, both now around the age of sixteen, tried to run – Nutbean ran down a baggage shoot which led from the ship to the quay – but they were both caught and committed for trial at the next Quarter Sessions. Marlow, of no fixed residence, had stolen the coat of Henry Fanstone, a fireman on the ship. The Chief Constable read out Marlow’s numerous previous convictions and one of the magistrates said that he should be pitied, for ‘he has been taught to be a thief from birth.’ William Nutbean, also now of no fixed residence, was accused of stealing a coat belonging to Joseph Reed, a witness in the last case. Reed had left his jacket in the forecastle of the Moor and when he realised it was missing, he went up on deck and saw Nutbean making off with it. Both boys pleaded guilty at the Quarter Sessions in October 1897. Nutbean was given three months in prison, whilst Marlow was given six. It would not be the last time the two lads stood trial together.
2 May 1898: William joins the Hants and Isle of Wight Artillery Militia. William may have already gone to sea by May 1898 because, at the age of seventeen years, he joined the Hants and Isle of Wight Artillery Militia and stated that his previous employer was the American Line. However, he also stated that he was a labourer, so it might have been that he simply worked in the docks, as opposed to working on the ships themselves. At the age of seventeen, he was described as being a little over five feet and five inches tall, with black hair, brown eyes, and a tattooed dot on each arm. The prison register of 1897 also stated that he had a scar near his right eye, another on the back of his right hand, and one on each cheek.
Anthony Marlow would also join Hants and Isle of Wight Artillery Militia, some six months after William. At this time, Marlow had some interesting tattoos. He had a heart and clasped hands with the words ‘TRUE LOVE’ tattooed on his left forearm, a star on his right forearm, and his own initials – ‘A M’ – on the back of his right hand.
Nutbean and Marlow signed up for six years, but within three they would both be discharged from the militia for misconduct.
2 December 1899: William is charged with robbery with violence. Along with eighteen-year-old Reuben Leavey and nineteen-year-old George Clark, William was accused of robbing a man called John Chambers on the Platform on 20 August 1899, and stealing his watch and chain, as well as sixteen shillings worth of money, whilst at the same time using ‘personal violence’ towards him. The three lads were sent to the Hampshire Assizes at Winchester and, if found guilty, Nutbean could have expected some serious prison time for a crime such as this. At the same assizes, a man and woman from Portsmouth who both had numerous convictions to their names were each sentenced to five years of penal servitude for a similar charge. In another similar case that year, a Southampton man with only one previous conviction was ordered to be flogged thirty times in total and serve six months in prison for a similar offence. Nutbean may have been aware of the gravity of his situation but he got lucky. John Chambers, the victim of the robbery, was the only witness. He was called but he never appeared. The judge had no choice but to discharge the three prisoners. It appeared that, between apparently being violently robbed and giving evidence in court, John Chambers had drowned at sea.
12 July 1900: William deserts the militia. On 25 August 1900, William was arrested by the police in Hoglands Park for deserting the Hants and Isle of Wight Artillery Militia back on 12 July 1900. He appeared in court for the crime towards the end of August, but the case was remanded pending the arrival of an escort. He was presumably then returned to the militia because just over two months later, he was with them on the Isle of Wight.
3 November 1900: Trouble on the Isle of Wight. Despite William’s charge of robbery in December 1899, and his desertion in July 1900, he was still a member of the Hants and Isle of Wight Artillery Militia in November 1900. Three years earlier, in August 1897, he had been sentenced to prison for theft alongside Anthony Marlow. The following year, William Nutbean had joined the Hants and Isle of Wight Artillery Militia and Marlow had joined him six months later. Despite their associated criminal records, the two teenagers found themselves son the Isle of Wight together when, on 3 November 1900, they apparently became the ringleaders in a fracas that was described at the time as a ‘regular riot’.
In June 1900, Anthony Marlow had been charged with deserting the militia at Sandown and then assaulting a police officer in Southampton’s East Street. He was sent to prison for a month. He’d have regained his liberty in July, but in August he was sentenced to two months in prison for assaulting a sergeant of the militia near Southampton’s Royal Pier. He must have somehow kept his place in the militia because not long after his release from prison in October 1900, he was fined for using obscene language in Sandown, before the ‘riot’ a couple of weeks later.
Along with a man called Rollo Pocock, Nutbean and Marlow were charged with assaulting a Sandown fishmonger called Frederick Barber. Barber claimed that he was walking down Sandown High Street a little after eleven o’clock on the Saturday night with his brother and a friend when William Nutbean came across the road and punched him in the face for no apparent reason, knocking him to the floor. Butler claimed that Marlow and Pocock immediately turned on him, taking off their belts and striking him on the back of his head and back. Marlow also allegedly hit Barber’s brother with his belt. When a police constable arrived on the scene, he found around fifteen militiamen there and he saw Pocock with his belt doubled up in his hand, whilst Marlow and Nutbean had their belts off. This evidence was enough for the chairman of the magistrates, who sentenced them each to a month’s imprisonment. The chairman was handed a list of Marlow’s previous convictions and he said he was at a loss to understand how Marlow could be kept in the Queen’s service with a record like that.
This incident signalled a premature end to the military careers of William Nutbean and Anthony Marlow.
12 December 1900: Georgina Nutbean accuses her husband of persistent cruelty. William Nutbean Snr had been sent to prison for four months for beating Georgina back in 1886 but four years later, they were still married. Their middle son, Leonard, had not learnt from his brother’s mistakes. In December 1900, aged fourteen, Leonard had been sent to prison for fourteen days for being involved in the theft of shoes and boots from the Union-Castle Line ship, Norham Castle. Georgina told the magistrates that William Snr had, as a result of this crime, kicked Leonard out of the house. When William Snr kicked Leonard out, Georgina claimed that her husband had assaulted her when she tried to defend her son. She also claimed that her older children – including William – had been forced to leave home on account of William Snr’s conduct. This may explain why, when William was sent to prison for his own theft from a ship in 1897, he was stated to have been of no fixed residence. In his defence, William Snr said he didn’t know where Georgina was currently living and, despite apparently assaulting her, all the magistrates did was adjourn the case for a month and express a hope that William Snr and Georgina would make up.
15 December 1900: Nutbean and Marlow again, a ‘most brutal’ assault. William Nutbean and Anthony Marlow had each been sentenced to a month in prison for their role in the assault on the Isle of Wight on 10 November, which means they would have walked free on, or around, 10 December. Five days later, they were back in Southampton.
Simnel Street was one of Southampton’s most notorious. The narrow street was plagued by overcrowding and poverty, and trouble was commonplace. Frank Ryan claimed to have been walking down Simnel Street shortly after midnight on 10 December 1900 when he met a woman named Minnie Ward. They walked together for a while but a short time later, he was approached by a man named William Brooks, a ship’s trimmer who lived in Lime Street. Ryan claimed that Brooks was with four other men and, for no apparent reason, they took off their belts and struck Ryan ‘all over the head’. Ryan was knocked to the floor and he claimed that the men put their belts back and on and began kicking him in the body and head. The men ran away but Ryan managed to scramble to his feet and follow them towards the High Street, where Brooks allegedly told him, “If you follow us we will finish you.” Undeterred, Ryan followed them until he found a policeman. In court, Ryan had his head in a bandage and his clothes were said to be ‘very much dirtied and bearing unmistakable imprints of muddy boots’. Ryan said he could swear to Brooks’ identity, but not the other men.
Minnie Ward, who was a neighbour of Brooks in Lime Street, told the magistrates that she was going down Simnel Street with Anthony Marlow when she was joined by Frank Ryan. She walked on with him for a while but then, she claimed, Marlow returned with William Brooks and William Nutbean and the three of them began ‘belting’ Ryan. According to Ward, Marlow then left and came back with three other men and they all attacked Ryan together. She ran away when the attack started but she did not go far. She said she could not swear that Brooks had his belt off, but she knew ‘that poor man (prosecutor) got a leathering.’ Whether Nutbean and Marlow were involved or not, the attack with belts was very reminiscent of the Isle of Wight incident which they were both involved in.
Nutbean gave evidence to the effect that he had left Minnie Ward in East Street at around eleven o’clock. Marlow said something in reply to this, and Nutbean apparently got very excited and shouted, “You left me to fetch the other three; you were at the bottom of it all.”
Police Constable Hatchman was on Southampton High Street at ten past midnight when he heard the cry: “Police, stop that man!” He saw Ryan running after Brooks and he stopped them both. Ryan told him that Brooks and three others had knocked him about with a belt, protesting that he had done nothing to deserve it. Brooks was taken to the police station by the Bargate where he told the police that whilst he had not used his belt, Marlow and Nutbean had. Having identified the two, Hatchman finally located and arrested them at around a quarter past four that morning. On the way to the police station, he overheard Nutbean say, “I expect this is about that fellow.”
The criminal records of Nutbean and Marlow were read out in court. In the newspaper report of the case, these records took up a large part of the column. The two men had not yet reached their twentieth birthdays, but their criminal records rivalled that of any of Southampton’s repeat offenders. The magistrates sentenced Brooks to one month in prison, and he sentenced Nutbean and Marlow to two months each, with hard labour. In passing the sentence on the two, the chairman said that, for their age, they were the ‘two worst characters in Southampton’. The chairman declared that Marlow was ‘determined to go to ruin’ and he lamented the fact that they could not send them to prison for a longer term.
27 December 1900: William Snr assaults Georgina again. Georgina had accused her husband of cruelty on 12 December and all the magistrates simply adjourned the case for a month in the hope that they would settle their differences. This approach seemingly did not work because a little over two weeks later, William Snr allegedly assaulted Georgina again. Georgina claimed that her husband had assaulted her by pulling her about by her hair. A daughter – named here as Elsie – said that her father had not approved of the dinner he had been served and he wanted someone to fetch him something else. Elsie claimed her father then shoved her through a window and assaulted her mother. She did protest that her father was fine when he was sober.
William Snr claimed the story was ‘all made up’ and, despite the evidence against him, the magistrates still decided to simply adjourn the case until the original case was due to come up again. They ‘advised the parties to try to make their differences up and live happily together’. It may well have been an abusive relationship, but the magistrates sent William Snr and Georgina on their way.
15 October 1904: Georgina accuses William Snr of persistent cruelty again. Four years after the magistrates had told the couple to live happily together, Georgina took her husband to court and accused him of persistent cruelty, saying that he had assaulted her several times in the previous six months, to the extent where a doctor had to treat her injuries. Georgina said they had tried separation before but she had forgiven her husband, however she now requested another separation order. The order was granted, and William Snr was told he would have to pay Georgina ten shillings a week.
25 September 1907: William Snr and Leonard have a fight. Father and son were charged with having a drunken brawl in York Buildings on a Wednesday afternoon in September 1907. They both protested their innocence, claiming they were just helping each other home, but they were charged by the police and fined by the magistrates.
By this point, Leonard Nutbean already had a criminal record for fighting, assaulting the police, using obscene language, being drunk and disorderly, and stealing. In 1909, he was charged with assault but the case was dismissed. In 1914, he was charged with using bad language in East Street. “I was drunk, and don’t remember anything about it,” he told the magistrates, but a police constable said he was using the ‘most filthy and threatening language’. In September 1915, Leonard, described as a ‘powerfully-built labourer, of no fixed abode’ was charged with threatening to ‘bash in the face’ of his mother, Georgina. Georgina told the court that he never came to her house unless he was drunk, and she was really afraid that one day he would ‘lay her cut’. Leonard was bound over to be of good behaviour for six months in the sum of ten pounds, and ordered to find a surety of another ten pounds, otherwise he would face three months in prison.
1908: William gets married. It appears that William may have stayed out of trouble after his two-month stretch in prison over Christmas 1900. According to Encyclopedia Titanica, William Nutbean married Emily Heard in Southampton in 1908 and there is an entry on the marriage register for the couple. However, little is known about Emily Heard and she was apparently not living with William three years later, at the time of the 1911 census.
2 April 1911: 5 Horseman’s Buildings. The 1911 census was taken on 2 April 1911 and living at 5 Horseman’s Buildings were Georgina and three of her children. Georgina was still listed as married, and with her was her son, William, now around thirty years of age. He was listed as married and working as a docker, but there is no sign of his wife, Emily. Seventeen-year-old Arthur Nutbean was a postman, and thirteen-year-old Amy was at school. There was no sign of William Snr.
6 April 1912: William Nutbean signs on to join Titanic’s crew. William had already been to sea by this point and when he signed on to join the crew of the world’s newest and largest ocean liner he transferred from SS Parana. It must have been a rush for these men and women to secure a job on the maiden voyage of one of the world’s most luxurious ships. When William signed on, he gave his address as the Sportsman’s Arms, High Street. This is peculiar, not just because the Sportsman’s Arms was on Bargate Street and not the High Street, but because the pub had closed in 1901.
It is likely that Nutbean was still living at Horseman’s Buildings when he signed on to join Titanic’s crew. This is where he appears on the interactive Titanic Crew Map, with the historic location of Horseman’s Buildings appearing on the modern map.
10 April 1912: William goes for a drink in the Grapes on Oxford Street. On the morning of Titanic’s maiden voyage – 10 April 1912 – William Nutbean went for a few drinks with his mate, John Podesta. Many years later, in 1968, John Podesta – then aged eighty and still living in Southampton – remembered his own Titanic story. Podesta said that on the morning of the maiden voyage he went with William Nutbean to the Newcastle Hotel on East Street and, after leaving there, the pair stopped in the Grapes on Oxford Street where they bumped into some would-be shipmates. At this time, John Podesta lived at 31 Chantry Road in the Chapel area of Southampton. He probably knew the three Slade brothers; Bertram, Thomas, and Alfred, as well as their lodger, Alfred Penney, for these men were living nearby at 21 Chantry Road. They had another drink together before leaving the Grapes to venture towards the docks and the great liner which was now minutes away from her departure from Berth 44 in the White Star Dock.
Podesta reckoned they left the Grapes at about ten to twelve, giving themselves ten minutes to reach the gangway. It should have been plenty of time but as the six men made their way to the ship, a passenger train approached them on one of the many tracks that criss-crossed through the docks. “Oh, let the train go by,” said one of the Slade brothers, but Nutbean and Podesta jumped ahead of it, leaving the Slades and Penney behind as the train rolled by. Thanks to their quick thinking, William Nutbean and John Podesta made it to the ship in time. However, Podesta recalled that the train was a particularly long one, and by the time the Slades and Penney got to the ship, the gangway was just about to be raised. One of the passengers, Lawrence Beesley, who would survive the sinking, recalled seeing a ‘knot of stokers’ running along the quay with their kit bags slung over their shoulders. He saw them reach the gangway but the officer in charge refused to let them board. According to Beesley, the stokers argued and gesticulated as they tried to explain the reason for their lateness, but the officer remained obdurate and waved them back. The gangway was dragged back despite their protests and the maiden voyage began. Bertram, Thomas, and Alfred Slade, along with Alfred Penney, may well have stood and watched the ship slowly slip away towards Southampton Water. Perhaps they went back to the pub to drown their sorrows over missing their pay day on a prestigious maiden voyage. Either way, that drink at the Grapes and the passing train quite possibly saved their lives.
10 April 1912 – 14 April 1912: Titanic’s maiden voyage: Nutbean and Podesta were employed as firemen and they worked in the heat of the bowels of the ship. For days, Titanic sailed towards New York without a care, as men like Nutbean and Podesta kept the fires burning below the waterline and the passengers above. Nutbean and Podesta were just two of at least seven hundred and twenty crew members and officers who had given a Southampton address when they signed on. These men and women who either lived or lodged in Southampton prior to the voyage performed a wide range of jobs on board, from captain and first officer to fireman and trimmer, from wine butler and first class steward to bell boy and vegetable cook.
14 April 1912: “Iceberg, right ahead.”
Nutbean and Podesta came off duty on the evening of 14 April 1912 and they went to the galley to have some food. Upon leaving, Podesta heard the lookouts in the crow’s nest inform the bridge that there was ice ahead. ‘Nutbean and I went on deck and looked around but saw nothing. It was a lovely calm night but pitch black,’ Podesta later recalled. They went back to their quarters and chatted for about an hour before turning in, but five minutes later they heard the lookout shout, “Ice ahead, sir.” Southampton resident and Titanic lookout Fred Fleet would later tell the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry that he saw a ‘black object’ and immediately rang the bell three times. He phoned the bridge and told them, “Iceberg, right ahead.”
Podesta described Titanic hitting the iceberg as ‘only a quiver’ which didn’t even wake those who were in a deep sleep. Nutbean and Podesta left their room for the spiral ladder which led down into the engine room and they saw men running away from the sound of water rushing into the forward hold. They went back to their room and began shaking the men to wake them. Podesta remembered one in particular, a fireman called Augustus George Stanbrook (who can be found on the Titanic Crew Map living at 36 York Street). “I said, ‘Come on Gus, get a lifebelt and go to your boat, she’s sinking.’ He began laughing and simply lay back again, thinking it was a joke,” Podesta recalled. Augustus George Stanbrook would not survive the sinking.
Eustace Horatius Blann came into the room holding a lump of ice and exclaimed, “Look what I found on the deck.” Blann, who lived at 99 Pound Street (now Cannon Street) in Shirley, did not survive the sinking. Then, the boatswain, Albert William Stanley ‘Alfred’ Nichols, who lived not far from Blann at 37 Oakley Road in Shirley, came into the room. Podesta remembered him looking very pale. He told the men to get their lifebelts and to go and man their lifeboats. Nichols would not survive the sinking either.
Nutbean and Podesta went to their lifeboat but found it was already full so they were ordered to help lower it, which they did. Podesta tried to find something to make a raft as Nutbean walked towards the bridge, and there he found another lifeboat. First Officer William Murdoch, who lived on Belmont Road in Portswood, ordered the two men to jump in. Murdoch did not survive the sinking but this order likely saved the lives of Nutbean and Podesta.
They were joined in the lifeboat by three able seamen and the rest of the occupants were passengers. They lowered the boat into the water and Murdoch shouted over the side of the ship, “Keep handy, in case you have to come back.” They would soon be unable to. Those in the lifeboats watched Titanic as she went down at the bow, edging deeper and deeper into the black, icy water. They watched as the stern rose up in the air, they listened to the ‘terrible’ rumbling noise, and they watched as Titanic dramatically disappeared altogether. Those in the lifeboats then had to listen to the screams of the men, women, and children who were freezing to death in the water. This was soon followed by an absolute and chilling silence. Podesta saw debris, ice, and bodies floating in the water as they waited for their rescue which came in the form of RMS Carpathia, captained by Arthur Henry Rostron who had ordered his crew to race to Titanic’s aid.
The day after SS Lapland delivered the survivors to Plymouth, the Western Daily Mercury reported on the homecoming of the surviving crew members. In their 29 April 1912 edition, the newspaper printed the following:
‘THE COURAGE OF THE WOMEN. William Nutbean, 5, Horsman’s [sic] Buildings, High-street Southampton, said he was ordered away in No. 4 boat. They stood off some distance whilst the other boats were loading. At first there was no hurry, the difficulty being to get people to enter the boats. The women especially were courageous. They preferred to remain with their husbands when the latter were ordered to stand back. This caused some delay…
A SEA OF CORPSES. Chairs, small rafts, and other gear were floating about amongst a crowd of agonised strugglers in the water. The bitter cold soon put an end to most of these battles. His boat put back and picked up several persons, but the majority of the people they found floating were dead. It was an awesome sight and one he had dreamed about ever since. The boat looked so small in the great expanse of dark grey water, relieved here and there by clumps of ice, which only served to make the sea and sky appear greyer.
He had many sufferers in his boat, and others were heart-broken at the loss of relatives and friends. The long, dreary hours spun out without much thought of eating and drinking until they were mercifully picked up by the liner [RMS Carpathia].’
On board the Carpathia, Nutbean and Podesta cared for two other crew members, John O’Connor of 9 Tower Place near Bargate Street, and Walter Hurst of 15 Chapel Road. Hurst’s father-in-law, William Mintram, had also been working on board, but he had not survived the sinking. Mintram himself had a criminal record. In 1886, when he was seventeen, he was sentenced to a month in prison for stabbing another lad in a pub brawl, and he later got in trouble for drunkenness and assaulting the police. In 1902, he stabbed his wife, Eliza May Rose Mintram (née Veal) during an argument. He was found not guilty of wilful murder but guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He was due to be released on 18 November 1914 but he was released early on 13 October 1911, five months before Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage. Mintram had allegedly given his son-in-law, Walter Hurst, his lifebelt, and O’Connor and Hurst had survived by balancing on an upturned collapsible lifeboat. Nutbean and Podesta gave them blankets and rubbed their freezing legs to help with the circulation. It is possible that Nutbean and Podesta remained friends after their ordeal. Podesta certainly remained friends with Bertram Slade, who they had shared a drink with in the Grapes on the morning of the voyage. In 1921, Podesta and Slade were fined for drunkenly stealing some bacon from a shop.
Meanwhile, after the sinking, news and rumours of the disaster spread like wildfire in Southampton. For days, families gathered on Canute Road in front of the White Star Line’s offices. The company’s staff posted the names of survivors on sheets of paper outside as news filtered back. Families nervously waited for any news and perhaps the Nutbean family were part of the crowd.
RMS Carpathia took them to New York, arriving on 18 April 1912. What must William Nutbean have thought as he looked up at the Statue of Liberty? From New York, SS Lapland brought them back across the Atlantic Ocean to Plymouth, arriving there on 28 April 1912, thirteen days after the sinking. Nutbean, Podesta, and the others, then got trains back to Southampton.
The loss of the Titanic had a devastating impact on Southampton. At least seven hundred and twenty of the crew members and officers on board had a Southampton address. Five hundred and forty-two of them lost their lives. This means that over a third of those who died in the sinking either lived or lodged in Southampton prior to the voyage. It is sometimes said that everybody in Southampton knew somebody who lost a family member and this is believable when you look at the Titanic Crew Map. The addresses of the victims were spread right across the town and its suburbs. Some streets were hit particularly hard, such as York Street (and Lower York Street) in Northam which lost seven men, including a father and a son. College Street, where William Nutbean had lived when he was five years old, was home to nine crew members. Eight of them died in the sinking.
Life after Titanic: The odds were not in William Nutbean’s favour; he was extremely lucky to survive the sinking of Titanic. However, the disaster did not put him off going to sea. According to Encyclopedia Titanica, he would later serve on board the following ships: Almanzora, Briton, Bayeskimo, Majestic, Brandenberg, Orca, Nictheroy, Metagma, Alcantara, Arlanza, Empress of Canada, Saxon, Andes, Berengaria and Braemar Castle. William Nutbean was awarded the Mercantile Marine War Medal for his Merchant Navy service during the First World War and continued to go to sea until at least 1931.
In 1939, over half a century since he had lived there as a child, William Nutbean was back on College Street, a street which had been so badly affected by the Titanic disaster. He was listed as a single general labourer, apparently lodging with a family headed by Felix and Maria Perrone. What happened between William and his wife, Emily, is not known.
William Nutbean was living at Wilton Street when he died on 7 May 1947. He was sixty-five years old. I was initially under the impression that he was buried in Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton. However, I received an email from the granddaughter of William’s cousin and she informed me that, whilst his parents are indeed buried in Hollybrook Cemetery, William himself was cremated and his ashes were scattered at the South Stoneham Garden of Rest.
William was an almost-kleptomaniacal youth and a violent teenager. This is not a psychological evaluation but it is not unreasonable to suggest that his penchant for stealing could have been a result of the poverty in which he and his family lived, and his violent acts could have been somewhat influenced by witnessing his father’s domestic violence, which in turned seemed to be fuelled by alcohol. William Nutbean made his own choices in life but by becoming involved with characters like Anthony Marlow, it was never going to end well. However, it does appear that William managed to stop his cycle of repeat offending.
William Nutbean’s story is just one of many. Every single person who lived in Southampton at the same time as him has a story to tell. His is the story of a Victorian scoundrel who found himself at the centre of one of history’s most infamous peacetime maritime disasters. Fortunately for William Nutbean, his story extended beyond 15 April 1912. For over fifteen hundred others, this was where their stories ended, but that does not mean their stories should never be told. They should all be remembered.
Sources and acknowledgements:
Special thanks to Dr Paul Lee. 1968 newspaper interview with John Podesta, via paullee.com (link to article opens in new tab). Information on of survivors and their return to Southampton can be found in Titanic: The Homecoming: Tales from the “Lapland” by Dr Paul Lee
Titanic Voices Memories from the Fateful Voyage by Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth, and Sheila Jemima
A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
The Loss of S.S. Titanic Its Story and Its Lessons by Lawrence Beesley
Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records, Findmypast.com
Census records, Findmypast.com
Newspapers, various, Findmypast.co.uk
England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935, Findmypast.co.uk
British Army Service Records, WO 96 – Militia Service Records 1806-1915, The National Archives and Findmypast.co.uk
Britain, Merchant Seamen, 1918-1941, The National Archives and Findmypast.co.uk
Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Index of First World War Mercantile Marine Medals and the British War Medal, BT 351/1/105653, Findmypast.co.uk
Sources regarding crew member addresses can be found under the Titanic Crew Map
With thanks to William’s relative for the correction regarding his burial/cremation