Titanic Passengers: 8 Stories From People Who Sailed On The Ocean Liner

Eight stories of luck, bravery and tragedy…


The Astors

John Jacob Astor IV (47) and his 19-year-old wife Madeleine were the wealthiest couple on board Titanic, and among the richest in the world. Astor, an American business tycoon, was worth over $80 million when he went down with the ship. The couple had cut short an extended honeymoon through Europe and Egypt – a trip taken to escape the gossip surrounding their 28-year age gap and marriage – after Madeleine fell pregnant. Wanting the child to be born in America, they had booked passage home on Titanic.

Madeleine was carried to safety on a lifeboat and later noticed how many of the men left on board seemed unalarmed by the situation. Her husband’s body was later found in the ocean. Madeleine gave birth to John Jacob Astor VI in August 1912 – he was nicknamed the Titanic baby.

John Jacob Astor IV, standing with his wife, Magdalene. He died on the Titantic; she survived him and bore his child. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)


Alfred Nourney

Born in the Netherlands, Alfred Nourney wanted to live a life of luxury on Titanic. To avoid a scandal after getting a woman pregnant, Nourney was traveling from her home in Cologne, Germany, to stay with relatives in America. Traveling under the pseudonym Baron Alfred von Drachstedt, Nourney brought expensive jewelry and clothing with him to deceive people of his false aristocratic status, and although he rode second class at Cherbourg, he soon requested a transfer. In first class.

Alfred Nourney, passenger on the Titanic

Alfred Nourney was keen to live a life of luxury on the Titanic. (Image via Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

He was one of the first to get into a lifeboat, where he reportedly smoked and continuously fired his gun in the air. A story claims that about the RMS lifeboat Carpathians, Nourney’s demeanor was less than gentlemanly, and he was reportedly found asleep on a pile of blankets intended for distribution to survivors. Once in the United States, Nourney claimed he lost all his money on board and returned to Germany, where he later joined the Nazi Party.


Thomas Andrews

One of the minds behind the construction of Titanic, Andrews was on board for the ship’s maiden voyage as part of the Guarantee Group – representatives from Harland and Wolff who were there to look for things that could be improved and to fix minor problems. After the collision, Andrews informed the captain that the ship would sink within two hours.

Knowing that there were not enough lifeboats, he relentlessly searched the cabins – persuading people to put on life jackets and get into a lifeboat if they could. A steward claimed to have seen Andrews in the first class smoking room, staring at a painting of Plymouth Sound (which Titanic was to visit him on his return) without trying to run away. Others, however, said they saw him assist in the evacuation to the bitter end before jumping overboard himself. His body has not been found.

Thomas Andrews, Chief Naval Architect of the Titanic

Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the Titanic. (Image by Alamy)


Dorothy Gibson

American actress Dorothy Gibson starred in many theater productions and silent films before her trip to Titanic, and was returning from vacation in Italy with his mother. Gibson and his mother escaped Titanic on the first lifeboat to leave the sinking ship, but they found themselves in danger again when a hole was discovered in the bottom of the lifeboat – it had to be quickly plugged with clothing. Just days after returning to New York, Gibson reenacted the experience in the silent film. Rescued from the Titanic – the first film about the disaster – which premiered on May 16, 1912. Gibson co-wrote the film and even wore the same clothes she had worn on the night of the sinking.

American actress Dorothy Gibson

American actress Dorothy Gibson was returning to America after a vacation in Italy. (Image by Alamy)


Richard Norris Williams

American tennis player Richard Norris Williams had boarded Titanic in first class in Cherbourg and was returning home to take part in a tournament. After the ship hit an iceberg, but before the real danger became apparent, Williams, 21, encountered a steward trying to help a panicked passenger who was trapped inside his cabin. Williams broke down the door to save the passenger – but drew the wrath of a steward, who threatened to sue him for damages.

Richard N Williams, pictured playing tennis

Richard N Williams, pictured playing tennis at Forest Hills Tennis Club in New York City. (Image by Getty Images)

Williams was among those who jumped into sub-freezing water, forced to cling to a lifeboat while waiting for help; he was then informed by the doctor on board the rescue vessel Carpathians that his legs – damaged by the extreme cold – may have to be amputated. Williams refused and walked the bridge to restore traffic; barely six weeks later, he won a tennis tournament.


Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche

Haitian-born engineer Joseph Laroche was traveling second class with his wife and two daughters when Titanic has sunk. Joseph had moved to France at the age of 15 to study engineering, but racial discrimination had prevented him from obtaining a well-paid engineering job in that country. When his French wife, Juliette, becomes pregnant with their third child, they decide to return to Haiti. Joseph, who would have been the only black passenger on board Titanic, managed to get his family into a lifeboat but sank with the ship; His body has never been found.


Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown

American socialite Margaret Brown posthumously became known as the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’ following her Titanic experiences. Molly’s estranged husband was mining engineer James Joseph Brown, and it was his business successes that propelled the couple to the highest level of Colorado society. Molly had traveled to Egypt with the Astors before booking a return trip on Titanic after hearing that her grandson was sick. Once aboard a lifeboat, she helped row, encouraging other women to do the same to keep warm. It was despite the protests of the quartermaster in charge, that she allegedly threatened to push overboard.

American socialite Margaret Brown, known posthumously as

American socialite Margaret Brown posthumously became known as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” following her experiences on the Titanic. (Image by Alamy)

Molly also tried unsuccessfully to persuade the quartermaster to turn back and search for survivors, and once aboard Carpathians, helped fellow survivors by distributing food and blankets. She would later create a committee of survivors to help those who lost everything. The fame she gained enabled Molly to help other charitable causes, including helping to establish a French relief station for wounded soldiers during the First World War.


Violet Jessop

Violet Jessop could go down in history as one of the luckiest people to ever travel at sea – having survived collisions on the White Star Line‘s three Olympic-class liners. The daughter of Irish immigrants to Argentina, Jessop and her family moved to England after her father’s death, and she began working as a stewardess aboard ocean liners. In September 1911, Violet was working on of the titanic RMS sister ship Olympic when it collided with the warship HMS Hawke near the Isle of Wight.

Violet Jessop

Violet Jessop has survived collisions on the White Star Line’s three Olympic-class liners. (Image courtesy of the Titanic Historical Society)

A year later, Violet was working as a flight attendant again, this time on Titanic. As the ship sank, Violet was asked to help non-English-speaking passengers into the lifeboats before being ordered into lifeboat 16 herself. In 1916, Violet was aboard the third Olympic-class ships, the RMS British – which had been turned into a hospital during World War I – when it sank in the Aegean Sea after hitting a mine. Thirty people were killed but Violet survived the sinking, although she suffered a serious head injury. Despite all these close calls, she continued to work at sea. She died in 1971, aged 83.

This article first appeared in the July 2021 issue of BBC History Revealed

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