On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s ill-fated maiden journey, the Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Diane Clements, investigates the stories of the Freemasons on board
With 2012 marking the centenary of its first and only voyage, the RMS Titanic has become one of the most famous ships in history. After setting sail from Southampton for New York City on 10 April 1912 with 2,223 people on board, the ship hit an iceberg four days into the crossing, at 11.40pm on 14 April 1912, and sank at 2.20am the following morning.
More than 1,500 people died – the high casualty rate due in part to the fact that, although complying with regulations of the era, the ship carried lifeboats for only 1,178 people. The Titanic was the largest passenger ship in the world at the time and the loss of this ‘unsinkable’ ship was a major news story around the globe and covered by masonic newspapers.
The Freemason’s Chronicle wondered whether Grand Lodge itself would ‘vote a considerable sum… to one of the funds now being raised in different parts of the country’. This didn’t happen but the Chronicle recorded lodge donations, at the suggested rate of one guinea, to a Freemasons Titanic Fund, which the paper established, and which were then sent on to a larger fund set up by the Daily Telegraph.
Among the English Freemasons who died on the Titanic was Howard Brown Case, aged 49. Case was the managing director of the Vacuum Oil Company (part of the Standard Oil Company), based in Rochester, New York, and was establishing the company’s operations in the UK. He lived at Ascot with his wife, two sons and two daughters and was described as ‘an exceptionally hard worker’ with a ‘magnetic personality’. Case had been travelling in a first-class cabin and some survivors recalled that he helped women and children into the lifeboats and finally stepped back to meet his fate. He had been initiated in America Lodge, No. 3368, in June 1909.
Percy Cornelius Taylor, aged 32, was a Past Master of Musgrave Lodge, No. 1597, at Hampton Court, and a cellist in the ship’s orchestra. The band famously kept playing as the Titanic went down, with all eight members sadly perishing.
Two Liverpool-based stewards, Robert Arthur Wareham, aged 36, from Toxteth Lodge, No. 1356, and Arthur Lawrence, aged 35, a member of Neptune Lodge, No. 1264, also died.
Henry Price Hodges was a 50-year-old salesman of musical instruments from Southampton who was travelling as a second-class passenger en route to Boston. He had been initiated in Caulsentum Lodge, No. 1461, Woolston (Southampton), before joining Royal Gloucester Lodge, No. 130. Pierre Giuseppe Bochet, meanwhile, had moved to London from Aosta in Italy where he worked in the catering trade. He joined the Titanic at Southampton as a waiter, aged 43. He was a member of Loggia Italia, No. 2687 and also Columbia Chapter, No. 2397.
Officer and gentleman
One Freemason was known to be among the survivors. Herbert John Pitman, aged 34, was third officer on the Titanic. He helped to load and lower one of the lifeboats and row it towards the nearby ship Carpathia. Pitman went back to sea with other liners and served in the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. He had joined Abbey Lodge, No. 3341, in Hatfield in 1909 and remained a member until his death in 1961. A letter from the lodge congratulating him on his rescue was sold at auction in October 2011.
As the Titanic was bound for New York there were many American passengers. The condolences of several grand lodges, including Hungary and Cuba, to the Grand Lodge of New York are recorded in the proceedings of that Grand Lodge in May 1912. Three New York casualties were also recorded. Henry Harris was a New York theatre manager and a member of Munn Lodge, No. 100. Frank Millet was vice chairman of the Fine Arts Committee, based in Washington DC, and member of Kane Lodge, No. 454. Alexander Holverson was a member of Transportation Lodge, No. 842. Another Freemason casualty was Oscar Scott Woody, a clerk in the on-board post office. He was a member of Acacia Lodge, No. 16, in Virginia.
The passengers on the Titanic were drawn from all walks of life so it is no surprise that the Freemasons, casualties and survivors, were too.
Letters to the Editor - Freemasonry Today No. 18 - SUMMER 2012
Your article, ‘Final Voyage’ in Freemasonry Today, Spring 2012, highlights some known Freemasons who were on board the Titanic. One officer’s actions, on that fateful night, have also become legendary. Harold Godfrey Lowe brought 118 passengers to safety and he was the last to leave the lifeboats on being rescued by the Carpathia. Fifth Officer Lowe was subsequently hailed a hero by some of the survivors for his actions that night, which he simply put down to doing his duty. What may not be known, but of interest to brethren, is that Lowe was initiated into St. Trillo Lodge, No. 2569, in the Province of North Wales, on the 6 May 1921. Unfortunately, he didn’t occupy our master chair, but seemingly remained a member of this lodge for the rest of his life.
Tony Young, St. Trillo Lodge, No. 2569, Colwyn Bay, North Wales
I read with great interest your article on Freemasons and the Titanic. Unfortunately, you made no reference to a young brother of the Cambrian Lodge, No. 364, lost on that fateful voyage. He was Robert William Norman Leyson, a mechanical engineer aged 24.
Norman Leyson came from a respected Neath family. His father was a Freemason and he was proposed by Henry Pendrill Charles, who later became Deputy Provincial Grand Master. He was initiated on 16 January 1912. On 28 March 1912, the Minute Book records that a Lodge of Emergency was called. This was to permit Norman Leyson to be raised to the sublime degree of a master mason before he set sail for New York on the Royal Mail Ship Titanic, to go into business in America. His father is listed among the visitors.
The Titanic berthed at Ocean Dock in Southampton on 4 April 1912 and some time around this date Norman Leyson travelled there to board the ship for departure on 10 April. At 11.40pm on 14 April the ship travelling at 22 knots grazed an iceberg. There was lifeboat capacity for 1,200 passengers but 2,201 passengers and crew were on board. Even so, nearly 500 lifeboat places were not filled and at 2.20am on 15 April, the Titanic sank.
We do not know what happened to Norman Leyson during those dark hours, only that he did not get into a lifeboat. There were many documented and undocumented acts of bravery and also some of abject cowardice. We can only hope he acted as a true son and his actions may be numbered among the former. The body of Norman Leyson was one of those found. He was buried at sea on 24 April.
Roger B Evans, Cambrian Lodge, No. 364, Neath, South Wales
Henry Sadler was a great Victorian Mason to whom Masonic researchers owe a great deal, says David Peabody
Masonic historians are familiar with the name of Henry Sadler, but many brethren of today are unaware of the debt of gratitude that all Freemasons owe him.
Henry Sadler was born on 19th October 1840 in the Village of Shalford, Essex, just north of Braintree. Little is known of his early life, but he became a merchant mariner at the age of 15, and by 1862 he was in London, where he spent two years as a commercial traveller.
It was at this time that Sadler's connection with Freemasonry began, when he was initiated in the Lodge of Justice No. 147. In 1865 Freemasons' Hall was greatly expanded, and Sadler was employed by the Grand Secretary's office as assistant to Charles Bryant Payne, the Grand Tyler, where he assisted in the arrangements for the quarterly meetings of United Grand Lodge and Supreme Grand Chapter.
Sadler's other duties at Freemasons' Hall included that of housekeeper, for which living accommodation was provided. He would arrange the letting and the booking of rooms, and maintain the Hall in general.
The census for 1881 confirms there were 12 people listed as residents in the Hall - Sadler, his wife Elizabeth, their six children, Elizabeth's older sister Ann, a servant, Eliza, the Irish door porter Nan Stanton, and Caleb Last, the house porter.
In 1879 Sadler became Grand Tyler and Grand Janitor, in which positions he assisted in many consecrations of Lodges and Chapters, thus becoming a well-know figure in London Masonry.
About this time, Sadler began his interest in the 'doings' of our Masonic predecessors, as he referred to it. As Grand Tyler and housekeeper, he had the ideal opportunity to look through all the old bookcases and cupboards and familiarise himself with their contents. At the same time, he started to catalogue the archives and collections that he came across.
He also began to make regular contributions to the Masonic press such as The Freemason and The Freemason's Chronicle.
This enabled him to share the information that he had found, and brought him into contact with the likes of leading Masonic figures such as R.F. Gould, G.W. Speth and John Lane, thus Sadler's reputation began to grow.
However, in 1883 a calamity affected Freemasons' Hall. In early May of that year a fire broke out in the main Temple, completely gutting the roof, with the loss of the magnificent portraits of the Rulers of the Craft.
The statue of the Duke of Sussex that stood at the back of the dais was recovered and repaired. Fortunately, it had only been affected by smoke and water. A report in The Daily Telegraph and reprinted in The Freemason dated 13th May 1883, read: 'It should be added that the regalia of Grand Lodge have escaped destruction as well as the throne used on special occasions when the Prince of Wales presides.
"As to the origin of the fire, there appears to be little doubt that it was owing to a high beam which ran through a flue communicating with the kitchen of the tavern, becoming ignited.
"It is due to Bro Henry Sadler, Grand Tyler, who resides on the premises, to say that but for his early discovery of the fire the whole of the buildings would in all probability have been destroyed."
On 6th February 1986, John Hamill, then Librarian, received a letter from a Miss Florence Watt, one of Sadler's granddaughters, informing him that she had been left some photographs of the fire by her mother.
She then made a visit to the Grand Lodge Library and Museum and donated three photographs, one of which was taken after the fire. Miss Watt then recalled a story of her mother remembering being carried down the main staircase by her father on the night of the fire.
In all probability this may have been young Florence, who would have been five at the time. In the last paragraph of the letter she states: "The Sadler family had a lucky escape when the fire broke out, which incidentally my grandfather was told was caused by the builders running a beam through the chimney of the boiler that heated the Temple, and it caught fire. The Temple almost backed on to the main building, and the family had to go down the staircase which was on that side of the building."
In 1887 Sadler was appointed sub-librarian of the United Grand Lodge of England in appreciation of all the work he had carried out in preserving the records and archives of Grand Lodge. In a 1904 publication, Sadler relates his story of the origins of the Library and Museum:
"As far back as the year 1837, the desirability of establishing a Library and Museum at the headquarters of the English Craft was enunciated by John Henderson, Grand Registrar and President of the Board of General Purposes, who at the Quarterly Communication on the 6th of September in that year, proposed 'That it is expedient to form a Masonic Library and Museum in connection with Grand Lodge.
"This motion, having been duly seconded, it was: 'Resolved that it be referred to the Board of General Purposes to consider and report on the mode of forming, preserving and regulating a Masonic Library and Museum.
"John Henderson may, therefore, be fairly designated the father of the valuable collection of books and relics of the past that form so attractive a feature of the buildings in Great Queen Street."
Sadler then informs us that it was Dr Robert Crucefix, vice-president of the Board of General Purposes, who made the first donation by presenting the Library with four volumes of The Freemasons' Quarterly Review, handsomely bound.
On 27th February 1838 the Board of General Purposes made the following statement: "That a room on the ground floor be set aside for the purposes of a Masonic Museum and Library. That a sum of money not exceeding £100.00 be placed at the disposal of the Board for the purpose of providing for the reception of books, manuscripts and objects of Masonic interest, and for commencing the formation of a Library and Museum. That for the present time it will be convenient to appoint the Grand Secretaries ex-official curators of the Library and Museum."
Dr George Oliver appears to have been the next contributor to the Library, when on 28th May 1838, he presented three volumes of his well-know works.
Sadler then tells us that on 5th September: "Brother George William Turner, Past Master of Lodges 53 and 87 had presented eighty volumes of books to the Library of Grand Lodge." The Lodges have now been renumbered Strong Man No. 45 and Mount Lebanon No. 73.
It was in 1887 that Sadler published his ground-breaking work on the origins of the Antients Grand Lodge. He had already rediscovered Morgans Register, the first register and minute book of the Antients, and the Charter of Compact.
However, it was in Masonic Fact and Fiction that he finally proved that there had been no schism with the Premier Grand Lodge, and that the Antients were mainly unattached Masons from Ireland. With the publishing of Masonic Fact and Fiction, Sadler's reputation grew, and by 1907 he had published six more books and many papers and other contributions.
On his retirement as Grand Tyler and Grand Janitor in 1910, an office he held for 31 years, he was appointed the first Librarian and Curator to Grand Lodge.
Sadler was a member of many Lodges and Chapters, and in 1903 he was elected a full member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, the premier Lodge of Masonic research, for his achievements in Masonic research, becoming Master in 1911.
Unfortunately, Sadler died on 15th October that year, and was buried in the Great Northern Cemetery, New Southgate, London.
Of all the many eulogies and written obituaries on Henry Sadler, one in particular sums up the man, and was given on 8th November 1911 by Edmund Dring.
"It is difficult on this sad occasion for one so young in years, compared to our late Master. I remember well the occasion on which I first met Bro Sadler. It was now nineteen years ago, and the brusque manner in which he chided me for an unconscious indiscretion was distasteful to me, although it was deserved.
"When, soon afterwards, I got to know him more thoroughly, I wondered however I could have resented his fraternal caution, for I quickly found that beneath his epidermis brusqueness, there was a kindliness and paternal solicitude the extreme depth of which I never fathomed.
"His writings are already historical, his life and work will become historical, but future generations will unfortunately never be able to appreciate his deep modesty, to feel his affectionate regard, or realise that in all matters of vital and most questions of Masonic interest and antiquarianism, they have lost their expositor.
"His knowledge was so far-reaching and his extreme willingness to help real students at all times so well-known, that every Brother throughout the world who was interested in Masonic history must personally mourn his loss."
David Peabody is secretary of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, the premier Lodge of Masonic research.