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
14 JUNE 2006
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
I have received many favourable comments following the MW Grand Master’s remarks at the April Investiture meeting on the question of charity, and how important it is to make our charity multi-faceted by giving practical help as well as financial aid.
We have many small Masonic charities which do just that and next week the Grand Master is coming to my home in Northamptonshire for an event which is being run by the Masonic Trout and Salmon Fishing Club of which I am a Patron. This charity, whose motto is ‘Smiling in the face of adversity’, organises a day’s fishing with professional casters for handicapped and disadvantaged children at venues all over the country.
It is important that we build on the foundations we laid with our Freemasonry in the Community week by arranging events which benefit our local communities. There is no better way of ensuring the public and potential candidates have a good impression of what Freemasonry is all about than by seeing us helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
Since our last Quarterly Communication in March I have made two trips overseas. On 1 May I attended the annual meeting of the Grand Lodge of New York following which they installed their new Grand Master. They kindly honoured me with their Distinguished Achievement Award [see page 30].
On the last weekend of May I flew to Bermuda to inaugurate the new District Grand Lodge of Bermuda and install RW Bro Robert Rego as the first District Grand Master.
It was a most enjoyable occasion with many Scottish and Irish brethren attending the ceremony and supporting our brethren.
Tomorrow I fly to Dublin for the annual Tripartite meeting between the three Home Grand Lodges.
Bro George Francis, Senior Grand Warden, visited our District Grand Lodge and District Grand Chapter of Cyprus for their annual communication and convocation on 27 May. He attended also the Grand Lodge of Ireland for their annual meeting on 1 June.
Brethren, we are coming to the end of another Masonic season which is a good time to reflect on what has been achieved during the past 12 months and make plans for next year.
I wish you and your families a happy and peaceful time over the summer and look forward to seeing you all again in September.
DISTINGUISHED ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FROM THE GRAND LODGE OF NEW YORK
1 MAY 2006
A speech by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
MW Grand Master, ladies and brethren. Firstly, may I, on behalf of my wife Pamela and myself, thank you for your kind invitation to be with you today and offer my congratulations on your 225th anniversary – you make your mother Grand Lodge very proud.Secondly, may I thank you and your brethren for the great honour you have conferred on me. It is something I shall always treasure and which I regard as a tangible proof of the very cordial relations which have always existed between our two Grand Lodges.
It will also remind me of the advice, love and support I receive from Pamela, who shares with me a passion for the Craft as well as some of the highs and all of the lows associated with my role as Pro Grand Master of English Freemasonry!
Your Grand Lodge had its origins in a group of Lodges under the Antients Grand Lodge of England and, I am reliably informed, your ritual still contains many elements of the working of that Grand Lodge, possibly more than our current workings in England do!
This evening is not an occasion to dwell on our respective histories, but we have recently discovered a fascinating link between your City and our headquarters.
The present Freemasons’ Hall in London was built as a memorial to our brethren who died in the First World War. A problem for the architects was that they had to erect a very heavy building, covering over two acres, on London clay which, even in the 1920s, was beginning to dry out.
The architects spent two months in New York in 1926 studying how your architects were able to build such magnificent structures. As a result, Freemasons’ Hall became the first building in England to be raised on a massive steel frame. The New York lessons learned by our architects certainly paid off, as the building has hardly moved in the ensuing 80 years, whilst many of the neighbouring buildings have had severe problems!
History is important, but we live in the present and must plan for the future, which in recent years in many Grand Lodges has looked somewhat bleak. English-speaking Freemasonry, whilst it is widely spread over the globe, has common roots and also common problems.
We all went through a very large expansion in the period after the Second World War, an expansion it would have been impossible to sustain indefinitely. Since the 1970s we have all suffered from a decrease in our members.