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Titanic Tales : Letters from the past

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

William Harrison boarded the RMS Titanic with his employer, J. Bruce Ismay, at Southampton. His personal effects have recently come to light, giving a further glimpse at the character of the White Star Line President.

Mr. William Henry Harrison (circa 1866 Sudbury, Derbyshire, England - 15 Apr 1912 Atlantic Ocean)

Early Life

William was born in late 1866 and was baptised on 9 December in Sudbury Parish Church. He was the illegitimate child of Caroline Harrison. It seems that he was raised by his grandparents, it is unclear what became of his mother.

William married Ann Elizabeth Riley on 26 December 1889 and they had two children, Ellen and Thomas Leslie.

The 1901 census shows Harrison and his family living in Wallasey and his profession as a clerk at a steamship office. By 1911 he is then described as a private secretary to J. Bruce Ismay.

The Voyage

Harrison accompanied Ismay on the RMS Titanic. He occupied cabin B94 and held ticket number 112059.

Details on his movements during the disaster are unclear although around 12.20am Bedroom Steward Henry Etches was working down the cabins and staterooms to move the passengers onto the boat deck. He was about to enter the cabin of William Ernest Carter and family when he reported that Harrison, whose cabin was adjoining Carter's, informed him that the family had already left.

He died in the disaster and his body was later recovered by the Mackay-Bennett. He was buried at the Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia. His estate was worth £840, 11s, 6d and administered to his widow. She never remarried and settled in London, dying in Pinner, Middlesex in 1948.

Personal effects

When his body was recovered, his personal effects were recorded as follows:


CLOTHING ? Green overcoat; dark suit; white shirt, blue stripe; purple socks.

EFFECTS ? fountain pen; cigarette holder; three memo books; pair cuff links; gold stud; bill book; pipe; keys; silver knife; £10 in gold; £1.18s.8d in bag; and £10 in notes.


It is these personal effects that have recently come to light, as a direct descendent has prepared the papers for auction. These papers included a four page letter from Harrison to his wife.

The water stained letter told how he was "fed up" spending hours writing letters to post for Mr. Ismay. He concluded that he wanted a shore based job in the future. "I had to work all the afternoon writing letters to post at Queenstown, I expect dose in the morning". Interestingly he talks of his journey to Southampton and his meeting up with Ismay. "I found the boss in good shape"


Further effects included an extremely rare book with the timetable for Titanic Atlantic crossings scheduled for the year and a telegram from Ismay to Harrison's wife four days after the disaster stating:

"Words fail to express my sorrow at your terrible loss. Am overwhelmed by this frightful calamity. Heartfelt sympathy with you in this dark hour"


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