Friday, 13 April 2012

Titanic - Bradford connections

Two very different people with strong connections to Bradford were on the Titanic – one, REVEREND THOMAS ROUSSEL DAVIDS BYLES, was Roman Catholic priest the other, HERBERT KLEIN, a Jewish barber, one a passenger the other a crew member, one’s grandfather had founded the Bradford Observer newspaper the other was born in Bradford – both lost their lives.

Also the sister of the 5th Mate, HERBERT GODFREY LOWE, desperately waited in Bradford for news having had another brother on board a ship that sank only a few months earlier in Australia.

Reverend Thomas Roussel Davids Byles a Roman Catholic preacher was the grandson of William Byles who founded the Bradford Observer. He was travelling to America to officiate at his brother’s wedding. He was regarded as a hero providing absolution and prayer to those who went down with him on board the ship. 

Roussel Davids Byles was born in 1870 in Kirkstall, Leeds the eldest of eight children. Roussel’s father, Alfred Holden Byles, was the first pastor of Headingly Hall Congregational Church and his father was William Byles, born in Oxfordshire but of Huguenot descent, founder of the Bradford Observer in 1834. 

Roussel was 21 when his Grandfather, William Byles, died in 1891 leaving an estate worth £17,303 According to the National Archives Currency Converter that is equivalent in today’s money to a millionaire. Roussel’s uncle William Pollard Byles took over the newspaper and its name changed firstly to the Yorkshire Daily Observer and then just Yorkshire Observer in 1909. The paper was amalgamated into the Bradford Telegraph and Argus in 1956.

The Yorkshire Observer printed a tribute to Roussel Byles which provides wonderful insight into his character
“Roussel Byles abandoned the religious [Huguenot] views of his forebears, but he inherited their sturdy courage and endurance. As a boy he was exceptionally clever, especially in mathematics. He won, I think, a scholarship at Roussall [School Fleetwood, Lancashire], and another, later on, at Balliol [College Oxford]. When he joined the Roman communion he studied at St Edmund’s College, Ware. Small in stature and physically frail, he was prevented from taking part in the strenuous part in the life of his church which he would have liked, and he was given charge of a quiet country mission in Ongar, Essex. There, as elsewhere, he won the affection of all with whom he was associated.
Yorkshire Observer 27 April 1917

Roussel changed his name to Thomas Roussel when he converted from his father’s protestant faith to be baptised into the Catholic Church in 1894. He was ordained in 1902/3.

Thomas Roussel’s mother, Louisa Bridget Byles (nee Davids), died in 1898 when he was 28 and his father, Alfred Holden Byles, unfortunately died 22 December 1911 just a few months before the Titanic set sail. Alfred left a significant estate of £5926 16s 9d probably including the inheritance received from his own father, William Byles.

Thomas Roussel Byles was travelling to America on the Titanic as a second class passenger to officiate at the marriage of his Brother William Byles to Miss Katherine Russell. He made arrangements with Captain Smith to have the use of space on board the Titanic in order to say mass and he took a portable altar on the journey for the purpose. He wrote to his housekeeper while anchored at Cherbourg saying that “everything so far has gone very well, except that I have somehow managed to lose my umbrella.” 

On Sunday morning April 14th 1912 Father Byles offered what would be his last mass for the passengers of the Titanic. He apparently preached “on the need for the men to have a lifebelt in the shape of prayer and the sacraments to save their souls when in danger of being lost in spiritual shipwreck in times of temptation, just as men require a lifebelt to save themselves when their lives are in danger of being lost in an actual shipwreck.” 

When the Titanic struck the iceberg there are many reports that Father Byles went about calming the passengers, offering prayers and absolutions (New York Telegram). It is also reported that he was offered a place in a lifeboat on two occasions as he helped other passengers climb aboard but he refused to take a place himself.  When all the lifeboats had gone he is reported to have gone to the end of the boat deck and led a large group of people kneeling around him in prayer.

When his brothers William Asdaile Byles, of Brooklyn, Laurence Meredith Byles, a New York broker, and Alfred Winter Hunter Byles, of Omaha Nebraska, heard the news they made many anxious enquiries (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle & New York Times). Thomas died that night and his body was not recovered.

His brother William believing it to be bad luck to postpone went ahead with the wedding on Saturday 20th April. After the wedding ceremony was a mass for Thomas Byles (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle). 

His will left an estate of just £32 10s (approximate to £1,500 in today’s money) his sister Edith Mary, wife of Arthur Stanway Le Mare, was to administer his estate. 

The Yorkshire Observer published a family tribute to Thomas Roussel presumably written by his uncle William Pollard Byles who was now the proprietor of the newspaper
Survivors “spoke with enthusiasm of his conduct when death faced them on the waters. He displayed ‘great heroism and fortitude’ says one account, ‘during the dread hours preceding the sinking of the vessel... giving comfort and absolution to those who wished for the last rites of the Church... His friends, who knew his indomitable spirit, felt that the great catastrophe, in which he made so brave an end, gave him in death the chance that life had withheld, by revealing the heroism that was in him. His strong faith in the life after death, of Christian promise, is shown in a letter which I received from him dated on Christmas Day 1910... ‘I send you what I think is the finest poem of modern times.’ The poem he sent me was that gorgeous ode, Francis Thompson's 'The Hound of Heaven' one line of which -

‘Adown Titanic’s glooms of Chasme’d feared’

- Has a tragic appropriateness at the present time... there seems to be something appropriate also in one of the ‘nightmare’ verses to which the letter refers, and which, perhaps, I may be forgiven for quoting...

‘And for all heroes who in Argo sail
There lies a golden calm beyond the gale;
After long journeying a haven fair,
Alike for those that win and those that fail.

Roussel Byles – and those who perished with him – have found – one hopes, a haven fairer than that to which they were bound. It was not their lot to be rescued, in an earthly sense, but ‘he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved' "

                Yorkshire Observer 27 April 1917

Herbert Klein was one of the three barbers on board the Titanic, his wife failed in her attempts to receive compensation from White Star Line. 

Herbert Klein was the eldest son of the Jewish couple Daniel Kleyn a tailor born in Poland and Bertha Brash from Germany. He was born in 1878 in Bradford, and appears in the birth registers as Henry Kleyn. The family weren’t in Bradford for long, Daniel and Bertha had actually married at the Jewish Synagogue in Belgrave Street, Leeds in 1877 and by the time Herbert’s brother Louis was born in 1880 they were back in Leeds. 

By 1901, age 22, Herbert was a hairdresser, a year later, in 1902, he married Leah Nora Goldman in Leeds (also known as Cissy) the daughter of Elkan Goldman originally from Russia.  In later years Elkan had a large boot and shoe factory called ‘Elkan Goldman & Son’ of 22-24 Lady Lane Leeds.

On the 1911 census Herbert was working as a hairdresser for the White Star Line and had a daughter Bella born in Liverpool in 1895. He had worked on the White Star Line’s Teutonic ship for eight or nine years before serving on the Titanic; the Teutonic at that time was travelling from Liverpool to Montreal and Quebec in Canada.

The barbershops (picture at bottom of link) on board cruise liners at the time were packed with novelty items for sale from postcards of the ship to decorative china.  The barbers needed to make money selling these souvenirs as they were reliant on tips from their customers for income.
“Barbers on some of the favourite ocean steamships do quite a lucrative business selling the photographs of the vessel... sold at a trifle beyond ordinary price. It is the odd passenger —perhaps the economical one—who does not want a picture of the ship in which he has safely crossed the sea. There is no more appropriate souvenir of the voyage.”

By 1911 the family had moved to 56 Oakley Road, Southampton with Bella now 6. In the autumn of that year Herbert and Leah had a second child Flora. She was only a few months old when her father had to leave to board the Titanic at 6am on the 10th April 1914. According to newspaper reports it was a surprise to the family that he had decided to transfer to the Titanic. He was to meet up with his brother Emanuel, also a hairdresser on ocean liners, on reaching America  (Leeds Mercury & Yorkshire Observer 19th April 1917).

Herbert was one of only three barbers on board the Titanic and travelled second class. It is not known what happened to Herbert. His body, if recovered, was never identified. August Weikman the chief Barber was in the barbershop on Sunday April 14, 1912, at 11.40 p.m. and did not refer to Herbert in his affidavit so it might be assumed that he was elsewhere on board.

Herbert died aged 33, his will left his estate of £200 to his widow Leah Klein. Leah tried to sue the White Star Line in August 1912 for compensation for the loss of her husband but the company contends that there was no contract of service and that Mr Klein merely signed the ship’s articles to satisfy the Board of Trade Requirements.  The Titanic log books state that Herbert was paid £4 monthly but also records that after the tragedy the balance owing due to wages was nil.

Another crew member 5th mate, Herbert Lowe, had a sister living in Bradford who was concerned for his safety 

Harold Godfrey Lowe and his sister Annie May were both born in North Wales to George and Emma Lowe. George was originally a jeweller and watchmaker but later turned his hand to become a landscape and cattle painter and Emma a hotel manageress.  Harold might have got his passion for travel from the many visitors that they had to their hotel as he ran away to sea aged just 14 to escape a job as an apprentice.

He quickly rose through the ranks and when he set foot on the Titanic in Belfast on March 21st, aged 29, he had been promoted to 5th mate. He had only been with the White Star Line for 15 months and the Titanic was to be his first Trans Atlantic crossing. He gave details to the American Inquiry of the trial tests in Belfast Lough including safety procedures and testing the lifeboats.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg Harold was asleep in his cabin. On waking he quickly went to help passengers onto the lifeboats. He lowered the first boat only half full and including White Star President J. Bruce Ismay as there were no other passengers on deck at the time. He then  went around to fill another and was himself lowered down in that boat as 5 boats had been launched with no officer to take charge. He stated in his affidavit to the American Inquiry that he fired shots to prevent 2 men from jumping into his lifeboat saying he was afraid of the effect of having more people on board the boat as it was lowered. 

Having helped to row the boat out away from the Titanic’s suction he helped to transfer the passengers onto another boat and then rowed back to save more people from the sea (Worcester Evening Gazette). His statements to the British Inquiry stated that he gathered 5 boats together until they were saved when the Carpathia arrived.

Harold’s sister Annie May had married Claude Whitehead manager of Messrs Julius Whitehead and Sons firebrick makers of Clayton in Bradford. When she heard of the disaster she was in great distress especially as her another of her brothers had been second mate on board the Tathra which floundered in a storm off the coast of Australia only a few months previous on 4th January 1912 (Bradford Daily Telegraph 17th April 1912). On that occasion 24 people had lost their lives, Lowe was lucky to survive. Two brothers, two ships sunk, one lucky family. 

References and Sources 

National Archives currency converter 
Rev Thomas Roussel Byles letter to his housekeeper from on board the Titanic 10 April 1912
Last Mass of Father Thomas Byles Sunday, April 14, 191
Rev Thomas Byles last Mass 
New York Telegram - April 22, 1912 
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle - Wednesday, April 17, 1912
New York Times - April 17, 1912 – Byles brother wedding 
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle - Saturday, April 20, 1912 
Francis Thompson’s ‘The Hound of Heaven’ 
Boot and Shoe factory Lady Lane Leeds 
Photo of interior of barbershop on Titanic 
Ocean: Magazine of Travel, Vol. III, No. 2, September 1889, Page 42 Steamship Barbers and Barber Shops
Leeds Mercury Friday 19th April 1912  
Affidavit of A. H. Weikman United States Senate Inquiry Day 15 April 24, 1912
Bradford Daily Telegraph 17th April 1912
Yorkshire Observer 17th April 1917
Yorkshire Observer 19th April 1917
Yorkshire Observer 27th April 1917
England census records
GRO Birth, Marriage and Death indexes
Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England. Online at
Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Agreements and Crew Lists, Series III: Titanic. BT 100/259 and 100/260. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England. Online at
Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Registers and Indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths of Passengers and Seamen at Sea. BT 334/52 and 334/53. The National Archives, Surrey, England. Online at
Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and Successors: Outward Passenger Lists. BT 27/776 and 27/780. The National Archives, Surrey, England.  Online at

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