John Avery Heritage
Member Southampton Heritage Federation
 Sharing local history with the community
In 1967 the Queen Mary set off on her final voyage to Longbeach, California. This watercolour by Eric Crompton records the farewell.A stone carving on the RSH Hospital Chapel.An afternoon stroll on Plymouth Breakwater
John Avery is a Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Britain and Ireland, a member of Southampton
Heritage Federation, City of Southampton Society [Honorary Life Member], Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery [Honorary Life Member],  Friends of  Town Quay Park, National Federation of Cemetery Friends, The Southampton Fryatt Plaque, Devon Family History Society, West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust , Landmark Trust, National Trust
Copyright 2018

   Home      Clearing up Titanic Myths

The Myth of swapping the Titanic and Olympic

[Grateful thanks to Roy Andrews, author, Ron Pattinson for his verification and Nigel Wood, editor of Westender for permitting this reproduction of the article]

After the White Star Line's TITANIC sank beneath the cold waters of the North Atlantic, over the following years, as with many traumatic events, stories began to circulate that it was not a pure accident which caused the sinking. One such story was that it was not the TITANIC which sank but her slightly older sister ship, the OLYMPIC, disguised as the TITANIC.

The OLYMPIC had gone into service while the TITANIC was still fitting out in its Belfast shipyard. She completed four Atlantic crossings but on the fifth, just after leaving Southampton and off the Isle of Wight, on the 20th September 1911, OLYMPIC collided with HMS Hawke which almost sank; a later board of enquiry would blame the OLYMPIC for the collision. OLYMPIC sailed back to Southampton where two weeks were spent making temporary repairs before she could sail to Belfast where permanent repairs would take a further six weeks.

Once in Belfast, it was found that the damage to the ship was much greater than had been thought, in fact she was a write off, so White Star Line, who were in severe financial difficulties at the time, decided to disguise the OLYMPIC as the TITANIC, send her to sea and sink her in the Atlantic, ensuring several boats would be in the vicinity to rescue ALL the crew and passengers.  Then the insurance could be claimed for the loss of the ship. The plan however went wrong when the TITANIC/OLYMPIC struck the ice berg before reaching the pre-planned location for the sinking.

This story, or similar, has been repeated many times in books, articles and television programmes. There is much evidence to prove the story is a myth, not least how did White Star Line stop all of the 15,000 shipyard workers in Belfast from 'spilling the beans' over the following decades. Into the WELHS Museum one Saturday came a West End resident with a story to tell that should dispel the above story once and for all.

Ron Pattinson's Story as told to Roy Andrews
My mother Edith Anne Collings was born in Liverpool in 1888 and in 1908, she took her first sea voyage when she started working for the White Star Line, with whom she would spend all of her working life, as a Stewardess, firstly in 2nd class and later 1st class. She worked on most of the Line's ships and during this time she obtained and kitted out a needle-work box with all of the equipment she needed when pandering to the needs of her passengers for running repairs.

She joined the OLYMPIC for the first time for its fourth voyage and remained for its ill fated fifth when the collision occurred. When the ship returned to Southampton, the crew were given the option of signing off there or remain with the ship when it returned to Belfast from where they could make their way to Liverpool.  Edith was desperate to get onto another ship so she signed off in Southampton and quickly got another one.  It was only when it was too late, she realised she had left her irreplaceable needlework box on the OLYMPIC in her cabin locker. Over the following weeks she worked on various ships but had to make do with a few needlework tools as she was unable to afford the cost of replacing her box.

When the OLYMPIC returned, after repairs, to Southampton, Edith was able to sign on for its inaugural voyage. She was allocated the same crew cabin she had previously occupied and, while unpacking her belongings, was amazed to find at the back of her locker, where she had left it, her needlework box!
This was the last time Edith was to sail on the OLYMPIC, although she continued at sea until 1913 when she married.  She died in 1944.
Editors note: This is one of many stories visitors to our Museum recall on various subjects and I would like to thank both the West End resident who retold the story and Roy Andrews for putting it in writing, it makes fascinating reading. Ed.

The true story of Alice Catherine Cleaver of the Titanic

Alice Catherine Cleaver was engaged a short time before the Titanic sailed as a nurse to 11 month old baby Trevor Allison. Her employer was Hudson J.C. Allison and his wife Bess. Mr Allison a wealthy Canadian investment banker had been over to select some horses for his racing stable. The Allison’s also had a maid, Sarah Daniels who also looked after 3 year old Lorraine and a chauffeur/footman. The female servants shared 1st class accommodation adjoining that of the Allison’s and the two men were in the 2nd class accommodation.

Unfortunately an American researcher some 70/80 years after the event of Titanic’s sinking mistakenly identified Alice Cleaver as the persona of Alice Mary Cleaver who at the time of the ship’s departure was encased in Aylesbury Women’s Prison for the offence of infanticide. Various books and articles and a truly dreadful TV production made in Canada climbed aboard the fantasy that Alice Cleaver the nurse was a child killer. The researcher published a book and with amazing hindsight he was able to relate verbatim conversations between the Allison’s and their servants, scowls and facial expressions and inner most thoughts during the events on the stricken ship and to crown it all, a plot where Alice Cleaver kidnapped her charge and spirited baby Trevor onto a lifeboat. Then of course to ensure the baby became her future meal ticket she thoughtfully changed her name on arriving on the rescue ship Carpathia from Alice Cleaver to Jane Andrews.  The TV production had the wrong captain on sea trials [should have been Captain Haddock] and  Southampton born and bred Fred Fleet the lookout and his fellow Cornish born shipmate with strong Liverpool accents so would not be too concerned in incorrectly portraying Alice Cleaver as a child murderer.

Alice Mary Cleaver of course never set foot on the Titanic. Having had to face the death of her husband a few weeks before the birth of her baby and suffering post natal depression, the starving Alice and her baby arrived at a London workhouse. Food and shelter was refused and she was directed to the neighbouring borough. Alice followed the train line by walking along the embankment and in desperation the baby was left and she eventually presented just herself desperately weak at the next workhouse.  Some sources incorrectly quote that the baby was thrown from the train; the penniless Alice did not of course have the means to pay a fare.  She was found guilty of infancide. Instead of hanging, some clemency was shown and she was committed to imprisonment. Later Alice developed cancer and the Home Secretary allowed her release on licence provided that she served the rest of her sentence under the supervision of nuns at a convent. She did not linger long but a few years after the sinking of the Titanic, Alice died in the convent.

Returning to the fateful night on the Titanic, stewards raised the family and the servants, Alice dressed Trevor and gathered some blankets [you and I may consider this was to keep him warm but the American author  Don Lynch now well into a conspiracy theory, claimed it was to shroud his identity.] Hudson Allison decided to go up on deck to see for himself and seeing people already gathering on deck, he returned and instructed Alice to head to the lifeboats with the baby.

Meanwhile young Lorraine with her parents and the maid were preparing to also go up on deck but we assume that in the time gap that they were separated. The evidence given by Sarah Daniels was that Mrs Allison became more and more distressed when she could not locate baby Trevor.

Alice Cleaver passed the baby wrapped in his blanket to the lifeboat man and accepted his arms as he helped her to jump the few feet into the boat.

The world assumed for many years that Lorraine and both parents perished that night but strangely in the early 1940’s a lady claimed to be the missing Lorraine. The lady said she was placed in a lifeboat and on being rescued by the Carpathia she was placed in the doctor’s cabin where the White Star chairman, Bruce Ismay had taken refuge. Under opiates he slept most of the voyage to New York and when the survivors were landed the authorities waived the usual thorough check of immigration at Ellis Island but nevertheless the ship’s company had prepared a full list of names of survivors. Surely a young girl so vulnerable would have placed with a stewardess or female passenger and not simply overlooked. [By the time the lady came forward in the 40’s, both Ismay and the ship’s doctor on the Carpathia were conveniently deceased so could not verify her claim]. The radio operator after some delay broadcast the names of the survivors but the list did not detail Lorraine Allison. It is believed that the lady who appeared in the 1940’s was an impostor trying to gain wealth from the Allison heirs. Baby Trevor by the way was handed over by Alice Cleaver to the baby’s aunt and uncle at New York. He died at the age of 18.
News released in 2013 detailed that the niece of the claimant calling herself Lorraine had supplied a DNA sample which proved that her bloodline was not related to the Allisons.

By now you wonder, what more could the obsessive man besmirching Alice’s character come up with? Well it must have been Alice who fed the information on the family to the imposter claimed Mr Lynch, the author. When servants etc entered hotels or ships they were seldom identified on a guest list by name but references such as “Mr Astor and his butler” etc. The exhausted Marconi operator transmitting the names of a few hundred survivors could of course be forgiven for omitting a comma so “Master Trevor Allison and nurse” transmitted as “Master Trevor Allison and nurse Jane Andrews,” – Jane Andrews was of course a completely separate person. Ah exclaimed Don Lynch, this was Alice Cleaver hiding her identity.

Alice Cleaver later married and had children. A loving and caring mother she seldom spoke of the horror of the sinking of the Titanic. Alice’s family were horrified at the extraordinary story created about their mother. They spent time and money proving their case that it was somebody putting two and two to make twenty using very shoddy research but the author Don Lynch and his publisher of his book refused any form of apology. I ask you to judge the facts.

Copyright 2013

snowfall Southampton Old Cemetery courtesy FoSOCSeamen's strike at Southampton 1966Royal Blues at Bournemouth c 1949 photo by Derek Amey local historians Jim Brown and John Avery deep in thought. Image Ann MacGillivray Veronica Tippetts addressing Court Leet Oct 2nd 2012. Image Will TempleJohn Melody Southampton Town Crier at Court Leet 2012. Image Will Temple