Freemasons on the Titanic

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
WB E. Gordon Mooneyhan

Our craft has traditionally attracted good men of every social standing. Today we have pizza delivery drivers, business owners, and politicians among our members. It was similar in Edwardian England; our Craft attracted individuals who wanted to better themselves, regardless of their social standing.

A prime example was the RMS Titanic. It is doubtful that any other ship in history has had as many pages written, or as much film shot about it like the Titanic. It was not the deadliest sinking ever; that dubious honor belongs to the Wilhelm Gustloff, when over 9,000 people died when she sank near the end of WW2. However, the Titanic is arguably the most famous. The first movie of the sinking was made less than a month after the disaster, the Germans made a propaganda film of the sinking, Walter Lord’s “A Night to Remember” was probably the most accurate as far as the timeline of events went. And there was James Cameron’s blockbuster “Titanic.” And let’s not forget bestselling author Clive Cussler who “Raised the Titanic.”

The Titanic is a perfect microcosm of Edwardian society. It was, basically, a small town. From what I have been able to find out, of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, 29 were members of the Craft. Nine were in First Class, six in Second Class, three in Third Class, and the balance of thirteen were part of the ship’s crew, and there was one Brother who was an employee of the United States Post Office (remember, RMS stood for Royal Mail Ship).

Let’s start with the Brothers who survived the sinking. Doctor William Frauenthal was a First-Class passenger on the Titanic after returning from France where he had gotten married. His specialty was the treatment of chronic joint diseases, and he had established a clinic in New York City for the treatment of patients. He, his wife, and his brother were all in lifeboat number 7 when it left the sinking Titanic at about 12:40 a.m., approximately one hour after the ship struck the iceberg. 

Elmer Taylor was a pioneer in the paper container industry. He designed and manufactured automatic machinery for moisture-proof food containers, and had begun the manufacture of paper cups in England under the name Mono Industries. He and his wife were in lifeboat 5 or 7. He died on May 20, 1949, in East Orange, New Jersey, and was buried with his first wife in Smyrna, Delaware.

Second Class Chief Steward John Hardy had been employed with the White Star Line for 12 years and had served on the Majestic, Adriatic, Olympic, Teutonic, and finally the Titanic. He retired to his room on Sunday, April 14, at approximately 11:25 p.m. His room was on E Deck, roughly amidships and he felt a slight shock a few minutes later. He was later roused by the Chief First-Class Steward who told him the ship was taking on water forward. He got dressed and made his way to the Boat Deck, assisting passengers in getting their life belts fastened. He reached his assigned station and assisted Second Officer Charles Lightoller in getting passengers on the lifeboats. Eventually, he would board Collapsible D and be saved by the Carpathia. He and his family later emigrated to the United States. He died in Maplewood, New Jersey on October 7, 1953.

Aragõa Harrison was a First-Class Saloon Steward on the Titanic. He had served in the Boer War as a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. He was assigned to lifeboat 15 at the time of the sinking. Once it was lowered away, he assisted passengers into lifeboats 11 and 13. He then assisted passengers in getting into lifeboat 9 until he was ordered to get into the lifeboat by First Officer William Murdoch.

Herbert Pitman was the Third Navigation Officer on the Titanic. At the time of the Titanic's collision with the iceberg, Pitman was off-duty, half-asleep in his bunk in the Officers' Quarters. He heard and felt the collision, later testifying that it felt like the ship "coming to an anchor." He was dressing for his watch when Fourth Officer Boxhall rushed in and informed him they had struck an iceberg and were taking on water. Pitman was then ordered to report to the starboard side of the ship to assist in uncovering lifeboats. After receiving the command to lower the boats, Murdoch ordered Pitman to take charge of Lifeboat No. 5. Before Pitman entered the lifeboat, Murdoch shook his hand saying "Goodbye; good luck." Pitman at this point did not believe that the Titanic was seriously endangered, and thought the evacuation of passengers was precautionary. He stepped into the lifeboat and it was lowered to the water. Murdoch had ordered Pitman to take the lightly loaded lifeboat to the gangway doors to take on more passengers there, but (as Pitman later testified) the doors failed to open as the lifeboat waited for this about 100 yards off from the ship. Up to this point, Pitman had expected the ship to remain afloat. After an hour in the lifeboat, however, he realized that the Titanic was doomed, and withdrew the lifeboat 300 yards further off from the descending ship. He watched the Titanic sink from about 400 yards distance, and was one of the few to state afterward in the official inquiries that he thought she sank in one piece. As the stern slipped underwater, he looked at his watch and announced to the lifeboat's occupants, "It's 2.20." Hearing the cries of those in the water after the ship had gone, Pitman decided to row back to them to rescue whomever he could. However, after announcing this course of action to the passengers in the lifeboat he was confronted with many protests from them against the idea, with the expression of fear that the lifeboat would be mobbed and capsized by the panicking multitude in the water. Faced with this Pitman acquiesced and kept the lifeboat at its station several hundred yards off while the passengers and crew in the water perished swiftly in the cold. The water temperature was estimated to be 28 degrees F and hypothermia would occur in under 15 minutes. In later life, Pitman admitted to bearing the burden of a bad conscience for his failure to take the lifeboat to the rescue of those dying in the water that night. He died of a hemorrhage on December 7, 1961, at the age of 84. 

James Widgery was a Second-Class Bath Steward on the Titanic. He was assisting with getting passengers onto Lifeboat No. 9. He would leave on that boat after helping it to get filled almost to its limit.

Of the 29 Brothers on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, those six were the only ones to survive.

Starting with the First-Class passengers who did not survive, let’s look at businessman John Baumann and theatrical producer Henry Harris. In addition to being Masonic Brothers, they were also acquaintances. Baumann had helped out Harris during a time of need in 1909 and, in 1912, Baumann found himself in need while in London and Harris returned the favor. Both men were on the Titanic. While not much is known about their time on the Titanic, Baumann was last seen in the company of Harris after he had placed his wife on the last lifeboat to leave the ship. Baumann’s Will left his Masonic charm, watch and chain, and several other personal possessions to Mr. Harris. Both men would die on that fateful night in 1912.

John Brady was Vice President of the Pomeroy (Washington) Savings Bank. He had been on an extended European vacation and was concerned about being able to return home because of the coal strikes that were ongoing in the United Kingdom. He had also booked passage on a German-flagged vessel in case there wasn’t coal available for the Titanic. He was a member of the Pomeroy Masonic Lodge as well as the Commandery in Walla Walla and the Elkatiff Temple in Spokane. 

Major Archibald Willingham Butt was a military aide to Presidents William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. His health was faltering because of his attempts to remain neutral in the quarrel between Taft and Roosevelt. He took six weeks' leave from the White House and went to Europe. He was returning on the Titanic with his close friend Francis Millet. There was a story that Major Butt had a daughter who was illegitimate and survived the sinking of the Titanic. When the facts of her story are looked at, it becomes clear that the story has no foundation in truth. The Millet-Butt Memorial Foundation was set up in their honor after the sinking.

Howard Case was born in Rochester, NY in 1863. He had moved to England around 1890 when he first appears on a census. He was in the oil business. It is believed that he was on a business trip to Standard Oil of New York when the Titanic sank. There are many accounts of Case helping women and children into the lifeboats before stepping away from the lifeboats to meet his own fate.

Alexander Oskar Holverson was born in Rushford Minnesota in 1869. He became a successful traveling salesman and was a member of Transportation Lodge #842. He and his wife had been on vacation in South America since late 1911. They arrived in Southampton, England on April 6 aboard the Aragon and departed on April 10.  Mrs. Holverson would survive in Lifeboat No. 8. His body was one of the few recovered.

Harry Molson’s name may sound familiar. He was the 4th generation of a family that had made its fortune in brewing beer, banking, and building steamships. Although he wasn’t from the influential side of the family, he did inherit a considerable fortune when his uncle, John Henry Robinson Molson, unexpectedly died and left him with a fortune. He was the Worshipful Master of Quebec’s oldest Masonic Lodge, St. Paul’s Lodge #374. He survived several boating accidents; the sinking of the Scotsman in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and he swam to shore when the Canada collided with a collier in the St. Lawrence River. He was a bit of a playboy and engaged in a long menage a trois with his cousin Alexander Harris and his (Harris’) wife, Florence. Alexander did not mind sharing his wife with Harry; even though they kept their affair discreet, it was well a known fact in Montreal. He was last seen on the Titanic removing his shoes and planning to swim to a ship whose lights could be seen off the port bow. His body was never recovered. There is a memorial to him in Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery, Psalm 77, Verse 19, “Thy Way is in the Sea, and Thy path is in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.”

William Walker was a merchant. He was an active Mason in Hope Lodge F. and A.M. #124 having served as Worshipful Master. After it became apparent that he had not survived the disaster, Hope Lodge had a special meeting. Walker had taken a special interest in a friend’s son, and Theodore Bomeisler was to have been raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason with Walker presiding.

Moving on to the Second-Class passengers, Reverend Robert Bateman was a Methodist Minister. He had returned to England to visit relatives and was encouraged to bring his widowed sister-in-law with him on his return to America. On the night of the sinking, he had organized a prayer meeting near the Second-Class Dining Room. It was a small group, not more than six or eight people. They sang hymns and prayed. The group had dispersed by 10:30 p.m. He had to escort his sister-in-law to the lifeboats, as she was reluctant to leave the ship. As the lifeboat she was in was being lowered, he reportedly threw her his necktie and shouted, “If I don’t meet you again in this world, I will in the next.” His remains were recovered by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett and forwarded to his widow in Jacksonville, FL, where he was interred in the Evergreen Cemetery.

William Gilbert was born in Breage, Cornwall, England in 1864. His father had emigrated to Butte, MT. where he worked as a miner, making intermittent visits back to Cornwall. William would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps becoming a miner. On January 24, 1896, he joined True and Faithful Lodge in Helston, England. His father retired from mining around 1900 and returned to Cornwall where he died in 1902. William never married and returned to Cornwall for a three-month vacation in January 1912. He delayed his departure until April so he could be on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. His Second-Class ticket cost £10, 10s. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

The ‘Guarantee Group’, put together by Harland and Wolff, sailed on the great ship’s maiden voyage to deal with any minor finishing faults. From apprentice plumbers to the ship’s chief designer, Thomas Andrews, each of the chosen men was selected for this prestigious role as a reward for his hard work during the ship’s construction. Second-Class passenger Robert Knight was a member of the Harland and Wolff Guarantee Group and a Brother. He was an engine fitter. Along with the rest of the H&W Guarantee Group, he would perish in the sinking. The city of Belfast erected a plaque in his honor near his home on Yarrow Street. They also erected plaques near the homes of the other eight members of the Guarantee Group.

Robert W. N. Leyson was from Kensington, London, England, and was born in 1887. He was inducted into Cambrian Lodge on January 16, 1912. His profession was listed as an engineer although virtually all records indicate he was a solicitor. He boarded the Titanic and was intending to join his older brother in New York. His body was recovered by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett. He was buried at sea on April 24, 1912.

Philip Stokes was a Mason in both senses of the word. There is no record of when he joined our gentle craft, nor of which Lodge he may have belonged to. His body was recovered with a Masonic button. He was also a bricklayer or an operative mason. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and was buried at sea on April 24th.

William Turpin was a member of the Lodge of St. George #2025 in Plymouth, England. He and his wife married on March 23, 1908, and, shortly after, he secured employment in Salt Lake City, UT. They had no children. In August 1911, they returned to England to visit their respective families. They were originally scheduled to return to the United States aboard the steamer New York, but the coal strike had them transferred to the Titanic. On the night of the sinking, second officer Charles Lightoller encountered a couple from the West Country. When the woman was advised that she should try to board a lifeboat, she replied, “Not on your life.” Although there is no proof, it is believed that the couple were the Turpins. Both of them died in the sinking and their bodies, if found, were never identified.

Only two brothers from Third-Class died in the sinking. Alexander Mellis Thompson was a stone polisher born in Aberdeen, Scotland on October 19, 1875. He would move to Cape Town, South Africa to pursue his chosen craft. He later returned to the United Kingdom. Thompson had secured work in Barre, Vermont, and was traveling alone to establish a home with his wife and children joining him at a later date. He was originally supposed to have traveled on the S.S. Cymric but the nationwide coal strike had caused that ship to cancel its voyage. He boarded the Titanic in Southampton. He had been raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason shortly before sailing. His body, if recovered, was never identified. His obituary says that “He was known as a deft and artistic workman in lettering and designing.”

Arthur O’Keefe was born in Rahway, New Jersey in 1867. On the census, his profession was listed as a grocer. Arthur never married and spent his life living with his mother above the grocery store. His sister was widowed in 1908 and moved in with her brother and mother. Together the three of them ran the grocery store. The mother died in 1911. He was believed to have been a Freemason, and there is mixed evidence. He was heavily involved in local politics with the Republican Party. Besides the grocery store, he owned other property in Rahway. In February 1912, he left on a voyage to visit England, Scotland, and Ireland. He would send hope postcards and gifts from the various places he visited, including shamrocks which he timed to arrive on St. Patrick’s Day. On the night of the sinking, it is believed that O’Keefe was one of the men who managed to drag himself into Collapsible A. Olaus Abelseth from Norway, recognized him as the man that he had shared a carriage with on the boat train to Southampton. The hypothermia had made O’Keefe delirious and he died in the boat. His body, along with two others, was left in the boat when Fifth Officer Lowe arrived to transfer the survivors to one of the lifeboats. About a month after the sinking, Collapsible A was found by the Oceanic and the bodies were buried at sea.

There were six crewmen who were known to be Brothers and lost their lives on that terrible night. Henry Ashe was born in 1871 and, by 1891, had already begun a seafaring career. He first shows up as a waiter on the Cunard Line’s RMS Campania in 1897. By 1902, he had transferred to the White Star Line and was a steward on board the Majestic. He was made a Mason at Egremont Lodge on February 5, 1906. He signed on to the Titanic on April 4, 1912, as a Glory-Hole Steward. He was. basically, a steward for the crew.

Alfred Deeble was a First-Class Saloon Steward on the Titanic. Prior to that, he had served in the same position on the Titanic’s sister ship, RMS Olympic. He was born in 1877 and first went to sea aboard the Royal Navy ship HMS Brilliant. His last naval tour was on the HMS Prince of Wales. He was a member of Neptune Lodge 1264. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and he was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 3, 1912.

Edward Dodd was a Junior Third Engineer. He was born in Cheshire England in 1873. The 1891 census described him as a steam engine maker’s fitter apprentice. He apprenticed at the Crewe works of the London and North Western Railroad Company. When he completed his apprenticeship, he joined the White Star Line as Sixth Engineer, serving aboard the Celtic in 1904. He served on various White Star Line ships, including the Olympic. He was not married and was a member of Four Cardinal Virtues Lodge Number 979 in Crewe. A brass memorial tablet was erected in Christ Church, Crewe by his Lodge Brothers. It states, “In memory of Edward Charles Dodd, Junior 3rd Engineer who perished by the foundering of the Steamship Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean, April 1912. This tablet was erected by the Brethren of the Freemasons’ Lodge, Four Cardinal Virtues no 979 Crewe.”

George Dodd (no relation to Edward Dodd) was born in 1867. He was a member of Light of the South Lodge having become a mason on December 2, 1890. At that time, his occupation was described as Livery Story Keeper. He served as J. Bruce Ismay’s valet for ten years. He initially joined the Titanic for its delivery voyage from Belfast to Southampton. Dodd was instrumental during the sinking in directing passengers to the lifeboats. He perished in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

Herbert Harvey was a Junior Assistant Second Engineer. He was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1878. He apprenticed at the Belfast and Northern Counties Locomotive Works in Belfast. After serving in the Boer War, he joined the shore staff of Harland and Wolff (the builders of the Titanic). He was on duty in the engine room when the Titanic collided with the iceberg. His body was never identified.

John Strugnell was born in Liverpool, England in 1878. He began his seafaring career in 1901 and was initiated into Freemasonry in October 1907. He was on board the delivery trip of the Titanic from Belfast to Southampton where he signed on for the maiden voyage as a First-Class Saloon Steward. He died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

Though technically not a crew member, Oscar Woody was a postal clerk on the Titanic. He was born in Roxboro, NC, on April 15, 1871. By the early 1890s, he was working in the Railway Post Office (RPO) cars running between Greensboro, NC, and Washington, DC. He resided in Washington until 1909 when he was assigned to the Marine Post Office and moved to New York. He became a Mason sometime before moving to New York. He received orders to join the Titanic and boarded on April 10, 1912. He was due to celebrate his birthday onboard the ship on April 15th. On the night of the sinking, Woody, along with the other postal clerks and a couple of the ship’s sailors, was last seen moving 200 sacks of mail from the ship’s post office to the upper decks in an attempt to keep the mail dry. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and he was buried at sea.

Five survivors of the sinking became members of our Craft afterward. Arthur Burrage was born in Sussex, England on August 4, 1891. He was a Plate Steward and probably escaped the sinking in lifeboat 13. He served in the merchant fleet during WW1 and was initiated into St. David’s Lodge on September 3, 1918.

Frank Aks, a Third-Class passenger, was born on June 7, 1911. He and his mother ended up on different lifeboats during the sinking and were reunited on the Carpathia. He owned a salvage company in Norfolk, VA. He was a member of Khedive Shrine Temple and Masonic Lodge 1. He died on July 15, 1991, at the age of 80.

William Coutts was born in Kent, England in 1902. His father had previously emigrated to America and saved enough money for his wife and two sons to travel in Second-Class. Wanting to save money to help furnish their new home, his mother purchased Third-Class tickets instead. They escaped in lifeboat 2. He was a member of the Pittsburgh Masonic Lodge. He died from a stroke on Christmas Day, 1957.

August Wennerström was born in Sweden on April 24, 1884. He was a journalist, typesetter, and social activist. He left Sweden to emigrate to the United States in 1912. He was a Third-Class passenger on the Titanic. He was swept overboard as the Titanic was making its final plunge and managed to get into collapsible A. He suffered permanent foot troubles from his prolonged exposure to the cold. He resided in Culver, Indiana where he was a gardener. He died on November 22, 1950, and is buried in Culver’s Masonic Cemetery. 

Titanic’s Fifth Officer, Harold Lowe, became a mason in the 1920s. He never held an office in his Lodge but was as active as being a mariner would allow him to be. He remained at sea but never achieved a command although he was made a Commander in the Royal Navy Reserve during WW1. He was also the only Titanic crew member to take his lifeboat back to look for survivors. He died on May 12, 1944.


I feel almost inadequate on my Masonic journey to be writing for the Midnight Freemason when I compare myself to how far other Brothers have gone whose writings have appeared here. At the same time, all our journeys are unique. I was raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason in February 2006. My dad had been a Mason most of his life, and I had wondered about the Craft but never had the inclination to ask while he was alive. That is probably my greatest regret.

In early 2005, a friend who lived about 3 hours away from me, mentioned that he was having some problems. I had some money I could spare so I went to see him and took him grocery shopping. I managed to buy him about a month’s worth of food. Granted, there was a lot of hamburger helper and tuna helper, but it was greatly appreciated. As I got ready to leave, my friend asked me if I was a Mason. I told him that I wasn’t, but that my dad had been one. I thought about that question all the way home, and over the next few days at work. I then began my journey in our ancient craft.

The story doesn’t end there. My friend called me about 6 years later and asked me the question. He lives in a different Masonic Jurisdiction, but I was able to find, and contact, a Lodge in his hometown. Long story short, I was able to attend his raising.

I’m still a 3rd Degree Mason and am a Past Master of Seaside Lodge #419 in Myrtle Beach, SC.

E. Gordon Mooneyhan, W4EGM

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