The Titanic, which sank on April 15, 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg, seems far removed from sunny Jacksonville, Florida. Surprisingly, there are some interesting connections that provide a unique perspective and provoke some good research questions about Jacksonville in the early 1900’s.
The Sage Family
The Sage family was on their way to Jacksonville with their father, John George Sage. John, a native of England, came to Canada with his son George to find jobs in order to help support their large family of eleven. While in Canada they found out about opportunities in Florida, an area well known for farming prosperity. John put a deposit on a farm in Jacksonville (though the exact location of the farm and other legal information has yet to be found). He and his son returned to England and prepared the family for their journey to Jacksonville aboard the Titanic. Everyone in the family was on board, including John, his wife Annie, and all nine children. The oldest child, who may have boarded a lifeboat and then left it to be with her family, was twenty-one, and the youngest child was five. Unfortunately, as Third Class passengers, none of the family survived.
The Sage family was the largest family lost during the sinking of the Titanic. They were on their way to Jacksonville to grow pecans. Had they not died on the voyage, their descendants would likely still be alive today.
Reverend Robert James Bateman
The Reverend Robert James Bateman, resident of Jacksonville from England, intrigues me the most. He ran the Central City Mission, which operated out of LaVilla. LaVilla was becoming one of the music capitals of the United States, and at the time the area was filled with brothels. Bateman’s mission helped to feed the hungry, heal the sick, help those who wanted to turn their lives around, assist in finding jobs for men and women (including women who were wanting to get out of the brothels), and place abandoned babies and young children into loving homes. If you read the following link, you’ll understand why Bateman seems to have been one of the best citizens Jacksonville had (though I disagree about the section regarding the Garrett children, who I’ll talk about below):
Bateman is buried in Evergreen Cemetery here in town. His sister-in-law, Mrs. Ada E Ball, was also on the Titanic, but he placed her on a lifeboat before returning to help others secure places. (She later died in Jacksonville and is also buried in Evergreen Cemetery.) Eerily enough, it would seem that Bateman had set everything in order before he left just in case he were to die in the Atlantic Ocean, and even wrote a poem regarding his potential death for his loved ones to find (which can be viewed at the above link towards the bottom) .
Fr Thomas Roussel Davids Byles
Father Byles, from England, was on his way to Jacksonville via the Titanic, though I’m not sure why he was coming to Jacksonville. He had performed mass along with two other priests every day on board the ship, so many passengers recognized him. During the sinking he helped women and children onto the lifeboats and lead groups of people of all religious backgrounds in prayers. It is interesting to think of Father Byles and Reverend Bateman, both headed to Jacksonville, on the deck of the sinking ship giving words of peace and comfort to those about to die. There were six other religious men on board the Titanic, all of whom died.
The Garrett Children, as well as John Astor IV
I find the story of the Garrett children so moving and intriguing. The children were both immigrants from Lebanon coming to Jacksonville to live with their family. They were headed to be reunited with their father when the Titanic hit the iceberg.
Jacksonville today has a strong community of Middle Eastern families. The majority of those families here in town today are descendants of early immigrants, particularly from the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Today, new immigrants arrive from those areas, often to live with distant relatives whose grandfathers came to Jacksonville in the 1880’s and 1890’s to work as grocers and to establish their own businesses. This strong community is a particular research interest of mine, so I won’t delve further into it here, but having that context is particularly important to the story of the Garrett children.
Setting the children aside for a moment, consider John Astor IV. The Astor family from New York had several connections to Jacksonville. In particular, William Astor, Jr. came to Jacksonville to winter. He helped to establish several buildings downtown, creating what was known as the “Astor Block.” He also founded the now historic Florida Yacht Club in Jacksonville, even though he was the only man in the area to own a yacht. The Astor family may not have spent all of their time and money in Jacksonville, but Jacksonville was an important leisure area for them.
John Astor IV’s connection to Jacksonville, via William Astor
So, here we have two cases, John Astor the IV (http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/john-jacob-astor.html), and the Garrett children.
You can read the experience of the Garrett children above in their links, but the long and short of it is, they were frightened and alone on the deck of the Titanic. They didn’t speak English, and people were vying for boats. In all the confusion, the children froze. They didn’t know what to do. Unexpectedly, the wealthy John Astor appeared. He had just put his pregnant wife into a lifeboat and was told that he could not join them until all the women and children had gotten on board the boats.
I don’t know anything personal about John Astor beyond his death, and so I don’t want to project anything onto him that may not be true. I would have to imagine, however, that he had to have felt upset. Here he was, one of the wealthiest men in America, trying to save his wife and unborn child, yet he wasn’t able to save himself in that lifeboat. I’d imagine at the time he felt worried that he wouldn’t be able to get into another lifeboat if all the others filled up.
But in that moment where the possibility of life with his family and the possibility of death upon a boat was decided– when death became very, very real for him– he did something kind.
He saw two immigrant children who had no idea what was going on around them. He saw two children who were literally frozen with fear, and he picked up little Amelia and little Elias and put them on the boat with his wife and unborn child. Instead of saying how rich and powerful he was and insisting on being with his family, he helped to save two children who were very much alone in the world at that moment.
John Astor IV didn’t make it off the Titanic, but Amelia and Elias Garrett did. They came to Jacksonville, and grew up with their father, and got married, and had their own families. Their descendants stayed in Jacksonville, and I would suspect are still in town today, living among us.