There were over five hundred households in Southampton that lost a family member or lodger when the Titanic sank in April 1912. The town had of course experienced maritime losses before, but nothing quite on this scale. For many poor families, ships like the Titanic provided much needed work and income, and this is why so many were eager to get on board for the maiden voyage. Two such men were William Mintram and his son-in-law Walter Hurst.
William Mintram was born in Southampton in 1866. Twenty years later he married Eliza Rose Mary Veal and in 1901 they were living at 63 Winton Street with their children, Rosina, William, Eliza, Charles, and George.
Winton Street was in the middle of a poverty-stricken area of small houses, often overcrowded with big families. Drunk and disorderly behaviour was common, as was fighting and thieving.
In 1882 a teenage William Mintram appeared in court, charged with stabbing one George Barton in the Victory Inn on East Street. According to witnesses, William’s mother had gone in and drunkenly demanded drink, but having been refused, she went and got her son. Mintram kicked off, thinking that they had knocked his mother about. A fight broke out and it resulted in Barton taking a knife to the arm. In the dock, Mintram was ‘impudent and defiant’, as if he was treating the whole thing as a joke. He smiled when he was told that he’d be sent to Winchester for sentencing. There, he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.
In 1884, William’s mother and father appeared in court as witnesses to someone selling a stolen coat in the Victory Inn. Clearly the fracas two years earlier did not get her barred.
In 1901, William Mintram, now living at 63 Winton Street, was charged with using obscene language in nearby Ascupart Street. He chose a good place for this outburst, as this street had a police station on it, and there he was approached by Police Inspector John William Boggeln who tried to apprehend him. “No you don’t!”, Mintram said, as he tripped Boggeln and threw him to the ground. He was therefore additionally charged with assaulting police, and fined £1 and 18 shillings for his troubles.
On 18 October 1902 William Mintram had been to a game of football and he returned home that evening to find his wife sitting at the table downstairs. He had been drinking, and so had she. There are varying and uncertain accounts of what happened next, but they all end with Eliza Rose Mary Mintram lying dead on the floor with a stab wound in the back.
William Mintram was arrested for her murder, and the following week appeared before the Magistrates at the Bargate. There was no smiling in the dock this time. He ‘sobbed violently’, holding his head in his hands for the duration of the hearing. Hundreds of people had gathered outside the Bargate. They gazed up at the windows, disappointed that they could not get in to see the proceedings. Everyone in Southampton had heard of William Mintram by now.
He appeared at the Winchester Assizes the following month. Looking pale, he leaned on the front of the dock with one hand and firmly stated, “not guilty, my Lord”. The room was packed.
The courtroom heard the evidence. The couples’ eldest son, thirteen year old William Mintram, said that he didn’t think there had been any argument, and stated that his father had come home at 22:45 and punched his mother, before stabbing her. Police Constable Gilbert Smith said there had definitely been an argument, so much so that at 22:50 he had to disperse a large crowd that had gathered outside 63 Winton Street in order to listen in on the drama.
William Mintram himself said that he had come home somewhere between drunk and sober to find his wife drunk, and they then had a big argument where she called him ‘all the names she could think of’. Indeed, the court had been told how her mouth had smelt of alcohol as she lay dead on the floor by the fire. Mintram said as soon as he got home his wife started to ‘bullyrag’ him, and he said “you’ve been drinking again”. He had a go at her for apparently selling a pair of the children’s boots to buy alcohol, and also for leaving a bucket full of slops in the room. “You should be ashamed”, he told her, and that’s when she lunged at him. He told the court that it was then that he hit her. He then sat down to have his dinner, picking up the knife and fork, and he claimed that she lunged at him again. After that, he did not know what happened. Mintram said he could not remember his son being there, nor could he remember stabbing her. The wound was her in back, under her shoulder blade, and it had punctured a lung, so there must have been considerable force.
Eleven year old Eliza May had been woken up by “talking”, and when she heard a fall, she came downstairs and saw her mother lying on the floor with her father over her, hands clasped together. “I done it, May”, he allegedly said to her. William Mintram went out to the street, where his neighbour Martha Richardson saw him. She told the court how he said “my God, I’ve done it, I will give myself up like a man”. But then he turned around and said “no, I must go and have one last look and one last kiss”. Mintram returned to the house and Richardson followed. “Rose, speak to me for the last time, speak to me, kiss me,” he said, and stooped down by her side as if to kiss her. He was very upset. Richardson said that the dying woman’s lips moved twice, as though she was whispering to him.
Inspector Boggeln arrived at about 23:50, and made a search. In the room where Rose lay, there was a plate of ham on the table, with a fork next to it. Boggeln then found an ordinary table knife, with a spot of blood on the handle. He later went to St Mary’s police station, where PC Smith had taken Mintram. “Is she dead?”, Mintram asked. Boggeln replied in the affirmative. “Let me kiss the children”, Mintram replied.
Those children, now without a mother, and soon perhaps to be without a father, suddenly had no home. In the days following the murder, they went into the care of a Miss Carpenter, the police court missionary, but they were seen wandering up and down Winton Street, occasionally glancing at their old home, which the Hampshire Advertiser described as ‘dreary and desolate’.
Mintram stood in the dock, awaiting his fate, looking ‘very ill and distraught’. If found guilty of murder, he would hang. The jury went to decide and came back within ten minutes. They found Mintram guilty of manslaughter. He looked visibly relieved, and there was a slight applause from the crowd which was quickly suppressed. The court had acknowledged that it was the most serious of crimes but they could not say whether or not Mintram had intended to kill his wife. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
Mintram was released from prison on 13 October 1911. In those nine years inside, I wonder how many times he looked down at the rose tattooed on his right arm and thought of his wife. He secured work with the White Star Line, returning to sea, working on RMS Oceanic. Around this time he moved in with his daughter Rosina, her husband Walter Hurst, and their small children, who all lived at 15 Chapel Road. Walter was also a seaman in the employ of White Star Line, having most recently gone to sea on Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic.
The Titanic came to Southampton in April 1912 and drew a large part of its workforce from the town. William Mintram and his son-in-law Walter Hurst both got jobs on board as fireman, stoking those fires in the inferno-like bowels of the ship. On the 10th of April they would have likely left 15 Chapel Road together, saying farewell to Rosina and the children, before making the short walk to the docks.
William Mintram and Walter Hurst had been sharing a room on the ship when they were both awoken by a grinding crash along the starboard side. Mintram ran out to the deck, came back with a lump of ice, and throwing it on Hurst’s bunk he stated that they had struck an iceberg. At that moment, someone else came in and said they needed to get on their warmest clothes and life jackets as a precaution. The story that has been passed down through the generations is that Hurst did not have a life jacket, whereas Mintram did, and so Mintram gave Hurst his life jacket.
It is not known where the men bid each other farewell, and maybe said good luck too, but soon after the collision they lost each other. Hurst saw a man jump overboard and so without thinking, he did the same. One of the ship’s huge funnels fell in the water right in front of him, and despite being half-blinded by the soot, he saw a lifeboat in the water and made his way toward it. He clambered on as terrible screams rang out all around him. The life jacket helped save Walter’s life and he eventually returned home to Rosina and his children.
William Mintram’s body was never recovered.
Whether or not William Mintram did indeed give his life jacket to Walter Hurst or not I do not know, but if he did, perhaps it was some kind of penance. Down with the ship went the only adult witness to the awful events of that night in 1902 where an innocent woman lost her life, but in giving his life jacket to his son-in-law, he gave him a chance of survival and a chance to return home to his own wife and children.
You can watch a video here https://youtu.be/FVLiZo6Pkak?t=13m36s (13 minutes and 36 seconds in) of Walter Hurst describing how he survived.
Walter Hurst died in Southampton in 1964, and Rosina died there in 1969. Two witnesses to two life-changing events.