- Short film I made with That’s Solent TV. The SS Stella Memorial, Southampton. Film by Shan Robins (Twitter: @ShanTwoots ). Uploaded to You Tube 5.2.2016.
A few weeks ago, I made a short film with That’s Solent TV ‘s senior broadcaster, Shan Robins (see above). Shan and I made our film on a day with practically hurricane force winds! The microphone struggled a little bit, but nonetheless, hope you enjoy.
SS Stella: Stewardess Mary Ann Rogers
The Stella Memorial (previously known as The Rogers Memorial and before that The Stella Stewardess Memorial Fountain) is located on the Western Esplanade in Southampton. The monument has intrigued me for a long time, having passed it numerous times on foot whilst en-route to the city’s heritage quarter. The memorial is dedicated to Southampton stewardess, Mary Ann Rogers (nee Foxwell) (1855-1899), who lived in Southampton and drowned when the SS Stella sank in March 1899.
Mary’s backstory is heart-breaking. Born in Frome, Somerset on 14th February, 1855. She had 6 siblings, 2 of which were born after the family moved to 19 Weston Shore Road, Southampton shortly before 1865. In 1871, aged 17, Mary moved out of home and went to work as a general servant for Charles Trubbett and his family. Mary didn’t go far, the Trubbett family lived next door at 17 Weston Shore Road.
On 20th March, 1876, Mary married Richard Rogers (c.1852-1880) at the Independent chapel, Northam, Southampton. The couple had 2 children, Mary Ellen (b.1878) and Frederick Richard (b.1881). The Rogers’ marital home was located in Chantry Road, Southampton. Richard, a seaman, worked for London and South Western Railway (LSWR). On 21st October, 1880, 4 years into their marriage, Mary 6 months pregnant with their 2nd child, Richard drowned at sea. He was swept overboard on the SS Honfleur whilst working as a second mate.
His death was in an era long before the Health and Safety Executive, ambulance chasing lawyers and large compensation claims being brought by family members against negligent employers. Instead, in 1899, it was normal practice for railway companies to offer employment to the immediate family of deceased employees. A job would be offered to either the surviving spouse or eldest child in the family. The latter in this instance was, of course, not an option.
This precedent negated the company’s responsibility to have to pay either compensation or provide a livable pension to the family. In other words, pay money out with no return for an indefinite period of time. There was considerable pressure to accept employment. With a toddler already and another baby on the way, Mary had no option but to accept a job with LSWR.
Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.
Mary’s parents, James (d.1899) and Sophia (d. 1894) Foxwell, looked after their 2 grandchildren in their home at 22 Albert Street, Southampton while Mary spent long periods of time away at sea. The family eventually moved into 45 Clovelly Road, Southampton and named their home Frome Cottage, a nod to their Somerset roots.
At first, Mary suffered from severe seasickness but after 5 years began to find her ‘sea legs’ and did well in the role. She was popular with passengers and known for her cheery and caring disposition. Dr John Price explains the role of a steamship stewardess:
…. was in essence that of a lady’s maid or nursery nurse and many of the duties were essentially domestic in nature, such as attending to the needs of ladies in their bedrooms or in the female lounge, and washing and tending to the children.
As one contemporary examination of the role of a stewardess reported, ‘by far the most appreciable services they render is in attending upon and administering to the wants of lady passengers during sea sickness and other illnesses on board.’
Now, though, as the Stella pitched and rolled, throwing its passengers around like skittles, the stewardesses were wholly responsible for the lives of the women and children, rather than simply for their domestic requirements.
(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, pp.133-34)
The SS Stella
The SS Stella was one of 3 sister ships built for LSWR at a cost of £62,000 (nearly £4 million in today’s money). Completed in October 1890, she had a top speed of 19 knots and was licensed to carry 712 passengers. Fitted-out with all mod-cons, electric lighting and 1st class cabins had en-suite toilets. There was even a Ladies’ Saloon and a Smoking Room for gentlemen. The Stella serviced the popular Southampton to Guernsey and Jersey route.
By 1899, Mary had become a senior stewardess. Accompanying Mary on that fateful Maundy Thursday in 1899, was Ada Preston. It was to be Ada’s 1st day at sea working as an under-stewardess on the Stella. Ada had known Mary since the early 1890s when she lived at 74 Derby Road, just a few streets away from Mary’s home in Clovelly Road. Ada subsequently moved to 37 Radcliffe Road but they kept in touch. Dr John Price comments:
In fact, it is likely that the two women walked together to the quay in Southampton on the morning of 30 March 1899; the same quay where, the following day, relatives of those on board the Stella gathered anxiously to wait for news of their loved ones.
Ada’s father had worked for London South-Western Railway but an accident had recently left him paralysed so, like Mary, she went to work for LSWR in order to support her family. Incidentally, SS Stella’s captain, William Reeks, also lived in the next road to Mary, Oxford Avenue.
The Sinking of the SS Stella
At 11.25am on the 30th March, 1899, the SS Stella left its Southampton berth, 10 minutes late. She was on her first daylight service of the season and a special Easter voyage. There were 174 passengers and 43 crew on board. The liner left Southampton in clear weather but several hours later, at 3pm, she hit a bank of patchy, heavy fog. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)
Captain Reeks continued at high-speed, reportedly refusing to reduce his speed which also resulted in a miscalculation of his ship’s position. This decision would seal the SS Stella’s fate. At 3.30pm, the SS Stella, sounded its fog whistle and Captain Reeks set a look-out in the bows to listen for the Casquets’ foghorn. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)
At 4pm, the foghorn sounds and Reeks orders full speed Astern. He spins the wheel hard to Starboard and scrapes the Stella’s port side. Shortly after 4pm, the ship strikes Black Rock, one of the notorious Casquets group, 8 miles west of Alderney. The engines are torn from their mountings and water pours in along half her length. At 4.08pm, she vanishes beneath the surface. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)
The Stella was fitted with 2 lifeboats, 2 cutters, a dinghy and 2 Berthon collapsible boats. There were life jackets for 754 people and 36 life buoys. However, the lifeboats could only carry 148 passengers. There was not enough time to lower the 2 Berthon boats.
Five lifeboats were launched at rapid speed. One boat drifted until the Vera found it at 7am on Good Friday. Another boat drifted for 23 hours and was rescued off Cherbourg. The port side lifeboat capsized after launching, stranding its passengers. It drifted for several hours then was righted by a high wave. The survivors managed to pull themselves in.
Unfortunately, they could not find the boat’s bung and the vessel filled, almost to its top, with seawater. The airtanks were the only reason the lifeboat managed to remain afloat. Survivors had to continually bail out the waist-height water with their hats and shoes. Four people died in this lifeboat, including its only woman survivor. The others were rescued by a French tug, Marsouin, at 3pm on Good Friday. One of the Marsouin’s crew straightaway located the bung on a chain!
The starboard cutter and dinghy, commanded by Second Officer Reynolds, contained mainly female passengers. These boats drifted for 15 hours in dense fog and rough seas until they were found 10 miles west of the Casquets at 7am on Good Friday. (Source: S.S. Stella Disaster by Jake Simpkin)
Mary is said to have refused a lifeboat and insisted on staying with the ship. She declined a place in one of the lifeboats because she had just witnessed the port side vessel capsize and feared an extra person would determine the fate of the boat she had been invited to join. Her heroic actions were reported in the Jersey Times (15th April, 1899):
Mrs Rogers, with great presence of mind and calmness, got all the ladies from her cabin to the side of the ship and after placing life belts on as many as were without them, she assisted them into the small boats. Then, turning around, she saw yet another young lady without a belt, whereupon she insisted on placing her own belt upon her and led her to the fast-filling boat. The sailors called out, ‘jump in, Mrs Rogers, jump in’, the water being then but a few inches from the top of the boat. ‘No, no!’ she replied; ‘if I get in I will sink the boat. Good-bye, Good-bye’ and then with uplifted hands she said, ‘Lord, save me’ and immediately the ship sank beneath her feet.’
(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, p.136)
Unfortunately, detailed passenger lists are not available, these went down with the Stella. Many of the bodies were never recovered, including that of Mary and Ada. Captain Reeks also went down with his ship. Out of the 217 passengers and crew on board the SS Stella that day, 112 survived and 105 drowned. A total of 86 passengers and 19 crew members perished. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) sent a message of sympathy to the bereaved families via the LSWR offices.
Witnesses observed that the sea surrounding the wreck was littered with life belts, timber, luggage, personal effects and a furniture van. Some of the bodies were located in unusual places because of tidal flows. One was found in the mouth of the River Seine and the final corpse washed-up on a Guernsey beach 9 months after the sinking. Many of the corpses were found floating still in their life belts leading to the conclusion that death had been caused by exposure rather than drowning.
The Board of Trade enquiry began on 27th April, 1899 at the Guildhall, Westminster. Its conclusion, ‘the SS Stella was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.’ The wreck of Stella was discovered in June, 1973, by two Channel Islands divers. It lies in 49 metres (161 ft) of water south of the Casquets. The tragedy is sometimes referred to as ‘The Titanic of The Channel Islands’.
The Glover Family
Many tragic stories emerged following the sinking of the SS Stella. One of the saddest is the fate of the Glover children. Seaman Thomas Glover drowned in the tragedy, he left behind a 2nd wife and 5 children from his previous marriage.
Thomas Glover’s 1st wife, Rosina Bella Glover, (nee Rickman) was born in Southampton, 1866. In July 1897, Rosina was run down by a Misselbrooke & Weston horse and cart in Shirley High Street, Southampton. Misselbrooke and Weston were an established local, family-run grocery business which had opened in 1848. The business was eventually sold to Tesco.
Shortly after his wife’s death, Thomas took his family to live in Jersey where he met his 2nd wife (name unknown). Following Thomas’ death on the Stella, his 2nd wife did not wish to bring-up his 5 children. Consequently, on 10th June, 1899, she deposited them at Southampton Workhouse. The siblings were split-up never to see each other again. The fate of the Glover children was as follows:
- Laura Mary Glover (1887-1899). Died of tuberculosis in a Dorset nursing home and is buried with her mother in Southampton’s Old Cemetery;
- Thomas Richard Glover (b.1889). Sent to LSWR Servant’s Orphanage, Clapham, London in June, 1899. Thomas returned to Southampton to work in his Uncle George Samuel Payne’s butcher shop (102, 150 and 168 Northam Road as well as 95 Derby Road). He joined the Royal Navy and was sent to a shore base in 1911. Incidentally, George Samuel Payne became one of the 1st directors of Southampton Football & Athletic Company Ltd (8.7.1897) which then became known as Southampton Football Club;
- William George Glover (b. 1892) remained in the Workhouse until 1901 and then also went to work for his Uncle George before joining the Hampshire Regiment;
- Frederick Glover (baptised January 1894). Sent to Lady Breadalbane’s Home, also known as The Kenmore Orphanage, in Perthshire, Scotland. This was a small private establishment run by Lady Breadalbane herself. In 1912, a number of orphans created when the SS Titanic sank were also sent there too;
- Elsie Lilian Glover (b.1896). Fate unknown following her admission to the Workhouse.
SS Stella Memorial
The memorial was unveiled on Southampton’s Western Esplanade by Lady Emma Crichton (daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire) during the morning of Saturday 27th July, 1901. Present also at the unveiling were Mary’s sister, son and son-in-law.
Artist Herbert Bryan’s original suite of designs, submitted to Southampton Borough Council and Estates Committee, included a drawing of a memorial seat. The Committee rejected the proposed seat in favour of a more appropriate and practical drinking fountain. However, the memorial has long since ceased to function as a drinking fountain and 3 bronze masks (grotesques) from whose mouths water flowed have now been removed. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).
The memorial is carved in Portland stone topped by a stepped canopy, with a ball finial. There are 6 outer columns and on the cornice blocks beneath the roof, 32 roses were carved in the 13th century fashion, echoing the roses in the Southampton coat of arms. (Source: Ibid. p.46)
The memorial was paid for by public subscription. The sum of £570 15 shillings 8d (approximately £35,000 in today’s money) was raised from 519 subscribers. Amongst the subscribers were Emily Davies (1830-1921) and Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917). Emily was a prominent feminist, educational reformer and suffragist born in Carlton Crescent, Southampton. Elizabeth was an English physician and feminist, the 1st Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain.
After the memorial costs had been covered, £50 was paid to Mary’s daughter as a wedding gift. Her son received £200 to be paid at intervals until his shipwright apprenticeship finished. A sum was also allocated to pay for Mary’s father’s funeral costs, he had died shortly after the Stella disaster.
There were 4 key individuals behind the memorial’s creation:
- Mrs Annie J. Bryans (1857-?). Wealthy lady who resided at Woollet Hall (now Loring Hall), North Cray, Kent. Annie wrote to the Editor of The Times (23.6.1899) to generate support for a memorial to honour Mary’s heroic actions. She wrote: ‘Her beautiful deed shines out with a lustre which makes it not irreverent to say, “This that this woman hath done shall be told for a memorial of her.”‘ Annie made 4 voyages on the Stella and had been impressed with Mary’s good humour. Apparently, Mary had confided in Annie about her story of widowhood, struggle to be the sole support of her ageing parents and problems raising her 2 young children being away at sea so much. Mary had also told Annie she was intending to leave her seafaring life very soon. At the time of the Stella tragedy, Mary’s daughter, Mary Ellen (20) was to be married. Mary planned to live with her daughter and new husband, at the end of 1899. Annie also wrote a booklet about the Stella disaster, published by John Adams, a Southampton bookseller. Her booklet included the poem ‘The Wreck of the Stella’ written by the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin (1835-1913). The booklet was handed out to VIPs and general public who attended the unveiling ceremony in 1901;
- Herbert William Bryans (1856-1925), Annie’s husband and well-respected stained glass artist. Herbert designed the memorial with input from his wife, Frances Cobbe and artist G.F. Watts.
- Irish philanthropist and religious writer Frances Power Cobbe. 1860.
- Miss Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904). Frances was a well-known Victorian feminist pioneer and religious writer. Active in Bristol as a philanthropist, working in ragged schools, reformatories and workhouses before moving to London where she became a journalist. She focused upon promoting women’s interests and rights in wider contexts. She was one of the first members of the central committee of the National Society of Women’s Suffrage, established in 1871. Frances was a driving force behind the Stella memorial. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.44). Writing to The Times with G.F. Watts in 1899 (23rd June), she made a plea that a separate fund than that relating to the memorial be set-up for survivors and their families: ‘I have a great desire that our heroine’s death, as well as her life, should practically help others, and that through her, as it were, many sufferers from the Stella disaster may be benefited.’ She also wrote a lengthy tribute to Mary which was engraved on a bronze plaque fixed to the central pillar of the memorial. The tribute reads:
In memory of the heroic death of Mary Ann [e] Rogers Stewardess of the “Stella” who on the night of the 30th March, 1899, amid the terror of shipwreck aided all the women under her charge to quit the vessel in safety giving up her own life-belt to one who was unprotected. Urged by the sailors to makes sure her escape she refused lest she might endanger the heavily-laden boat. Cheering the departing crew with the friendly cry of “Good-bye, good-bye.” She was seen a few moments later as the “Stella” went down lifting her arms upwards with the prayer “Lord have me” then sank in the waters with the sinking ship.
Actions such as these – revealing steadfast performance of duty in the face of death, ready self-sacrifice for the sake of others, reliance on God – constitute the glorious heritage of our English race. They deserve perpetual commemoration, because among the trivial pleasures and sordid strike of the world, they recall to us forever the nobility and love-worthiness of human nature.
- Platinum print photograph (1892) by Frederick Hollyer (1837-1933) of British artist George Frederic Watts. Known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’, Watts was one of the most important painters of the late Victorian period.
- George Frederic Watts RA (1817-1904) advised Annie, Herbert, Frances and their group on the design of the memorial. Local newspapers reported that the designer, Herbert: ‘acted under the advice of Miss Cobbe and G. F. Watts, R.A.’ but it is uncertain how much the latter, then nearing the end of his distinguished artistic career, contributed to the actual design of the memorial.’ (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).