Get involved! Send your photos, video, news & views by texting MG NEWS to 80360 or e-mail us
Did Ellen's life begin aboard the Titanic?
6:10pm Tuesday 20th March 2012 in News
One of the highlights of my 58-year journalism career was the day a woman revealed to me she was the youngest survivor of the Titanic.
Seventy-six-year-old Ellen Mary Walker turned up at the office in 1989 and asked to be shown for the first time in her life a photograph of her father. She had seen details of the three men who went down with the Titanic in a feature I had written.
When I handed her a photo of her father she revealed a remarkable and hugely poignant tale.
Her mother, Kate Florence Philips, had eloped aboard the Titanic with Henry Samuel Morley, the former owner of a sweet shop in Malvern, as well as ones in Birmingham and Worcester. She was just 19 and had been a counter assistant at 40-yearold Henry’s confectionery shop nearly opposite the railway station in Foregate Street. Worcester. He was leaving behind a wife and 12-year-old daughter and was planning to start a new life in California with Kate.
However, fate struck and he went down with the Titanic while Kate was bundled aboard the last lifeboat to leave the stricken liner and was rescued by the SS Carpathia and taken to New York.
Mrs Walker told me she was convinced she was conceived aboard the Titanic, because Kate returned to Worcester, where nine months after the fateful Titanic voyage she gave birth to Ellen Mary.
Among Ellen’s treasured possessions were three poignant reminders of the Titanic – the sapphire, diamond and silver necklace her mother wore aboard the liner and the purse she carried, still with her cabin keys inside!
Before Kate and Henry eloped on the Titanic, he sold off two of the three sweet shops he and his brother owned in Malvern and Birmingham.
This was to make adequate financial provision for the future of his wife and daughter and also to give he and Kate cash to start their life in America. It was money which also went to the bottom of the ocean… in the Titanic’s safe!
Henry and Kate sailed in the liner as second-class passengers in the assumed name of “Mr and Mrs Marshall.” The Titanic hit the iceberg and sank on April 14, 1912, and Ellen was born on January 11, 1913.
Her grandfather, Tom Phillips was chief engineer for the Severn locks at Worcester but could not stand the local scandal after his daughter Kate returned from the Titanic disaster and gave birth at his Waterworks Road home. Tom took his wife together with Kate and her baby to set up in exile at Chesterfield.
Ellen remained there for a few years until her mother married and went to live in Ramsgate. Ellen recalls that her stepfather, a seaside café owner, treated her very kindly but her mother seemed always to resent her and was “spiteful,” often hitting her.
Though unaware of the exact details, Ellen says Henry Morley’s brother or family paid a quarterly sum to her mother through a Sheffield solicitor for her upbringing until she was 16. It enabled Ellen to be sent to several private schools.
Her mother went on to suffer mental problems for some years and eventually died at the age of 64.
Ellen lived much of her life in London, following a career in the civil service and working mostly for the Passport Office. She married a London bus driver but he died in middle age.
In 1988, Ellen, in widowhood, felt a great urge to return to her roots and moved house to St Agatha’s Road, Pershore, feeling “back home” even after a gap of 72 years since leaving Worcester at the age of four!
Ellen came to see me in the hope of being shown a larger and more distinct image of her father – and I was able to oblige. She burst into tears, saying: “I never knew what he looked like before.
All I knew was that he had been good looking, was about 6ft 4ins tall and had some Spanish ancestry.”
She stressed that one of the reasons for her return to Worcestershire was her dearest wish that she might be able to find some relatives, still living, of her father’s family.
On Ellen’s behalf I appealed to any surviving members of the Morley sweet shop dynasty to get in touch.
Alas, no one came forward.
The late Annie Carter of Bath Road, Worcester, a distant relative of the Morleys, did get in touch with me to disclose that Henry Morley’s legitimate daughter Doris had been a superb singer in the Methodist church choir at Worcester in the 1940s and had then spent many years in India as a missionary.
Also in touch were Leslie and Doreen Eaton, then owners of the only remaining one of the three original Morley brothers’ sweet shops – at Belle Vue Terrace, Malvern.
They invited Ellen to visit the shop so I drove her from Pershore to Malvern where she looked around the confectionery haven, was presented with a bouquet by Mr and Mrs Eaton and enjoyed “a lovely afternoon.”
The shop had long since been out of the hands of the Morley family but still retained many of its original Victorian fixtures and fittings. Alas, it closed down as a sweet shop a few years afterwards.
Ellen, then known by friends as “Betty,” said the Titanic disaster had clearly had a dramatic impact on her life. It had robbed her of her father and of being born and brought up in California. “And had my mother not been rescued that dreadful night, I obviously would be here today.”
In the years after I first met Ellen, she suffered a series of frustrations and bitter disappointments, mainly in being refused membership of the Titanic Association and invitations to its survivor re-unions. The association firmly shunned her “youngest survivor” claim.
Around the year 2000 I last came across Ellen, again by chance, in a Worcester nursing home, then, I believe, suffering from dementia. She died a few years ago and would, next January, have been 100 years old.