Ellen Mary Walker

 

Milvina Dean, nine weeks old when she escaped the Titanic with her mother in lifeboat 13, was destined to become a member of that elite minority of human beings who would enter the 21st century fighting with each other for the title of Youngest Titanic Survivor. John Jacob Astor VI was born four months after the sinking and was, according to most 20th century historians, legitimately able to claim that he was present, albeit as a borderline last trimester fetus (he died in 1992). Joseph Lemercier Laroche was younger still, a first trimester fetus, born December 17, 1912 (died January 17, 1987). Ellen Mary Morley has carried that argument to its next logical (and never to be topped) level, by claiming that she boarded the Titanic as a sperm, and exited as a zygote.

 

Even after almost ninety years had passed, according to Mary Ellen=s friend, John Richard Hodges, her eyes filled with tears whenever she thought of the father she never knew, the childhood that might have been, if only. . .�

 

Ellen Mary is a grand lady with a great sense of humor and [she] has a very moving story, wrote Hodges in a letter dated April 27, 2001. The only problem is that she insists on being the youngest survivor. I have had a chat with her on occasions stating that she has a great connection and story with both her parents on board Titanic and that she was born just 9 months later, so in all probability she was conceived aboard, those few days before [Titanic] sank, but we cannot be 100% sure. Some years ago she contacted a relation of her Father's but they refused to have a DNA test - which would have [meant a lot to her and ] made a lot of difference to her claim. But her comments have obviously upset one or two people [at] the British Titanic Historical society - some odd characters anyway - who take Milvina Dean, and rightly so, as the youngest survivor.

 

Milvina, an equally grand and humorous lady (AI never take ice in my drinks), and equally strong willed, was reportedly passed around the lifeboat, held and loved alternately by second, third and first class passengers. Even before Baby Dean reached the Carpathia, everyone wanted to touch the tiniest Titanic victim. They were allowed ten minutes each.

 

Ellen, by sharp contrast, was neglected, even by her own mother. The Titanic caught up with her again in 1998, with the release of the Cameron film, and with the number of Titanic survivors old enough to recall details having dwindled to just one � Michel Navatril - since the ship's discovery thirteen years earlier. The combination of resurging interest and a scarcity of survivors brought invitations for Ellen to attend conventions, to address school groups and to appear on talk shows. Unfortunately, according to her friend John Hodges, she also attracted the attention of a shrewd businessman from Southampton, who declared her the one and true youngest Titanic survivor. And he put such ideas into her head, and [he] would get her to sign huge [numbers] of postcards, so that he could sell [them] at a profit - which was a pity.

Expelled from the British Titanic Society because of her dispute with Milvina Dean over which of them was really the youngest Titanic survivor, it should come as no surprise, given the odd coincidence and odd psychology that seems always to have surrounded the Titanic, that the Walker/Dean feud harkens all the way back to Boat 13, where Milvina was cradled and comforted by none other than Ellen's own mother. Human comedy. Human tragedy. That the two women seemed fated to become adversaries is not without a certain poetic truth.

Even without emerging Titanic societies and future rivalries, Ellen's beginnings were dramatic: a sapphire and diamond necklace entwined around a tale of unsinkable love, betrayal, desertion, false identities, false hopes, a mother's cruelty and a stepfather=s kindness.

 

The Morleys' candy shops, Purveyors of High Class Confectionery stood unchanged and still in business well into the 1990's. In 1912 the family owned three shops in Great Malvern, Worcester and Birmingham. Ellen's father, Henry Samuel Morley, was forty years old, married with a daughter aged twelve. Making rounds of inspection to his three shops, Henry had developed a dangerously close relationship with one of his shop assistants at Worcester. Her name was Kate Phillips, and she was nineteen years old.

 

Early in 1912, as Barrow's Journal euphemistically described it, Henry Morley was embarking to America on holiday, for a few months . . for his health. In reality, he was hauling up stakes and running away to a new life in San Francisco with Kate. He had arranged, with his brother, the sale of his interest in at least two of the candy shops, with half of the funds devoted to his escape, and the other half to the future support of this wife and daughter.

 

Boarding the Titanic under the assumed names of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, Henry and Kate took a cabin on the second class deck. By Ellen's account, as heard years later from relatives, her parents must have felt, at last, free to live as man and wife - openly and without feelings of deception. Henry had purchased for Kate a platinum necklace with a large blue sapphire framed by diamonds. This, she wore proudly at dinners - which even in Titanic's second class were a grade above first class standards on all other ships except Olympic, and even in some of Europe's finest hotels.

 

Two weeks later, Kate returned to England aboard the Celtic. Curiously, she continued to use the name Mrs. Marshall, and gave her address as 7 New Street Birmingham. As Ellen told it, no assumed name could protect Kate. She returned with nothing except a shattered love, a beautiful necklace, a purse with two keys, and a beautiful child yet to be born: The whole story came out - shame and hatred, with Father no longer there to protect [mother] from the wagging tongues that called her harlot, home wrecker and cheat.

 

Kate gave birth on January 13, 1913, exactly nine months after the honeymoon voyage. Kate's father, a kindly engineer named Tom Phillips, took charge, naming the child Ellen Mary Phillips and moving with Kate and Ellen to a new town where Ellen would never endure the word, bastard. Henry Morley's brother provided a yearly allowance to keep Ellen in a decent private school. Meanwhile, Kate degenerated into what was at best a borderline madness in which she began to hate the world in general, and little Ellen in particular. Fortunately, Kate disappeared for the better part of eight years, and Ellen grew up believing, during that merciful respite, that her grandparents were, in fact, Mommy and Daddy.

 

Ellen gave a poignant account of growing up orphaned in the shadow of the Titanic. It came to this file by way of her friend, John Hodges. In this friendship, too, lies a certain poetic truth: John Hodges grew up without parents, in an orphanage. Survivors, Shadows. Survivors. Ellen still believes she deserves, to one degree or another, a rightful place in the roll call of Titanic survivors. And I, for one, believe her.

 

 

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My name is Ellen.

 

My grandfather named me. I was made on the Titanic, so I have a special feeding for the whole thing. I've seen some of the movies, and [I] belonged to the Titanic Society for a while. [I have] this picture of my father - it means so much. . . I never knew him. I miss him, though I never knew him.

 

My mother, Kate: I had a very difficult relationship with [her]. When she was angry, she'd shout, don't look at me like that! Your eyes . . . that=s the way your father used to look at me - how he looked at me that last night.

 

But this was years after she had sent me, as a baby, to live with her parents. I was with them until I was eight. She visited me once a year, I've been told, and smothered me with kisses, but I didn't know her, and I hated it.

 

One day [in my eighth year], at my grandparents' home, I saw this strange woman arrive. My mother. She had married, and I soon had a half-sister. My mother should have left me with them. I had been happy there.

 

My grandparents wanted to keep me, but she took me away from them. Just took me. My mother treated me terribly - beat me on the legs with a cane. At school, teachers could see the marks and asked what was going on. Luckily for me, my stepfather, Mr. Watson, was kind - and he eventually provided a written guarantee [to the school] that I would be treated properly. [John Hodges noted that the whippings must have caused severe physical harm in order to arouse the concern of Ellen's teachers, because in those days even the best schools had authority to cane children for even minor offenses.]

 

I found out much later that my real father's brother had sent one pound a week [$5 U.S. in 1912, $150 in year 2002 dollars] to my grandparents for my upkeep. The Morley family also paid for me to attend a private school. But [all the while I was growing up] I never met anyone on my father's side of the family. Through the Worcester Evening News I found out about a female cousin and spoke to her on the phone. But she was rude and I never tried to make contact again.

 

In my teens, I waited on tables at my stepfather's cafe. I sometimes heard my mother calling from upstairs, wanting something or other - she seemed to spend a lot of time in bed. I had to run up and fetch whatever she wanted (immediately upon command, even if customers were then being served). I do not know why she was such a difficult person. I had no love for her. But if I had my life again [to live over, from Day One], I would try to talk to her, about the Titanic, about the other things. It's strange - she was cruel to me, her own child, yet while she was being rescued from the titanic, she cradled a baby, Milvina Dean, in the lifeboat.

 

When I was sixteen, my mother gave me a diamond and sapphire necklace and a seal-skin purse with two keys inside. She simply gave them to me with the words. Here. Take these. They=re yours, now, and she would not explain. I did not realize their importance, because she could never speak about the Titanic. Years later, I was told by her sisters that my father gave her the necklace as a token of love. Just before she was ordered to get into Boat 13 [he made sure to take it from the drawer in their room and fasten it around her neck]. Of course, she never saw him again.

 

And after that, I hardly ever saw my mother again. I only learned about her death through talking to the Phillips family, who told me a little about how my [genetic] mother and father had been hoping to set up home together in California. I did discover that my stepfather, my kind protector, had left her.

 

 

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Ellen Walker Morley no longer has the necklace, the purse or the keys. In order to pay her bills during a time of economic downturn in the 1980's, she was forced to sell them to a collector of Titanic memorabilia. All she has left is a photograph of Henry Morley. Every night, before she switches off the lights and goes to sleep, she kisses the faded photograph of the Daddy she never knew.