12 Famous People Who Didn't Board the Titanic
12 Famous People Who Didn’t Board the Titanic

12 Famous People Who Didn’t Board the Titanic

Natasha sheldon - December 20, 2017

12 Famous People Who Didn’t Board the Titanic
Edgar Selwyn. Google Images

Edgar Selwyn

Edgar Selwyn was to become an important figure in American entertainment during the first half of the twentieth century. He co-founded and built the Selwyn theatre on Broadway in 1918. However, he was perhaps most famous as the founder of Goldwyn Pictures, which later went on to become MGM studios. At the age of 17, Selwyn had tried to commit suicide by jumping into the Chicago River. Instead, he landed on the ice, which saved him. Twenty years later, he was rescued from a similar icy death at sea- this time all for the sake of reading a book.

According to the diary of Arnold Bennett, the famous English novelist, and playwright, he and Selwyn met in April 1912- a meeting that saved Selwyn’s life. Selwyn was due to travel back to America in the company of American producer H B Harris and his wife, Irene. However, he was eager to read an early draft of Bennett’s new novel The Reagent. The problem was, by April 10th, the novel wasn’t ready to read. So both Selwyn made his excuses to the Harris’ and stayed in England.

The Harris’ departed on Titanic. Although Mrs. Harris made it safely onto a lifeboat, HB Harris went down with the ship. Meanwhile, on April 19th, Selwyn was still safe in England and had finally read The Reagent- the novel that saved his life. He returned to America to enjoy the greatest success of his career to date, the musical “The Wall Street Girl” which ran for 56 performances from June 1912. In the same year, he produced “Within the Law” which accrued a net profit of a million dollars just days before the introduction of federal income tax. 1912 was indeed Selwyn’s lucky year.

A misunderstanding and overzealous newspaper reporting made one person who was never due to sail on Titanic into a member of the “Just Missed It” club.

12 Famous People Who Didn’t Board the Titanic
James Hart-the man registered to serve on Titanic. Google Images

Thomas Hart

“Thought to be lost – Alive,” declared the New York Times, in May 1912. The headline was referring to Thomas Hart, a ship’s fireman on the Titanic who was believed to have drowned when the liner went down. Instead, according to the paper’s sub-headline: “Another man signed on the Titanic Under Thomas Hart’s name.” In England, The Times had also taken up the story, reporting that ” Thomas Hart, a fireman who was supposed to have been drowned in the Titanic, has, according to his mother’s statement, turned up alive.”

The story was a sensation. It told how Thomas Hart signed up to the ship, and sometime in between then and Titanic’s departure, drank himself unconscious. He came to only to find his discharge papers and the Titanic gone. Hart was so ashamed of his behavior that he did not return home until he learned that he had been reported lost with the ship.

However, this sensational story of survival was also a complete work of fiction. It was seeded by an announcement in The Merseyside Daily Newspaper in May 1912 which read: “Messrs. Quilliam, of Liverpool, solicitors, acting on behalf of relatives of Thomas Hart, marine fireman, of Liverpool, supposed to have been lost in the disaster, have been informed by his mother that her son has turned up. He told her that he had had his discharge book stolen from him.”

The reality was, Thomas Hart was indeed a ship’s fireman- but from Liverpool, not Southampton. His mother, Jane, who had already lost her husband- also a fireman- at sea, panicked. Seeing the Titanic had been lost, she jumped to conclusions and contacted solicitors to try and find out more information. When Thomas turned up safe and well, she attempted to rectify her mistake. However, Chinese whispers and the newspaper’s hopes for a good Titanic-related story blew the real facts out of all proportion.

The crew’s manifests confirm that Thomas Hart was not signed up to Titanic. However, a James Hart was. This man, lost with the ship, was assumed by some to have stolen Thomas Hart’s identity. To rectify matters, on May 18, 1912, James Harts family were forced to place an announcement in The Southampton Times, and The Hampshire Express to clear his name, because of “the inference was that he had sailed under false pretenses.”

The announcement proclaimed James Hart had used his own discharge book which was “a good one” so he had no need to “hide behind another man’s character.” If he had used “the name of the Liverpool man, he must also have given the Liverpool address of that fireman.”

J. Hart was a member of the British Seafarers’ Union,” finished the announcement “and we have been asked by the members of his family to publish the facts in order that the dead might be vindicated.”


Sources For Further Reading:

Reuters – J.P. Morgan Did Not Sink The Titanic To Push Forward Plans For The U.S. Federal Reserve

ThoughtCo – A Timeline of the Sinking of the Titanic

Smithsonian Magazine – Seven Famous People Who Missed the Titanic

Vintage News – Strokes of Luck – 5 Famous Passengers who Nearly Boarded the Titanic

NBC News – How Marconi’s Wireless Tech Helped Save Titanic Passengers

SCMP – 12 Famous People Who Went Down with The Titanic – And 11 Who Survived

History Collection – Haunting Photographs and Quotes from Titanic Survivors