Remembering Titanic Victim William T. Stead 100 Years Later
Posted on 02 April 2012, 10:01
With the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster coming up on April 15, it seems like an appropriate time to remember William T. Stead, one of the victims of the tragedy. A 62-year-old British journalist and pacifist, Stead was on his way to New York City to give a lecture on world peace at Carnegie Hall. President William Howard Taft was also one of the speakers.
Several survivors reported seeing Stead at various places in the 2 hours, 40 minutes that elapsed between the time the floating palace on its maiden voyage hit an iceberg and then made its plunge to the bottom of the North Atlantic. All told of a very composed and calm man, one prepared to meet his death with courage and hope. Frederick Seward, a 34-year-old New York lawyer, said that Stead was one of the few on deck when the iceberg was impacted. “I saw him soon after and was thoroughly scared, but he preserved the most beautiful composure,” Seward, who boarded lifeboat number 7, recalled. Andrew Cunningham, a 35-year-old English cabin steward serving Stead (below) and several other passengers, recalled that Stead had not been feeling well all day and had supper in his room. “I did not see him again until after the accident,” Cunningham related. “Then I went to see all my passengers. He had gone on deck but soon came back. I said, ‘Mr. Stead, you’ll have to put on your life-belt.’ He said, ‘Cunningham, what is that for?’ I said, ‘You may need it.’ I put the belt over his head. We bade each other good-bye, and that was the last I saw him.”
Racing through the first-class smoking room on his way to lifeboat no. 9, George Kemish, a 24-year-old ship’s fireman and stoker, observed Stead sitting alone there while reading, as if he had planned to stay there, whatever happened. Juanita Parrish Shelley, a 25-year-old second-class passenger from Montana who was traveling with her mother, saw Stead assisting women and children into the lifeboats. “Your beloved Chief,” Shelley later wrote to Edith Harper, Stead’s secretary and biographer, “together with Mr. and Mrs. (Isidor) Straus, attracted attention even in that awful hour, on account of their superhuman composure and divine work. When we, the last lifeboat left, and they could do no more, he stood alone, at the edge of the deck, near the stern, in silence and what seemed to me a prayerful attitude, or one of profound meditation. You ask if he wore a life-belt. Alas! No, they were too scarce. My last glimpse of the Titanic showed him standing in the same attitude and place.”
Though Stead had psychic abilities, including the gift of automatic writing, he apparently did not foresee his death on the Titanic, at least on a conscious level. Subconsciously, on the soul level, however, he seems to have known what was coming. In one of his many stories, From the Old World to the New, a novel published in 1892, Stead described the sinking of a ship after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. A psychic on another ship, the Majestic, received a clairvoyant message of the sinking in time to warn the captain of the ship about the icebergs in the area. In Stead’s story, the Majestic, like the Titanic a White Star line ship, was captained by Edward J. Smith, the captain of the Titanic on that fatal maiden voyage. However, Smith did not take over the Majestic until 1895, three years after Stead’s article.
In an 1886 story for The Pall Mall Gazette, which he edited, Stead wrote about the sinking of an ocean liner and how lives were lost because there were too few lifeboats, and in a 1909 book, Stead, in explaining why he believed in life after death, wrote: “In order to form a definite idea of the problem which we are about to attack, let us imagine the grave as if it were the Atlantic Ocean…” In a speech delivered by Stead to members of the Cosmos Club that same year, he pictured himself as being shipwrecked and drowning in the sea, calling frantically for help.
While the Titanic was being built, the Rev. Venerable Archdeacon Colley printed a pamphlet entitled The Fore-Ordained Wreck of the Titanic and sent a copy to Stead, who replied: “Dear Sir, Thank you very much for your kind letter, which reaches me just as I am starting for America. I sincerely hope that none of the misfortunes which you seem to think may happen, will happen; but I will keep your letter and will write to you when I come back. Yours truly, W. T. Stead.”
Harper noted that before Stead departed Southampton he appeared very somber, unlike his numerous previous trips abroad. He told her that he felt “something was going to happen, somewhere, or somehow. And that it will be for good.” He also gave her directions as to arranging some of his business affairs.
Stead is not listed among the 334 victims whose bodies were recovered as they floated in their lifejackets, having frozen to death. The only record of what happened to his body came 15 days later, on April 27, when Stead communicated with Dr. John S. King, a Toronto physician, through a medium King had been studying. Stead had indeed survived, but it was his consciousness, not his body, that survived the calamity. “Even my plight was preferable to some, for I was hurt by something like a blow, and so I quickly sank below the surface of the sea,” Stead communicated to King. One might infer from that message that Stead was hit by one the ship’s funnels (smoke stacks) that broke loose.
Stead was to have accompanied Etta Wriedt, a Detroit, Michigan direct-voice medium, to England on his return trip so that she could be further studied and observed. Vice-Admiral William Usborne Moore, a retired British naval commander turned psychical researcher, had told Stead about Mrs. Wriedt two years earlier after visiting her in Detroit and being very much impressed by her mediumship. Mrs. Wriedt had visited England in 1911, and was being brought back for further study by Stead, Moore, and others.
Mrs. Wriedt was in New York City at the time the news came of the disaster, and according to her host, Stead communicated three days after his passing. “He was weak in articulation, but we quite understood him,” Moore quoted the host. “His stay was short. The next night, Thursday, Mr. Stead came again; his articulation and personality were much stronger, and he went into details of his passing. The following night, Friday, he came again very strong and clear, again giving us full details of his passing. He particularly desired that Mrs. Wriedt go over to London to fulfill her engagement, which she is now about doing.”
Back in England, Major-General Sir Alfred Turner, a retired British army officer, recorded his first experience in hearing from Stead, about ten days after the disaster. “We had hardly commenced when a voice, which came apparently from my behind my right shoulder, exclaimed, ‘I am so happy to be with you again!’ The voice was unmistakably that of Stead, who immediately (though not visible to anyone) commenced to tell us of the events of the dire moments when the huge leviathan settled down to her doom, and slowly sank to her grave two miles below the surface of the sea…There was, as regards himself, a short, sharp struggle to gain his breath, and immediately afterwards he came to his senses in another state of existence. He was surrounded by hundreds of being, who, like himself, had passed over the bourne, but who were utterly dazed, and being totally ignorant of the next stage of life to come, were groping about as in the dark, asking for light, and entirely unconscious that they were not still in the flesh. He set himself at once to do missionary work by enlightening these poor and unprepared creatures; and in such work, he told, us, he was still employed, with the assistance of numerous spirit inhabitants of the next plane, whose task and bounden duty is to help and enlighten those who pass over.”
Mrs. Wriedt made the trip to England and gave her first sitting on May 5, 20 days after Stead’s death, According to Moore, Stead manifested and “gave three admirable tests of his identity,” including some details about a conversation Stead and Moore had had at a bank building the last time they met. The following night Estelle Stead, Stead’s daughter, attended a sitting with Mrs. Wriedt. “A fortnight after the disaster I saw my father’s face, and heard his voice just as distinctly as I heard it when he bade me good-bye before embarking on the Titanic,” she recorded, estimating that her father talked for over 20 minutes. Admiral Moore, who was present, estimated that it was closer to 40 minutes and described it as the most painful but most realistic and convincing conversation he had heard during his investigations of mediumship.
The Reverend Charles Tweedale recorded that Stead was seen and heard on July 17, 1912 at the home of Professor James Coates of Rothesay, a well-known author and investigator, who had Mrs. Wriedt give a sitting with a number of witnesses. “Mr. Stead showed himself twice within a short time, the last appearance being clearly defined, and none will readily forget the clear, ringing tones of his voice,” Coates said. “There in our own home, and in the presence of fourteen sane and thoughtful people, Mr. Stead has manifested and proved in his own person that the dead do return.”
Stead later communicated with his daughter through another medium, He stressed that in transitioning to the spirit world one does not immediately become part of the “Godhead,” nor does the “spirit” have full knowledge on all subjects. “I cannot tell you when your grandson will next require shoes…nor can I tell you the settlement of the Irish question. I can only see a little farther than you, and I do not by any means possess the key to the door of All Knowledge and All Truth. That, we have each to work for…and as we pass through one door we find another in front of us to be unlocked….and another, and another.” He added that as progress is made and earth’s inclinations and habits put aside, other interests take their places and then comes the desire for true knowledge.
“Life here is a grander thing – a bolder thing, and a happier thing for all those who have led reasonable lives on earth,” Stead further communicated to his daughter, “but for the unreasonable there are many troubles and difficulties and sorrows to be encountered. There is a great truth in the saying that ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap’.”
A more complete story of William Stead can be found in “Transcending the Titanic,” authored by Michael Tymn, published by White Crow Books, and available at Amazon.com
Transcending the Titanic by Michael Tymn
Author Greg Taylor reports that he is working on a book tentatively titled Stop Worrying…There Probably Is An Afterlife. Basically, the book offers Taylor’s own thoughts on the afterlife debate, pointing out the evidence that can lead a person to happily believe in an afterlife on a rational basis. Taylor has set up a crowd-funding project whereby he is giving people some exclusive pre-release book packages - from cheap eBook packs (e.g. $20 for 10 copies of the eBook to give away to friends and family), through to exclusive signed, limited edition hardcovers in which the funder is thanked personally). More information can be found at
Next blog entry: April 16
I have also wondered about how certain NDErs can experience Oneness and I am afraid I don’t have any answers other than that, like so many other celestial matters, it is beyond human comprehension. It is no less difficult to understand how people can be regressed (or progressed) into future lives. If I could attempt an explanation, it would be that our Higher Selves are part of that Oneness and our lower selves can at times tap into that Oneness or crack the time-space barrier, but that doesn’t mean that consciousness “completely” merges with the Oneness after physical death. The extent it merges with the Oneness seems to be based upon the moral specific-gravity one has made for himself during the earth life.
We might also ask why some NDErs have a life review when their lives are not actually ending. Did someone jerk the trigger? Some spirits have reported that the life review is not immediate, but what does “immediate” mean when it comes to non-local time? I am content to know that consciousness survives physical death and I accept the fact that much of it is beyond my comprehension and that many celestial matters cannot be expressed in terrestrial terms.
I’m sorry I can’t give a better answer than that.
Michael Tymn, Fri 13 Apr, 09:31
Michael, I am looking for your opinion. I have been engaged in a an online debate with a couple other fellows at Michael Prescott’s blog (the debate has gone for for a few weeks now under Michael P’s post about remebering the Titanic.
One of the participants believes, based of NDE reports, that upon death, we all merge with the “light” and become one with all of the knowledge and love and power of this source. I do not believe this to be true based on afterlife communications (witness the last paragraph of your post), traditions like the Tibetan Book of the Daed and my own (limited) experiences in receiving communications from departed loved ones.
I respect your knowledge and thoughfulness. How do you reconcile NDE reports where the experiencer reports becoming one with the light and knowing everything versus afterlife communications that describe being placed in various levels of the spiritual plane with various amounts of learning and work to be done?
Thanks in advance.
no one, Thu 12 Apr, 18:48
Yvonne, thank you for your comment. I agree.
Elene, I have attempted to find out more about “The Fore-Ordained Wreck of the Titanic,” but have been unsuccessful. However, I believe that all such travel in those days was seen as risky—much more risky than it is today. I recall that even when flying during the 1950s I always bought a large insurance policy and boarded the plane thinking there was a possibility I would not make it. I believe that was pretty much the way most people approached it then. Insurance desks in the airport with clerks were common and there was some trepidation with every flight. And all the men wore coats and ties on the plane, not tank tops as today.
Michael Tymn, Wed 4 Apr, 20:08
What most struck me was the fact that someone had published “The Fore-Ordained Wreck of the Titanic.” Do you suppose this was simply because the thing was so big and grandiose and so thoroughly hyped as unsinkable? Or perhaps that there was something in the collective human mind that either knew it would sink or planned for it to be so for some greater purpose?
Elene, Wed 4 Apr, 08:23
Excellent article, Mike!
Plenty of witnesses of seeing a spirit and what appear to be coincidences…well, tend to be presentiments.
One can believe what one wants.
Yvonne, Tue 3 Apr, 15:55
Add your comment