Alfred Allsop was a victim of the Titanic disaster who was a native of my region. He was an electrical engineer, and as such he helped to keep the lights on for as long as possible while the passengers located the lifeboats, the consequence of which he went down with the ship and his body was never recovered. This is my small tribute to him.
Alfred Samuel Allsop was born in 1876, at 96 Brunswick Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester. He was the youngest of four sons in a family of ten children to George Foster Allsop, a travelling salesman, and his wife, Elizabeth (formerly Walker), the daughter of an Irish teacher. They married in 1860 at Manchester Cathedral, where most of their children were christened. One of Alfred’s sisters had died before he was born. By 1891 the family had moved to 29 Broughton Lane, Lower Broughton, Salford, and Alfred was well known in the district. He became interested in the power of electricity at an early age, spending much of his time riding on the electric tram cars in Manchester and he was a regular visitor at the Salford power station in Bloom Street, which supplied the bulk of traction supply for central Manchester, plus lighting and power demand.
When he was fifteen he began an apprenticeship with H H Hall and Company of Liverpool, who was pioneering the use of ships telephones, followed by employment with Campbell and Isherwood of Bootle, where he worked in the development of electrical switchboards. This was followed by short spells at the Hame Electric Company and the Northern Electric Company, both of Liverpool. He left Manchester to take up an appointment on the Baltic, and joined the White Star Line in August 1904 as assistant electrician aboard the Celtic II. He later served on the Majestic and Oceanic, in which it is said he crossed the Atlantic about a hundred times before joining the Titanic.
He had an inventive mind, and it was he who developed an idea for a multi-clutched lifeboat winch powered by an electric motor, which would allow fully laden lifeboats to be lifted from a ship straight into the water. This invention became ‘The Allsop Electric Lifeboat Crane’, but he did not see his device go into production. When the White Star Line moved their headquarters to Southampton he moved to that town. He was one of the transfer crew which brought the Titanic to Southampton on 2 April, where he signed-on as second electrician.
The RMS Titanic was a British registered four-funnelled ocean liner built for the Trans-Atlantic passenger and mail service between Southampton and New York. Constructed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, to have sailed on ‘The voyage of the century’ aboard the Titanic, the world’s largest and most luxurious vessel afloat at that time, was like being one of the first people to fly on Concorde. It was described at the time as ‘a floating palace’ – Mayfair and Bel Air on water! People from all walks of life began embarking on the Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912, for what was to be the trip of a lifetime on the ship’s maiden voyage across the north Atlantic; many were looking forward to starting new lives in the United States.
However, just before midnight on Sunday, 14 April 1912, it began to send out signals of distress stating: ‘We have struck an ice berg.’ The ship had been steaming at a speed other crews would have envied at that time, when it collided with an enormous iceberg which stripped off her bilge under the waterline for more than a hundred yards, opened up five of the front compartments and flooded the coal bunker servicing one of the boilers. She sank about three hours later. There were sixteen lifeboats and four collapsible dinghies, which were insufficient, as a consequence of which two out of every three of the 2,200 people on board perished.
Alfred was doing the last shift of the day from ten until one minute to twelve, so he was on duty in the generator room when the Titanic hit the iceberg. However, he remained at his post when all was lost, helping to keep the lights burning to aid the passengers to get to the lifeboats. It was estimated that the ship’s power would last no more than an hour, yet Alfred and his colleagues kept the power on for two hours and forty minutes, and the lights stayed on until a few minutes before the ship sank. Without their self-sacrifice power would have been lost and the death toll would have been considerably higher.
The CS Carpathia was in the region, and on receiving a distress signal it immediately set a course towards the disaster area. After working through dangerous ice fields it arrived at the scene at four o’clock in the morning of 15 April. Some people, mostly woman and children, had escaped from the ship in lifeboats and the Carpathia saved over seven hundred people. A Carpathia spokesman reported the scene as they arrived at the area where the Titanic went down: ‘The Sea was dotted with bodies as far as one could see, and the decks were covered with them. Everybody had on a lifebelt and bodies floated very high in the water in spite of the sodden clothes and things in pockets. Apparently the people had lots of time and discipline must have been splendid, for some had on their pyjamas, two and three shirts, two pairs of pants, two vests, two jackets and an overcoat. In some pockets a quantity of meat and biscuits were found, while in the pockets of most of the crew quite a lot of tobacco and matches besides keys to the various lockers and stateroom doors were found. On this day we buried fifteen bodies some of them very badly smashed and bruised.’
The Mackay-Bennett searched the disaster area a few days later and buried 116 bodies at sea, and the ship arrived back in Nova Scotia with 190 bodies on board. Some victims were buried in two separate mass graves, while others were claimed by their families and transported home.
Alfred’s body was never recovered, however, he is named on the Liverpool Titanic and Engineers memorial, and there is a brass memorial plaque at St Faith’s Church in Great Crosby, which is dedicated: ‘to the memory of the Chief Engineer and his Engine Room staff.’ He is named on the Southampton Engineers Memorial in East Park, on the Glasgow Institute of Marine Engineers memorial and on the Institute of Marine Engineers memorial in London.
He is believed to have married a woman named Hilda not long before he died, and they are said to have had a child named Philip Alfred. This comes from the fact that in 1914, a woman stating her name to be Hilda claimed from the Titanic Relief Fund and was granted one pound: ‘for expenses due to the illness of her little boy.’ However, there is no registration listing for any marriage for Alfred, and there is no birth registration for his son. No wife and son have ever been traced.