Henry was a Fireman on the Titanic and was lost at sea on the night of 14th / 15th April 1912 at the age of 37.
He was born at “Cross House”, Itchen, Southampton, Hampshire and was the third of five children born to parents George and Ellen WITT (nee SILLENCE).
He began work around the age of 15 as a Rivet Boy in a Southampton ship builders yard, but soon decided to take up a position as a fireman stoker on board some of the many passenger and cargo ships, which berthed at Southampton docks.
He does not appear on either the 1901 or 1911 census, so was presumably abroad on a vessel at those times. His service engagement certificates have not survived, but these would have recorded each ship or vessel he sailed on as crew.
The Titanic crew register shows Henry had previously been engaged as an engine crew member on the vessel “OCEANIC”, a sister ship to TITANIC. She made several crossings from Southampton to New York from January 1911 to March 1912. Titanic’s Second Officer – Charles LIGHTOLLER also sailed on “OCEANIC” during this period. On completion of this passage, Henry returned to his home at 28, Lower College Street, Southampton where he lived with his sister Nellie and her husband James White and their children. He was not married and had no children of his own.
On 10th April, 1912 after the desertion and failure to board the ship by six registered crew members who were said to have all been drunk in a quayside pub, Henry and five other men (Daniel BLACK, Alfred Lewis GEER, Leonard KINSELLA, W. LLOYD and Richard HOSGOOD) were engaged to replace those men as engine crew less than two hours before she set sail.
He was engaged as an engine fireman/stoker and would have worked in a hot and dusty environment. The British enquiry into the Titanic disaster stated that the engine crew had stayed at their posts, trying desperately to remove hot coals from the engine boilers after it hit the iceberg, in order to avoid a fire breaking out, in the hope that help would arrive before she sank. Sadly, it seems to have been ineffective and fire spread throughout the lower deck of the ship.
Fire and smoke inhalation may possibly have been the cause of death for Henry and his work mates, rather than drowning, but as most of their bodies were not recovered, a death certificate was not issued and no formal cause of death could be given. Engine crew deaths were recorded in Titanic’s registers as “presumed drowned” for Harry and all those whose bodies were not recovered.
The only body recovered from the list above was Richard HOSGOOD. His body was recovered by the cable ship MACKAY-BENNETT and given the identity number #242. From the description of his body and clothing, plus his Union membership book in his pocket he was later identified and buried at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 12th May 1912
Henry’s mother died in January 1911 and is buried in Southampton Old Common Cemetery in plot C175/76. A plaque to commemorate Harry was placed on his mother’s grave by the remaining family members.
The inscription reads:
“In memory of Henry Dennis Witt, Son of George and Ellen Witt, Fireman on the Titanic, Lost at sea April 14/15 1912, Age 37.”
Memoriam notices featured in the “Hampshire Independent” newspaper on Saturday 17th April, 1915 read;
“Mr Henry Witt, 39 (sic), a native of Southampton lived at 22 Lower College Street, Southampton, his last ship being the “Oceanic”. Witt and his colleagues Lloyd, Geer, Kinsella, Black and Hosgood were taken on at the last minutes after six of the “signed-on” crew arrived late for the sailing.”
“Henry Dennis Witt. With love from his sister Nellie”
“In loving memory of our dear Uncle Henry Dennis (Harry), the youngest son of the late Helen (sic) Witt of College Street, Southampton. From his nephews Jim and Percy – Gone but not forgotten, April 15th 1912”
Further info and contact with family descendants from:
Tracy Dunne – email@example.com
Gillian Everett – firstname.lastname@example.org