A story from the life of the SS Great Britain now restored and an award winning museum in Bristol, England
The Titanic Connection

Henry Stap, Master Mariner and Captain of the sailing ship Great Britain 1882-1886 was born in Skipsea the County of York - now the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The local parish register of baptisms lists Henry for the 11th February 1829. His mother is recorded as Sarah and his father John was a 'Revenue Officer'. Henry's career at sea began at the age of 16 when he was apprenticed on the Arabia sailing from Scarborough a small Yorkshire port 35 kms from his home.

Henry moved on quickly and he had a First Mate's certificate when he was twenty-nine. By 1861 he had a Master's certificate and the command of the small sailing cargo ship Mystery [1070 tons]. In 1861 Henry married Stella Cawkwell in Mile End, London and she often accompanied him on the Mystery. Their daughter daughter Sarah Agnes was born at sea on 1st August 1864 and in the following year she was baptised in London.


But Henry's luck ran out when in 1866 the Mystery foundered off Algoa bay on the eastern coast of south Africa. Henry and the crew were saved and as he was not blamed he soon received a new command. But he did have a second turn of bad luck in 1874 when he accidentally lost his Master's Certificate in London docklands. Documents show that he was required to go before a Magistrate to explain the circumstances before the paper could be replaced.

Henry Stap took command of the Great Britain on 30th November 1882 and made two voyages to San Francisco on the west coast of the United States. It was during the third voyage southwards to Cape Horn at the southern tip of the Americas that the Great Britain was disabled by storms and forced back to the Falkland Islands [Islas Malvinas]. Henry Stap saw the crew paid off and he returned to work. Once again his career was unblemished. By then his daughter Sarah Agnes was 22 and looking to a career at sea by working as a stewardess on the new passenger liners registered in Liverpool, the great commecial shipping city of northwestern England. In 1912 she took the post of senior stewardess on the ill-fated RMS Titanic. She was one of the few to survive.

The RMS Titanic - The White Star Line

The Titanic was launched launched May 1911, completed in 1912 and registerd in Liverpool, England . At he time the ship was the largest in the world, 822 feet[269m] long, so over twice the length of the Great Britain. The registered tonnage was 46,328 GRT.Titanic set from Southampton for New York on its maiden voyage on Wednesday 10th April 1912 with 2,223 people on board.

Four days later at 11,40 PM on Sunday 14th April the ship struck an iceberg and sank at about 2,20 AM on the 15th. Only 710 people, less than a third of those on board survived. The rest of the story is history but less well-known is how the Titanic's captain, Edward John Smith was a good friend of Henry Stap and the two had met shortly before the fateful departure.

Birkenhead News Saturday 4 May 1912



There arrived in Birkenhead on Wednesday evening, Miss Sarah Stap of 41 Bidstan Avenue, Cloughton, one of the survivors of the ill-fated Titanic. Miss Stap held the responsible position of senior stewardess on board the vessel and had been transferred from the sister ship, Olympic. Our representative visited Miss Stap yesterday morning at her residence in Bidston avenue and to him she imparted a most thrilling and vivid narrative of the wreck of the vessel. She did not betray the least excitement, or nervousness, but her pale wan face indicated at once the terrible suffering she had passed through. "how do you feel after your experiences?" enquired our representative."not at all well." replied Miss Stap, "although I am very much better than I have been. I am really not my old self yet. It has been a dreadful time, and seems to have been all a most horrible nightmare. I cannot yet realise that the beautiful ship has gone for ever, for she was a magnificent ship. We (I mean the crew) were all so radiantly happy together when we left Southampton on Wednesday, the 10th April. There was no ceremony whatever when we moved off from the pier, and that is what I think makes the disaster all the more sad, it seems almost as if we were too happy. "Everything went well until the fatal night of the 14th."

Here Miss Stap paused a while as if the terrible spectacle was once more being enacted."Where were you, Miss Stap, when the accident occurred?" "I was in bed and was awakened by a slight bump. It would then have been about a quarter to twelve at night. I did not take very much heed of the noise at first, because I had been used to a ship's bumping before. In fact I thought that something or other had gone wrong in the engine room." "Did you get up from your bed?" "No, presently I heard the night watchman pass my door and I called out to him "What's the matter?" He replied, "Oh, we have only touched a bit of ice. I think it is alright, I don't think it is anything." "It was three quarters of an hour after I felt the ship bump that I got up and when I reached the deck the lifeboats had been ordered out. 'What did you feel like?' "I was not in the least frightened. I was simply stunned. Perfect order prevailed and everybody seemed calm and collected. The passengers would not believe that we had struck an iceberg, but I myself knew what had happened. The officers and crew behaved magnificently, as did also the dear old captain." "Did you see Mr. Ismay at all?" "Oh yes, he was on deck in his pyjamas and a coat, vainly endeavouring to get the passengers into the boats. They (the crew) had the utmost difficulty in trying to persuade the people to get into the boats. I think it is most unfair the stories that have been circulated about Mr. Ismay. He worked might and main all the time, and I did not think he actually realised that the ship was sinking. It is my own impression that more lives would have been saved if only the people could have been persuaded to enter the boats more quickly, I was helped into the last boat but one and had charge of a baby, whose father and mother were lost. There were no less that 72 or 77 persons in our boat and I nursed the little mite for several hours. Although the night was starry, it was bitterly cold and everyone was nearly starved. "How long were you in the boat?" "About six hours. I shall never forget it until my dying day. There we were all huddled up together. It was awful, we could see the lights of the ship slowly disappearing beneath the waves, one by one, until there alone remained the masthead light. Then suddenly the great ship gave a lurch and disappeared gracefully out of sight. All this time the people on board were shrieking in their death agonies, and the passengers were under the impression that it was the other people in the boats cheering. Only the members of the crew knew what it was and we dared not say. "After the ship had gone an explosion rent the air. The shrieks of the dying were positively awful. During the time we were in the lifeboat we passed about six or seven icebergs, we could hear the music of the band all the time. They were heroes if you like. I must say that everything that has been said about them is perfectly true. They were not asked to play, but did it absolutely on their own initiative. In fact from the highest to the lowest member of the crew everyone of them deserves the highest praise. I would also like to praise the lifebelts. Many people were saved by these. They were not the old fashioned ones, that fastened on the shoulder, but ones to be slipped over the head and tied round the waist. "What happened eventually?" asked our representative.

" We were at length picked up by the Carpathia, and taken to New York. The people on board were ever so kind to us. When we reached New York we were given clothes and every attention, and were then transferred to the Lapland and arrived at Plymouth last Sunday morning. All the officers and officials of the White Star Company were extremely kind to us all the time. I had no time to gather up my belongings, and so lost everything. But what I valued most was the loss of dear kind friends who went down with the ship. I shall never forget the experience, never.

"I suppose you have never experienced anything like it before?" "No, although I was on board the Olympic when she collided with the Hawke." How long have you been travelling abroad?" "For about twelve years. I was on board the Baltic when she made her maiden voyage, and also on board the Adriatic when she made her first trip. My father, Captain Stap, was in the employ of the White Star Company, but has now retired." Asked whether she would be required to attend the inquiry in London, Miss Stap said she had not heard so far from the officials. It is of interest to add that Miss Stap was responsible for Mrs. Astor and Lady Gordon Duff Grant, both of whom escaped.

Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey [until 1974 part of the old County of Cheshire - now, [2012] the Metropolitan borough of Wirral part of the Metropolitan county of Merseyside, with the city of Liverpool noted for its shipping connections.]

  • grave 6C47
  • Stella S.Stap buried 16th January 1903
  • Henry Stap buried 6th March 1914
  • William Cawkwell Stap buried 2nd November 1923
  • Henry Stap buried 20th April 1933
  • Sarah Agnes Stap buried 1st April 1937
  • grave 6C52
  • Edward Wood Tagg buried 1st July 1928
  • Estella Tagg buried 15th February 1943
  • Edith Mary Stap buried 25th November 1953


Special thanks to John and Diane Robinson and the Friends of Wallasey Cemetery for their help in tracing the Stap family history: to Pamela Vickers for locating the parental records of Henry Stap and details of his birth:and to Rebecca Morrison and Alan Blackburn for locating Henry Stap's Master Mariner's records
WIRRAL - A folded leaflet of events and exhibitions commemorating the Titanic disaster. Inside - the connection with the SS Great Britain and Rake Lane Cemetery is given a special place on a map of the area


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