Titanic going down

Evelyn Marsden (picture above) was always a spirited type.  Growing  up in rural  South Australia at  Hoyleton she became an accomplished horsewoman.  She spent holidays on a farm at Murray Bridge. It was here she was taught to row on the Murray River, even fighting her way  against the tide to improve her fitness.

Nursing was an ideal profession for such a practical, hands-on  person, She trained at the Royal Adelaide Hospital before choosing a life at sea with the famous White Star line.

Evelyn Marsden
Evelyn Marsden

Evelyn was  serving on the  passenger ship Olympic when it collided with  HMS Hawke on September 20 1911.

The ship needed major repairs, which is why Evelyn joined the Titanic as nurse/stewardess, looking after the wealthy, First Class  Saloon passengers.

In the dark hours after the Titanic hit the iceberg on the night of April 14, Evelyn and a fellow stewardess were comforted by Assistant Surgeon John Simpson, who had also transferred from the Olympic. He took them to his cabin and gave them whiskey and water, to calm their nerves. They were never to see him again; he was among the tragically high number of those  lost.

Dr John Stewart, lost on the Titanic

As passengers and crew  abandoned ship, the skill Evelyn had gained on the Murray River  was suddenly of vital importance.  She helped row lifeboat No. 16 until they were rescued the following morning. It was said that she also tended to a baby. A photo was taken of the surviving stewardesses.  Unfortunately  Evelyn is not identified.

Surviving stewardesses from the Titanic, including Evelyn Marsden.

Back in Hoyleton  Mr and Mrs Marsden  spent several days in deep distress waiting for news of their daughter.  Finally they received a two word telegram, which told them all they needed to know;  ‘Safe. Evelyn’ .

Dr William Abel James, who married  Evelyn Marsden.

Soon after the disaster Evelyn married her fiancée, ship’s doctor William Abel James. They had met  aboard the Olympic. Later that year  they arrived back in Australia aboard the S.S. Irishman.   Evelyn went back to the Murray Bridge farm, to thank her old friends for teaching her how to row.

The couple eventually settled in Bondi, where Dr James became a G,P.  He enlisted with the A.I.F during WWI and served in Egypt. There were no children from the marriage.

Evelyn died on August 30 1938.  Her  broken hearted husband  passed away just a week later.   Both were in their fifties; far too young. They lie together in Sydney’s Waverley cemetery. A headstone was erected in October  2000, after an article about Evelyn was published in a popular women’s magazine.

Evelyn James (nee Marsden) at rest with her beloved husband.



  1. The tragedy of Titanic still echoes, doesn’t it? Reading about Evelyn Marsden, she sounds not unlike the stewardess, Violet Jessop, whose parents emigrated to Argentina not long before she was born. For various reasons they returned to the UK when she was a teenager, and by her early 20s she was working for White Star.
    She too was aboard the Olympic in Sept 1911 when they had the collision with HMS Hawke – also survived the Titanic – and would you believe, she was also aboard Britannic in Nov 1916, which was sunk by a mine in the Mediterranean. Survived all three to tell the tale.
    But given the crew’s close quarters, I’m sure she and Evelyn would have known each other well – and maybe, given their backgrounds, formed a friendship. She would have known Dr James too.
    Violet never married, and – amazingly – was still serving at sea until 1950.

    • Pauline

      So many of the Titanic crew had been on the Olympic. A member of my Australian Social History group just shared a story about his g-g-uncle who was the boatswain on the Titanic and who served on the Olympic. He was among those who died. Violet Jessop was amazing!

  2. Another interesting story. Even though she survived that tragedy, there was still tragedy ahead in such an untimely death. How sad there were no children.

    I have a story related to the Titanic. My father’s family were moving to Canada around that time and sailed on either the ship that left before or the one after the Titanic–I can never remember which and there is no one to check with any more. My father was about 7 at the time.

    • Pauline

      Oh my goodness Diane. You should be able to check on Canada’s shipping records. They are easy to access and there is no charge.

  3. Another great human story from Australian history. We are almost on our way home, having placed our house on the market here. It’s a BIG job sorting and packing. We’ll be moving to Tasmania.

    • Pauline

      Oh, how exciting Heather. I was born and raised in Tassie at Ulverstone. Yes, a huge undertaking for you. I hope your home sells quickly.

  4. Thanks Pauline. You can see how close I came to not existing at all! 🙂 On the other side of the family, my mother’s father almost moved to Australia rather than Canada. Again, I would not exist today if he hadn’t run into a friend who was coming to Canada and decided to come with him.

  5. Very interesting read; thanks a lot for publishing. There’s a superb book written by Violet Jessop which I read about 20 years ago – “Titanic Survivor”…

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