Joseph Brown

Date of birth: 1875
Place of birth: Salford, Manchester
Regiment / Division: Mercantile Marine
Vessel: HMHS Britannic
Rank / Service No: Fireman
Died: 21st November 1916, aged 41 years
Commemorated: Tower Hill Memorial

 

Joseph was the fifth of 9 siblings born to William and Ellen Brown. The whole family was born and bred in Salford.

William was born in 1841 and Ellen was born in 1846.

Because of the commonality of the surname, it has not been possible to provide more details of the family members.

 

Siblings

Florence A.   b. 1866

William C.   b. 1870

Thomas Henry   b. 1872

Mary Elizabeth   b. 1873

Joseph

John Robert   b. 1876   Married in Salford in 1912.

Dora Jane   b. 1877

Albert Edward   b. 1880

Frederick   b. 1886

 

Joseph moved to Southampton sometime between the 1891 Census and 1895. He married a girl from Preston, one Ellen Bampton.

They married in the city in 1895 and appear to have lived at 61 Bevois Street.

Unfortunately no children were forthcoming, but the couple did adopt a girl.

Lottie Billinghurst had been born in the city in 1890 and the 1901 Census shows her as an “adopted daughter”.

She married someone in the city in 1912, as Lotttie Brown.

By this stage her parents were living at 88 Melbourne Street, Itchen although some records show the family home later as at 79 Bevois Street.

 

Joseph chose to serve on a quite famous vessel. Britannic was the younger sister ship of White Star’s Olympic and Titanic.

The Titanic story is well-known, but Olympic was involved in a collision with the Royal Navy’s Hawk in the Solent in September 1911.

She made it back into Southampton under her own steam, was repaired and had a long and illustrious career.

Two fellow crew members of Joseph’s worked on all 3 vessels….John Priest (a fellow fireman) and Violet Jessop (a stewardess) who wrote her memoirs.

 

Britannic was requisitioned by the Navy and turned into a hospital ship. She was used to transport sick and wounded soldiers back from Gallipoli, with full hospital facilities on board.

After five successful return voyages, Britannic departed from Southampton for Lemnos on 12 November 1916. She arrived at Naples on 17 November, for her usual coaling and water refuelling stop.

A storm kept the ship in Naples for an extra 24 hours but on 21 November she was full-steam ahead between Cape Sounion and the edge of Athens, with a total of 1066 people aboard.

At 08.21 a large explosion shook the ship. A hole was evident on the starboard side, located between holds 2 & 3.

In no time, the vessel began to list and water was pouring in through open bulkheads and portholes (open to get air to the patients).

Lifeboats were ordered to be prepared, but 2 of them were lowered at 08.30 before the order was given. At the same time, the front of the ship had started to drop as the weight of water at the front increased.

This caused the propellers to become visible and they were still revolving….the Captain had considered trying to beach the vessel.

The 2 lifeboats were dragged into the propellers, with inevitable consequences. Violet Jessop was by now in another lifeboat close behind, and witnessed the carnage.

 

It is possible that Joseph died in one of the boats, because it is known that it was a group of firemen who “requisitioned” a boat. Of course, he may have perished when the explosion occurred, or he may have remained at his post until the bitter end.

55 minutes after the explosion, Britannic disappeared below the waves.

Only 30 men lost their lives in the disaster, and Joseph is one of only 5 who were buried. Many vessels, both British and local, came to the rescue of the 1036 survivors.

It is not known whether Britannic was torpedoed or hit a mine, which were known to be in the area.

Subsequent dives have been unable to prove or disprove either theory.

 

Researcher: Mark Heritage
Published: 2nd June 2016
Updated:

 

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