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Fisherman, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy - the Diapers of Itchen Ferry
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THE SEARCH FOR JOHN DIAPER

Introduction: In organising the exhibition 'Fishermen, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy' we were faced with numerous challenges including having to research information that would appeal to a wide audience, not all of whom would be Diapers, we also needed to gain press interest to help raise the profile of the exhibition and bring people into the museum. In the museum itself we also had limited space in which to stage the exhibition and there were many permanent displays that could not be moved. To deal with some of these issues we came up with the idea of finding Diapers who had links with some of the exhibits so that these could in some way be incorporated or linked into our exhibition. Many of you will have seen the subsequent Educational Trail leaflet we produced.

 

On the upper floor our exhibition shared the space with the Titanic exhibition, if we could find a Diaper associated with that Ship we would not only make a link but also give ourselves the opportunity to raise the profile of the exhibition, particularly in the final couple of months when it would be the 95 th anniversary of the sailing of the Titanic.

 

It was generally well know that a J Diaper sailed on the Titanic as a fireman and by some miracle had survived. However we soon found that no-one knew which J Diaper it was or what happened to him after 1912.

 

Our starting point were the Titanic crew papers which said J Diaper aged 24 from 102 Derby Rd had signed an agreement to work on Titanic on 6 th April 1912 at wages of £6, and having previously served on the Olympic. He was due on board at 6am on 10 April 1912.

 

Our first port of call were the various Titanic groups and historians, one researcher Brian Meister was researching the Titanic survivors, he claimed to have narrowed the field to 3 possible candidates but was unwilling to elucidate further.

 

At the same time Angie and Julie who were working on the genealogy of the Diapers were finding several things that make studying the family difficult. The usage and re-usage of a small number of first names amongst the Diaper claim, notably names such as Richard, Thomas and John. This lead to people often commonly using their second name or a nick name instead. Also it was not absolutely certain that J Diaper was in fact John at all, Joseph or Jack were other possibilities.

 

 

Vicky Green from Southampton Library Special Collections was also researching Titanic survivors and came up with some possible candidates, she also advised us that crewmen would often lie about their age on their sign up papers, knocking a few years off to make themselves appear younger.

 

So we appealed to the family, could anyone claim 'J Diaper' initially we had no response, what we did not know at that time was that this branch of the family had relocated to Somerset. However our net started to widen once we had set up the Diaper Heritage Website. We soon had family contacts appearing from Spain, Australia, America and Canada so it was only a matter of time perhaps that our message reached Somerset. One day a call was received from someone who said they were the great nephew of John Diaper of the Titanic and that led us to the discovery that John Diaper’s twin sons were still alive and had documentary evidence about their father and his adventures on the Titanic.

 

In searching for John Diaper, also managed to uncover two other members of the crew with Diaper connections and I am sure if we looked further into the marriages of Diaper women, we would uncover further links.

 

The first of these Diapers was another John, however on signing on for Titanic he used his middle name as surname, so John Lovell Diaper became John Lovell on the crew manifest.

 

Charles Smith was descended from the most prominent of Diapers, Mark Diaper gentleman, who in the late 18 th century had controlled the Itchen Ferry crossing and owned many properties in Itchen Ferry village, he left a fortune of over £3,000, one third of which went to his daughter Jane Diaper, Charles' great grandmother.

 

These two Diapers have come to light quite recently so our knowledge of them is still somewhat limited.

 

John Lovell Diaper did not have an auspicious start in the world being born in the Union workhouse, South Stoneham on 22 March 1875. The building still remains today, better known as Moorgreen Hospital.

 

His mother Louise Phoebe Diaper, was an unmarried mother and John's father was one Benjamin Lovell. A daughter was also borne in June 1878, Elizabeth Louise, her birth place was also listed as South Stoneham. Sometime after John's birth Louise and Benjamin did set up home together and she took the name of Mrs Lovell, however as yet we have been unable to find a marriage certificate. They moved to Lancashire, Benjamin having been borne in Nottingham. They had two more sons but in 1883 Benjamin died aged just 29. Louise, only 27 herself, moved her young family back to Itchen Ferry Village, her family home and two years later remarried to James Sellar.

 

Like many other Diapers before him, John found a career connected to the sea, at age 16 he was working as a clerk for the Clyde Ship Company. He later joined the White Star line as a grill cook and had been on the Olympic, the first of the 3 sister ships that the Line built in the early 20 th century. When Titanic was getting ready for her maiden voyage the cream of the crews of other liners such as Olympic and Oceanic were transferred to the new vessel.

 

John Lovell Diaper joined Titanic as a grill cook at a monthly wage of £6 10s, he signed on under the name John Lovell, he said his home was 21 Highland Rd, Itchen Ferry, Southampton and gave his age as 32, he was actually 37.

 

John Lovell, died in the sinking, his body if recovered was never identified, he was given the number 497 by the Titanic fund. He was unmarried at the time of his death, but he did have dependants, his widowed sister Elizabeth Veal and her son. She gave her age to the Titanic Relief fund as 32, although she would have been 34. She and her son were given a joint allowance of 31s, initially until Dec 1918, subject to review and it was continued into the 1920s at least. The board were asked to consider her delicate health and the fact that her only income was from an evening office cleaning job and she would be expected to receive relief till she reached the age of 70, or until she remarried. She later was give 7s for a 3 month period as she had had a haemorrhage and she was also given £3 3s towards the purchase of artificial teeth. Currently we have no photograph of John Lovell Diaper.

 

Charles Edwin Smith was 38 at the time he transferred from the Olympic as a bedroom steward at a monthly wage of £3 15s. He was married to Martha Hanna Gibbons and had a daughter called Doris Elsie May, another called Sybil Violet and two sons George Frederick and Thomas.

 

The family lived in Hollydene, Portsmouth Rd. Although Charles also died in the sinking, his body was recovered by the ship Montmagny and he was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 20 May 1912. If his family had wanted his body returned to Southampton they would have had to pay for the transport themselves as the White Star Line did not see it as their responsibility.

 

If the body was in a fit state to be returned relatives had to pay a deposit of £20 against the expenses. The equivalent of six months pay. Smith's pay, like all other crew, would have been stopped at the minute the Titanic went down. His widow and children were also eligible for money from the Titanic Fund. As Charles, whose number was 597, was a class C steward his widow was entitled to a maximum of £1 7s 6d per week, plus an allowance of 8s 6d for the children.

 

When Doris grew up she did not take up an apprenticeship, becoming instead a book keeper at Lankaster & Crook. Her mother received £10 in lieu of the apprenticeship premium. The 8s 6d payment was continued for Sybil until she was 19 rather than the normal 18 years of age.

 

The Titanic fund was a spontaneous charitable response to the enormity of the disaster, the worst maritime disaster that Southampton has ever suffered, five hundred citizens of the town died, and many families were left with out their main breadwinner. There are several Titanic monuments around the town, the family of the crew set up a subscription for a crew memorial which can now be seen at Holy Rood Church.

 

John Joseph Diaper was born in 1885 as a 'double Diaper' his father being Richard Diaper who had married Mary Jane Diaper.

 

After attending school at Peartree he left education to become a labourer before signing up in the army for seven years in 1902 at the age of 17.

 

When he left the army he began his career at sea in 1909 as trimmer on board the Carisbrook Castle the Cape Mail Ship. He worked in a similar role on the Araguaya, Adriatic, Teutonic and then spent a year on the Oceanic.

 

He married Alice Strange in 1911. Their first child Alice was born in 1912 but died almost immediately at around the time he moved from the Olympic to the Titanic.

 

When he signed on for the Titanic he was living at 102 Derby Rd. The house still survives today.

 

Having survived the sinking because of luckily being on lifeboat watch rather than on duty as a fireman, his career with the White Star Line was almost over.

 

Like most survivors he seems to have had difficulty in getting work, only taking 2 more voyages after the sinking – we do not know of his own thoughts about remaining at sea, however the advent of the first world war saw him being called up to the Hampshire Regiment.

 

He was wounded in action with the expeditionary force in November 1914 being transferred to hospital in Sheffield. He returned to the Infantry until June 1917 when he went as cook to the Royal Engineers stationed in Egypt.

 

The family home was now in Hartington Rd, in Northam, the house still survives today. His family were growing, though several died young, he had two daughters Elsie and Joan and in 1923 twin boys, George and John. John had several jobs, working as stevedore in the docks and for a local steel company. In the early 1940s, during the Southampton blitz, the family moved to Somerset where he died in 1955 aged 70 years. Survivors of the disaster could apply to the Titanic fund for an emergency payment, and some applied when they reached old age and were in some distress. There is no record of John Joseph making an application to the fund.