Southwater man finds family links to Horsham waiter on Titanic

Titanic poster from 1912
Titanic poster from 1912

A MAN man who spent ten years researching his family tree has found one of his ancestors died on the Titanic - and he lived and is remembered in Horsham.

Mike Holmwood of Timber Mill, Southwater, has spent a decade looking into his family history and only in the past year leading up to the centenary of the sinking of the famous cruise liner has he discovered he is related to John Charman - one of about 1,500 people who lost their lives on the doomed vessel.

John was the youngest of eight children born to Solomon and Mary Charman and they lived at Gardener’s Cottage, Pondtail Road, Horsham.

Mr Holmwood, aged 58, said: “I’ve done my family tree back to 1540 with bits of information from second and third parties and it all came together last year.

“One of the family names is Charman. I did a search for Charman and got taken to the Titanic site but thought there was no other connection.

“Then several years later I found a second Charman branch and when I followed that one it led back to John.”

He found out that John’s father died in 1899, so at the age of 13, he took up employment with Henry Tanner of Denne Parade, but it was not long before he had his sights set higher.

He spent four years in London and four years working at Sudbury Manor, then in Alford, again in London and Slough before moving to Southampton in 1910.

There he took up a post as a waiter in The Star Hotel in Southampton and was only able to get a ticket on the Titanic because he worked at the hotel.

He was on the ship with the hotel manager’s son Fred Hartnell and was employed as a saloon steward receiving a monthly salary of £3.15s.

Unable to visit his mother before boarding he sent her a letter saying: “I hope to make a bit of money this trip so you will be alright when I return home, don’t worry dear Mother.”

But just four days into the voyage to America it hit the iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. Fred survived, but John did not. There is a telegram in the hotel’s bar to this day from Fred saying ‘Hartnell, Star Hotel-Saved, Fred’.

John’s body was never recovered, but an unconfirmed identification was made of a body of a man aged about 25 with steward’s badge number 20, which has been attributed to John.

His death left the family without a bread-winner. Mr Holmwood said: “His mother was registered blind and after he died she made a claim to the Titanic fund because she wasn’t well and they awarded it to her.”

All these links to the Titanic stemmed from a chance spotting of a gravestone of the Charman family.

He continued: “When we were doing our family research my daughter stumbled upon this headstone and read on it what it said. She found this inscription before I knew all about this.”

It reads: “Solomon Charman in Loving memory. Also his son John James Charman, son of the above, lost his life on the Titanic April 15 1912, aged 26.”

The Holmwood family - including Mike’s daughter Emma Boniface, who found the grave - will be remembering John and the 1,516 people who lost their lives that night as the centenary approaches this month.