TITANIC AND OTHER FABLES
Part II: Alice
It may be that interest in the Titanic is waning now. It seemed to be pretty steady for decades, enjoying a resurgence when Dr. Ballard's expedition located the wreck, reviving again when the souvenir collectors visited the site, and peaking in a phenomenal manner with the publicity surrounding the most recent movie. The last mentioned event sent Titanic mania sky-rocketing. Every book ever published was reissued; new books were churned out with amazing speed; videos were patched together. As it turned out, the movie was more about young love than the tragedy of 1912, but interest in the ship ran its course. Perhaps.
If enthusiasm for all things Titanic is flagging, one does not see it on the internet. There are hundreds of websites devoted to the disaster. A few appear to have something to offer; others just repeat a little of this, a little of that. Some make no pretense at honoring copyright laws and publish the work of others' word for word. That's an issue for the copyright holders; but there is another issue for all of us. People's work is being copied, and so are people's errors.
And that brings me to the story of Alice Catherine Cleaver.
The Story As Told In Books and Videos, Repeated On Websites
Alice Cleaver was hired in haste by the Allison family, consisting of Hudson J. C. Allison, his wife Bess, their three-year-old daughter Loraine, and their 11-month-old son, Trevor. Mr. Allison was a wealthy investment broker from Montreal, and the family was returning from a horse-buying trip to England. Alice was employed as a nurse for the children, the previous servant having abruptly quit. She shared a room in first class with baby Trevor and a maid to Mrs. Allison named Sarah Daniels. This stateroom adjoined the one occupied by the Allison parents and Loraine. There were two other servants for the family traveling in second class. The entourage was, therefore, a family of four and four servants.
Unknown to the Allisons was the fact that Alice Cleaver had murdered her infant son three years previously. She was unmarried and distraught over the fact that the baby's father abandoned her, so she threw the child off a train. She was convicted, but a lenient jury felt sorry for her as did the judge. She was released early. The Allisons knew nothing of her past and hired her to care for their children on the voyage, particularly their infant son, Trevor.
When the ship was foundering, Mr. Allison left the staterooms to see what he could learn on deck. Alice grabbed Trevor and ran off, jumping into a lifeboat to safety. The Allisons searched and searched, unable to find their son. This next comment is repeated almost word for word in more than a dozen places. The Allisons never would have left the ship not knowing that their baby was safe; therefore, Alice Cleaver's abandoning Mrs. Allison and little Loraine clearly contributed to their deaths. Loraine was the only child in first class who was not saved.
Years later, a woman claiming to be Loraine Allison approached the Allison heirs and told a story of having been rescued and adopted by the man who got her to safety. There was more to this part of the story, but relevant here is the allegation that this imposter knew things about the family and had to have been coached by Alice Cleaver.
Closer To The Truth
Alice Catherine Cleaver was just what she purported to be when she was hired in England as nurse to baby Trevor. She had never killed a child. There had been a woman named Alice Mary Cleaver who threw her baby off a train. That woman died in prison.
Mistaken identity? Mistake? That's some mistake, a slander that has gone on for decades.
As for Alice rushing off with Trevor and abandoning Mrs. Allison and little Loraine, letting this family search in vain for their infant son until it was too late to save themselves... Apparently that wasn't quite accurate, either. The only surviving witnesses to events in the Allison's stateroom were Alice Cleaver and Sarah Daniels. That is not the way they told the story. Mrs. Allison was hysterical and couldn't even dress herself. Both children were sleeping. Alice dressed their mother but still could not get her to act rationally. Alice picked up Trevor, told her employer she was seeking safety, and left the room. What transpired afterwards is based only on speculation. Judging from what was widely reported later, it was the family of the Allisons who surmised they stayed on the ship searching for Trevor. It was with them that the statement, "They never would have left the ship without knowing their baby was safe," originated.
Even if we believed that Alice just grabbed Trevor and ran, does it make sense that Loraine - the little girl not quite three - was kept with her searching parents? Would they not have put her in a lifeboat? Would they have sacrificed her as well as themselves when they couldn't locate the son?
Alice entered lifeboat #11 with Trevor. This particular lifeboat, equipped for 65 people, actually carried 70. It was launched at 1:25 a.m. Sunday morning, one hour and forty-five minutes after the Titanic collided with the iceberg. The ship sank at 2:20 a.m.
Trevor was reunited with family, who raised him. He died at the age of eighteen. Alice returned to England where she married and raised a family. As far as I could determine, she received no thanks from the Allisons or anyone else; no sweet stories have been told about Alice Catherine Cleaver.
This story has a postscript - coming soon.
Back to Part I