At 11.39 p.m. on 14th April 1912 Liverpool-born Frederick Fleet rang the crow’s nest’s bell three times. He then used the nest’s telephone to contact the bridge, the call being answered by sixth officer James Paul Moody. Moody asked Fleet what he had seen and he uttered the immortal lines “Iceberg ! Right Ahead”. Less than 3 hours later the RMS Titanic had sunk and over 1500 had perished.
Frederick Fleet was born in Liverpool on 15th October 1887 and had an inauspicious start to his life. He never knew his father and his mother abandoned him as a small child to run off with a boyfriend to Springfield, Massachusetts. The 1891 census records him as residing at the Foundling Hospital at 272 Upper Parliament Street L8. By the 1901 census he was at the outset of a maritime career at an Industrial Training Ship in the Menai Straits, Anglesey. He first set sail in 1903 and after serving on the RMS Oceanic he boarded the Titanic as an able seaman in April 1912 on a wage of £5 per month plus an extra 5 shillings for lookout duty.
In the subsequent inquiries into the Titanic disaster Fleet asserted that if they had had binoculars the iceberg would have been sighted earlier, allowing for a change of course. He left the White Star Line later in 1912 after a brief spell on the RMS Olympic, sailing for a variety of companies for the next 24 years. After leaving the sea he worked for Harland and Wolff in their Southampton shipyards.
His life was to have a tragic conclusion. On 28th December 1964, Fleet's wife died, and her brother evicted him from their house. Fleet, consumed by depression, returne to his brother-in-law's house on 19th January 1965 and hanged himself in the garden. He was buried in a pauper's grave at Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton. The grave was unmarked until 1993 when a headstone was erected by the Titanic Historical Society.
Fleet's grave at Southampton
272 Upper Parliament Street L8 today
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