This week marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England. Of the 1,517 lives lost in this tragedy, some were men of note, like . But many were just humble folks seeking a better life in America.
One of those passengers, Samuel James “Jim” Metcalf Hocking, 36, was bound for Middletown.
Hocking hoped to reunite with his brother at 98 Liberty Street. Built in 1909 and now a three-story, eight-apartment building owned by Ted Charton, 98 Liberty St. was where Jim's brother, Thomas Bazeley Hocking, had relocated several years earlier to seek his fortune. Jim, seeing his brother’s success, had followed suit.
Jim, according to Haddam historian Phil Devlin, was a painter and decorator from Devonport, England. His state of mind while on board the Titanic and a friendship he struck with a newly married young couple is known from a letter he mailed in Ireland on April 11.
The Titanic struck the iceberg just before midnight on April 14, 1912, and it sank 2 hours and 40 minutes later in the early morning of April 15.
It’s a relatively long letter (even though Jim writes, “just a few lines as I hear we are calling at Queenstown, Ireland, and they will also take letters and we are just off there now”) and shows his affection for his wife and children as well as details like his simple pleasure at bringing along cigarettes for the journey. “Tell Penn his fags are my only comfort and I am smoking a few!”
Devlin’s research at the Titanic Museum in Indian Orchard, MA, turned up some interesting tidbits.
According to Devlin, “‘Jim’ Hocking had 13 siblings. His wife, Ada, and their two children [Dorothy and Frank] were to join him in America at a later date. Hocking wrote a letter to his wife, which was mailed from Queenstown, Ireland — the Titanic’s last port of call. He closed the letter with this tragically ironic line: ‘Everybody tells me I shall not regret the step I have taken, so buck up and we shan't be long.’”
Dick Keuris, research director of the Hocking & Descendants Society in Australia, writes on an Ancestry.com post that Jim and Ada actually had three children, one, named 'Ada' after her mother, died very young.
Encyclopedia Titanica offers a newspaper clipping from the Western Morning News, which covers Devon County, England, dated April 17, 1912, titled, “Titanic Disaster, Westcountry Passengers and Crew.” It reveals that Hocking was well-known in his hometown for running a confectionary for many years and for his hobbies of cricket and swimming.
“James Hocking, of Fore Street, Devonport, who was one of the Titanic’s second-class passengers, wrote to his wife, and in the course of his letter spoke of the splendid accommodation in the great vessel, and mentioned that except for the vibration of the engines, it was hardly possible to tell when she was steaming. … The letter was in a very cheery strain, and the writer was evidently looking forward to the time when he would be joined in America by his wife and two children.”
See the full text of the letter here.
Not much is known about where in Connecticut Thomas worked or even the type of business he engaged in, however historian and Director Debbi Shapiro offers Middletown Patch these details:
"In the 1912 City Directory, there is a listing for Thomas B. Hockings, 'emp 541 Main res inq do.' In the 1913 directory, he is listed, 'Thomas B. Hockings, painter 98 Liberty h do.'"
Shapiro tells us, "The 'h' is for home, 'do' is ditto, showing his business and home are 98 Liberty. In the first listing, he seems to be living at 541 Main St. The 1915 Directory indicates that he removed to New York City."
A post on Ancestry.com in March 2009 by “Sherrill,” who goes by the user name “Hocktree99” and claims to be Thomas’ grandchild, offers a glimpse into the brothers’ relationship.
“My grandfather, Thomas Bazeley Hocking, invited his brother, Samuel James Metcalf Hocking, to join him in his business in Connecticut. ‘Jim’ said he was afraid of boats and the ocean. My grandfather told him, ‘Take the Titanic, it’s unsinkable.’ I don't think my grandfather ever recovered.”
Hocking’s body was never found. According to Encyclopedia Titanica, Hocking’s widow Ana received the proceeds of his estate in August 1913. It totaled £70 — or $110.