Some nine years ago Malcolm Bisby of Kildale spotted an intriguing news item in his daily paper concerning the ‘Titanic disaster’. It announced a forthcoming exhibition in Bradford of memorabilia relating to the R.M.S. Titanic* and mentioned four Yorkshire victims of the maritime tragedy. One of these was a John Montgomery Smart from No. 3 Woodend Cottages, Kildale (now called New Row, Kildale).
Not having a computer at the time, Malcolm asked his friend, Mr Cedric Anthony of Kildale, to search the Internet for further information as Cedric was already researching and planning a book on the history of Kildale. Sadly, Cedric died of cancer before he could complete his project but his wife Valerie has since edited and published his work. The book, Glimpses of Kildale History, is available, price £15, from Mrs Joan Scott, 77 The Stripe, Stokesley (01642 710592) – all proceeds to Cuthbert’s Church, Kildale.
This story of the mystery man of Kildale – a victim of the Titanic disaster – is taken from the book with kind permission of Mrs Scott:
One hundred years on, the great maritime catastrophe, the sinking of the White Star line ship Titanic after it struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage, arouses almost universal interest. At an exhibition in Bradford in January 2004 about the tragic event, the display material showed that four people who lost their lives came from Yorkshire. One of these was stated to be John Montgomery Smart, 56, from Kildale in North Yorkshire, who gave his address as 3 Woodend Cottages (now known as New Row), Kildale, via Grosmont (the post came to Kildale by train from Grosmont for many years), York.
This address immediately aroused interest and intrigue as to how someone living in a very small terraced cottage could afford to travel to New York on the maiden voyage of this great ship. What is more, he travelled first class on a ticket costing £26.11s! Was he a companion of a wealthy widow? Had he won the money in a bet? How could this situation be explained?
New Row, Kildale (previously Woodend Cottages).
Thanks to the Internet, and in particular a useful site known as Encyclopaedia Titanica, some of the answers have emerged. It seems that John M. Smart was an American citizen from New Jersey – though some of his friends believed he came from Massachusetts – and had become President of the American Cold Storage and Shipping Company. He was a widower, whose wife had died about 1902, and he lived in the Victoria Hotel in New York where he conducted his business. He regularly travelled to England where his company had set up distribution depots for frozen food for the English market. He was obviously a far-sighted individual, a real entrepreneur. This was early in the time when frozen meat was being shipped across the world from countries like Argentina and cold storage of foodstuffs became very important. Seizing this opportunity, one might say he was Smart by name and smart by nature.
The fact that William and Sarah Smart were living in one of the mining cottages suggests that he might have worked in a clerical capacity for the Whinstone mining company in Kildale, but this is merely supposition. William continued to live at the same address till the 1920s, when he would have been in his late seventies.
Nobody by the name of Smart appears in the Kildale Burial Register so it is likely that William and Sarah moved away from Kildale before they died. There is also no mention of the name Smart in Kildale Baptism or Marriage registers. To date, no information has been found about the twenty or so years they spent at New Row.
The fact that John M. Smart gave their address as his home implies some sort of relationship; perhaps he was William’s younger brother, as he was born in or around 1856, thirteen years after William?
On April 14th 1912, the Titanic sank. The lawyer Seward was saved by swimming to an overturned lifeboat and was then picked up by the Carinthia together with other survivors; he died in 1943. John M. Smart was not so fortunate. His body was probably lost at sea, along with 1,533 other lives. There is no record of his burial in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where others were buried, so either the body was not identifiable or more probably it was never recovered.
Because he lived in a hotel in New York, he was accustomed to taking all his personal papers with him in a trunk when he was travelling, and it seems from Frederick Seward’s statement that the trunk was in Smart’s cabin during the voyage. After the shipwreck this trunk was lost and there were no means of knowing the whereabouts of his children or any means of contact. The only address was that of William Smart in Kildale. When lawyers tried to trace the relatives, they drew a blank although they went to great lengths to discover them.
From the implication of his prestigious title of ‘President’ of the American Cold Storage and Shipping Company, it might be thought that Mr Smart was a wealthy man. Estimates of his wealth at the time were put between $20,000 and $100,000, so several lawyers set themselves the task of finding his next of kin. His assets in England only amounted to £134.17s.9d and he had also inherited his late wife’s money which he kept in trust for his children, not spending a cent of it himself. A search for a Will resulted in one being found dated 1897, which named two people living in Melbourne, Australia, as recipients: Jeremiah Twomey, who was to have one third of his assets, and Annie Frances Brown, who was to have two-thirds. The signature on this was disputed because it was shown as ‘John’, although he was known by all his acquaintances as ‘Jim’ and in fact the signature may well have been valid. The genuineness of the Will was questioned because no one knew of the two individuals in Australia. Mr Smart may well have made a later will in favour of his children and perhaps even his relatives in Kildale, but it would have been lost at sea if it was with all his other papers.
However the main search was for his two children ‘somewhere in Europe’. The investigation was led by a lawyer Frank J. Ryan, who had known Mr Smart in the Victoria Hotel for more than ten years and had heard him talk about his family. The situation was publicised and two children were found in Belgium who were at first thought to be Mr Smart’s heirs, but later they was discredited. It was thought by some lawyers that George and Annie may well have had sufficient means from their mother’s estate to live independently and may have deliberately chosen not to make a claim because of all the publicity in the newspapers. Others postulated that there never had been any children despite Mr Smart’s references to them. A porter at the Hotel said he had posted a parcel to them at one time but could not recall the address. In the meantime, many creditors came forward to be paid and the legal fees mounted rapidly. The valuation of John Smart’s estate dwindled to less than £10,000 and eventually the 1897 Will was ratified by the Court.
The New York Times’ headlines for several weeks in 1913 and 1914 were taken up by the mystery of this man: ‘Partner says Smart didn’t sign the Will’ . . . ‘Starts new search for Smart children’ . . . ‘Titanic Victim’s Estate’ . . . ‘Seek the children of the Titanic victim’
. . . There are still people studying the Titanic disaster who speculate about who he was and why the children were apparently never found. One wonders whether anyone contacted William and Sarah Smart in Kildale to assist with their enquiries. A hundred years after the shipwreck, there are many questions still to be answered. ◼