The Whitley Family

By Mary Ann Whitley.
NOTE: Excerpted from articles originally published in Voyage, the journal of Titanic International Society, and CQD Titanic, the journal of the Belfast Titanic Society.

George Whitley of 9 Huss Street (the son of Francis Whitla/Whitley) and Alice Boreland of 104 Northumberland Street (the daughter of Robert and Alice Boreland) in Belfast were both 21 when they married in 1873. Their marriage certificate says he was a mechanic and she was a weaver. They lived in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, the same part of the city where their children would eventually grow up, marry and begin their own families.

George and Alice's first child, William John, called 'Johnny,' was born 11 months after their marriage, and the couple eventually had five other children: Francis, Alice, Edward Boreland, Robert and Annie. The sons all reportedly worked on the Titanic as did Annie's husband, James Ferguson. (Alice, who married David Gowdy, is the only one of George's children who apparently had no connection to building the ship.)

George Whitley may have worked at Harland & Wolff shipyard before going to sea and serving as an engineer on several ships. His seafaring career was cut short when he was only 38. In January 1891, he was serving as second engineer on the Chichester, when an explosion rocked the ship in the harbor at Santos, Brazil. George was killed; the official cause of death was listed as 'effects of an explosion of a tank of spirits' by the Marine Register Book of Deaths in Dublin, Ireland. Articles in the Belfast News Letter say that the ship's cargo of rum exploded and that three other crew members besides George were killed. Three of the four were from the Belfast area. George was reportedly buried in Santos. At the time of the accident, his address was 416 Shankill Road, Belfast.

Alice did not have an easy life after George's death, having been left with six children to raise. Relatives recalled that some sort of organization - perhaps a seamen's union of some kind - helped to set her up in business running a news agency so she could support herself and her children. Alice died in 1919 at the age of 66 and is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.

Alice Whitley's descendants lived in the Shankill Road area during the building of the Titanic. A brief portrait of each of the Whitley relatives who worked on the Titanic follows.

Johnny Whitley

William John 'Johnny' Whitley was born July 12, 1874, in 9 Huss Street, Belfast. Johnny was a woodworker or joiner who worked on the Titanic. Belfast street directories list 'Whitley, joiner' as living at 223 Cambrai Street in 1899. By 1912, 'Wm. John, joiner,' is listed at 13 Fingal Street.

Johnny's wife died in 1944, and he and his daughter Ivy moved to Canada in 1949 to live with his daughter and son-in-law, Alice and Fred George. Johnny worked at Harland & Wolff until he was 75, just before moving to Canada. A son, also named William John, also immigrated to Canada. They all lived at 153 Drewry Ave., Willowdale, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto.

Johnny died in 1968 at the age of 93 and is buried in York Cemetery in Toronto. Buried with him are his son William John, his daughter Alice (Whitley) George and her husband Fred and his daughter Ivy (Whitley) Britton. Johnny's wife Harriet is buried in City Cemetery, Belfast.

Frank Whitley

Francis 'Frank' Whitley was born Feb. 2, 1876, in the little town of Keady, County Armagh, southwest of Belfast. Frank is the only one of Alice's children who was born outside of Belfast, and it is not known why his mother was there at the time of his birth. Frank was a fitter who worked on the Titanic. He married Margaret 'Maggie' Bell in 1901 and they eventually had five children, Elizabeth 'Lily,' George, Alice Boreland, William James Bell (who apparently died as an infant or child) and Margaret Bell 'Greta.'

An 'F Whitley, engineer' is listed in Belfast street directories as living at 193 Cambrai Street from 1896 to 1900. 'F Whitley' then shows up at No. 189 in 1902. He lived on Cambrai Street for the next couple of years, according to the directories. A family document dated 1927 lists him at 240 Cambrai Street.

Frank, like his father, went to sea, but he did not stay with that career very long. His seaman's certificate of discharge shows he served on only one voyage, from Liverpool to Australia, on the Medic in 1901.

After his short stint at sea, Frank went to the engine works at Harland & Wolff and stayed there until he retired. His descendants say he worked on the Olympic and the Titanic. As a fitter, he would have worked with metal or mechanical things.

Frank Whitley later became a foreman at the shipyard. Wages books for the engine works held in the Harland & Wolff collection at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland indicate he was appointed assistant outside fitter April 15, 1920 - in a strange coincidence, the date is exactly eight years after the Titanic sank.

Frank died in 1966 at the age of 90, and he and his wife are both buried in City Cemetery, Belfast.

Eddie Whitley

Edward Boreland 'Eddie' Whitley was born April 29, 1883, in 20 Albany Street, Belfast. He helped to build the Olympic and the Titanic, according to his descendants. He worked on the ships' turbine engines as a machinist or 'machine man,' as his trade was sometimes called. (The Olympic and Titanic each had one turbine engine as well as two reciprocating engines.) He married Annie Hobbs in 1908 and they had three children, Herson (my father), Ruby and Edward.

Belfast street directories list 'Edward Whitley, labourer,' living on Cambrai Street from 1905 to 1910. After that time, he was listed as 'E. Whitley, machineman.' In 1920, the family immigrated to the United States. He decided to settle in Flint, Michigan, partly because of the opportunities the auto industry offered. The family arrived in Canada in October 1920 on the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Britain, and then traveled by train to Flint.

Eddie went to work at S.S. Stewart Body Works, which made auto bodies for Buick. At one time, he also worked in the Round House for the Pere Marquette Railroad in Bay City, Michigan. In later years, he worked for the Flint board of education as a head custodian in the schools.

After his wife died in 1947, he went to live with his daughter, Ruby (Whitley) Norton, at her home in Flushing, Michigan. He continued to live with Ruby's family until he died of cancer in 1966 just a month before his 83rd birthday. He and his wife are buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery, Flint, Michigan.

Bob Whitley

Robert 'Bob' Whitley was born July 10, 1884, in 20 Albany Street, Belfast. He married Louise Macauley (date unknown). They had one child, also named Robert, born about 1920. Relatives believe Bob also worked at Harland & Wolff and helped to build the Titanic.

An 'R Whitley' was listed in Belfast street directories as living at 189 Cambrai Street in 1911 and onward until 1922. His occupation is listed as machine man. It's possible that Bob immigrated to the United States about 1921 or 1922 since that is when he disappears from that address in the Belfast street directories.

His one son, Robert, never married. There are no other descendants from this branch, so information about Bob is sparse. He is believed to have died in 1969 in Boston, and his son is believed to have died in 1986.

Jim Ferguson, husband of Annie Whitley

Annie Whitley was born Dec. 12, 1887, in 20 Albany Street, Belfast, the last of George and Alice Whitley's six children. She married James 'Jim' Ferguson in 1921. They had three children but two died in infancy. Their only surviving child was a son named John.

Like Annie's brother Johnny, Jim Ferguson was a woodworker. He first worked at the Belfast shipyard Workman Clark, and then at Harland & Wolff, where he was a cabinetmaker, and worked on the Titanic.

Annie and Jim Ferguson and their son John immigrated to the United States about 1926, arriving in Boston on the White Star liner Cedric, and first lived with Annie's brother Robert in East Lynn, Massachusetts. They later settled in Detroit, Michigan, where they stayed. He later went to work at Chrysler Corporation as a plant guard.


I would like to thank all my cousins in the U.S., Northern Ireland and Canada who so graciously shared their own genealogy research, family photos and documents and consented to interviews. Thanks are also due to numerous members of Titanic International Society and the Belfast Titanic Society who helped me with my research and answered questions, and to Michael McCaughan of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Harland & Wolff, the late genealogist Catherine Macnaghten and Historical Research Associates of Belfast.