"Here, There, and Everywhere": Chief Designer Thomas Andrews

As a child, Thomas Andrews, Jr., was fond of horses and beekeeping. He was a competitive cricket player.

And of course, he really enjoyed boats.

Thomas Andrews. Taken on July 7, 1911.


Thomas, who often was called “Tommie”, was 16 years old when he was granted a privileged apprenticeship at Harland & Wolff in 1889. This was convenient, since his uncle was none other than Lord William Pirrie, partner of the firm.

Though Thomas's parents were still, of course, required to pay for the opportunity.

Lord William Pirrie's office at Harland & Wolff, where Thomas Andrews undoubtedly spent time. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


During this five-year apprenticeship, Thomas’s daytime hours were spent working in various departments, including the cabinetmakers and draughting office, throughout the firm. And at night, he attended technical college.

In late 1894, he took a proper job at the shipyard; in 1907, he became the managing director of the Draughting Office. Good news, that, as he was engaged to be married.

At the time, Thomas was engaged to Helen Reilly Barbour, who he called Nellie. Apparently, he had proposed to her rather abruptly back in 1906, according to a remorseful letter he sent to her on March 25 of that year. "My dear Nellie," he wrote, "I cannot tell you how much it grieves me to feel that I frightened or gave you any annoyance last night."

Nellie clearly forgave him for his impulsivity, though, and they married in 1908. They had a daughter, nicknamed Elba because of her initials, in 1910.

Thomas with his wife Nellie and daughter Elba. Taken November 29, 1910.


So it was in 1907, after having been promoted, that Thomas began a new project: a line of triplet luxury liners for the White Star Line, beginning with the R.M.S. Olympic.

The draughting office. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Now by the time of this well-earned promotion, "Tommie" was an extremely popular guy in the yard.

Vera Morrison, who is Nellie's daughter from her second marriage, recounted a story her mother had told her of Thomas’s popularity at Harland & Wolff.

He told Nellie when they were driving out of the shipyard one day together that all the workers who were coming out were his mates. He was so very popular and dearly loved, I think, by so many people.

This anecdote goes hand-in-hand with a biography of Thomas Andrews by Shan Bullock, which was published in 1912.

He would share his lunch with a mate, toil half the night in relief of a fellow-apprentice who had been overcome by sickness, or would plunge gallantly into a flooded hold to stop a leakage. “It seemed his delight,” writes a foreman, “to make those around him happy. His was ever the friendly greeting and the warm handshake and kind disposition.” Such testimony is worth pages of outside eulogy, and testimony of its kind, from all sorts and conditions, exists in abundance.

Despite his esteem, tenure, and status at the shipyard, some of Thomas’s suggestions for the White Star superliners—including a minimum of 46 lifeboats and watertight bulkheads reaching up to B Deck—went unheeded.

Deck plans of the R.M.S. Titanic, as used for reference in the Senate Inquiry.


Thomas had been on the maiden voyages of the Adriatic, Oceanic, and Olympic, so the choice to sail on Titanic was routine--so much so that Chief Baker Charles Joughin had a customary loaf of bread made especially for him at the start of each journey.

None of this is to say that Thomas wasn’t enthused about his newest ship. He wrote the following to Nellie while in Southampton.

The Titanic is now about complete and will I think do the old Firm credit tomorrow when we sail.

Henry Etches, a steward who had also worked on Olympic, attended to Thomas’s needs on board, taking him “some fruit and tea” and helping him to dress in his evening wear every night.

“That would be about a quarter or 20 minutes to 7, as a rule,” Etches said. “He was rather late in dressing.”

By all accounts, Thomas spent his time roaming all about the gargantuan ship looking for improvements to be made. He always took down the minutest of details in his notebook, such as an excess of screws in the stateroom hat hooks and the color of the red tiling on the promenade deck being just a touch too dark.

Etches testified to as much at the American inquiry. When asked by Senator Smith if Mr. Andrews had been busy and worked nights, Etches replied as follows.

He was busy the whole time… He had charts rolled up by the side of his bed, and he had papers of all descriptions on his table during the day… He was working all the time, sir. He was making notes of improvements; any improvements that could be made… during the day I met him in all parts, with workmen, going about. I mentioned several things to him, and he was with workmen having them attended to. The whole of the day he was working from one part of the ship to the other… I happened to meet him at different parts of Deck E more often than anywhere else.

According to Etches, he also knew that Thomas visited the boiler rooms, as he saw the suit that he wore when visiting the boilers discarded on Thomas’s bed.

Thomas’s perfectionism and meticulous attention to detail, however, should not be taken as an implication that he was not pleased with Titanic on the whole. He is reported to have said to first-class survivor Albert Dick, whom Thomas had befriended on board, “I believe her to be nearly as perfect as human brains can make her.”

Thomas routinely worked into the late hours, and is reported to have been awake and working at the time of the collision with the iceberg. Immediately thereafter, he was witnessed taking emergency tours of the ship. Per survivor Albert Dick, as reported in Shan Bullock’s biography of Thomas Andrews:

He was on hand at once and said that he was going below to investigate. We begged him not to go, but he insisted, saying that he knew the ship as no one else did and that he might be able to allay the fears of the passengers. He went.

Steward James Johnstone reported that while he was in the dining saloon, he saw Mr. Andrews run down toward the Boiler Room, followed by Captain Smith.

Johnstone said that while he was stuffing four oranges in his pockets, Thomas resurfaced. Johnstone followed him down to E-Deck, where he watched him descend further still to the mail rooms.

When he peered after Thomas running down the stairwell, he saw water flooding in.

Thomas, who was without a hat and had an insufficient coat for the ocean night-chill, was also witnessed personally seeing to getting passengers to wear their lifebelts and enter lifeboats throughout the entire sinking.

Jack Thayer wrote in his account that he and his parents were directly approached by Thomas.

We saw, as they passed, Mr. Ismay, Mr. Andrews and some of the ship’s officers. Mr. Andrews told us he did not give the ship much over an hour to live. We could hardly believe it, and yet if he said so, it must be true. No one was better qualified to know.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

Jack's encounter is hardly unique. Given Thomas’s famed congeniality and his apparent omnipresence on the ship, he was highly esteemed by many passengers and was often stopped for a comforting word or further information about what was really going on. He makes appearances in many survivor accounts.

The testimony of Mr. Etches at the Senate Inquiry sheds light on Thomas’s calm but urgent direction to the stewards, as well as attests to his overwhelming concern for the passengers.

[I saw Mr. Andrews at] 20 minutes past 12. He stopped me. I was going along B Deck, and he asked had I waked all my passengers… Mr. Andrews then told me to come down on C Deck with him, and we went down the pantry staircase together. Going down he told me to be sure and make the passengers open their doors, and to tell them the lifebelts were on top of the wardrobes and on top of the racks, and to assist them in every way I could to get them on, which I endeavored to do.

We walked along C Deck together. The purser was standing outside of his office, in a large group of ladies. The purser was asking them to do as he asked them, and to go back in their rooms and not to frighten themselves, but, as a preliminary caution, to put the lifebelts on, and the stewards would give them every attention. Mr. Andrews said: "That is exactly what I have been trying to get them to do," and, with that, he walked down the staircase to go on lower D Deck. That is the last I saw of Mr. Andrews.

Stewardess Mary Sloan likewise was awed by Thomas’s calm and determined selflessness, despite the fact that his face “had a look as though he were heart-broken”.

She said, “He was here, there, and everywhere, looking after everybody… thinking of everybody but himself.”

Stwardess Annie Robinson’s report likewise speaks to Thomas’s drive to protect those on board. After asking her to open up all the unoccupied rooms and distribute their lifebelts and blankets, as well as to make sure all the ladies had left their rooms, he gently chided her for not wearing her own lifebelt. Per the biography of Thomas Andrews written by Shan Bullock, their exchange went like this.

“Did I not tell you to put on your life-belt. Surely you have one?”

She answered, “Yes, but I thought it mean to wear it.”

“Never mind that,” said he. “Now, if you value your life, put on your coat and belt, then walk round the deck and let the passengers see you.”

“He left me then,” writes the stewardess, “and that was the last I saw of what I consider a true hero and one of whom his country has cause to be proud.”

All of his bravery and pro-activity is belied by perhaps the most famous of all Titanic’s oft-called Last Sightings: that of Thomas Andrews, standing mute, dazed, and lifebelt-less at the fireplace of the First-Class Smoking Room.

Starboard view of the First-Class Smoking Room on Olympic. Thomas Andrews was encountered by the fireplace in Titanic's identical room.


This comes from First-Class Steward John Stewart, who was one of two stewards charged with the Verandah Café. Per the Bullock biography, Stewart’s encounter went thusly.

[Stewart] saw him standing along in the smoking room, his arms folded over his breast and the belt lying on a table near him, "Aren't you going to have a try for it, Mr. Andrews?"

He never answered or moved. "Just looked like one stunned."

Thing is, this wasn’t the last sighting of Thomas Andrews.

And it was never purported to be.

While Thomas was indeed seen in the Smoking Room, the timeline for this particular Last Sighting is just plain off. Stewart stated that he saw Mr. Andrews only minutes before he took to Lifeboat 15, which left the ship at 1:40a.m. The ship did not sink until 2:20a.m.

It’s a heartbreaking moment for sure, but it was never set forth as Thomas’s last moments alive.

In truth, Bullock states directly thereafter that Thomas was seen on deck during Titanic' final few minutes; he was throwing deck chairs and anything else to hand overboard before being washed off the deck. And as per Mess Steward William Fitzpatrick and disclosed by the authors of “On a Sea of Glass,” he was last witnessed being washed off the bridge alongside or nearby Captain Smith.

Thomas's body was never recovered.

On April 19, 1912, the Andrews family in Belfast received the telegram they’d dreaded.

Interview Titanic’s officers. All unanimous Andrews heroic until death, thinking only safety others. Extend heartfelt sympathy to all.

He was 39 years old.

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