"True Distinction and Refinement of Soul": Edward Austin Kent

Edward Austin Kent was born in 1854 in Bangor, Maine. He graduated from Yale in 1875, and moved on to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. 

He returned to the United States in 1877, and undertook an impressive and extensive architectural career. In his chosen hometown of Buffalo, New York, he contributed to the landscape.

By 1912, at 58 years old, Edward was on a multi-stop European tour that included both France and Egypt. He had designs to retire when he returned to America.

And although he was invariably ready to begin that peaceful chapter of his life, he delayed his voyage home just a little longer—so that he might sail on the maiden voyage of the brand new Titanic.

Edward boarded as a First-Class passenger in Cherbourg on the evening of April 10, 1912. 

On board, he immediately fell in with the elite circle of writers spearheaded by Colonel Archibald Gracie. They referred to themselves as “Our Coterie.” Colonel Gracie wrote the following regarding the fated night of April 14, 1912.

That night after dinner, with my table companions, Messrs. James Clinch Smith and Edward A. Kent, according to usual custom, we adjourned to the palm room, with many others, for the usual coffee at individual tables where we listened to the always delightful music of the Titanic’s band. On these occasions, full dress was always en regal; and it was a subject both of observation and admiration, that there were so many beautiful women—then especially in evidence—aboard the ship.

© Excerpt from "Titanic: A Survivor's Story," by Colonel Archibald Gracie. 1912.

It was the gentleman’s decency at the time to offer companionship to women traveling alone. And because Edward was a bachelor, he and another member the Coterie, Hugh Woolner, took it upon themselves to offer accompaniment to Mrs. Helen Churchill Candee. 

Mrs. Candee was 59 years old and an accomplished writer. She had been in Europe conducting research for her work-in-progress, called “The Tapestry Book,” when her daughter reached out to tell her that her son, Harry, had been in an accident, and urged an expedient return to the United States.

In her account of Titanic, Helen also described the Coterie in the First-Class Lounge.

At dinner, two hours later, the scene might have been in London, or New York, with the men in evening jackets, the women shining in pale satins and clinging gauze. The prettiest girl even wore a glittering frock of dancing length, with silver fringe around her dainty white satin feet.

And after dinner there was coffee served to all at little tables around the great general lounging place, for here the orchestra played.

Some said it was poor on its Wagner work, others said the violin was weak. But that was for conversation's sake, for nothing on board was more popular than the orchestra. You could see that by the way everyone refused to leave it. And everyone asked of it some favorite hit. The prettiest girl asked for dance music, and clicked her satin heels and swayed her adolescent arms to the rhythm.


How gay they were, these six. The talkative man [Colonel Gracie] told stories, the sensitive man [presumed to be Edward Austin Kent] glowed and laughed, the two modest Irishmen forgot to be suppressed, the facile Norseman cracked American jokes, the cosmopolitan Englishman [Hugh Woolner] expanded, and the lady (the writer, Helen Churchill Candee] felt divinely flattered to be in such company.

The evening was presumably brought to a close shortly thereafter—until the iceberg strike.

Hugh Woolner wrote of the immediate alarm felt by the men in his vicinity.

…We sort of felt a rip that gave a sort of a slight twist to the whole room. Everybody, so far as I could see, stood up and a number of men walked out rapidly through the swinging doors on the port side, and ran along to the rail.

Soon thereafter, Helen Churchill Candee found herself wearing a lifebelt and rushing up on deck with Hugh Woolner, who had immediately set out to search for her.

The pair encountered Edward Austin Kent on the Grand Staircase.

She pleaded with him to take valuable tokens, reportedly because she believed that he had a far stronger chance of surviving than she, and because Edward was in possession of pockets. Upon her insistence, Edward accepted an ivory-and-gold cameo miniature of Mrs. Candee’s dear mother, and a flask of brandy. 

Edward, along with Woolner and another gentleman of the Coterie, escorted Mrs. Candee to Lifeboat 6, which was being launched off the port side by Second Officer Charles Lightoller.

When Colonel Gracie found Edward, he asked after the well-being of Mrs. Candee. He said, “She is safe and in a boat, Mr. Gracie.”

While Edward’s actions after the launch of lifeboat 6 have never been detailed, accounts attest to him continuing to assist women into lifeboats with haste. Mrs. Candee last saw him at his dapperest, standing unflustered at the rail and waving.

It is reported that Edward Austin Kent never left Titanic. The sea closed over him 2:20am.

He did not struggle or flounder.

Word of the sinking was reaching shore as the lifeboats were still in the water. But there was no word of Edward.

And so, on April 21, his bereft sister Charlotte published the following in the New York Sun.

TO SURVIVORS OF THE TITANIC—Information of any kind concerning Edward A. Kent during voyage of the Titanic will be gratefully received by the family. CHARLOTTE M. KENT. The Lenox. Buffalo, N. Y.

Mrs. Candee’s daughter Edith replied to Charlotte’s plea via letter. Therein, she detailed her mother’s encounter with Edward on the Grand Staircase, although it appears that Edith (or Helen) moved the set piece to the boat deck for dramatic effect.

On April 27, the First Unitarian Church, which Edward had himself brought to life, held a service for Edward. Every seat was filled.

Reverend Richard Boynton, at a pulpit adorned with both a large floral wreath and an anchor, made this remark among many eulogizing Edward.

Edward Austin Kent, with his brother, William Winthrop Kent, of New York, gave us one of his best in designing and erecting this building. It is fair that we all believe to judge a man by works, So judged, we must accord Mr. Kent true distinction and refinement of soul.

That same day, the crew of the Mackay-Bennett sent out a telegram listing those bodies which had been recovered.

Edward Austin Kent’s was among them. And in his pocket still, were Mrs. Candee’s effects.


CLOTHING - Grey coat; dress suit pants.

EFFECTS - Silver flask; two gold signet rings; gold watch; gold eye glasses; gold frame miniature of "Mary Churchill Hungerford"; knife; a pocket books; 48 francs, 75; 2 studs, one link.


Edward’s corpse, along with all those onboard the Mackay-Bennett, was brought into port at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Edward's cousin and brother-in-law were there to receive his remains.

He was laid to rest in Buffalo, and the miniature and flask were eventually returned in sadness to Mrs. Candee.

The chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects issued his condolences, lauding Edward as "the very best type of American gentlemen."

Edward Austin Kent’s headstone is engraved as a testament to his kind and quiet courage.


As Helen stated years later about the loss of her male companions on board Titanic, “We all love a gentleman… Time has nothing to do with effacing that.”

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