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“For the Rest of My Prophecy to Come True”: Helen Bishop

"For the Rest of My Prophecy to Come True": Helen Bishop

Helen Walton was 19 years old when she married 23-year-old Dickinson Bishop. She was his second wife. When they met, he still wore a mourning band for the first wife he had just lost to childbirth.

After their wedding in November 1911, Dick and Helen took off on a lavish extended honeymoon spanning Europe and North Africa. In four months, they had visited France, Algiers, Italy, and Egypt. 

Dick was besotted. And somewhere along the way, Helen fell pregnant.

Helen was overwhelmed with beautiful gifts from her new husband—he even bought her a pretty little lapdog in Florence to celebrate the pregnancy. Helen named the puppy Frou-Frou and doted on her endlessly, and Dick continued to dote on Helen.

The Bishops had read about the opulence and glittering amenities on the brand new Titanic, and Dick, beside himself with elation, suggested that they join Titanic’s maiden voyage.

The Bishops (and Frou-Frou) boarded at Cherbourg.

Helen and Dick were a particularly sociable couple; they even befriended Colonel John Jacob Astor and his very young new wife Madeleine. The Astors, affluent though they were, were having a romantic scandal and had been thusly ostracized by some of the haughtier First-Class passengers.

In fact, Helen made fast friends with Mrs. Astor, as they were of similar age and newly pregnant on their honeymoons, and all too happy to play with Frou-Frou, who Helen had been permitted to keep in her stateroom.

On the night of the sinking, Helen and Dick were alerted immediately.

“My husband awakened me at about a quarter of 12 and told me that the boat had struck something. We both dressed and went up on the deck, looked around, and could find nothing… We looked all over the deck; walked up and down a couple of times, and one of the stewards met us and laughed at us. He said, :You go back downstairs. There is nothing to be afraid of. We have only struck a little piece of ice.”

Helen testified that after this, she and her husband returned to their suite, only to be interrupted 15 minutes later by fellow passenger Albert Stewart. 

“He knocked at our door some time after the disaster. This was after we had dressed, gone up deck, and gone to our beds again. Mr. Stewart said ‘Dickey-bird, you’d better come up on deck and amuse yourself,’ in a tone that warned us.”

The Bishops encountered the Astors during this second round, and Colonel Astor chased down Captain Smith, who “told him something in an undertone.” Astor returned and advised everyone to put on their lifebelts.

As the Bishops left their stateroom for the final time, Helen asked if it would be prudent to bring Frou-Frou with her. Dick assured her that this was a necessary precaution and nothing more, and that Frou-Frou would be safe to await Helen’s return. But Frou-Frou was desperate to stay with Helen.

Dick locked the stateroom as they left; Helen never saw Frou-Frou again. 

“It broke my heart to leave my little dog ‘Freu-Freu’ [sic] in my stateroom… I made a little den for her in our room behind two of my suitcases, but when I started to leave her she tore my dress to bits, tugging at it. I realized, however, that there would be little sympathy for a woman carrying a dog in her arms when there were lives of women and children to be saved.”

On deck, Helen and Dick found themselves at Lifeboat 7 on the starboard side, nearby Fifth Officer Harold Lowe.

“We had no idea that it was time to get off [Titanic], but the officer took my arm and told me to be very quiet and get in immediately.”

Helen went on to assert that Dick had been pushed in after her, a story that he corroborated.  Dick took his seat beside his wife and reassured her as they descended. He would  be forced to grapple with this for the rest of his life.

Although she did not testify to it during the Senate Inquiry, Helen also asserted that she had heard the instruction that “all brides and grooms may board” the lifeboat, and that she and Dick were one of four couples in their boat.

Lifeboat 7 was the first to leave Titanic, and Helen Bishop is regarded as the first passenger to have boarded a lifeboat following the collision. Shortly thereafter, she was joined in the boat by movie actress Dorothy Gibson.

The lifeboat was noticeably under-populated, and once some distance had been gained between it and Titanic, a headcount was taken; Helen testified to a total of 28 people in Lifeboat 7.

There were no officers in the lifeboat, and only a trio of crewmen. The passengers therefore took turns in rowing the boat, including Helen, pregnant though she was. An exception was made for a fraudulent German baron who elected to sit rowing out and have a smoke instead.

Helen’s account of the sinking itself was brief, but heartbreaking.

“For a moment, the ship seemed to be pointing straight down, looking like a gigantic whale submerging itself headfirst… a veritable wave of humanity surged up out of the steerage and shut the lights from our view. we were too far away to see the passengers individually, but we could see the black masses of human forms and hear their death cries and groans.”

Helen also removed her wool stockings to give to a small girl who hadn’t had sufficient time to dress for the cold. 

Because Lifeboat 7 was the first to launch, its passengers also spent the most time adrift in the dark with nothing but “ghastly… green lights, the kind you burn on the Fourth of July” that a steward had brought on the boat. 

According to Helen, “Whenever we would light one of these diminutive torches, we would hear the cries from the people perishing aboard. They thought it was help coming.” And so, the occupants of Lifeboat 7 became increasingly concerned about being swarmed and overturned by desperate survivors.

As her fellow passengers became more paranoid, Helen attempted to placate them with a fun anecdote.

Helen said that while she and Dick were in Egypt, she visited a fortune teller who informed her that she would survive a shipwreck and an earthquake, but a motor vehicle accident would take her life. Therefore, she assured everyone, they would absolutely survive the night. 

“We have to be rescued,” she said, “in order for the rest of my prophecy to come true.”

Helen and Dick did survive, of course. Although Dick's reputation did not. Like other male survivors, he was harangued for his cowardice, and was also accused of dressing like a woman in order to board a lifeboat.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Bishop were also called before the Senate Inquiry. 

Helen gave birth to their son in December of 1912, but the infant died only two days later.

Helen and Dick took a holiday to California in the springtime of 1913 in an effort to distract themselves from their bereavement.

But an earthquake disrupted their holiday.

Helen was newly distraught. Two-thirds of the prophecy had now happened; despite Dick’s reassurance, she was terrified of the third and final act: a fatal car crash.

In November of 1914, Helen was on her way home from a country club dance with a group a friends. The car spun out while taking a curve and crashed into a tree. Helen was thrown 25 feet from the vehicle and fractured her skull.

She survived, despite expectations. But she did have a metal plate installed in her skull.

Her personality subsequently changed, and her marriage to Dick deteriorated because of it. They divorced less than two years later, in January of 1916.

Only two months later, Helen fell on a rug and struck her head near the location of the metal plate. Unconscious, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died within days, on March 16, 1916.

Helen’s obituary appeared on the front page of her hometown’s daily newspaper, right alongside the wedding announcement of Dick and his third wife.

Helen Walton Bishop was 23 years old.

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Dogs on Titanic

Dogs on Titanic

Animals weren't scarce on Titanic.

Aside from Jenny the Ship Cat, whose premonitory departure at Southampton with her litter has already been outlined, there were also a number of fancy-breed French roosters and hens, a canary that is oft-misreported as going down with the ship, and countless rats, as on every ship in the history of humanity.

And of course, there were about a dozen dogs.

Dogs were only permitted if they belonged to first-class passengers, but there were no size restrictions. They included two Pomeranians, a Pekinese named Sun-Yat-Sen owned by the Harper family (as in, Harper Collins Publishers), and a toy dog named Freu Freu that was "too pretty [to stay in the kennels]" and belonged to Helen Bishop.

Larger dogs included Ann Isham's Great Dane or St. Bernard (my research leads me to believe the latter), John Jacob Astor's Airedale, Kitty.

The Carter family brought two dogs on board: their unnamed King Charles Spaniel, and their own Airedale Terrier. The latter belonged to their young son Billy.

And the most valuable canine passenger was an all-black French Bulldog named Gamin de Pycombe, who was a recent purchase of Robert Daniel's that cost the obscene equivalent of almost $14,000 today.

First-Class passenger Robert W. Daniel. courtesy of N.A.R.A.


As fun as Gamin's name is, best-named Titanic dogs go to Harry Anderson's chow-chow, named Chow-Chow, and a Fox Terrier aptly named Dog. Captain Smith's Russian Foxhound, Ben, spent only one night on board, then was taken back home by Smith's daughter before Titanic set sail.

Captain E.J. Smith and his wolfhound Ben. Published in contemporary accounts.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (taken & published prior to 1923)

The dogs were kenneled on F Deck and looked after by the ship's carpenter. They were exercised and taken out for bathroom breaks daily. There were even enough purebreds on board that Titanic's schedule for Monday, April 15, 1912, actually called for a mini-dog show in the morning.

We all know what happened instead.

Of the 12 dogs confirmed to have been on board, 3 survived: the two Pomeranians and Sun-Yat-Sen the Pekinese, who were all smuggled or otherwise permitted on the lifeboats because they were so small

A Pomeranian circa 1915. Of the three dogs saved from Titanic, two were Pomeranians.


Little Freu Freu, clearly sensing dismay, pulled desperately on Helen Bishop's dress as she left for the boat deck. Helen reluctantly left Freu Freu behind in her room, feeling that to insist on saving her dog when people could die was indecent. She said it broke her heart.

The larger dogs clearly could not be secreted to safety, but that was only one reason for their demise. Recall that the dogs were locked in their kennels below deck.

This changed, however, when a still-unknown Samaritan made their way down to F Deck despite the rising water and freed the dogs, undoubtedly trying to give them a fair shot at survival, or at least a less inhumane end.

Rumors still circulate that their savior was John Jacob Astor himself; this is unverifiable, though one can guess at its origins.

Jack Astor and his wife were both extremely protective of Kitty, especially since she had been lost as they traveled the Nile on their honeymoon in Egypt. Luckily, Kitty was discovered on another American family's passing boat and returned to the Astors, who offered a sizeable reward.

Kitty apparently was most often found in sleeping in the Astors' suites instead of in the Titanic's kennels, and Astor walked her on deck every day. When Astor lifted his pregnant wife through a window and into a lifeboat, it's reported that she begged him to go find Kitty.

Some witnesses say it's the last they saw of John Jacob Astor.

The Astors with their Airedale Terrier, Kitty. Jack Astor and Kitty would both die in the sinking.


Astor is also associated with the Carter family's unnamed Airedale, who belonged to their 11-year-old son, Billy.

Billy absolutely adored his dog. He had him on a leash while waiting for a lifeboat, but the dog was refused a spot on the lifeboat. Billy, in tears, was reassured by Astor that his dog would be well taken care of, no matter what.

Billy declined to speak much of the sinking even as an adult, being so traumatized with guilt over leaving his dog behind. The most he did say was that he last saw him sitting, still leashed, beside the preternaturally calm John Jacob Astor.

The Carters filed a $100 claim for their Spaniel, $200 for their Airedale, and $5,000 for their Renault car in Titanic's cargo hold... Yes, that's the Sexy Time Handprint Car in the 1997 movie.

As the ship sank, all the dogs left on board were seen running in a frantic herd up and down the sloping deck. Mrs. Astor said this is when she last saw Kitty, pacing back and forth. Frou Frou died locked in Bishop's room; no one knows how long Chow-Chow and Dog survived.

But this was not the last sighting of Titanic's dogs.

First-Class passenger and world-famous tennis player Richard Norris Williams was struggling to keep his head above the freezing water in the moments after Titanic submerged.

Breaking the surface, he came face to face with the last thing he would have expected in the middle of the nighttime ocean: Gamin de Pycombe the Extraordinarily Expensive French Bulldog, paddling for his own life in the swarm.

French Bulldog (not Gamin) circa 1915.


Gamin, was said to having been heard crying when the chaos began by Edith Russell, whose cabin neighbored Daniels'.

Edith went inside and pet the dog and put him to bed. He was fed a treat and "was very obedient and sat there and looked at me sweetly as I closed the door. I did not know then that we were in any great danger or else I would have taken him with me."

Gamin was presumably let loose from the room shortly thereafter, given Williams' encounter.

The last sighting of any of Titanic's doomed dogs was of that reportedly belonging to First-Class passenger Ann Isham.

Ms. Isham's dog is most commonly reported to have been a Great Dane, but I'm still looking for the primary source of this information; I believe that it comes from a widely circulated photo of three dogs on a ship deck (including a Dane) that is meant to represent the Titanic dogs. But don't be fooled; this photo does not portray any of Titanic's dogs. In fact, it was not taken on Titanic at all.

Photo erroneously cited as being of dogs on board Titanic.


What is rumored is that Ann Isham, a First-Class woman, supposedly refused to take her seat in a lifeboat if she could not take her dearest dog with her.

Days later, the German ship SS Bremen sailed past Titanic's wreck site. Bremen passenger Johanna Stunke wrote that as the ship passed, everyone observed in horrified silence.

Looking down over the rail we distinctly saw a number of bodies so clearly that we could make out what they were wearing, and whether they were men or women.

We saw one woman in her nightdress, with a baby clasped closely to her breast. Several of the women passengers screamed, and left the rail in a fainting condition.

There was another woman, fully dressed, with her arms tight around the body of a shaggy dog that looked like a St. Bernard. The bodies of three men in a group, all clinging to one steamer chair floated close by, and just beyond them were a dozen bodies of men, all in life-preservers, clinging together, as though in the last desperate struggle for life.

© Excerpt from "Lost Voices of the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History" by Nick Barratt, St. Martin's Press. 2010.

It makes sense if the dead woman was, in fact, Ann Isham. There is, however, is no way to verify it, or to find out to whom the shaggy dog belonged. Ann Isham, for note, was one of only four First-Class women to die in the sinking.

The final Titanic dog never existed to begin with, even though many people still think he did. This made-up hero dog was a black Newfoundland named Rigel belonging to First Officer William Murdoch.

Newfoundland, circa 1915.


Rigel supposedly rescued and aided victims throughout the night, and even barked to prevent the Carpathia from running exhausted survivors over.

This story, while heartwarming and novel--a Newfie in the ice-cold Atlantic rescuing people as Newfies are bred to do, how convenient--was first published as told by a Carpathia crewman named Jonas Briggs. But a) there is no record of a Newfie on Titanic, b) Murdoch's widow insisted he never owned a dog, and c) there is no record of a Jonas Briggs on Carpathia.

Moreover, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, who was in the first lifeboat to be picked up Carpathia, made no mention of Rigel, which one would think he would had something so extraordinary occurred.

So, as awesome as Rigel was, he was only that awesome because he was imagined that way. But this has not stopped the story from circulating, even today.

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