Estate Agent, Boer Flag And The Titanic


In 1912, Cape Town real estate agent Thomas William Brown was faced with a major decision.  The  market was “in serious decline”, so he had to either extend his real estate and land speculation business into the hinterland and  Karoo or return to America.

Brown gave serious consideration to the Karoo,  but in the end decided his family would have a better future in Seattle.  So, early in 1912, he left for the United Kingdom with his wife, Elizabeth, and their 15-year old daughter, Edith.  From there he decided to travel to the United States in style on “the magnificent, new ocean liner,Titanic’.    Everyone was talking about trying to get a passage on its maiden voyage.

Brown was an affluent man, so he was saddened to find thatby the time he reached the booking office he had to be content with second class berths – all first class accommodation had already been “snapped up”.   The Brown family nevertheless looked forward to the crossing – sadly they were among those who perished when the “unsinkable” Titanic went down  after striking an iceberg.

One of the crewmen who  survived, Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller,  had a curious link with South Africa. The White Star Line’s management had transferred him to this new ship and “bumped him down to second officer” shortly after he “contrived to fire a salute to the Boers and hoist a Boer flag on a company vessel in Sydney Harbour.”  It never became clear what Lightoller’s motive was, nor why he felt such an allegiance with the Boers. He later played a vital role at the inquiry into the Titanic disaster,  shedding  much light on what happened on that fateful night of April 14, 1912.


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