TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic Articles: Edward Arthur"Ted" Dorkings Disappointment In The Promised Land

BY PHILLIP GOWAN

 

In early 1912, the promise of a bright future in America had tempted an adolescent English boy to leave his mother and stepfather behind and strike out for the home of his uncle in Illinois. But after 28 years in the promised land, little had gone his way. It may have crossed his mind that the tragedy that befell him on his way across the wide waters of the North Atlantic was an omen that his dreams of prosperity would never be fulfilled. It was 1940 and the world was at war again. He was alone, facing six months behind bars.

Edward Arthur Dorkings was born in London, England on June 18, 1893 though he frequently alleged that he was a year younger. He was the firstborn of Edward Arthur Dorkings, Sr., who was born September 12, 1867 in the St. Mary the Great sub-district of Cambridge, England, son of David Dorkings, a carpenter and "college servant," and Edith Watts. Edward Dorkings, Sr. was a police constable and lived at 15 Paradise Street in London. On February 25, 1892 he married 18-year-old Florence Derby, daughter of Edward Derby, a bricklayer. The marriage was cut short when Edward Sr. fell victim to influenza late in March of 1904. After being ill for five days he developed pneumonia and at the age of 36 died on March 30th . His death certificate listed him as a "commercial traveller." Florence would later marry a "waiter" named Johnnie Charles Baker on November 1, 1907 and the couple lived in Petersfield, Southampton. Young Edward Arthur Dorkings, Jr. was living in Clevedon, England prior to his sailing for America, but he and his stepfather had never gotten along and their dislike of one another only seemed to increase as the years passed.

When Titanic struck the iceberg, Dorkings, who was traveling steerage, was playing cards in the music room with several other passengers. He claimed to have gotten a good look at the iceberg after being thrown off the bench where he was sitting, and related that it seemed to be four or five times as large as the ship itself. Going up on deck to investigate, he alleged that he was present for the launching of Lifeboat 1. This claim is suspect, as it seems likely he would have boarded that boat which departed with just a dozen people, almost all men.

As the situation on deck grew more and more perilous, young Dorkings removed his shoes and outer garments and jumped into the water, making his way to the overturned Collapsible B where several hands pulled him aboard. Suffering intensely from the cold during the next few hours, he claims to have passed out, awaking just as the Carpathia came into sight in the distance.

Landing in New York, he was taken to a hospital for several days where he was given money to complete his trip to Illinois. Although $20.00 of that money was shortly stolen from him, he managed to acquire the funds to travel on to the home of Fred Cooke, arriving there on April 27, 1912. For a time he worked with his uncle in Oglesby and was paid for his several appearances and talks about Titanic in neighbouring towns.

Although he seems to have mixed truth with a composite of tales that had been reported in contemporary newspapers, some additional insight is available into what befell him in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

In his presentation in Princeton, Illinois, he related that he had travelled to Southampton where he was almost denied passage when a medical examiner became wary of Dorkings' bloodshot eyes. The young man claimed that, instead of disease, the condition of his eyes was due to lack of sleep resulting from an all night ride to the coast. He further alleged that he managed to board Titanic by slipping inside along with baggage that was being loaded. Then he hid until the voyage was underway.

In 1913 Ted declared his intent to become a US citizen in Ottawa, Illinois but never followed through with his naturalization and remained a British subject the rest of his life. For the next several years Dorkings worked as a manual labourer in Illinois, but failing to find contentment there, and being involved in several minor skirmishes with the local police, he headed to the West Coast, arriving in Los Angeles by 1916. With the onset of World War I, he avoided the draft by joining the Coast Artillery on May 2, 1917 and served until his discharge in January of 1919. His uncle in Illinois was killed in a mining accident about the same time and "Ted" seems to have lost contact with most of his relatives at that point. He is known to have had some sporadic contact over the years with Fred Cooke's daughter, Queen Williams, who had also settled in the Los Angeles area.

Following the war, Edward Dorkings, sometimes using the alias of Arthur Edwards, remained in Los Angeles and at various times identified himself as an "iron worker" and a "maritime seaman." His employment, according to various documents he signed during the next two decades, was sporadic, and at one time he found himself in peril of being deported. Arrested for vagrancy on at least one occasion, he lived in rooms and small apartments in lower class areas of the city, one document listing him as a resident of Skid Row. He never married and lived the life of a loner. There were whispered murmurings among his cousins as to Ted's promiscuity, his cousin Pearl Novak remarking in later years that she was somewhat sickened to think that there were people with standards low enough to allow them to have relationships with Ted. To fill the empty hours of his life, he eventually turned to the bottle. On October 17, 1940 he was arrested for public drunkenness in Los Angeles and sentenced to six months in the county jail. Following his release he completed an alien registration form in which he stated that he arrived at the port of New York aboard the SS Carpathia on April 18, 1912. He described himself as being 5 feet, seven inches tall, weighing 150 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.

After World War II, Ted was again arrested for some unknown crime and this time sent to prison at Terminal Island, San Pedro, California. During his time of incarceration he developed tuberculosis and arteriosclerosis. By 1954 the TB was far advanced and, coupled with chronic heart disease, he had to be admitted to the California Medical Facility at Terminal Island. His was a hopeless existence, the second chance at life given him upon the overturned Collapsible B lifeboat having been totally and absolutely squandered. He had lived 42 years beyond the greatest of maritime disasters and had nothing to show for it.

It can be conjectured that on April 12, 1912 Ted Dorkings spent an enjoyable day on the greatest ocean liner ever to sail, probably visiting and playing cards with his companions in steerage. Forty-two years later on that same date, he died in the middle of the afternoon, his dreams of a happy life in the promised land having turned into something more akin to a nightmare. When no next of kin could be located, his body was cremated at the Los Angeles County General Hospital. After an inquiry to that institution in 1999, the following reply was received:

"According to our Mortuary Office, Edward Dorkings was cremated by the Los Angeles County Crematory. Since no one claimed his remains, the ashes were placed in a common grave at the crematory. His ashes are not retrievable."

In 2001, Fred Cooke's only surviving child and Ted Dorkings' only surviving first cousin was told the story of his latter years and death. In a tone mixed with wistfulness and fatalism the 95-year-old summed up her feelings about the young man that arrived at her home nine decades earlier with thrilling tales of an epic disaster. "His life was one big disaster. I sometimes wondered what became of him but suspected it was better not to know."

 

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