The other Mexican on the Titanic
Manuel Uruchutu, who supposedly gave up a seat on the lifeboat to an English lady — earning a reputation as the archetypal Mexican caballero — was not the only Mexican to go down with the Titanic.
Most of what is published about Uruchutu comes from a single source, Guadalupe Loeza’s El Cabellero del Titanic (Aguilar, 2012) based on research by Uruchutu’s grandson, Alejandro Gárate Uruchutu.
Dave Bryceson, wrote the biography of Elizabeth Ramsdel Nye, the lady said to have been given a seat by Don Manuel. Messers Bryson and Gárate have a … uh… lively disagreement about what actually happened aboard the Titanic. Bryceson questions whether Mrs. Nye and Lic. Uruchutu even met.
Whatever the cold hard facts (other than the ship hit a cold hard object in the Atlantic Ocean), the storyline — the Mexican gentleman who gives up his seat to a lady, even though it will cost him his life — is probably more important for what it says about the way Mexicans see themselves, and what they consider national virtues.
Although I am not going to insert myself into the controversy among Titanic scholars over these two passengers, I am something of a Bryceson partisan for another reason. In the course of his research, he uncovered the existence of a second Mexican lost on the Titanic, and one who in some ways, is as much an archetypal figure, and an honorable one, as the Caballero Mexicano.
Antonio Ferrary, unlike Manuel Uruchurtu, was not an educated gentleman, nor someone who would be likely to travel first class. He was however, a heroic figure and one more likely to represent a “typical” Mexican … the working class immigrant doing a dirty, thankless job… and whose obscure death may not have involved some noble gesture like Uruchutu is said to have given, but was in its way, the more heroic.
Like working men throughout history, Antonio was not someone whose life would be minutely scrutinized. The Encylopedia Titanic only says he was born in Mexico in 1879, and his father was a butcher. His father’s name is given as “Louis”, which I assume is either a misprint for Luís… or that his father was an immigrant himself, who had half-Hispanicized a name like Ferry or O’Farrell. There is no record of Antonio in the 1901 British Census, so presumably he emigrated to England after that time. He seems to have been a “typical” workingman’s trade… an abañil. Or, at least when he married his boss’ daughter in 1908, his trade was listed as “plasterer”.
What makes it hard to track down Antonio is the possibility that he was also another archetype… an “illegal immigrant.” His wife, Annie, filled out the 1911 census form, listing Antonio as “Thomas” and claiming he was a U.S. resident. By then, he also had two children to support, and apparently — again typically Mexican — had changed his profession, becoming a “trimmer”… literally, a dirty job that somebody’s gotta do:
The ‘down-below’ seamen were responsible for working the boiler rooms and their adjacent coal bunkers. Collectively, they were known as the ‘Black Gang’, a term that lasted well into the diesel era. Strictly speaking, ‘Black Gang’ referred to the trimmers and firemen – the men in the stokeholds and the bunkers. ‘Stoker’ and ‘fireman’ are two different titles for the same job, but the term ‘fireman’ is almost exclusively used on ships. The normal ‘Black-gang’ might consist of six firemen, two trimmers and a ‘peggy’; altogether, on a ’3-watch’ ship, a total of 27 men.
‘Trimmers’ have always been needed because the firemen require a constant supply of coal. Even lower in social crew status than the men they served, they bunked and messed separately. ‘Trimmers’ have always had the dirtiest and the most physically demanding jobs on the ship – the absolute bottom of the engineering hierarchy. Needless to say – they received the lowest pay.
Still, they did their job. As Bryceson said in an e-mail to me, it was an important one, a suicidal one, but had they not been continuing to work as the ship went down, the death toll would have been much higher, and people like Mrs. Nye would never have had the chance to be offered a seat in a lifeboat:
… Very few trimmers made it out alive. They would have been busy helping to dampen the fires in the boilers to prevent explosions and helping to ensure that the electricity supply remained on for as long as possible to aid those who did make it to the lifeboats. To drown in the dark – not the best of ways to die.
Interestingly enough, there MAY be a photograph of this unknown Mexican hero. Father Frank Browne, an Irish priest and enthusiastic amateur photographer, had been given a ticket on the Titanic by his uncle the Bishop. Although Father Browne had a first class ticket, as a clergyman and as an insatiable photographer, he roamed over the entire ship during what what be an abbreviated (lucky for him) voyage. He caught a bad cold running around below-deck and left the Titanic at Cherbourg (where Uruchutu — had switched his ticket at the last minute, when he found he could sail for New York sooner on the Titanic than on the France, as he originally intended… alas for a good story, I don’t think he had Father Brown’s old berth).
In the photo Father Browne took of engineering crewmen on a lifeboat drill, the fourth man from the right looks more like an American Indian than English or Irish and appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s… Antonio was 34 when the ship went down. Is this an unknown Mexican hero?