Chief Purser Hugh Richard Walter McElroy

Biographical Information:


Hugh McElroy (also "M'Elroy") was born in Liverpool, England (father of Irish heritage, his mother Scottish). Baptised a Roman Catholic, he was seemingly destined to become a priest, however he dropped out of his studies and instead went to sea as a Purser for the Allan Line. Finding a role that matched his character, he moved to the White Star Line and soon after received a medal for his efforts during the Boer War. He was described as "a splendid specimen of manhood, being about 6 feet 2 inches in height and was a grand character and beloved by all." He was "a first-class raconteur... big, jolly, courteous, human to the last inch ...the ideal man for the position he held.” His duties involved everything from parrot-minding and protecting precious jewelry, to dealing with fires and suicides and arranging a last minute wedding for a runaway couple. He became so popular, passengers were known to time their voyages so as to sail on the same ship as him, and were honoured to dine at his table.

As the White Star Line produced ever larger ships, he became the go-to Purser to accompany Captain Smith on the maiden voyages of the Baltic, Cedric, Laurentic, Adriatic, Olympic and finally the Titanic. On this final ship he was also minding a parrot, helped a photographer get access to various parts of the ship, re-arranged cabins to keep passengers happy in both first and second class, and arranged a dinner in First class that was described as "perfect" by one of its guests. When disaster struck he swung into action - ordering life-belts to be put on and passengers up to the boat deck, valuables to be transferred to the boat deck and assisted with the loading of lifeboats. He was even reported to have fired a gun twice for crowd control, but in those final moments an enduring image is of a man with his hands in his pockets joking with another officer that they would be 'having sand for supper tomorrow.'

His body was the most senior crew member and only officer to be recovered, but was nevertheless buried at sea. Find out more about this fascinating character in the following indepth biography: