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Millvina Dean, last survivor of the Titanic, was forced to sell her Titanic memorabilia to pay health bills at 96

Stefan Andrews
Photo by GERRY PENNY/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by GERRY PENNY/AFP/Getty Images

There were 128 passengers who were 14 years old or younger on board the Titanic. Sixty of them died in the tragic sinking, despite the cry of “Women and children first!”

Of those 68 who survived, and perhaps the most celebrated, was Eliza Gladys “Millvina” Dean. She was born on February 2, 1912, which made her a two-month-old baby aboard the “unsinkable” ship and believed to be its youngest passenger.

Dean was born in England to Bertram Frank Dean and Georgette Eva Light; she also had an older brother, Bertram Vere Dean, who was born on May 21, 1910. The family decided to leave the pub that Frank and Georgette ran to seek a better life in the United States. They planned to emigrate to Wichita, Kansas, where Frank had an invitation to become co-owner of his cousin’s tobacco shop.

Millvina and her brother, Bertram, c. 1912/1913. First published in local papers in Britain, talking about “Titanic baby”

Millvina and her brother, Bertram, c. 1912/1913. First published in local papers in Britain, talking about “Titanic baby”

The family was not supposed to sail on the Titanic, but were transferred onto it because of a coal strike. The Deans were classified as third-class passengers.

On the night of the horrors, Frank Dean felt something alarming (it was the ship’s collision with the iceberg), and he left their cabin to find out what was going on. He quickly returned and told his wife to prepare the children and head to the deck. He would be the single member of the family not to survive the sinking. The lives of Millvina, her brother, as well as their mother, were saved after getting into Lifeboat 10. They were among the few third-class passengers to escape the chaos.

At first, Millvina’s mother considered proceeding with the family plan to reach Kansas. But, being left a single mother with two little children to raise, she made a decision to return to Britain on the RMS Adriatic. While sailing home, Millvina attracted attention, for everybody wished to hold the baby in their arms. It was special to be so young and yet a survivor.

The arrival of the “ship of sorrow” – depiction of Titanic’s survivors disembarked at New York.

The arrival of the “ship of sorrow” – depiction of Titanic’s survivors disembarked at New York.

An article published in the Daily Mirror dated May 12, 1912, read “[She] was the pet of the liner during the voyage, and so keen was the rivalry between women to nurse this lovable mite of humanity that one of the officers decreed that first and second class passengers might hold her in turn no more than ten minutes”.

Millvina and her brother would both be raised and schooled in Southampton. It was not until Millvina turned eight years of age, when her mother remarried, that she found out she had been a Titanic passenger.

Millvina herself never did marry. She had a couple of different careers: As a cartographer during WWII, she served the government by drawing maps, and after the war she worked for a Southampton engineering company as part of its purchasing department.

Surviving the Titanic tragedy did not figure prominently in Millvina Dean’s life, until she became something of a Titanic celebrity in her seventies. Her brother died aged 81 in 1992, the 80th anniversary of the iceberg collision.

Millvina Dean, British Titanic Society Titanic Convention, Hilton Hotel, Southampton. 1999, Author: Stephen Daniels, CC BY-SA 3.0

Millvina Dean, British Titanic Society Titanic Convention, Hilton Hotel, Southampton. 1999, Author: Stephen Daniels, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dean visited Belfast four years later, for the first time as an honorable guest, to attend a Titanic Historical Society convention. She then appeared at numerous Titanic-related events and was featured on various TV and radio programs. In 1997, she also traveled aboard the QE2 to the United States and symbolically completed her family’s journey to Kansas.

Aside from being the youngest passenger on the Titanic, in October 2007, Dean became the last Titanic survivor following the death of Barbara West Dainton. At the age of 96, Dainton made news as being the last survivor who had traveled second-class on the ill-fated ocean liner.

By 2008, Dean’s own health had started deteriorating. She accepted an invitation to speak in Southampton at an official event to commemorate the 96th anniversary of the sinking. but, feeling unwell, she was forced to cancel.

Titanic at the docks of Southampton

Titanic at the docks of Southampton

By the end of that same year, after breaking her hip, the 96-year-old had been forced to sell some of her family’s possessions in order to pay her private medical-care bills. The items she sold included some genuine Titanic memorabilia, such as a letter sent to her mother from the Titanic Relief Fund, and also a suitcase given to them in New York after the sinking. The sale of the items raised approximately $41,570. As her medical bills kept soaring, she sold a few more items.

On the morning of May 31, 2009, she died of pneumonia, exactly 97 years and seven weeks after the Titanic had sailed the open seas. She passed away at a care home in Ashurst, Hampshire.

Related story from us: The iconic photo of Titanic’s Grand Staircase is actually of another ship

Her ashes were scattered from a launch at Southampton docks, the same place the Titanic embarked from on the historic maiden journey. Millvina Dean will be well remembered as the last remaining survivor.