Evelyn James, nee Marsden was a true Australian heroine. A stewardess on the Titanic, she played a large part in helping the passengers on Lifeboat 16 stay safe.
Born in South Australia in 1883, Evelyn was brought up in the remote town of Hoyleton. When she was a teenager, she stayed with a farming family at Murray Bridge where she learned to row and joined the rowing club. She even learned to row against the tide, a difficult feat which would prove useful.
The country girl, ambitious to have a career, worked as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. She then decided to travel, an unusual desire for a single woman in those days. She travelled to England and fell in love with the ship’s doctor, Dr James, on the voyage. She joined the White Star Line to be with her young and handsome boyfriend. However, just before the voyage of the Titanic, Dr James was transferred, and Evelyn sailed alone.
The 28 year-old shared a cabin with Miss May Sloan, and worked as a stewardess. She also did some nursing work for the First Class passengers. Shocked by the collision, the women accepted soothing glasses of whiskey and water from the ship’s doctor. After this, Evelyn hurried up to the deck where she helped as many people as she could into lifeboats, not thinking of her own safety. She was one of the last to get into Lifeboat 16.
The nurse helped row the passengers to safety, even though she had to hold a baby. Her great-nurse said that her hands were rubbed raw from rowing. Evelyn was so thankful that she had learned to row, she returned to the farm to thank the family for teaching her.
When the news that Evelyn had been saved by the Carpathia, and that she was safely in New York, legend has it that her father ran through the town shouting, “Evelyn’s alive. Evelyn’s alive”.
Julian Fellowes told Channel 7 that: 'Of course, if the doctor hadn't been taken off the Titanic, he woul've died because the highest death rate was among second-class men, almost all of whom died, and the doctor would have been travelling in second class'.
Dr William James and Evelyn rushed to the altar, marrying in July in Southampton. They returned to South Australia. Sadly, they didn’t have any children, but Evelyn’s relatives are very proud of their Titanic heroine.