Henry Joseph Bailey was born ‘Job Henry Bailey’ on 22 June 1865 in Highfield, South Stoneham, Southampton, Hampshire, named after his paternal grandfather and the son of Henry Bailey and Charlotte Anne Shears, natives of Somerset and Dorset who had married in Southampton on 28 Aug 1859. He had one brother, Meshech Benjamin, and four sisters, Mary Rebecca, Angelina Ruth, Charlotte and Bessie.
In 1871, the family were living on Portswood Road, South Stoneham, but by the next decade’s census, Henry had left for a career at sea with the Royal Navy. Enlisting on 6 Oct 1880, aged just 15, Bailey first served as a deck boy aboard H.M.S. Trincomalee and was appointed to the rank of Boy 1st Class aboard H.M.S. Minotaur for Egypt campaign on 17 May 1883.
Bailey then served aboard two newly-laid down ships, firstly the corvette, H.M.S. Canada which served on the North America and West Indies Station until 1886, and then the armoured cruiser, H.M.S. Australia. Becoming a Petty Officer in June 1890, Bailey was aboard Australia as part of the Mediterranean Fleet until returning to home shores as part of Coast Guard Squadron from 1893. Bailey also served aboard H.M.S. St. Vincent, Fantome, Boscawen and Duke of Wellington.
He married Mary Jane Hooper in Cucklington, Somerset on 30 June 1894 and together they had five daughters, with four surviving infancy: Olive Mary, Alma Ada, Hilda Isobel and Agnes Cynthia. Bailey appeared on the 1901 census twice; as ‘Naval Petty Officer’ in Cucklington, Somerset and again as ‘1st Class Petty Officer’ aboard ‘Royal Arthur’ which was docked at Sydney, Australia. He was pensioned out of the Navy in Dec 1903 and on his discharge papers was described as 5’10”, dark brown hair, blue eyes, a ruddy complexion and flags tattooed on his right forearm. By the 1911 Census, Bailey was back living on his childhood street at 377 Portswood with a family of his own. Significantly, Bailey was working as a coxswain on a steam launch at the Southampton Docks.
Another Titanic crew member, Quartermaster Arthur Bright, was married to the sister of Henry’s wife. Arthur had been serving aboard RMS Olympic, but had also served on a number of the same Royal Navy ships as Henry. Whether or not it was Arthur who had persuaded Henry to sign up for the Titanic’s maiden voyage, is unclear. Bailey did so on 6 April 1912, listing his address as 377 Portsdown Road. It was to be his first, and only, voyage in the Merchant Navy, and he was appointed as one of the two Master-at-Arms, alongside Thomas Walter King. The pair were to work in shifts to police the ship and allocated the only keys to the firearms cabinet, and put on a monthly wage of £5, 10s.
Just after the Titanic hit the iceberg, Quartermaster Arthur Bright was summoned to the Bridge with a box of detonators to fire distress signals. He and Quartermaster Rowe fired a total of six rockets, which would later be the subject of much controversy as they were not distress flares. Bailey, himself, was busy overseeing evacuation into the lifeboats on the port side of the sinking ship, under the supervision of Second Officer Lightoller and Captain Smith himself.
During the lowering of Titanic’s lifeboats, Bailey took charge of maintaining order the port side of the ship, whilst King oversaw starboard. Henry was seen forcing women and children into the wooden lifeboats, as a seasoned sailor, unlike some of the passengers, he was acutely aware of the danger they were in. Lifeboat 16 was regarded as the third lifeboat There were between 52 people aboard Lifeboat 16; the most of any launched on the port side of Titanic. The majority were women and children, with three female crew members and five male crew to man the oars. One of the passengers, Mrs Wells described men looking ‘sober and serious’ watching the lifeboat being lowered. She believed this whole process to be a drill until she spotted a crew member with a revolver in his hand. As soon as they hit the water, the men rowed for all they were worth, but the boat kept drifting back towards Titanic. From here, Mrs Wells saw ‘wild-eyed’ men rushing up from steerage, but they were forced back by an officer brandishing a gun.
Another of those in Lifeboat 16 was Stewardess Violet Jessop, who was aboard the Olympic when she collided with H.M.S. Hawke a year earlier. She became the only survivor of all three sister ships when aboard the Britannic when she struck a mine in 1916. As the boat was being lowered, an officer handed her an unaccounted-for baby to look after. After being rescued by the Carpathia, she said the mother grabbed the baby off her without so much as saying ‘thank you’.
Able Seaman Ernest Archer later testified at the American Inquiry that Bailey climbed down one of the rope falls into the lifeboat (a feat equivalent to the celebrated descent of Major Arthur Peuchen into Lifeboat 6), where he took command of the craft. After getting to a safe distance, one passenger asked whether they should return to a safe distance to see if they could rescue any survivors. This was decided against and nobody was subsequently picked up from the water, although a fireman was transferred to Lifeboat 6 to help with their rowing. They plotted a course to a light on the horizon and reached the sanctuary of the S.S. Carpathia as dawn was breaking.
Lifeboat 16 and all her surviving passengers sailed on the Carpathia to New York, arriving on 18 Apr 1912. Bailey was paid £9 7s 6d to attend the British Titanic Inquiry in London, but despite being the only surviving Master-at-Arms, Bailey was not called to give evidence. This is all the more surprising given the Wreck Commissioner, Lord Mersey, had raised questions about the Master-at-Arms’ role, asking who had duties aboard akin to those of a policeman, ‘…to see that order is kept, I am told the Master-at-Arms discharges those duties’. He observed.
However, Bailey and the responsibilities of the Master-at-Arms were referred to several times by those who were called, particularly at the American Inquiry. John Poingdestre told the Inquiry that he had ‘no doubt’ Third Class would be held back if they made any attempt to gain the boat deck. He suggested this would be done by the Master-at-Arms and the stewards. ‘All barriers were not down’, he added, squarely. Poingdestre survived in Lifeboat 12 on the after port side and knew the Master-at-Arms was on duty that evening. Able Seaman Joseph Scarrott told of having to belay passengers at the intervening of Lifeboat 14, using a tiller ‘when some men tried to rush the boats’. He was then joined by Fifth Officer Lowe who drew his revolver. But there was no evidence of any trouble at No.16, despite it still being on the boat deck and the closest port-side escape craft for the watching steerage in the stern.
Ernest Archer: We lowered the boat, and my mate pulled at the releasing bar for both falls, and that cleared the boat, and we started to pull away.
Senator Bourne: Having about 50 passengers in the boat and only your mate and yourself?
Archer: Yes, sir; the Master-at-Arms came down after us. He was the coxswain.
Senator Bourne: He came down one of the ropes?
Archer: Yes, sir; came down the fall.
Senator Bourne: He was sent by an officer?
Archer: I presume he was sent by an officer.
Senator Bourne: To help fill up your complement?
Archer: He said he was sent down to be coxswain of the boat.
Senator Bourne: And he took charge?
Archer: He took charge.
Senator Bourne: While you were loading the boat was there any effort made to crowd into the boat?
Archer: No, sir; I never saw any. There was no confusion at all.
Senator Bourne: And after you took to sea, did you return to pick up survivors?
Archer: It was spoken by one of the lady passengers, to go back and see if there was anyone in the water we could pick up. But I never heard any more of it after that.
Senator Bourne: And the boat was in charge of the Master-at-Arms?
Archer: The Master-at-Arms had charge of the boat.
Senator Bourne: Did this lady request you to go back?
Archer: Yes, sir; she requested us to go back.
Senator Bourne: What did he say?
Archer: I did not hear; I was in the forepart of the boat.
Lookout Frederick Fleet was in Lifeboat 6 also testified at the Inquiry:
Fleet: And some other boat came alongside of us, and the Master-at-Arms was in charge of that boat. We asked could he give us more men.
Senator Smith: What was the Master-at-Arms’ name?
Fleet: I could not say. He is the only one that survived.
Senator Smith: And you asked him if he could give you more men?
Fleet: Could he give us another man to help pull.
Senator Smith: What did he say?
Fleet: He gave us a fireman
Quartermaster Robert Hitchens, also in Lifeboat 6, also testified to this as the two boats were tethered together:
“After the boat sank we could hear a lot of crying and screaming. The cries I heard lasted about two minutes. When we stopped rowing, there was another boat ‘right alongside us. In charge was the Master-at-Arms, Mr Bailey. Their boat was full right up and they tied together – I heard some in our boat say ‘it’s one boat aiding the other’.”
A Second Class passenger in number 16, Miss Edwina "Winnie" Troutt remembered:
"In my boat there were twenty women, not less than a dozen babies, and five members of the crew in the charge of Master-at-Arms Bailey. One of these women was Mrs Harry Faunthorpe, a bride. She was an Englishwoman who had been married in January. With her husband she was making a pleasure trip to California. Her husband bade her good-bye with a smile and a pat of encouragement and placed her in the boat. As she stepped in I called to her husband and asked him to take my seat. But he merely laughed and replied: Remember. I am an Englishman...":
Following the disaster, Bailey did not return to the merchant service. His family recall that he was thereafter weak in the chest and particularly prone to cold symptoms every April However, with the outbreak of war he re-enlisted with the Royal Navy as a Petty Officer, joining Victory I on 2 Aug 1914 and serving at H.M.S. Excellent the same year. His final posting was to Dover Patrol shore base, H.M.S Attentive in Jan 1915, where he became Temporary Acting Boatswain on 25 Feb 1918. After the war a descendant recalls:
“I can see him sitting in the chair in the middle room – the breakfast room – downstairs at 659 Portswood Road, and he had Charlie the dog.”
Bailey died of heart failure on 12 Mar 1943 and was cremated at South Stoneham Cemetery in Hampshire, with his ashes scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. His widow, Mary Jane, died in 1965 – a hundred years after Henry’s birth – aged 94.