Frederick Fleet was a Lookout aboard Titanic. He was the man who alerted the officers on Titanic’s bridge of the iceberg. He joined Titanic in Belfast, ready for the ship to sail to Southampton for her maiden voyage, and remained with the ship for that voyage.
He was born on 15th October 1887 in Liverpool, UK. His mother was Alice Fleet; his father, not married to his mother, is unknown. In a letter written to Edward Kamuda of the Titanic Historical Society – written in the 1960’s – Frederick explained that he did not know who his parents were, his mother had left when he was a baby, having gone to a place [in America] called Springfield, Mass; and that he had been brought up in a Dr Barnardo’s home. He goes on to say in the letter that when he was 12 he went to a training school until he became an Able Seaman.
Prior to joining the Titanic, Frederick Fleet had served with the White Star Line for some seven years, and had spent the previous about four years before joining Titanic as a lookout aboard White Star Line’s RMS Oceanic.
Aboard Titanic Frederick Fleet spent two hours at a time on watch in the crow’s nest with fellow lookout Reginald Lee; after completing his two hours in the crow’s nest he then had four hours off duty, before then having to return for another two hours. He and Reginald Lee worked the, day and night, 4 to 6 and 10 to 12 watch.
At around 10pm on Sunday 14th April, he and Reginald Lee walked up the ladder inside the ship’s mast to make their way up to the crow’s nests – for, as it turned out, the very last time. Before leaving them, the lookouts who worked the previous watch, Archie Jewell and George Symons, informed them that they had been ordered by the bridge to keep a sharp lookout for ice.
Standing in the freezing cold on the port side of the crow’s nest – at around 11.40pm – Frederick Fleet become one of the first two people – the other , of course, being Reginald Lee – to notice the iceberg; Frederick Fleet rang the warning bell three times, dashed to the other side of the crow’s nest, picked up the telephone connected to the bridge, and when he got a response, asking what he had seen, he said “Iceberg right ahead”; 6th Officer James Moody, on the other end of the telephone, replied back with “Thank you”. Despite Frederick’s warning – Titanic collided with the iceberg, fatally wounding herself.
For around 20 minutes after the impact they remained in the crow’s nest – until they were relieved by Lookouts Alfred Evans and George Hogg.
After going to help on the Boat Deck, he was ordered into Lifeboat 6 by 2nd Officer Charles Lightoller. Lifeboat 6, one of the first to leave the port side of the ship, is well known for being the lifeboat in which Margaret “Molly” Brown escaped in.
After the disaster Frederick Fleet gave evidence at both the British and American Titanic inquiries.
Frederik Fleet's career after Titanic will need more research – it is said he briefly went to work on Olympic for a short few months before then moving to other companies, including the Union-Castle Line.
In a letter to Edward Kamuda in the 1960’s he said that he left the sea in 1936 and that Olympic was his last ship. He must have been mistaken about the exact year – which is understandable as close to 30 years had passed by this point; Olympic had made her last voyage a year earlier, in 1935. The National Archives website says that he served aboard Olympic from 1920 to 1935 as a Lookout and Able Seaman. Olympic was, of course, Titanic’s near identical sister ship. .
After the end of his sea days, he is also said to have worked for Harland and Wolff in Southampton, and for the Union-Castle line as a shore Master-at-Arms. In his later years he worked as a street newspaper seller. On a least two occasions in his later years he gave newspaper interviews about Titanic.
On 17th June 1917 he had married Eva LeGros. They had a daughter, named Dorothy, who was born on 28th November 1918. At some point Frederick had legally separated from his wife but in the early 1960’s or very late 1950’s he had moved back in with her, into the house she shared with her brother, Philip LeGros, as Frederick had suffered mental blackouts and doctors had advised Eva that she was legally responsible for Frederick.
Eva died on 29th December 1964. It is said that it was agreed and understood that when she died he would have to move out of the house, owned by Philip LeGros.
In early January 1965 Frederick had threatened to commit suicide, and around a week later visited his daughter house and was upset. Before he left her he told her to say goodbye to everybody for him, and gave her a wallet with £5 in for her to look after.
Frederick had told Philip LeGros that he was going to stay with friends until he could get accommodation. The next day Frederick left him a note saying that if he was not home between 9 or 10 tonight to lock up as he would be staying with the friends. When Philip checked Frederick’s room at 11.30pm he noted that he was not there and assumed he was staying with friends.
The next day, 10th January 1965, at around 9.30am, Philip went outside to his coal house; seeing Frederik and receiving no reply after calling him in for a cup of tea; Frederick Fleet had committed suicide by hanging himself from a clothes post in the garden, aged 77. With him was a letter to his daughter explaining that he was sorry for what he was going to do and that he could not stick it any longer. Also in the letter he listed his possessions in his bedroom which she was to have.
He was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton. In 1993 the Titanic Historical Society paid for and had erected a memorial head stone for Frederick Fleet's grave. With an image of Titanic, inscribed on it are:
1887 – 1965
Erected to his memory
Titanic Historical Society