Thomas Evans was born on 3 January 1866 at Parkgate, Cheshire, England, the seventh child of eleven of Samuel Morris and Jane Evans (née Mealor). Four of his brothers survived to maturity; Richard, Samuel, Lemuel and George and also four of his sisters; Hannah, Mary Jane, Betsey and Martha. Their father was a well known fisherman in Parkgate.
Thomas was baptised at Neston Parish Church on 2 February 1866 and named after his maternal grandfather Thomas Mealor. He was educated in Parkgate and went to sea soon after he left school in 1880. For about ten years he was a full-time seaman and sailed to China on the tea clippers. For the rest of his life he would alternate between making deep sea trips, fishing in the Irish Sea and further afield and helping his father and brothers with their fishing nets. He had joined the Cunard Steam Ship Company many years before the First World War and served on the Lucania, the Campania and the
On 30 March 1892 he married Alice Roberts, the daughter of Edward Roberts, a well known master mason, who had been involved in the building of many local churches and houses for important local landowners. For a while before their marriage, Thomas had lived at the Roberts’ family home, Hillside Farm at Thurstaston, where Alice had kept house for her parents and after their deaths, for her brother. Some time after their marriage, the couple moved to Marlfield Cottage, 384 Pensby Road, Pensby, Cheshire, which Edward Roberts had built for his daughter as a form of dowry. There they had six children; a daughter, stillborn in 1893, and five sons, Thomas, born in 1894, Alfred Edward, born in 1896, Arthur Richard, born in 1898, George, born in 1901 and Joseph Hugh, born in 1904.
Thomas Evans had the reputation of being a strict father, but the family home was always 'open house' and he and Alice entertained friends there, drank beer and sang, with Thomas occasionally playing the glass harmonica, a skill which he learned at sea. When not drinking at home, his favourite pub was The Black Horse in nearby Heswall where he would drink with his fisherman brothers Richard ('Dick') and Samuel. Occasionally Lemuel and George would join them there.
Between October and March each year from 1901 onwards, until his death, Thomas senior was employed as a puntsman on the River Dee by Messrs Dockray and Brook, renowned local wildfowlers, who sold birds in the food markets of Birkenhead and Liverpool. On one occasion Thomas Evans and Leonard Brook were wildfowling when they spotted the number 9 river buoy which had broken loose from its mooring and they became famous for managing to salvage it.
As a puntsman, he was also an excellent shot and once held the record for duck shooting on the Dee by bringing down 87 birds with three rounds. He regularly took Hugh Brocklebank of the Liverpool shipping company The Brocklebank Line, duck shooting. They had become firm friends, despite the disparity in their ages and social positions, when Hugh Brocklebank was convalescing at the nearby family home, after being wounded during the Anglo/Boer war. In appreciation of their friendship, the Evans’ fifth son Joseph Hugh, was named after the ship owner.
Through his knowledge of the River Dee, Thomas Evans was also associated with Thomas Alfred Coward, the foremost authority of that time on the ornithology of the north west. With the help of Evans and Messrs Dockray and Brook, Coward was able to publish the definitive work on the estuary, 'The Vertebrate Fauna of Cheshire and Liverpool Bay', in 1910.
Thomas Evans signed on at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 for the Lusitania's final transatlantic crossing, as an able seaman in the Deck Department. His monthly wage was £5.5s.0d (£5.25). He joined ship at 7am on 17 April, before the liner left the River Mersey for the last time. He was appointed as one of the two helmsmen on board, the other being Able Seaman Hugh Johnston.
He was on duty on the bridge from the late morning of 7 May, during which time he carried out Captain Turner’s orders to ‘zigzag’ the ship to confuse a potential submarine attack. Able Seaman Johnston took over the wheel at 2pm just before the ship was torpedoed and Thomas Evans went below. It is said that he had just reached the petty officers’ mess deck in the heart of the ship when the liner was struck and that consequently he never had any chance to get back to the deck. He was aged 49 years.
His body was never recovered and identified afterwards and as he has no known grave, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
He is also commemorated on the family grave in the churchyard of Christ Church, Barnston. The inscription on the headstone states: -
"In Loving Memory of
our dear father
WHO LOST HIS LIFE THROUGH THE SINKING
OF THE 'LUSITANIA' 7 MAY 1915, AGED 47 YEARS"
It appears that his age at death, incised on the headstone, is not correct. His name is also engraved on a brass plaque within the church.
In common with all the crew lost in the disaster, Thomas Evans was paid until 8 May 1915, 24 hours after the liner had gone down. The balance of wages owing to him, £4-0s-8d (£4.30) was forwarded to his widow Alice in August 1915. In addition the Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted a yearly pension to Alice Evans to compensate her for the loss of her husband. This amounted to £41-12s-11d (£41.64½) payable at the rate of £3-9s-5d (£3.47) per month.
Family lore states that Arthur ‘Archie’ Evans was scheduled to travel to New York with his father on the Cunarder's final voyage, but an accident prevented his making the voyage. His brother Alfred was given the unenviable task of breaking the news of their father's death to their mother. It is also said that Hugh Evans developed a speech impediment which stayed with him for the rest of his life because of the shock that the news gave him. Family anger at Thomas Evans’ loss was more directed towards the attitude of Cunard officials than to the Germans, which left Alice Evans, newly widowed and with three sons in the Army and two young ones at home, in extreme financial difficulties.
In a letter to Graham Maddocks, written in 1999, her granddaughter Pauline Evans said: -
"My mother told me that my grandmother fretted very much after his death and longed to get close to where the tragic event took place but things were different in those days, funds were insufficient and she had her five boys to look after."
Thomas Evans junior served as a sergeant in the Grenadier Guards in France and died in 1973, aged 79 years. Alfred served as a private in the Cheshire Regiment in France, Flanders, Egypt and Mesopotamia and died aged 85 years in 1981. Arthur served as a quartermaster-sergeant in The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in France and died aged 67 years, in 1965. George Evans died in 1959, aged 58 years and Hugh died aged 86, in 1990. Their mother Alice had died, aged 56 years, in November 1921. Her age at death on the family headstone, like that of her husband, is also incorrect.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England and Wales, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Birkenhead News, Margaret Brandon, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Dr. Martin J. Crossley Evans, Cunard Records, Maurice Evans, Pauline Evans, William Evans, Colin Foote, PRO BT 100/345, Seven Days to Disaster, Valerie Steele, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.