Jack Phillips (wireless officer)

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Jack Phillips
Jack George Phillips.jpg
Born11 April 1887
Farncombe, Surrey, England [1]
Died15 April 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 25)
OccupationWireless telegraphist
Parent(s)George Alfred Phillips
Anne Sanders

John George Phillips (11 April 1887 – 15 April 1912) was a British telegraphist and senior wireless officer aboard the RMS Titanic who died during its ill-fated maiden voyage in April 1912. As the ship was sinking, Phillips worked tirelessly to send messages to other ships to enlist their assistance with the rescue of Titanic's passengers and crew. Before the ship hit the iceberg, Phillips told Cyril Evans, the radio operator of Californian, "Keep out; Shut up! I am working Cape Race!", when interrupted on-air by his counterpart warning him that Titanic was in the vicinity of an ice field. [2]


A telegraphist, telegrapher, or telegraph operator is an operator who uses a telegraph key to send and receive the Morse code in order to communicate by land lines or radio.

Wireless telegraphy

Wireless telegraphy means transmission of telegraph signals by radio waves; a more specific term for this is radiotelegraphy. Before about 1910 when radio became dominant, the term wireless telegraphy was also used for various other experimental technologies for transmitting telegraph signals without wires, such as electromagnetic induction, and ground conduction telegraph systems.

RMS <i>Titanic</i> British transatlantic passenger liner, launched and foundered in 1912

RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making it one of modern history's deadliest commercial marine disasters during peacetime. RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the shipyard at the time, died in the disaster.



Phillips was born on 11 April 1887 in Farncombe, Surrey. [3] The son of George Alfred Phillips, a draper and Ann (née Sanders), Phillip's family originally came from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, from a lineage of weavers, but moved to Farncombe around 1883. [3] Phillips lived with his five siblings, of whom only two twin sisters survived to adulthood, above a draper's shop – Gammons – which his father managed in Farncombe Street. [3] Educated at a private school on Hare Lane, then St John Street's School, Phillips sang as a choirboy at St John the Evangelist – Farncombe's church. [3]

Farncombe village and peripheral settlement of Godalming in Waverley, Surrey, England

Farncombe, historically Fernecome, is a village and peripheral settlement of Godalming in Waverley, Surrey, England and is approximately 0.8 miles (1.3 km) north-east of the Godalming centre, separated by common land known as the Lammas Lands. The village of Compton lies 1.8 miles (3 km) to the northwest and Bramley 2 miles (3 km) to the east; whilst Charterhouse School is to the west. Loseley Park, in the hamlet of Littleton, lies 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north of the village.

Surrey County of England

Surrey is a subdivision of the English region of South East England in the United Kingdom. A historic and ceremonial county, Surrey is also one of the home counties. The county borders Kent to the east, East Sussex and West Sussex to the south, Hampshire to the west, Berkshire to the northwest, and Greater London to the northeast.

Draper cloth merchant

Draper was originally a term for a retailer or wholesaler of cloth that was mainly for clothing. A draper may additionally operate as a cloth merchant or a haberdasher.

He finished school in 1902 and began working at the Godalming post office, where he learned telegraphy. He started training to work in wireless for the Marconi Company in March 1906, in Seaforth, and graduated five months later in August. Phillips's first assignment was on the White Star Line ship Teutonic . He later worked on board Cunard's Campania; the Allan Line's Corsican, Pretorian and Victorian; and then Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania. In May 1908, he was assigned to the Marconi station outside Clifden, Ireland, where he worked until 1911, when he was assigned to the Adriatic and later, in early 1912, to the Oceanic.

Telegraphy long distance transmission of textual/symbolic messages without the physical exchange of an object

Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of textual or symbolic messages without the physical exchange of an object bearing the message. Thus semaphore is a method of telegraphy, whereas pigeon post is not.

The Marconi Company was a British telecommunications and engineering company that did business under that name from 1963 to 1987. It was derived from earlier variations in the name and incorporation, spanning a period from its inception in 1897 until 2006, during which time it underwent numerous changes, mergers and acquisitions. The company was founded by the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi and began as the Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company. The company was a pioneer of wireless long distance communication and mass media broadcasting, eventually becoming one of the UK's most successful manufacturing companies. In 1999, its defence manufacturing division, Marconi Electronic Systems, merged with British Aerospace to form BAE Systems. In 2006, extreme financial difficulties led to the collapse of the remaining company, with the bulk of the business acquired by the Swedish telecommunications company, Ericsson.

Seaforth, Merseyside district in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, Merseyside, England

Seaforth is a district in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, Merseyside, England. Historically in Lancashire, it is north of Liverpool, between Bootle and Waterloo.

RMS Titanic

In March 1912, Phillips was sent to Belfast, Ireland, to be the senior wireless operator on board the Titanic for her maiden voyage. He was joined by junior wireless operator Harold Bride. [4] Stories have appeared that Phillips knew Bride before Titanic, but Bride insisted they had never met before Belfast. [1] Titanic sailed for New York City, United States, from Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912, and during the voyage Phillips and Bride transmitted passengers' personal messages and received iceberg warnings and other navigational information from other ships. Phillips celebrated his 25th birthday the day after the voyage began.

Belfast City in the United Kingdom, capital of Northern Ireland

Belfast is a city in the United Kingdom, the capital city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Ireland. It is the largest city in Northern Ireland and second-largest on the island of Ireland. It had a population of 333,871 as of 2015.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Southampton City and unitary authority area in England

Southampton is the largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire, England. It is 70 miles (110 km) south-west of London and 15 miles (24 km) west north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest. It lies at the northernmost point of Southampton Water at the confluence of the Rivers Test and Itchen, with the River Hamble joining to the south of the urban area. The city, which is a unitary authority, has an estimated population of 253,651. The city's name is sometimes abbreviated in writing to "So'ton" or "Soton", and a resident of Southampton is called a Sotonian.

On the evening of 14 April, in the wireless room on the boat deck, Phillips was sending messages to Cape Race, Newfoundland, working to clear a backlog of passengers' personal messages that had accumulated when the wireless had broken down the day before. [4] Bride was asleep in the adjoining cabin, intending to relieve Phillips at midnight, two hours early. Shortly after 9:30 pm, Phillips received an ice warning from the steamship Mesaba reporting a large number of icebergs and an ice field directly in Titanic's path. Phillips acknowledged Mesaba's warning and continued to transmit messages to Cape Race. Mesaba's wireless operator waited for Phillips to report that he had given the report to the bridge, but Phillips continued working Cape Race. The message was one of the most important warnings Titanic received, but it was never delivered to the bridge.

Deck (ship) part of a ship or boat

A deck is a permanent covering over a compartment or a hull of a ship. On a boat or ship, the primary or upper deck is the horizontal structure that forms the "roof" of the hull, strengthening it and serving as the primary working surface. Vessels often have more than one level both within the hull and in the superstructure above the primary deck, similar to the floors of a multi-storey building, that are also referred to as decks, as are certain compartments and decks built over specific areas of the superstructure. Decks for some purposes have specific names.

Cape Race

Cape Race is a point of land located at the southeastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Its name is thought to come from the original Portuguese name for this cape, "Raso", meaning flat or low-lying. The Cape appeared on early sixteenth century maps as Cabo Raso and its name may derive from a cape of the same name at the mouth of the Tagus River in Portugal. The cape was the location of the Cape Race LORAN-C transmitter until the system was decommissioned in 2010. It is also home to the Cape Race Lighthouse, notable for having received the distress call from Titanic.

Newfoundland and Labrador Province of Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador is the most easterly province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it comprises the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador to the northwest, with a combined area of 405,212 square kilometres (156,500 sq mi). In 2018, the province's population was estimated at 525,073. About 92% of the province's population lives on the island of Newfoundland, of whom more than half live on the Avalon Peninsula.

Second Officer (Second Mate) Charles Lightoller reports in Chapter 31 of his autobiography:

Charles Lightoller British sailor

Charles Herbert Lightoller,, RNR was the second officer on board the RMS Titanic and a decorated Royal Navy officer. He was the most senior member of the crew to survive the Titanic disaster.

Phillips explained when I (Lightoller) said that I did not recollect any Mesaba report: "I just put the message under a paper weight at my elbow, just until I squared up what I was doing before sending it to the Bridge." That delay proved fatal and was the main contributory cause to the loss of that magnificent ship and hundreds of lives. Had I as Officer of the Watch, or the Captain, become aware of the peril lying so close ahead and not instantly slowed down or stopped, we should have been guilty of culpable and criminal negligence. [5]

At 10:55 pm, Phillips was again interrupted by another ship, this time the SS Californian. Californian's only wireless operator, Cyril Evans, was reporting that they were stopped and surrounded by ice. Californian's relative proximity (and the fact that both Evans and Phillips were using spark gap wireless sets whose signals bled across the spectrum and were impossible to tune out) meant that Evans's signal was strong and loud in Phillips's ears, while the signals from Cape Race were faint to Phillips and inaudible to Evans. Phillips quickly sent back, "Keep out; shut up, I'm working: Cape Race", and continued communicating with Cape Race, while Evans listened a while longer before going to bed for the night.

It can be argued that this communication had important consequences: Firstly, Evans was giving a warning of ice, which, if heeded, could have prevented Titanic's sinking. Secondly, Californian was the closest ship to Titanic. As the radio had been switched off by Evans, Phillips had no way of communicating with Californian should Titanic require immediate assistance, which she very soon did. However, others[ who? ] point out that several ice warnings had already been received and communicated to the captain, so he was aware that there was ice in the area, and a lookout had been posted.

Furthermore, Evans did not request that the message be delivered to the bridge, and the crew of Californian did see the rockets from Titanic at 12:47 AM and woke their captain, who chose to ignore the rockets and returned to bed.

Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40 PM that night and began sinking. Bride had woken up and begun getting ready to relieve Phillips, when Captain Edward Smith came into the wireless room and told Phillips to prepare to send out a distress signal. Shortly after midnight, Captain Smith came in again and told them to send out the call for assistance and gave them Titanic's estimated position. Phillips began sending out the distress signal, code CQD, while Bride took messages to Captain Smith about which ships were coming to Titanic's assistance. At one point, Bride jokingly reminded Phillips that the new call was SOS and said, "Send S.O.S., it's the new call, and it may be your last chance to send it." [4] [6] (A myth developed after the disaster that this was the first time SOS was used, but it had been used on other ships previously. [7] )

After taking a quick break, Phillips returned to the wireless room and reported to Bride: the forward part of the ship was flooded, and they should put on more clothes and lifebelts. Bride began to get ready, while Phillips went back to work on the wireless machine.

The wireless power was almost completely out shortly after 2:00 am, when Captain Smith arrived and told the men they had done their duty and were relieved. Bride later remembered being moved by the way Phillips continued working. While their backs were turned, a crew member (either a stoker or trimmer) snuck in and attempted to steal Phillips's lifebelt. Bride saw and grabbed the man as Phillips stood up and knocked the crew member out. The water was beginning to flood the wireless room as they both ran out of the wireless room, leaving the unconscious crewman where he fell. The men then split up, Bride heading forward and Phillips heading aft. [6] This was the last time Bride saw Phillips. [6]

Many researchers have expressed the belief that Phillips died aboard Collapsible B, despite evidence to the contrary. BoatBbyMB.gif
Many researchers have expressed the belief that Phillips died aboard Collapsible B, despite evidence to the contrary.

For many years, there has been conflicting and contradictory information regarding the exact manner in which Phillips met his death. Many researchers have expressed the belief that Phillips managed to make it to the overturned lifeboat B, which was in the charge of Second Officer Charles Lightoller, along with Harold Bride.

In Lightoller's autobiography, Titanic and Other Ships, he writes,

"Phillips, the senior wireless operator, standing near me, told me the different ships that had answered our call ..."

"... As it turned out, the information from Phillips, and the calculation, were about right, though poor old Phillips did not live to benefit by it. He hung on till daylight came in and we sighted one of the lifeboats in the distance ..."

"... I think it must have been the final and terrible anxiety that tipped the beam with Phillips, for he suddenly slipped down, sitting in the water, and though we held his head up, he never recovered. I insisted on taking him into the lifeboat with us, hoping there still might be life, but it was too late." [8]

Bride reporting seeing Phillips's body as he boarded the Carpathia. [6]

However, Lightoller's and Bride's claims about Jack Phillips are contradicted elsewhere by Archibald Gracie, who made it clear that the wireless operator who cheered up the occupants of the upturned collapsible by calling out the names of approaching ships was Harold Bride, not Jack Phillips (as Lightoller thought in 1934.) It is also clear from the accounts of Gracie and Lightoller that only one body was transferred from the collapsible onto boat #12. Bride stated that he knew the body of "the man lying aft" was transferred to #12—which was undoubtedly the body of the crewman mentioned by Gracie and which Lightoller (in 1912) agreed was the body of a crewman. Bride's assumption that the body of Phillips (which he never saw) was also taken on board the Carpathia was just that - an assumption (since he obviously did not see Phillips's body lying abandoned in #12 after the boat was emptied of living passengers.) [9]

Phillips family grave and Jack Phillips memorial, Nightingale cemetery Jack Phillips' grave, Farncombe, Surrey, United Kingdom.jpg
Phillips family grave and Jack Phillips memorial, Nightingale cemetery
Phillips Memorial Cloister, Godalming Phillips Memorial Cloister, Godalming - geograph-1980712-by-Ian-Taylor.jpg
Phillips Memorial Cloister, Godalming

There are memorials to Jack Phillips in Nightingale cemetery, Farncombe and in the Phillips Memorial Cloister, part of the Phillips Memorial Ground, which lies to the north of Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Godalming.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking, the BBC World Service broadcast, on 10 April 2012, a radio documentary in the "Discovery" series, entitled Titanic – In Her Own Words. The programme was conceived and created by Susanne Weber and was narrated by Sean Coughlan, who had previously written a book on the Titanic radio messages. [10] The programme used voice synthesis to re-create "... the strange, twitter-like, mechanical brevity of the original Morse code messages ... " transmitted by Titanic and neighbouring ships. Messages often included the fashionable slang expressions of the time, such as "old man". The BBC noted that "these messages were recorded at the time in copper-plate handwriting, now scattered across the world in different collections, but together forming a unique archive." [11]


  1. 1 2 "Mr. John George Phillips" (2014) Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #2051, accessed 1 March 2014)
  2. FAQs, page 2 [ better source needed ]
  3. 1 2 3 4 "John George (Jack) Phillips, (1887 – 1912)". Godalming Museum. Exploring Surrey's Past. 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  4. 1 2 3 "Wireless Man of Titanic Describes Wreck of Vessel". The Washington Times. April 19, 1912. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  5. Charles Herbert Lightoller (1935) in Chapter 31. "Southampton" (eBook). Titanic and Other Ships. London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Harold Bride, Surviving Wireless Operator of the Titanic (19 April 1912). "THRILLING STORY BY TITANIC'S SURVIVING WIRELESS MAN; Bride Tells How He and Phillips Worked and How He Finished a Stoker Who Tried to Steal Phillips's Life Belt – Ship Sank to Tune of "Autumn"". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  7. Snopes.com: Titanic First Ship to Use an SOS?
  8. Charles Herbert Lightoller (1935) in Chapter 35. "The Rescue". Titanic and Other Ships. London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  9. "The Fate of Jack Phillips -George Behe's " Titanic " Tidbits".
  10. Booth, J. A. and Coughlan, S., (1993) "Titanic": Signals of Disaster, White Star Publications, ISBN   0-9518190-1-1, ISBN   978-0-9518190-1-2
  11. "Titanic – In Her Own Words". Discovery. BBC.

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