Frederick Fleet was born a Liverpudlian on October 15th 1887 to a single mother (ie unmarried and father unknown) who immediately after the birth abandoned her baby and decamped to the USA where she set up house with a different man in the town of Springfield, Mass. Frederick spent his early life being looked after in orphanages, Dr. Banardo's Homes for unwanted children, foster homes and occasionally a distant relative. At 12 years of age he left conventional junior schools and joined a merchant navy training ship.
At the age of 16 he left school and went into the mercantile marine as a deck boy and eventually achieved able seaman rating. By 1912 at the age of 25 he was earning £5 5s and had served for four years on the Oceanic as a lookout. During that time he had registered his home address as Norman Road, Southampton. He joined Titanic in March 1912 as a designated A/B Lookout and was employed as such when the ship left Southampton on her illfated voyage to New York (extensively and variously reported in detail elsewhere).
14th April 1912 - That day which lives in history - Mr. Fleet accompanied by another A/B named R. Lee took up duty in the crows nest lookout at 2200. The night was dark but the weather and seastate was calm. The ship was under full commercial power. The two lookouts being relieved, George Symons and Archibald Jewel handed over with a "nothing to report but watch out for small ice (ie growlers or low lying ice not bergs)".
A little after seven bells (ie about 2330 or a little later) Mr. Fleet saw a mass looming ahead. He telephoned the ships bridge and reported "ICEBERG DEAD AHEAD". Sixth Officer James Moody (who did not survive) responded "Thank you". With the phone still in his hand Mr. Fleet felt the ship start to veer the port. Shortly thereafter both lookouts from their high viewpoint saw the starboard side of the ship crunching down the iceberg. They saw great lumps of ice broken off and falling onto the starboard forecastle and well decks. Later at the board of enquiry Mr. Fleet asserted that at the time he was not alarmed because he assumed that it had been merely been a "near-miss".
About 20 minutes later the two lookouts were relieved as normal. (At the Board of Enquiry Mr. Fleet pointed out that had he been provided with binoculars as he should have been then the iceberg would have been sighted much earlier with dramatically different results. Another factor was that since the seastate was calm the customary turbulence caused by waves breaking along the edge of an iceberg was not present and thus the berg was not as visible to lookouts as would normally have been the case). [Read The Key by Robert Edmonds]
By now things were starting to gather apace. Boat stations meant that Mr. Fleet took station on the boat deck and was there ordered by Second Officer Charles Lightoller to help load lifeboat No 6. This he did along with Quartermaster Robert Hitchens who was to be the boat commander. With some 28 women and children on board the lifeboat was lowered (the first to be launched). The Boat Deck Officer, Lightoller realised that the boat was seriously undermanned with only two crewmen in the it and called for volunteers with seamanship skills.
A Major Arthur Peuchen claimed yachting experience and the Officer in effect said if you are as skilled as you say then get down into that lifeboat. The Major proved his worth by shinning down the falls which were still attached. Second Officer Charles Lightoller stayed with the ship and was trying to release collapsible lifeboats when he was sucked down as the vessel submerged. He was blown clear and survived as the most senior surviving officer of the entire disaster.
The next morning Lifeboat No. 6, then with at least 40 souls on board, was picked up by the Carpathia. Mr. Fleet was one of the few Titanic crewmen to survive and his evidence was crucial at the subsequent formal enquiries. Mr. Fleet's seaman's discharge book laconically records "April 12, 1912 - discharged at sea - destination intended New York". Mr. Fleet rejoined the White Star Line subsequently and served on board the liner Olympic.
Unfortunately, the White Star Line regarded the Titanic survivors as embarrassing reminders of the tragedy and they were treated with disfavour. He left the White Star Line and joined the Union Castle Line where his past was less of an hindrance and served with them and other shipping companies for the next 24 years. In 1936 Mr. Fleet finally left the sea and looked for work ashore. He was lucky during those latter depression years to find employment with Harland and Wolf, Southampton in shipbuilding. Later he rejoined the Union Castle Line ashore and ended up at the time of his retirement as a shoreside Master-at-Arms or Regulator.
During these 'shore' times Mr. Fleet lived with his wife in the house owned by her brother at 8, Norman Road Southampton. For much of his retirement Mr. Fleet sold newspapers on street corners in Southampton. Times were hard and they needed the money. It appeared that the domestic arrangements were not too happy. Mrs. Fleet died on 28th December 1964. Her brother promptly gave Mr. Fleet his marching orders and evicted him from the house soon after the funeral.
Living off the street, on 10th January 1965 Mr. Fleet found his way back into the garden of 8 Norman Road and in a fit of grief, remorse, depression or whatever, hanged himself from the clothesline post. His body was discovered by the brother after returning home from shopping. The coroners report stated that Mr. Fleet took his own life by hanging whilst the state of his mind was disturbed.
Without family and with the brother-in-law disinclined to become involved, Mr. Fleet was buried without ceremony by the local Borough Council in an unmarked "pauper's grave" in Hollybrook Cemetery, Shirley, Southampton. A tragic ending for the life of someone who, as a young man, had inadvertently become embroiled in one of maritime history's most controversial disasters. During 1993 the Titanic Historical Society Inc. of Indian Orchard, Massachusetts (which had been established in 1963), conscious of Mr. Fleet's ignominious location sought and secured donations to the creation and erection of a memorial stone which was installed at the site of Mr. Fleet's grave in Hollybrook Cemetery.