Titanic’s Popular Chief Purser

Two Titanic officers were extremely popular with passengers who had regularly sailed the Atlantic. When their names were listed as part of the crew on other White Star Line ships, bookings increased. One was Captain Edward J. Smith. The other was Chief Purser Hugh McElroy. With both men sailing on Titanic, many first class passengers looked forward to not only the new, luxurious ship but to seeing the men who they’d come to know during other Atlantic crossings.

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Chief Purser McElroy with Captain Smith just prior to Titanic launch

Irishman Hugh McElroy had served the White Star Line for thirteen years. He’d worked aboard military ships during the Boar War, and had studied to be a Roman Catholic priest in his late teens. When he signed on as Titanic’s Chief Purser, McElroy was 37.

The Purser’s office, located on C Deck, was a hub of activity throughout the voyage. Passengers left their money and valuables there for safekeeping; they reserved deck chairs, and bought tickets for the Turkish Baths, swimming pool, and electric baths. If they wished to send a telegram, either to someone on land or on a passing ship, they visited the Purser’s office. From there, McElroy or his assistants would take the message to the Marconi room. He was also the one to see with a complaint or to make any special requests.

2nd class Purser's Office on the Olympic

Second Class Purser’s Office aboard the Olympic

McElroy had a wonderful sense of humor, according to many surviving passengers. He was the perfect man for the demanding job, always pleasant and calm, always ready to help. He enjoyed visiting with all the passengers in the dining rooms, charmed all the ladies, and seemed to know everyone and everything. He often invited those traveling alone to join him at his table, where he served as a friendly host.

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Chief Purser Hugh McElroy

On the night of the sinking, passengers lined up outside the Purser’s office demanding their valuables. Assistant Pursers hurried to comply, until Chief Purser McElroy showed up and urged them to get their lifebelts on and head to the lifeboats. The Countess of Rothes stated he told her, “‘Hurry, little lady, there is not much time. I’m glad you didn’t ask me for your jewels as other ladies have.’ McElroy was also seen by crewmen assisting with the loading of one of the last lifeboats. Another survivor, stewardess Annie Robinson, stated she last saw Purser McElroy and Captain Smith walking toward the mailroom.

Hugh McElroy’s body was picked up by the recovery ship, Mackay-Bennett, and identified first as Herbert McElroy:

  1. 157. — MALE. — ESTIMATED AGE, 32. — HAIR, DARK.
    CLOTHING – Ship’s uniform; white jacket; ship’s keys; 10 pence; 50 cents; fountain pen.
    CHIEF PURSER. — NAME — HERBERT W. McELROY.

Due to the condition of the body, it was decided to bury him at sea. He was the most senior member of the crew whose body was recovered. Hugh McElroy left behind his wife of only two years, Barbara. The couple had no children.

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