Chief Purser Hugh McElroy
- Parrot & Marriage

The RMS Adriatic. (Click image to enlarge)

In 1910, McElroy was by now the purser aboard the Adriatic and appeared in two photographs during this year - one with a "wireless parrot" and the other with his new wife, Barbara.

The Adriatic had entered service in 1907 and was 729 ft by 75.6ft wide and 52.6ft deep, with a capacity for 2,825 passengers, 425 First Class, 500 Second Class, 1900 Third Class. She was a popular ship with passengers due to her luxurious facilities - she was the first liner to have Turkish baths and an indoor swimming pool) despite a lower speed than her fellow liners. Captain Smith was master of the Adriatic from 1907 until 1911, while William Murdoch was first officer also between 1907 and 1911.

It was not all plain sailing. Mark Chirnisde in his book "The Big Four" (2016) recounts an awful incident in early 1910 in which upon departing New York an actor under "the stage name ‘Ed Beppo’ for his English music hall performances, had shot himself in another passenger’s stateroom, that of Alfred Burgess. He was, briefly and understandably, mistaken for Burgess. One of the ship’s officers had to call for a tug to take the body off the ship. Smith signed the entry in the ship’s log that Ettridge had died of a ‘bullet wound in right temple’, countersigned by Purser McElroy and Chief Surgeon William O’Loughlin." ("The 'Big Four'"' of the White Star Fleet: Celtic, Cedric, Baltic & Adriatic")

The "Wireless Parrot"

While assigned to the Adriatic, according to a story by The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) dated 28th of July 1910, McElroy had been looking after another parrot with notable skills - one that could tap out messages from the ship's wireless with its foot. The owner, a Mr Joseph Finley, caught the parrot in the Hartz mountains in Germany, the bird having escaped from a zoo. In London he showed the parrot to McElroy who took a liking to the bird and it seems offered to help transport him to Finley's home in the United States. Finley explains:

"Later in London, I met Mr McElroy, who is purser of the Adriatic. I gave him the parrot and telling him the trick of the parrot imitating the tapping of my fingers, it was found that he would tap the wireless key on the Adriatic just as regularly and as precisely as he did the table taps. As a result of some experiments, the parrot was found quite competent to send wireless messages without the regular operator touching the key, the bird simply following each tap with a tap on the key. He was quite precise in his imitation of the dots and dashes, and I was highly gratified in getting a wireless message on the Cedric, which was sent 'Via McElroy's Parrot' as the messages stated."

Finley arrived in New York aboard the Cedric, with McElroy bringing his parrot a week later on the Adriatic.

McElroy and his "wireless parrot" as depicted in an article in the The Fort Wayne Sentinel dated 28 Jul 1910 (Click image to enlarge)

Another photograph of Hugh McElroy with a parrot - possibly the same "wireless parrot." This photograph came up for auction at Henry Aldridge & Son in November 2022. He is also clearly smoking a cigarette. (Click image to enlarge)

McElroy - The Racist?

Shortly before McElroy was to be married, there appeared a most unfortunate account published in the 20 August 1910 Denver, Colorado newspaper, The Colorado Statesmen, which claimed that McElroy had discriminated against a black second class woman, telling her: “White folks are white folks and black folks are black folks. They should not be put at the same table when they eat.” The woman concerned was Mrs Fanny Givens (née Hicks) who had recently lost her husband in March 1910 and had been on tour in Europe to perhaps distract her from her grief. On the return westward voyage aboard the Adriatic on the 14th of June 1910 she went on a hunger strike after accusations of being “Jim Crowed” (racially segregated) until Captain Smith stepped in and gave orders that she could sit anywhere she pleased. She was interviewed by The Age and gave this account:

Fanny Givens, pictured in 1909.

According to Mrs. Given, H.W. McElroy, the purser, was very insulting, and when she registered a protest against being “Jim Crowed” [he] declared: “White folks are white folks and black folks are black folks. They should not be put at the same table when they eat.”...

After visiting Scotland, England, France, Belgium and other countries abroad I boarded the steamer for home.
The first thing I met after the four small tugs had drawn the large steamer Adriatic in mid-ocean was the color-line. There were some two hundred passengers aboard and but five dark Americans, and although we occupied different parts of the line[r] at dinner we found ourselves seated at a bad table in the corner.
I noticed the discrimination and went to the steward and informed him that I did not intend to sit there at that table used by the band men and would not be Jim Crowed. Doctor Camphor [a fellow black passenger] also protested and we were referred to the purser, who was very insulting and said that white folks were white folks and black folks were black folks and that the blacks would have to eat together. I gave out the statement that I would not eat if Jim Crowed, and for more than two days and nights [I] refused food. I was standing out for the principle of the thing and had made up my mind to starve to death and be buried at sea rather than be mistreated because I was colored. On the third day I asked for an interview with the captain, stating that I wanted him to give me a ruling in writing. This brought all the high officials together and I was sent for. A heated discussion ensued and I declared that I had paid for the same privileges as the white passengers and would die before I would eat food on a ship under proscription. The captain wanted to know what terms would satisfy me, and I replied that all I wanted was to be assigned to a table with the rest of the passengers regardless of color. Orders were given that I be placed at any table in the dining room, which was done.” (The Colorado Statesman, 20 August 1910)

For more information on this incident check Sam Brannigan's article here: "The Fearless Mrs. Givens Purser accused of discrimination, overuled by Captain Smith"

Marriage to Barbara

Saint Peters Roman Catholic Church in Ballymitty,
County Wexford, Ireland.

Around about the same time, 35-year-old McElroy also took an important step in his life - marrying 32-year-old Barbara Mary Ennis (born 18 May 1876) at 3pm on Saturday the 9th of July 1910, at Saint Peters Roman Catholic Church in Ballymitty, County Wexford, Ireland. Barbara was the daughter of John Ennis JP, of Ballymitty, Wexford, formerly a Chief Purser and then passenger manager at the Allan Line. Saint Peter's Church is part of the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow, and so the marriage was recorded there witnessed by John Keogh (an Irish friend of Hugh's)and Edith Ennis (Barbara's younger sister aged 31). The marriage was also attended by Hugh's brother Richard -indeed his brother, as he was Reverend the Prior Richard McElroy RCL and Prior of St Mary's Priory in Bodmin, performed the marriage.

Barbara's father John Ennis also presented to the church a silver chalice to be used in the ceremony. According to biographer Frank McElroy, "the chalice remains in the church and has been used in all the masses ever since, and is an item of great detail and beauty." Frank McElroy also mentions that Barbara was Hugh's long time sweetheart:

Hugh and Barbara’s Marriage Certificate, issued 9th
July 1910. Credit: Frank McElroy
(Click image to enlarge)

"Hugh had known Barbara when they were both growing up in Liverpool; and he often met Barbara at her father's office which was situated in Liverpool, Barbara's father had just moved to "Springwood" from 5 Derwent Road, West Derby in Liverpool, after his retirement. 5 Derwent Road is where incidentally Barbara, he sister Edith and brother John were born, their mother Elizabeth, was also born in Liverpool, she was 8 years younger than John Ennis, her husband.

After their marriage, Hugh and Barbara lived with her father for a short while, because she wanted to spend as much time as she could with her father. Mr John J. Ennis, was a 75 year old widower, who shared the Family Estate and home with his younger brother Aidan Ennis (aged 70) who was a farmer… in Tullycanna, Ballymitty in Co.Wexford, which is situated about one mile along the Wexford Road from Ballymitty Church…Hugh and Barbara stayed there just short of 12 months and then moved back to england, to the "Polygon" which is situated in, The Polygon, Southampton." (The Life and Times of Hugh Walter McElroy, Chief Purser of R.M.S. Titanic, by Frank McElroy)

Their marriage also made the news, with a glowing article describing McElroy as "the doyen of the White Star Line" (the most respected or prominent person in a particular field), having a "legion" of friends on both sides of the Atlantic and receiving 100 telegrams of congratulations on the morning of the wedding:

Sailing of the SS Adriatic: Her Purser's Marriage

Mr Hugh M'Elroy, the popular purser of this huge liner, and the doyen of the White Star Line, is the busiest official on board, and the man most sought after by passengers, who look up to him for all kinds of information, and it is a very rare occurrence when he cannot satisfactorily answer the inquirer, and in the management of his department on board ship he is a past master, so much so , that the catering service and attention on board the Adriatic is very frequently commented upon by all classes of passengers as of the very best to be found afloat or on shore. Mr M'Elroy's friends, of which he has legion on both sides of the Atlantic, congratulate him on his marriage of Miss Ennis, daughter of Mr John Ennis, of Wexford, which happy event took place at Wexford on last Saturday week. The presents were very numerous and costly, and the happy couple received about 100 telegrams of congratulations and good wishes on the morning of the wedding.

Mr M'Elroy has had a very wide and extensive experience as purse. He was for a number of years purser in the Allan Line, previous to joining the White Star Line, his first ship in the company being the SS Cymric, 13,000 tons, afterward he was promoted to the Germanic, Britannic, Majestic, Cedric, Baltic, and finally the White Star Line appreciating his ability and resourcefulness and the courteous attention always extended by him to passengers, transferred him to the commodore ship the Adriatic. Mr M'Elroy's friends in Queenstown and the South of Ireland wish him and his bride a long and happy life.

(Undated newspaper article courtesy of Joan O'Brien)

Prior to their move to Southampton, their time at "Springwood" was noted in the 1911 Census, with the following details:

1911 census – ‘Springwood’, Tullacanna, County Wexford.
John Ennis (75), a widower, retired steamship manager
Hugh Walter McElroy (36), purser. Wife Barbara Mary (34). Married less than one year.
Six servants, including domestics, farmhands, a stableman and professional nurse.
First-class house with ten rooms and 15 outlying farm buildings.

Hugh with Barbara and young John Patrick Ennis (son of Barbara’s brother John). This photograph was taken in Waterford, County Wexford, while they were still on honeymoon in October 1910. Credit: Frank McElroy. (Click image to enlarge)

In October 1910, McElroy, aboard the Adriatic, received a touching letter from the "Pursers and Friends in the Employ of the White Star Line on the Occasion of your Marriage." The letter accompanied a wedding gift and a "wish to convey in some small way our deep appreciation of you as a Friend and Brother Employee, by presenting to you and your good Lady, the accompanyong Cabinet of Plater and Cutlery, also Egg Stand. One and all, heartidly wish you and yours, Long Life, Much Happiness and Abundance of Prosperity."

A letter from fellow pursers that accompanied a wedding gift. Credit: Joan O'Brien.
(Click image to enlarge)

In the same month, Hugh was photographed aboard the "London Brighton & South Coast Railroad" cross-channel steamer the SS Paris with his wife, presumably on their honeymoon.

But by December 1910 Hugh was back at work aboard the Adriatic, according to a Daily Sketch article printed the following year:

"When I crossed from New York to Plymouth on the R.M.S. Adriatic just before Christmas, 1910, McElroy was the Chief Purser of that vessel, I described McElroy very briefly in these notes; here is the description: 'Seven of us' I wrote, 'sit together at meals, and I fancy we are the merriest table in the salon. At the head sits one of the chief officers. He is so modest a fellow that I will forbear to name him; but let me hint that he is famous among all those who go down to the sea in ships as a first class raconteur'… Big jolly, courteous, human to the last inch' McElroy was the ideal man for the position he held." ("Motley Notes" Daily Sketch 24 April 1911)

Left to right: Jessie (mother, Charloote (sister), Alice (Barbara's niece) Barbara McElroy, Hugh McElroy, Chief Engineer Bell, Jonathan Lipton, Harld Turner & Helen Vanderbilt (courtesy Frank McElroy/John Hemmert).