Chief Purser Hugh McElroy
- Parrot & Marriage
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.
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.
Marriage to Barbara
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 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.
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."
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)