Written, researched, and submitted by Hancock Assistant Historian, Bruce Stone

Arthur W Newell

The story of the Newell family, which covers the later decades of the 19th century and most of the 20th, began with Arthur Newell and Mary Greeley. Arthur Webster Newell was born on January 30, 1854 and grew up in Chelsea MA. Because his parents were poor, Arthur Newell was not able to go beyond secondary school. However, he was intelligent, quick, serious, and diligent. After finishing his education, he went to work in a Boston bank and became a bookkeeper in the 4th National Bank of Boston.

As he rose through the ranks of the 4th National’s management, Arthur Newell took on family responsibilities. He married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Greeley.  During the years that followed, the young couple had three daughters, Madeline in 1880, Alice in 1882 and Marjorie Anne in 1889. They also moved from the city to Lexington, which they considered to be a better place to raise their young family. In  1888, the Newells purchased a house with stables on the knoll where Hayden Recreation Center is located today.

A devout family – Mr. Newell was something of a Bible student in his spare time – the Newells found a home in Hancock Church and participated actively in the life of the Church. Marjorie and Alice taught Sunday school. Mr. Newell served as a Deacon and, at various times, as a member of the Music Committee and the Nominating Committee, sometimes holding several positions at the same time.

As a businessman, Arthur Newell also served on the Prudential Committee, which was part of the Hancock Congregational Society. At that time, Hancock was divided into two entities: the Church, which managed worship, music, and the Sunday school and the Hancock Congregational Society, a non-profit corporation that controlled and legally owned Church property and funds. The two were eventually combined into one, which is why the Prudential Committee and the Annual Meeting, which were Society functions, are now part of the Church.

Although on the surface a rather austere man who seemed to follow the “Autocrat of the Breakfast Table” model favored at the time, Arthur Newell was a warm and loving husband and father and good friend to his intimates. He found a release in playing music with his family. He played the cello and his wife Mary played the piano. All three daughters played the violin and would take turns playing trios with their parents. To Alice and Madeline, music was an accomplishment expected on young ladies, but not a career. Both went on to attend and graduate from Smith College. Marjorie however skipped a college education and pursued a career in music.

In 1896 the Newells determined it was time for a better home. The family moved to 20 Percy Road. The new home was essentially a small estate with house, barn, and various small farm animals. Marjorie would later remember an occasion one summer when she was a young girl of 7 or 8. She and a neighbor boy had climbed into a loft in the barn when she heard a hired hand approaching the barn. The children hid among the hay bales, watching him. Unknown to them, Mr. Newell had asked the hand to kill a turkey for dinner. Just as the man raised the hatchet, the children let out piercing screams. Mr. Newell raced into the barn where the arm had stood frozen in his tracks. The children were crying uncontrollably Mr. Newell brought them down and ordered the turkey be spared – for the time being at least. He spent the afternoon comforting and playing with them.

In 1909, the Newells took their first trip to Europe, something that people of sufficient wealth did regularly in those days.  Taking the White Star liner Romanic, they spent more than three months touring Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. In 1912, the travelling bug again bit. This time, the target was the Near East, places earnest Christians like the Newells would look forward to seeing.

On this occasion however, Mrs. Newell and Alice did not feel that they were physically up to the trip and opted to stay home. So, Madeline, Marjorie, and Mr. Newell went without the rest of the family in January 1912. The trip, lasting about three months, must have been an exciting one. Their first stop, Egypt, where Marjorie celebrated her 23rd birthday, was already a well-known destination for tourists. However, the Holy Land, as Palestine was generally known to Westerners, was under the control of the crumbling Ottoman Empire and was more of a “roughing it” expedition.

Historian Files RMS TitanicAfter they toured Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Newells sailed to Marseilles and then travelled to Cherbourg via Paris. On the way, Mr. Newell informed his daughters that they would return to America on the “most seaworthy Titanic” as Marjorie described it. At Cherbourg, the three Newells boarded the Titanic as first-class passengers. Passage for the three of them cost $2500 in 1912 dollars. Mr. Newell was assigned to cabin D-48. Madeline and Marjorie shared cabin D-36.

On Mr. Newell’s advice, the two girls brought their “back-up” violins with them and practiced every evening for about an hour. They continued the custom on the Titanic. However, they also took time to enjoy the social life available to first class passengers.  Among the other people at their dining room table were Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor.

At dinner on the evening of April 14th Marjorie marveled at the beautiful gowns that ladies wore, “I had been given my first long train gown before I left home, and I took great pleasure in wearing it that night.” Marjorie remembered that a woman sitting next to her at dinner had commented, “Don’t you think the ship is going too fast? We are in icebergs and I think we should slow down.”

The woman was prescient. After their usual hour of violin practice, the sisters turned in at about 10:30. Later, in the early morning of April 15, the girls were awakened by “an awful crash.” The ship had hit an iceberg. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Newell knocked on their door and instructed them to get dressed in their warmest clothes. When they were ready, he led them to the upper boat deck where he made sure that they were put aboard lifeboat 6, along with such passengers as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Mr. Newell, in the honorable tradition of how male passengers were supposed to act but did not always, stayed on the ship. The last the girls had seen of him, he had stepped back to allow other women climb into the lifeboat.

Marjorie was one of the passengers who helped row the lifeboat away from the stricken liner. To Marjorie, the lifeboat seemed more dangerous than staying on the Titanic, especially “with oars in the hands of one who had never rowed,” as she described herself. The events in the lifeboat were portrayed in the 1958 British film A Night to Remember and in James Cameron‘s film Titanic. Both films portrayed Molly Brown clashing with quartermaster Robert Hichens, the crewman on the lifeboat tiller. Molly and other passengers wanted to go back to pick up survivors. Hichens refused to do that.

At Hichen’s direction, the lifeboat stood off from the Titanic far enough to avoid being drawn under the water by sinking ship or being swamped by the panic stricken passengers floating in the frigid water. Marjorie would later recall, “From about a mile away we saw the Titanic sink. From the time we left her she was sinking slowly at the head but began to sink faster. The water got into the engine room for we heard a terrific explosion. The tipping of the vessel threw everybody towards the bow and the ship went to the bottom.”

Historian Files Titanic LifeboatAfter a few more freezing hours, the steamer Carpathia rescued the survivors. The girls searched for their father on that ship, but did not find him among the 705 survivors. By the time the Carpathia reached New York, they had become convinced that he had not survived. In New York, Mrs. Newell and Alice were too emotional to meet them at the pier, so they met the girls at a hotel. It was a sad meeting.  As Marjorie put it: “Madeleine and I stepped out in the hall … where mother was waiting for us, she had her arms outstretched and anxious to embrace what she hoped would be three people. When she just saw Madeleine and me, she let out a terrible scream.”

After the sinking, the White Star Line chartered four ships to engage in recovery operations; one of them, the cable maintenance vessel, C.S. Mackay-Bennett, found Mr. Newell’s body. A surprising number of Titanic victims were recovered from the sea. Many were given burials at sea. Other passengers and crew people, many European, were buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The Newell family, however, had Mr. Newell’s remains shipped home to Lexington.  In late April 1912, Hancock Church held a memorial service for Mr. Newell with a short sermon by then minister, George E. Martin. The congregation sang “Nearer my God to Thee” as the closing hymn under the (possibly correct) belief that it was the last music played by the Titanic’s small orchestra. (Marjorie remembered the band playing “The Merry Widow Waltz,” “Turkey in the Straw,” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”) On May 4th, the family held a funeral service in their Percy Street home. The property overflowed with mourners and floral tributes. Mr. Newell was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

That year, the Hancock Congregational Society honored its late member with a dedicated page in its records, as follows:

“A page in our records was ordered to be dedicated to the memory of Mr. Arthur W. Newell who lost his life in the wreck of the steamer Titanic in April 1912 and who for many years was a valued and faithful member of the society, and this page is thus dedicated.”

The story was not yet over. Shortly after Mr. Newell’s passing, the 4th National Bank was absorbed by the Atlantic National Bank of Boston, an event that made news even in the lordly New York Times. The Atlantic National Bank in turn closed its doors in 1932 at the height of the Depression.

Mrs. Mary Newell never remarried and lived the rest of her life in mourning. She slept with Mr. Newell’s watch under her pillow every night. She frequently wore black and never allowed the subject of the Titanic to be mentioned in her presence.   In later years, she moved to a smaller house at 2 Audubon Road. She died in November 1957, at the age of 103. In her will, she left a sum of money “said sum to be known as the Arthur W. Newell Organ fund, the income only to be used for the repair, alteration, or enlargement of the Church organ or any other use in connection of the organ as the Church may decide.” The Newell Fund, created by her gift continues to this day.

Alice Newell never married and died in Lexington in July 1972 at the age of 89. Although Alice was never on the Titanic, she was often mistakenly associated with it. Several scholarly works about the ship listed “Alice” as a passenger in place of Marjorie.

Madeline Newell never married. She spent much of her life caring for her mother and serving as a confidant for her nieces. Madeline also served as executrix for her mother’s estate and served for ten years as recording secretary for the Frances S. Willard Settlement in Waltham, a nursing home, and for the Llewsac Lodge in Bedford, which was a woman’s vacation and rest home.  The facilities eventually merged with the Elizabeth Carleton House to become the Carleton-Willard of today. She lived until 1969.

Marjorie Newell married Floyd Robb in 1917. The couple had three daughters, Rosalind, Marjorie, and Madeline, and a son, Arthur Newell Robb. Arthur ironically would serve as a curator of the Fall River Marine Museum.

Marjorie taught music at Wells College in Aurora, NY for many years, and she taught violin and piano in South Orange, N.J. She eventually became one of the founders of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Mrs. Robb later returned to Massachusetts, moving first to Westport Point and later Fall River.  For years well into the 1980s, Marjorie would come to Lexington and worship at Hancock on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. Each time, she would call Norma Blake and arrange to sit in the pew that used to be her family’s back in the day when specific pew space was regularly rented to families.

Marjorie began to speak about the Titanic. She attended several conventions held by the Titanic International Society and the Titanic Historical Society, where she told her story to many Titanic enthusiasts. In 1983, the Collier Club arranged for Marjorie Robb to come to Church to speak of her experiences near the anniversary of the sinking.

Starting April 7, the Collier Club started a campaign to publicize the event in Church calendar, and the Lexington Minuteman. The publicity campaign was a bit too successful. So many friends and relatives of Mrs. Robb’s turned out that the Collier Club ran out of food. It was obvious that the Collier Club had been taken aback by the extra guests. The minutes of the Collier Club board meeting for June 7, 1983 noted:

“Our guest speaker, the former Miss Newell, Mrs. Robb, did call to apologize to Carol Wilson for bringing all her relatives to be fed. Was also (sic) enlightening to the committee that a substantial amount was given to the Newell Organ fund (by the Newells).”

Marjorie Newell Robb died in her sleep on June 11, 1992. She was 103 years old, the same age as her mother. Marjorie  was  the second longest lived of all of Titanic‘s survivors and the longest lived first-class passenger.


Biography

  • Eyman, Scott, “I Took A Voyage on the RMS Titanic”, Yankee Magazine, June, 1981
  • Hancock Church, Collier Club Board Meeting Minutes, Hancock Archives
  • Hancock Congregational Society, Hancock Congregational Society Records, Hancock Archives
  • Kelley, Beverly Allison, Lexington, A Century of Photographs, Lexington Historical Society, 1980
  • Marjorie Newell Robb.” http: // www.charlespellegrino.com/ passengers / marjorie_robb.htm, Charles Pellegrino Web Site
  • Marjorie Newell Robb,http: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marjorie_Newell_Robb, Wikipedia
  • Miss Madeline Newell,” Titanic Biographies (http: //www,encyclopedia- titanica.org/biobraphy/madeline-newell.html/), Encyclopedia Titanica.
  • Miss Marjorie  Anne Newell,” Titanic Biographies (http: //www,encyclopedia- titanica.org/biobraphy/216/), Encyclopedia Titanica.
  • Mr. Arthur Webster Newell,” http: //www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/arthur-webster-newell.html
  • Mrs. Arthur Newell,” http: //www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/mrs-arthur-newell-html, Encyclopedia Titanica
  • “RMS Titanic Lifeboat No. 6” http:/ /en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ RMS_Titanic_Lifeboat_No._6, Wikipedia
  • Titanic First-Class Passengers: Newell, Miss Madeline,” http://www.titanic-titanic.com/madeleine_newell.shtml, Titanic-Titanic.com
  • Titanic’s Lifeboats” http://www.titanic-titanic.com/lifeboats.shtml, Titanic-Titanic.com
  • Titanic Sisters: The Newell Girls,” http: //www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the_titanic_sisters.html, Encyclopedia Titanica

 

 

Sources

  • Norma Blake
  • Lillian Drury
  • Thad Jackson
  • Marjorie Travis

Read more about the Newells of Lexington in the Lexington Minuteman HERE.