The Allison Family Tragedy

Alice Catherine Cleaver, 22, had worked as a nursemaid for wealthy English families since her teen years. In 1912, young Montreal millionaires Hudson and Bess Allison hired her to look after their children, two-year-old Loraine and eleven-month-old Trevor. The family had been in England for Trevor’s baptism and to purchase several horses for their racing stable, and booked passage home on Titanic in order to travel with friends. In addition to Alice, the family also traveled with a lady’s maid, a cook, and a butler.

When the ship struck the iceberg on the night of April 14, some claimed that Hudson Allison immediately went to see what happened and returned to find his wife in hysterics. She’d told him a steward had come to their cabin and insisted they put on lifebelts and head to the boat deck, and Alice immediately left with baby Trevor. Hudson and Bess took their daughter Loraine and went to the boat deck but refused to board a lifeboat without first knowing the whereabouts of Alice and their son. But stories conflicted from survivors who knew them. Some said Alice had told Bess she planned to find the other servants and would meet Mr. and Mrs. Allison at the boats; other said Alice had simply grabbed Trevor and disappeared.


Trevor Allison with his nurse, Alice Cleaver

A dinner companion of the Allison's, Major Peuchen, stated Bess and little Loraine had somehow been forced into his lifeboat, #6, even though Bess still was searching for Trevor. But when Bess heard that her husband was on the opposite side of the ship, she climbed out of the lifeboat with Loraine and went after him. “Apparently,” the major said, “she reached the other side to find Mr. Allison not there. Meanwhile, our boat had put off.”

An hour later, the family’s butler, George Swane, saw Alice, Trevor, and the cook, Mildred Brown, safely board Lifeboat #11. The lady’s maid, Sarah Daniels, had managed to get on an earlier boat. It’s possible that Swane informed the Allison’s of their son’s safety, if he indeed found them, but by then it was too late. All the lifeboats had left the Titanic.

Hudson and Bess Allison, their daughter Loraine, and George Swane all perished. Bess was one of five women traveling in first class to die in the sinking, and Loraine was the only child. Only the bodies of Hudson Allison and George Swane were recovered. Then a woman claiming to be Loraine Allison came forward in 1940, saying she’d been handed to a man in one of the lifeboats and raised on a farm in the Midwest. Although she stood by her story until her death, her claim was always denied by the Allison family. It wasn’t until 2012 when her daughter agreed to DNA testing that her story was finally proven false. The two families were not related in any way.

bess, loraine, and trevor allison

Bess Allison with her children, Loraine and Trevor

For some time after the sinking, Alice Catherine Cleaver was mistaken for Alice Mary Cleaver, who had murdered her infant son in 1909, born out wedlock. Confusion still exists among some historic records. But Alice Catherine, who had taken Trevor and boarded Lifeboat #11, turned him over to his aunt and uncle in New York and returned to England until the rumors quieted. She eventually married, had two daughters, and lived to be 95.

But the Allison family was to meet with more tragedy. Trevor Allison, who had survived the sinking and been raised by his aunt and uncle in Canada, died of ptomaine poisoning at the age of 18.