Mary Kezia Roberts was born in Liverpool in the year of 1870. Her parents were Welsh from the Isle of Anglesey. When she grew to an adult, she spent her working life on board various ships as a stewardess. In 1896 she married a Scotsman who was an electrical engineer. He was five years younger than she. Mary was 26 and David Roberts, her husband from Dundee, was 21.
They were married in Derbyshire and had five children. Mary must have been away from home a lot in the early part of the 20th century because she worked for the White Star Shipping line.
In 1912, Mary was the stewardess on the exciting new passenger liner called The Titanic. She was 42 years of age at this time. As most people know, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank with a tremendous loss of life. A disaster that echoes throughout eternity. Mary Roberts managed to survive aboard a lifeboat.
She resumed her career at sea and became a First Class Stewardess. At the outbreak of World War I, Mary was a stewardess aboard the hospital ship HMHS Rohilla. The ship was originally a passenger ship travelling from the UK to India but had been seconded by the navy at the outbreak of the war for hospital duties. The Rohilla was making her way from Scotland to Dunkirk, where it would bring aboard wounded soldiers from the trenches.
However, the ship was caught in a violent storm off of Whitby in Yorkshire. The lighthouse was not working due to wartime restrictions at night. The Rohilla cruised too close to the rocks off of Whitby and struck them. Her back was broken and the stricken ship was wedged among the rocks while the horrendous storm smashed into the broken vessel. The entire crew were in a most desperate situation and for Mary Roberts, a survivor of the Titanic but two years earlier, this was another traumatic event.
The lifeboats were rowed by hand out of the protective harbour, but the rescuers had too much difficulty in keeping the boats close enough to the stricken ship. The off-loading of crew members onto the rescue boats became exhausting as the relentless storm smashed the ship and tossed the rescue boats about. The rescue operation took 50 hours and many of the Rohilla’s crew became so desperate as the clung to the breaking and disintegrating ship, that some chanced the stormy waves.
Many perished in the attempt to reach shore or get to the lifeboats. Of 223 people aboard the Rohilla, only 140 survived the tragedy. The other 83 perished in the sea. Mary Roberts was among the 140 survivors. She went on to say that the Rohilla was a much more perilous affair for her than the Titanic. Perhaps because aboard the Titanic she was put in a lifeboat with others before the ship went down. The water was cold but not stormy.
The last person to leave the Rohilla was the Captain. He was reported to be clinging to a mast when the lifeboat got to him. He was said to be clutching a black cat that lived on board the ship and the pet seemed undisturbed by the commotion of what had gone on.
The Rohilla, for Mary, would be a more tempest and desperate affair clinging to the breaking ship with land only a few hundred yards away, but unable to reach it. The lady certainly had stories to tell of her time at sea. She remained working on liners into the late 1920s.
Mary Roberts passed away in 1932 in Ewell, Epsom, Surrey, England, where she is buried next to her husband David Roberts. He passed away a year later. One of their daughters, Daisy Bell lived to be 97 and died of old age in 2003.