Arthur Webster Newell was a man of good Chelsea stock, and just before midnight 100 years ago this coming Saturday, he stood amongst complete madness on the deck of the infamous RMS Titanic ocean liner – helping get his two daughters safely into lifeboats as the gigantic steel vessel sank into the cold North Atlantic.
Sadly, there was no lifeboat available for the rags-to-riches Chelsea native, and he was one of many who perished in the most heralded sinking ship catastrophe in human history – a tragedy that will mark its 100th anniversary this Saturday.
Newell and his daughters, Marjorie and Madeleine, had been returning from a long trip to the Middle East. They had boarded the Titanic in France as first-class passengers and were set to make history on the behemoth’s maiden voyage and return to their home in Lexington.
That night, Newell had been awakened suddenly by a booming sound as the ship fatally struck an iceberg around 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. Newell was staying in cabin D-48 and rushed to get his daughters out of their neighboring cabin.
He ordered them to dress as quickly as possible and take nothing with them. Sensing danger, he took them to the deck of the ship and saw a lifeboat launch into the sea amidst the chaos of passengers running and screaming. He put his two daughters on the Lifeboat #6 and it was shortly launched as well.
Newell did not get a spot on any of the lifeboats, and it was the last time his daughters ever saw him. It is not known what happened to him during his last hours on the ship, whether he helped others in acts of bravery or whether he was quickly thrown into the sea.
Nearly everyone on the ship – including Newell – lost their lives that night.
His story is chronicled in the 2006 book ‘A Night Like Any Other’ written by his granddaughter, Madeleine Crowley, as told to her by her mother, Newell’s daughter Marjorie.
“I’ll never forget the screams of the drowning people,” she is quoted as saying.
According to information from the Chelsea Historical Society, Newell was born in Chelsea on Jan. 30, 1854.
Newell was born into a modest home and he married Chelsea native, Mary Greely. They remained in Chelsea and started their family here, having their first two children grow up in the city.
Newell had gotten an entry-level job as a bookkeeper in the Fourth National Bank of Boston. He showed promise and worked his way up the ranks – eventually becoming a top official in the bank and a prominent banking presence for all Boston.
He was noted for being direct and truthful.
When his third child, Marjorie, was born 1889, the family moved out to Lexington.
Marjorie was one of the few persons to escape the Titanic, and spoke highly of her father many years after his death.
“[His] inner clarity of spirit made him a keen judge of honesty and reliabilty in others,” she is quoted as saying. “His character appeared distant in his social circles, and his companions were few, but close.”