Mary Elizabeth Davison was born Mary Elizabeth Finkenagel in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, on 19 February 1878.
Her father, John Finkenagel (b. 1837) was German born in Hesse, her mother Elizabeth Phillips (b. 1841) was English and they had married in Stroud, Gloucestershire on 2 October 1858. Mary was of at least nine siblings. The family appear to have used the name Fink and they were later to be known under that name in Ohio.
The family initially lived in Malvern then moved to Malmesbury around 1873, running a lodging house. In 1881 census they are living at Church Street in Malmesbury and in 1901 they are still in the same business. A common lodging house provided very cheap accommodation for travellers and, in the 1901 Census, the Finkenagels have an Italian musical troupe and a couple of Russians among their guests. In 1907 Mary’s parents and most of her siblings immigrated to Ohio.
However remained in Malmesbury, where in 1902 she had married a local man Thomas Henry Davison (b. 1880), a blacksmith. They had two children who both died in infanthood. In 1911 census they are living at 32 Marshfield Road, Chippenham.
The couple had visited Cleveland, Ohio in 1908 where Mary’s parents had settled and they eventually decided to immigrate to Bedford, Ohio. On 10th April 1912 they boarded the Titanic at Southampton as third class passengers – ticket number 386525, which cost £16 2s. It has been suggested that Thomas changed their original tickets for another White Star liner so they could sail on The Titanic – not unlikely since The Titanic was a new ship on her maiden voyage and clearly an attraction for travelers.
Following the sinking, Mary later related:
“…We had retired when the crash came. Harry threw on some clothing and started on deck to see what was the matter. As we came on the deck we saw men and women fighting about the lifeboats. Some of the boats were lowered and everyone was shouting and pushing about the boat. Harry pulled me into a crowd that was struggling about one of the boats that was being loaded. One of the officers kept crying ‘Women first get back Women first’. Then someone grabbed me and threw me into the boat. I was terribly excited and didn’t notice how many boats were left, but as we were being lowered I saw other boats pulling off under us and heard shouts from other boats that seemed a long ways out. As we came to the water I heard something whirl over us and strike the water. It was a man. The boat was crowded, there being thirty-five and we couldn’t turn around to go back. Some were standing up and as we pushed off the boat listed and took water. It was frightfully cold and all the women in our boat were scantily clothed. Nearly all were women and there were only three sailors. Some of the women tried to help the sailors row, but we didn’t make much headway. It seemed hours before the Titanic sank, but we had not got far away. Its stern came up … then there was an explosion…..The cold was intense. We were afraid to move for fear of sinking the boat. Water kept coming into it until there were several inches on the bottom. Ice bumped against us at times. It seemed dawn would never come. The sailors kept rowing all night. The strain was terrible. A woman fainted and a man began to laugh and sob toward morning….”
Mary was rescued by The Caparthia, but her husband perished. Thomas’s death is recorded in Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Registers and Indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths of Passengers and Seamen at Sea which gives the formal, administrative place of death as Liverpool where The Titanic was registered, his body was never found.
Her family, in Ohio, are mentioned in Cleveland Plain Dealer 19 April 1912 in an article which covered the story in some detail because a number of local people perished.
“Mr. and Mrs. John Fink, sr., 4106 E. 131st St, received a letter Tuesday from their daughter Mrs. Harry Davison of Chippenham, England, telling them that Mrs. Davison and her husband had booked passage on the Titanic. Davison is believed to have drowned, but his wife was saved.
Henry Davison, 32, and his wife Mary, 31, visited the latter’s parents four years ago and decided to make Cleveland their permanent home. They were third-class passengers.”
The Carpathia manifest gives information about Mary
“Mary Davison, 32 yrs, F, W, occupation: left blank, can read/write: left blank;
Citizen of: England, Race: English, last residence: Chippenham, England;
Nearest relative: no rel. in England
Address: left blank;
Joining: Father Mr. John Fink,
Address: Bedford, Ohio;
Place of birth: England.”
Mary never returned to England and she remarried on 29 July 1913 in Warrensville, Ohio to Fred Buescher (1881-1944). They soon divorced, maybe suggesting the trauma she had suffered, and Mary married again in September 1917 to Henry Godwin (b. 1879) who had emigrated from Malmesbury in 1910. The couple settled in Cleveland, Ohio.
Mary died as a result of cancer on 26 March 1939 aged 61. She is buried in Bedford Cemetery, Bedford, Ohio alongside her husband Henry Godwin who died on 7 November 1950. The skirt Mary wore when she escaped from The Titanic is still in the possession of her family.
Mary is related to the Paginton family through her sister, Ada who married Thomas Exon.