1 of 3
Robert W. Daniel passport picture 1916, via Encyclopedia Titanica.
2 of 3
3 of 3
Eloise Hughes Smith, via Encyclopedia Titanica
Robert Williams Daniel was 27 years old, a Richmond native but known as a Philadelphia financier, when returning from a European business trip, he booked a crossing on the White Star Line’s new RMS Titanic.
He’d survived a London hotel fire in 1911 and saved an unconscious man. A year later, Daniel's death by water seemed possible.
Ninety-nine years ago, the Richmond newspaper of April 18, 1912, trumpeted his arrival in New York City aboard the rescue ship Carpathia: "Robert Daniel Lands From Carpathia Half Dead and Incoherent." The extent of his distress may have been mitigated by leaving the vessel “carrying in his arms Mrs. [Lucian P.] Smith, handing the nearly faint woman" to her father, West Virginia Congressman James Hughes. She was Eloise Hughes Smith, 18, returning from a honeymoon "Grand Tour of Europe" with her husband, presumed scion to a coal fortune.
Smith had assured his young bride, while calmly chewing on an apple, that the excitement aboard the ship amounted to nothing, and that it was mere form that women and children should get into a lifeboat.
Inconsistent accounts describe Daniel’s experience thusly: He was either dressed or nearly dressed with a life belt underneath or naked when he dove from the Titanic near the time of its plunge to the bottom.
He left behind what he later estimated as $4,583.25 in personal effects (approximately $103,449.52 in today's dollars), including 15 Meerschaum pipes he’d purchased as presents (total $225) and one champion French bulldog named Gamin de Pycombe ($750).
Daniel is also a major source for the story of First Officer William Murdoch shooting himself amid the pandemonium of getting panicking passengers away in the too-few boats. Daniel declared he was just 10 feet away when he witnessed Murdoch — whom he didn’t really know —put a pistol to his temple.
Whether Daniel could’ve seen Murdoch from where he was is debated among Titaniacs. TheJames Cameron epic further complicated matters by portraying Murdoch as taking a bribe, then shooting at surging third-class passengers and, finally, himself. Cameron and 20th Century Fox had to make nice to his descendants and the town where he’d lived.
Reporters describe Daniel flailing between ice chunks before getting dragged into a lifeboat himself. (The water wasn’t ice-clogged, and boat No. 3 is likely, though some say it was No. 7.)
"Then the cries were awful to listen to,” he said of those in the boats. “Some of the women screamed all the time. For four straight hours they kept at it. First from one boat, then from another. It was heart-rending."
Described by a New York Times account as an amateur telegraph enthusiast, Daniel reportedly aided the overworked Carpathia wireless operator Harold Cottam by sending out the list of survivor names. Perhaps this was before the Titanic’s surviving wireless operator Harold Bride was asked to assist.
Nontheless, the Virginia Historical Society is in possession of several telegrams to and from Daniel, with him writing as Charlie Stokes to his worried mother at the Chesterfield Apartments, and the Richmond News Leader requesting an interview.
Meanwhile, survivor Eloise Smith may not have known herself at the time of the sinking that she was two months pregnant. When she began proceedings in the courts of Uniontown, Pa., to recover part of her late husband's estate, his relatives claimed that there was no estate but that he’d lived on an allowance of $500 a year.
A 1997 Richmond Times-Dispatch article quotes a relative, Washington lawyer Z. Taylor Vinson, as explaining, "'We used to say that Eloise was probably the only woman in the world who in just a year's time made her debut, got engaged, married, survived theTitanic, became a widow and then a mother.'"
Perhaps due to their shared experince, Daniel married Eloise on Aug. 18, 1914, although he shortly thereafter left for England to look afterhis company’s financial issues.
The First World War stranded Daniel in London for two months, and so the wedding was kept secret until his return. They settled in a house called Rosemont in Philadelphia, but besides a young son to look after, there may have been just too many ghosts in the marriage to make it work, and by 1918 the couple was separated. They divorced in 1923, after Eloise learned that her husband was spending time with another woman in New York City.
In 1923, Daniel married Marjorie Durant Campbell, the daughter of W. C. Durant, the automobile manufacturer and founder of General Motors.
The couple bought and renovated Brandon, a James River plantation in Prince George County, in 1926 and installed mid-18th-century furnishings.
They later divorced, but Daniel kept the house.
He was president of Liberty National Bank in New York City in 1929 when he married for a third time, to widow Charlotte Bemiss Christian, the niece of John Skelton Williams, a once-controversial U.S. comptroller of the currency (1914-1921).
Daniel became a Virginia state Senator, and while residing at Brandon, he maintained a stable of horses and remained in the cultural whirl of Richmond.
Eloise Smith married twice following her divorce from Daniel, and after the last, she reverted to the name of the man who used a white lie to get her to take a seat in a Titanic lifeboat. She died, at age 46, on May 3, 1940.
Robert W. Daniel died on Dec. 20, 1940, at the age of 56. He’s buried at Hollywood Cemetery.
His son, Robert Williams Daniel Jr., was born in 1936 and served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1972-1983) and today he still owns Brandon, which remains a farm, one of the oldest agricultural businesses in the country.