A Titanic Passenger Essay The Story of Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche

Joseph Laroche’s life is one of the most fascinating stories tied to the sinking of the RMS

Titanic. Laroche was a young, bright man whose accomplishments perhaps would have been remembered in history as a great contribution to the world. Instead, he is remembered for what he could have been and as the only black passenger on the ill-fated Titanic. According to Encyclopedia Titanica, Laroche was born in Haiti in 1886. Judith Gellar writes that Laroche belonged to a reasonably affluent family in Haiti, who sent him to Paris to study engineering at the age of fifteen (95). Soon after earning his engineering degree, Laroche married Juliette Lafargue whom he had met while travelling. Laroche was certainly very bright, but that in itself was not enough for success in early twentieth century France.

Laroche married Maadamoiselle Lafargue, the daughter of a French winemaker, fathered two children with her, and was an educated young man in Paris. However, because of his dark skin, he was unable to find work as an engineer in Paris and the Laroche family was dependent on financial support from Juliette’s father (95). According to Richard Davenport Hines, Laroche quickly became very tired of financial dependence, working manual labor which he surely considered beneath him, and criticism in Paris concerning the biracial appearance of his two daughters (129). Naturally, he wished to return to Haiti, where he could achieve the fullness of his potential and raise his children in a nation where people would not look down upon their

African descent.

Laroche’s family in Haiti purchased the family a first class ticket aboard the SS France for 1913 so that the family could move to Haiti (Gellar 97). Unfortunately, when Juliette became pregnant with their third child, they transferred their tickets to the RMS Titanic, likely so they would not have to worry about travelling with a newborn or in the advanced stages of pregnancy (97). Interestingly, the forty-one pounds the Laroches paid for their second-class tickets was

considerably above the average price, even for the Titanic’s maiden voyage (Encyclopedia

Titanica).

Although biracial marriages are a common occurrence today, it would be interesting to observe how the Laroche family would have been treated aboard the Titanic. Davenport-Hines writes that the family, “would not have received exemplary treatment on the Titanic” (129). One account states that the Laroche children were mistaken for Japanese children by another passenger (Gellar 96), but especially considering there were Japanese second class passengers on the Titanic, it is difficult to draw any definite conclusions. While it is nearly certain some form of discrimination took place, it seems the Laroche family did not find such inconveniences notable compared the great tragedy that ensued.

When the Titanic sank, Laroche was attentive to the events of the night and spoke English fluently. Therefore, he was able to quickly move his family to the deck and see them board lifeboat fourteen (Henry 182). His last words to his family were “I’ll see you in New York. I must take another raft. God be with you” (182). He would never again see his family. When his son was born, Mrs. Laroche named him “Joseph” in honor of his father. It is interesting to note that lifeboat fourteen was filled with mostly second class passengers and was not manned by an officer, but rather only by Seaman Joseph Scarrott, a member of the deck crew (Encyclopedia Titanica).

The Laroches must be noted in any in-depth discussion of the Titanic, because of the way they stood out in the crowd of passengers. Without their presence, there would not have be a single passenger of African descent on board. Joseph Laroche and his family are fascinating because they make the story more relatable for all of us. They were somewhat high class and educated people who sailed on the Titanic to find greater opportunity for themselves. Each of them confronted racial prejudice, and they fought an uphill battle ahead of their time in both their professional and social lives. Joseph Laroche will always be remembered in history for who he

was and what he could have made of his life. Although the rest of his story is unwritten, he is

immortalized victorious.

 

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