Thomas Byles
A photograph of Thomas Byles, c. 1900s
ChurchCatholic Church
Personal details
Roussel Davids Byles

(1870-02-26)26 February 1870
Died15 April 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 42)
North Atlantic Ocean
BuriedAtlantic Ocean
DenominationCongregationalist (prev.)
Church Of England (prev.)
Roman Catholic
ParentsReverend Alfred Holden Byles (Father) Louisa Davids (Mother)
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford, Beda College

Thomas Roussel Davids Byles (26 February 1870 – 15 April 1912) was an English Catholic priest who was a passenger aboard the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage when it sank after striking an iceberg during the night of 14–15 April 1912. He was reported as being amidst the throng of trapped passengers on the ship's rear deck in its final moments of descent, audibly praying.


Thomas Byles was born Roussel Davids Byles in Leeds, Yorkshire, the eldest of seven children of Alfred Holden Byles, a Congregationalist minister, and his wife Louisa Davids. He attended Leamington College and Rossall School, Fleetwood, Lancashire, between 1885 and 1889, then went to Balliol College, Oxford in 1889 to study theology, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1894. While at Oxford, Byles converted to the Church of England and later, like his younger brother William had done before, to the Roman Catholic faith, taking the name Thomas. In 1899, he went to the Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood and was ordained in 1902. He was assigned to St Helen's Parish in Chipping Ongar, Essex in 1905, where he would remain until his death.

An invitation to officiate at the wedding of his younger brother William prompted Byles to make the trip to New York City. He said Mass on 14 April, the morning of the sinking and the Octave of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday), for both second-and third-class passengers in their respective lounges. The sermon described the need for prayer and the sacraments as a "spiritual lifeboat" to avoid a metaphorical shipwreck in times of temptation.[1][2]

Byles was walking on the upper deck praying his breviary when the Titanic struck the iceberg. As the ship was sinking, he assisted many third-class passengers up to the boat deck to the lifeboats. He reportedly twice refused a place on a lifeboat. Toward the end he recited the Rosary and other prayers, heard confessions[3][4] and gave absolution to more than a hundred passengers who remained trapped on the stern of the ship after all of the lifeboats had been launched. His body, if recovered, was never identified. His brothers installed a door in his memory at St Helen's Catholic Church in Chipping Ongar, Essex. Pope Pius X later described Byles as a "martyr for the Church".[5]

Beatification process

Stained glass window dedicated to Father Thomas Byles in St Helen's Catholic Church, Chipping Ongar, Essex.

In April 2015, Graham Smith, the current priest of St Helen's Church, with support of Bishop Alan Williams of the Diocese of Brentwood, initiated the first steps toward declaring Byles a saint.[6]

In popular culture

Byles has three times been portrayed in films about the disaster. In the 1979 television movie S.O.S. Titanic, he was portrayed by Matthew Guinness. In the 1997 film, Titanic, he was portrayed by James Lancaster, reciting the Rosary and Revelation 21:4. Richard Basehart plays a thinly disguised Byles in the 1953 film. His story is featured in a book written by Cady Crosby entitled A Titanic Hero: Thomas Byles. The book documents Byles' early life, his years in ministry and his final hours on board the RMS Titanic.


  1. ^ "Fr Thomas Roussel Davids Byles". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  2. ^ "Extracts from the Diary of Father Patrick McKenna". The Scotsman. 1912. Retrieved 17 July 2019 – via
  3. ^ Smith, Graham (7 April 2016). "Devotion to a heroic priest who died on the Titanic is growing". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 25 June 2023.
  4. ^ Pittam, Matthew (29 October 2015). "Five controversial saints in the making". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 25 June 2023.
  5. ^ Foster, Stewart (16 April 2012). "The priest who prayed the rosary and heard Confessions as the Titanic sank". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  6. ^ "Father Thomas Byles: God's Faithful Servant on the Titanic". National Catholic Register. 15 April 2015. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2015.