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Titanic passenger list reveals how gambler George Bereton identified millionaire guests

George Bereton targeted millionaire passengers on the doomed Titanic to fleece them of their money

A professional card player targeted millionaire passengers on the doomed Titanic to fleece them of their money, a fascinating document has revealed 110 years on.

Unscrupulous George Brereton had with him a list of all the first class passengers when he boarded the ill-fated ship for its maiden voyage to New York in 1912.  

He identified the wealthiest people and circled or starred their names on the list as a potential ‘mark’.

He even wrote the word ‘millionaire’ next to the name of Charles Hays, a VIP guest of White Star Line boss Bruce Ismay.

Brereton ensconced himself in the luxury liner’s first class smoking room where he played high-stake card games with his ‘marks’.

When the Titanic struck an iceberg and started to sink, Brereton was recorded as being in the room ‘at work’.

The card shark survived the sinking by sneaking into a lifeboat along with Mr Ismay. Mr Hays perished in the disaster along with more than 1,500 people.

Now Bereton’s copy of the Titanic first class passenger list is set to be sold at auction.

It had been acquired directly from Brereton’s great niece by the late Ken Schultz, a leading collector of Titanic memorabilia.

It is now expected to sell for £60,000 when it goes under the hammer this weekend at Henry Aldridge & Son Auctioneers of Devizes, Wiltshire.

Brereton had with him a list (pictured) of all the first class passengers when he boarded the ill-fated ship for its maiden voyage to New York in 1912

Brereton had with him a list (pictured) of all the first class passengers when he boarded the ill-fated ship for its maiden voyage to New York in 1912

Doing his homework on them, he identified the wealthiest people and circled or starred their names on the list as a potential 'mark'. He even wrote the word 'millionaire' (above) next to the name of Charles Hays, a VIP guest of White Star Line boss Bruce Ismay

Doing his homework on them, he identified the wealthiest people and circled or starred their names on the list as a potential ‘mark’. He even wrote the word ‘millionaire’ (above) next to the name of Charles Hays, a VIP guest of White Star Line boss Bruce Ismay

In Brereton’s pocket was the booklet given to first class passengers when they boarded the ship. It has never come to public light before.

Tellingly, Brereton’s name appeared on the list under his alias of George Brayton, probably so as not to arouse suspicion.

Even after being rescued by the ship RMS Carpathia, his focus was on making money and he befriended fellow survivor Charles Stengel who he tried to ask for a handout.

After the rescue ship arrived in New York, Brereton made contact with Mr Stengel again and unsuccessfully tried to involve him in an illegal horse racing scam he was involved in.

Brereton, an American, ended up committing suicide 30 years later.

Although it is more than a century old, the 20-page booklet is in remarkably good condition.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: ‘These first class passenger lists are like hen’s teeth. Only a handful of them are known to be in existence.

‘They were given to passengers and contained all the information they would need onboard from Wireless Telegraph rates to the hire of steamer chairs and blankets.

‘They also listed in A-Z order the names of the first class passengers. 

‘I suppose these days, that sort of information would be regarded as a breach of the Data Protection Act.

Charles Hays was president of Canada's Grand Trunk Railway. In April 1912 he visited London for business meetings

One of these was believed to have been with Bruce Ismay who invited him on Titanic's maiden voyage to New York

Charles Hays (left) was president of Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway. In April 1912 he visited London for business meetings. One of these was believed to have been with Bruce Ismay (right) who invited him on Titanic’s maiden voyage to New York

‘This document came off the ship with George Brereton, also known as George Brayton and George Bradley.

‘He was a professional gambler – a card shark – and he was on the ship to make money.

‘What is really interesting about this list is that Brereton put stars next to those who were rich and Charles Melville Hays’ name was ringed and the word “millionaire” written next to it.

‘What is also interesting is Brereton’s name appeared on the passenger list as George Arthur Brayton.

‘One can only conclude that he used an alias to avoid suspicion.

‘He survived the disaster like that sort of character would do. He died in the 1940s after his wife died.

Bereton's copy of the Titanic first class passenger list is set to be sold at auction

Bereton’s copy of the Titanic first class passenger list is set to be sold at auction

Even after being rescued by the ship RMS Carpathia, Bereton's focus was on making money and he befriended fellow survivor Charles Stengel who he tried to ask for a handout. Above: Bereton

Even after being rescued by the ship RMS Carpathia, Bereton’s focus was on making money and he befriended fellow survivor Charles Stengel who he tried to ask for a handout. Above: Bereton

‘His great niece had the list until the late 1980s when it was acquired by Ken Scholz.’

Charles Hays was president of Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway. In April 1912 he visited London for business meetings. 

One of these was believed to have been with Bruce Ismay who invited him on Titanic’s maiden voyage to New York.

On the evening of the disaster, Mr Hays is said to have made a prophetic remark about ocean liners trying to compete in travelling across the Atlantic in the fastest time.

He is said to have commented ‘the time will come soon when this trend will be checked by some appalling disaster’.

The Titanic struck an iceberg as it sped through an icefield on the night of April 14, 1912.

As the liner started to sink, Mr Hays helped his wife Clara and daughter into a lifeboat along with his secretary and his maid.

The document is 7ins by x 5ins. It will be sold in Devizes on Saturday.

The horrific 1912 Titanic tragedy

Constructed by Belfast-based shipbuilders Harland and Wolff between 1909 and 1912, the RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat of her time.

Owned and operated by the White Star Line, the passenger vessel set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 10, 1912.

The liner made two short stops en route to her planned Atlantic crossing — one at the French port of Cherbourg, the other at Cork Harbour, Ireland, where smaller vessels ferried passengers on and off board the Titanic.

Nearly five days into her voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping. 

At just before midnight on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Within three hours, the 'unsinkable' ship had slipped beneath the waves of the freezing Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people

At just before midnight on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Within three hours, the ‘unsinkable’ ship had slipped beneath the waves of the freezing Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people

The Titanic took on water some fifteen times faster than could be pumped out, with the hull damage proving too extensive for the vessel’s watertight bulkheads to keep the flooding from spreading across the liner’s compartmentalised lower decks. 

After around two-and-a-half hours, the vessel broke into two sections and sank, each settling to the seafloor around a third of a mile apart.

Around 1,500 people were believed lost in the tragedy, including around 815 of the liner’s passengers.  

At its launch, the luxurious Titanic was the largest ship in the world, and was carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of people from Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere who were seeking a new life in the United States.   

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