Mary Kelly survived and cared for two young orphan boys on her way to New York Photo by: Mercier Press

Faces of the Titanic: Hero Mary Kelly cared for two French orphans who found themselves alone in a lifeboat


Mary Kelly survived and cared for two young orphan boys on her way to New York Photo by: Mercier Press

Visit our Titanic Centenary Commemoration section here

PHOTOS - photographs of some of the Irish on board

Profile taken from Senan Molony's book "The Irish Aboard the Titanic"

Ticket number 14312. Paid £7 15s.
Boarded at Queenstown. Third Class.
From: Castlepollard, County Westmeath.
Destination: 113 West 15th Street, New York city.

Orphans saved from the Titanic by Mary Kelly (22) created one of the abiding sensations of the tragedy. They were the ‘Titanic Waifs’, two curly-haired French boys named Lolo and Momon, who found themselves alone and adrift in an open lifeboat with only a young Irish girl to comfort them with her crooning foreign tongue. The children were parentless only because their 32-year-old father, Michel Navratil, had stolen them from their mother Marcelle in a tug-of-love snatch from the south of France. Toddler Michel was aged three and his brother Edmond Roger only two. They were smuggled to Southampton where their father signed aboard under the name of Louis Hoffman.

When disaster struck, ‘Hoffman’ handed his two boys lovingly into the arms stretched out to receive them from collapsible D, the last boat lowered. It was near two o’clock now, and close to the end. Mary Kelly helped take them into the boat and then soothed them in their uncomprehending distress.

Mary Kelly was uniquely qualified to do so. A young girl who loved children, she was planning to have many of her own and was on her way to New York to marry the man of her dreams – boyfriend John Heslin from her home place who had travelled over to America some months earlier to prepare a place for them both.

Mary was a domestic and she hoped to get work in the big houses in New York, possibly as a nanny caring for the children of the gentry. With the French boys pressed tearfully to her skirts and bosom, she may have thought it was a little early to begin her calling, but that she needed the practice. When the children were landed safely aboard the Carpathia, a determined effort was made to discover who they were. But the shocked tots were incapable of telling. Eventually passengers who had known the father on board – he now floating dead in the Atlantic with a loaded revolver in his pocket – identified them by their false name, Hoffman.

Mary Kelly cared for her charges until they landed in New York, when the press had a field day. Eventually the tots were claimed as a near-trophy by First-Class passenger Margaret Hays, while feverish attempts were made to reunite them with their family. Eventually Marcelle Navratil came forward and the boys were on their way home.

Miss Kelly meanwhile had moved quietly on and into the arms of John Heslin, with a housewarming gift of $100 from the Red Cross. Not that it compensated for the loss of Mary’s wedding trousseau – the slew of beautiful presents from family and friends – which now lay at the bottom of the Atlantic. Mary and John went on to marry within a year and to have six children. Mary told them that she escaped from steerage because a crewmember showed her a way to the upper decks through an airshaft or ventilation chamber. She died in her home at Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn, two days after Christmas 1950. She was 60 years of age.

1911 census – Kelly, Packenhamhall Street, Castlepollard.
Mary (48), mother, widow.
Children at home – John (16), Edward (14), Bridget (11) and Margaret (9).

Source - Mercier Press - Ebooks from Ireland – Irish author on Kindle, iPad, Nook and all ereading devices

Visit our Titanic Centenary Commemoration section here


Log in with your social accounts:

Or, log in with your IrishCentral account:

Forgot your password ?

Don't have an account yet? Register now !

Join IrishCentral with your social accounts:

Already have an account ?

For Newsletter Subscribers – Draw for 1 Prize on December 31st.

Prize: Your Piece of Ireland – a Square of Land in the heart of the Glens of Antrim, Ireland

More details here (or you can buy a little piece of Ireland directly): http://bit.ly/1zew9ox

Terms & Conditions

Or, sign up for an IrishCentral account below:

By clicking above you are indicating that you have read & agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Make sure we gathered the correct information from you

By clicking above you are indicating that you have read & agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

You already have an account on IrishCentral! Please confirm you're the owner.

Our new policy requires our users to save a first and last name. Please update your account: