On this day April 15: The sinking of the Titanic

Titanic Francis Davis Millet Archibald Butt april 15
Titanic . Insets: Francis Davis Millet & Archibald Butt

At 2.40 am on April 15, 1912, RMS Titanic sunk into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg 2 hours and 40 minutes before. Among the more than 1,500 passengers and crew who died, at least two men thought to be gay, Archibald Butt and Francis Davis Millet.

Despite some touting the largest ship then afloat as unsinkable, the Titanic went to the ocean floor on its maiden voyage. Some of the world’s wealthiest and most prominent people booked passage for the ship’s first crossing of the Atlantic.

Among them, Major Archibald Butt, military aide to US President William Howard Taft. Butt had previously served in the same role under President Theodore Roosevelt. Both presidents valued his organisational skills and Butt apparently liked both of them. So, he was distressed when Roosevelt and Taft fell out and looked like being rivals at the next election. His friend and ‘housemate’ Francis Davis Millet asked Taft to allow Butt a six-week holiday.

Archie Butt and Frank Millet lived together in Butt’s large Washington mansion, now registered as a National Historic Landmark. Butt described Millet as ‘my artist friend who lives with me’.

In his twenties, Frank Millet lived with the gay American author Charles Warren Stoddard in Italy. He then married. However, although he fathered four children and set up home in England with his wife, he spent a lot of time away from home. In 1910, he moved in with Archie Butts on the other side of the Atlantic.

Archibald Butt never married. He told President Taft that he loved his mother so much there was little room for anyone else.

The Titanic

During their six-week trip in 2012, the two men visited Naples, Gibraltar and Rome, and had an audience with Pope Pius X. For their return home, Archie Butt boarded the Titanic at Southampton and Frank Millet joined later that day at Cherbourg, France.

They were apparently playing cards in the ship’s smoking room when the Titanic struck the iceberg. Although papers printed sensational stories of Archibald Butts pulling a gun on male passengers to prevent them from entering the lifeboats ahead of women and children, the stories appear invented. However, there were credible eyewitness accounts of Frank Millet helping women and children into the lifeboats.

British historian Richard Davenport-Hines wrote that it’s unthinkable that Archie and Frank were not together at the end.

“When there are calamitous accidents or natural disasters that grab the headlines, reporters always seize on tragic stories involving families torn apart or holding together against great odds. But the experiences of gay people are often written out of the narrative.

“The enduring partnership of Butt and Millet was an early case of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’. Washington insiders tried not to focus too closely on the men’s relationship, but they recognized their mutual affection. And they were together in death as in life.”

On this day —> A same-sex marriage in 1061, April 16

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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