In the early hours of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank into the ocean. Over 1,500 people died in the disaster, but a Richmond-born banker escaped with his life.
Robert Williams Daniel was born in Richmond in 1884. He became a banker after graduating from UVA in 1903, eventually moving to Philadelphia. He boarded the Titanic as a means to return from a business trip in England.
It had already been an eventful excursion for Daniel, who had to escape a fire at the Carlton Hotel in London. He brought with him a French bulldog that he had recently purchased.
Daniel’s means of survival is up for debate. As a first-class passenger, he was within the group that was statistically most likely to survive. While around 68% of the total people on board died, only 45% of first and second-class passengers died, as opposed to 75% of third-class passengers and 78% of the crew.
Daniel claimed that he jumped from the boat, swimming naked in the water until being rescued by lifeboat hours later. While thrilling, it might be more likely that he boarded an early lifeboat before the dire situation was known to the majority of passengers and crew.
After the disaster, Daniel became something of a media figure because of his marriage to fellow survivor Eloise Smith, whom he reportedly met on the rescue ship. Smith, who was 18 and pregnant, had lost her husband, Lucien, in the sinking.
When the two wed in a private ceremony in 1914, the New York Herald reported that the announcement “created a surprise in the social circles of the city.”
Daniel and Smith divorced in 1923, and Daniel remarried. He moved back to Virginia in 1926. He got divorced again and remarried again.
He was elected to represent the 6th District in the State Senate in 1935, but his political career would be brief — Daniel died in 1940 at the age of 56. He’s buried in Hollywood Cemetery.