Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Titanic Centenary: The voyage the brothers were not supposed to be on

They were dreaming of starting a new life in Canada - and had never meant to be on board RMS Titanic.

Having spent their childhoods in the small village of Fritham in the New Forest, the three Hickman brothers thought they would be able to make a better living on the other side of the Atlantic.

Lewis, 32, and Stanley, 21, had been encouraged to emigrate to Canada by their middle brother Leonard, 24.

He had already emigrated back in 1907 and had quickly found work as a farm labourer in a small settlement called Eden in Manitoba.

His life just got better and better and before long he was engaged to the daughter of his boss, a wealthy grain farmer called Harold Honeyman.

But he wanted his family to join him in his new life and returned to Hampshire in 1911 with the hope of persuading them to emigrate too.

Image caption Leonard was engaged to marry Maggie Honeyman

Newly-married Lewis and younger brother, Stanley, decided to join him along with their four school friends: Percy Deacon from Fritham and Charles Davies, William Dibden and Ambrose Hood from Bramshaw.

Leonard had lined up work for some of them and others planned to seek their luck when they got there.

At the time farmers were desperate for labour and emigrants used to line up at the railways station where farmers would hire them on sight.

The Hickmans and their friends originally planned to travel steerage - or third class - on another liner leaving on 6 April, 1912.

However, a national miners' strike meant all available coal was being diverted to White Star's latest liner, the Titanic, and the group's travel plans had to change.

They were upgraded to a second class berth on the Titanic, sailing from Southampton a week later.

What should have been a stroke of luck for the brothers and their friends led to all their deaths.

Only one of their bodies was ever found and recovered - the rest were lost at sea.

Body misidentified

The dead man was originally believed to be Leonard Hickman, as he was wearing an overcoat with a membership card of the Independent Order of Foresters, Eden Camp, bearing his name.

On learning of the death of his future son-in-law, Mr Honeyman and other colleagues arranged for Leonard's body to be sent to Neepawa in Canada for burial, the nearest county town to Eden.

Image caption Leonard had spent four years in Canada before returning to England to get his brothers and friends

However, when the body arrived at the Knox Presbyterian Church, Mr Honeyman was shocked to discover it was not Leonard's body that had been found.

He wrote after the event: "James Smith and I went at once the church to make sure there was no mistake and were astonished to find it was not Leonard's body.

"But there was a strong resemblance, and I am sure it was one of his brothers."

Leonard was dark and clean shaven while Lewis was older with fair hair and a moustache.

Funeral went ahead

It is believed that Lewis Hickman grabbed his brother's coat in the confusion as the ship sank, as other items such as a cigarette case and letters addressed to Lewis's wife Marie were also found in the overcoat.

However, as the church was full of people and the service was about to commence, the service went ahead as planned for Leonard.

So Lewis ended up being buried in the wrong country under the wrong name.

The Neepawa Press wrote: "Thus was laid to rest the remains of Leonard Hickman, an efficient English labourer. Had he been a state dignitary or a millionaire, there might have been more pomp, but there could not have been more genuine sorrow and respect manifested."

Mr Honeymoon's grandson Harry Smithson, whose mother Maggie was engaged to marry Leonard, said: "They told everyone after the funeral it was not Len [Leonard] but Lewis."

The gravestone engraving was later changed and the names of all three brothers are now on it.

Image caption Harry Smithson said the engagement ring Leonard gave his mother is still in the family

Mr Smithson said as a child he was always made to believe his father was the only man in his mother's life.

"Mother was very muted about [her earlier engagement]," he said.

"I'm not supposed to talk about this but she had this engagement ring. And of course we found out through time and little things were said.

"Len [Leonard] was supposed to be a real, almost perfect, man.

"My mother thought that grandpa and he got along great and they were pals almost - they weren't 'hired man' and 'boss'.

"I'm sure that was true too - my grandfather liked him and, of course my mother loved him.

"They were going to get married when the brother came back."

But that day never came.

Leonard, his brothers and friends all died when the Titanic vanished in the Atlantic on that fateful night in April 1912.

For many years afterwards, Maggie carried a locket around her neck and hidden behind the photograph inside it was another picture - one of her first love Leonard.