William Thomas Stead Biography

Journalist, Author (1849–1912)
William Thomas Stead was a writer of journalistic pieces and ghost stories whose life came to an end on the Titanic.


William Thomas Stead was a writer who advocated for social and political change. He was also interested in psychic phenomena and the supernatural. In an eerie instance of foreshadowing, Stead wrote a fictional story about a ship run by a Captain Smith facing dangerous icebergs in the early 1890s. Stead died aboard the Titanic about 20 years later.

Early Writing

Journalist, author and editor William Thomas Stead was born on July 4, 1849, in Embleton, England. The son of a Congregational minister, William Thomas Stead started his journalism career at the age of 21. He wrote for the Northern Echo newspaper from 1871 to 1880 as an editor.

In 1880, Stead moved to London to work for the Pall Mall Gazette. He emerged as a strong voice for many issues, including women's rights and home rule for Ireland. An early example of an investigative journalist, Stead wrote a number of exposes. His most notorious one was published in 1885 and explored child prostitution and white slavery. The most harrowing part of the report was the account of Stead buying a young teenage girl from her mother.

Causing quite an uproar, the story—known as "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon"—was muddied by the revelation that Stead had arranged for the girl’s purchase with members of the Salvation Army. The girl was later sent to live with Salvation Army members in Paris. Brought up on kidnapping charges, Stead was convicted and spent a few months in prison.

Foray into the Paranormal

Stead left the Pall Mall Gazette in 1889 to start a monthly publication called the Review of Reviews. It provided highlights from other publications and a forum for his own personal views. Interested in psychic phenomena and other things supernatural, Stead wrote Real Ghost Stories in 1891. The next year he authored another volume on the topic, More Ghost Stories.

Believing that he had psychic abilities of his own, Stead claimed to be receiving communications from a woman known as Julia Ames. These communiques were transmitted through what is known as automatic writing. First published as "Letters from Julia," these writings appeared in Borderland, a psychic magazine that Stead founded in 1893. They were later collected into the book After Death (1897).


In an eerie instance of foreshadowing, Stead wrote a fictional story about a ship run by Captain Smith facing dangerous icebergs in the early 1890s. Little did he know what he would face in nearly 20 years time aboard the Titanic. In addition to his fictional and psychic writings, Stead remained an advocate for social and political change.

In fact, he was on his way to participate in an event for peace at Carnegie Hall in New York City when he boarded the Titanic on April 10, 1912. He had also planned to bring Etta Wriedt, a Detroit-based medium, back to England with him on his return. Unfortunately, he never made it to New York. On the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic—once thought to be unsinkable—struck an iceberg.

By the early hours of the next day, the great luxury liner had sunk into the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Stead's final moments were reportedly spent reading in cabin. His body was never recovered. Some, however, claimed to have received messages from him after his death.

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