But what few people are aware of is that there was a Haitian-born, French-educated man on the Titanic by the name of Joseph Laroche.
He was traveling his wife, Juliette Lafargue, and two children on a journey that was suppose to eventually take them to his native Haiti in 1912.
But, like more than 1,500 other passengers, he never made it to his destination.
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Laroche moved to France at the age of 15 to study engineering because such schools were not available in Haiti. He earned excellent grades and graduated with an engineering degree. Along the way, he met and married his wife Juliette in 1908. Though Laroche was well-educated he could not find work in his profession.
When Laroche graduated he expected to find employment in his field because of the many opportunities in Paris for someone with his education. Unfortunately, there was one problem he had not taken into consideration — racism. Although France is a bucolic country with beautiful scenery, marvelous cities and nice people, racial prejudice at that time could prevent someone from employing a young dark-skinned man. Though Laroche eventually did find work, his employers found any excuse — from racism to inexperience — to pay him poorly.
Tired of struggling to find work and dealing with the barely sheathed discrimination, Laroche decided that he and his young family should go to Haiti where he could find work. They originally planned to travel on the ship “France,” but the ship’s policy stipulated that children could not eat with their parents. The Laroches did not like this policy, so they switched their tickets to the Titanic instead. It was an innocent — though devastating — decision with well-known fatal consequences.
Shortly after the Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, Joseph woke Juliette and told her that the ship had suffered an accident. He put all of their valuables in his pockets, and he and his wife carried each of their sleeping daughters to the ship’s deck. It is not known for sure which lifeboat Juliette and her daughters escaped in, although Juliette remembered a countess being in her lifeboat. There was a countess on board the ship, Noël Leslie, Countess of Rothes, who escaped in lifeboat 8, so it is likely that Juliette, Simonne and Louise all escaped the ship on this lifeboat. Joseph died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.
For a complete story of Joseph Laroche’s tragic journey on the Titanic, go to The Titanic Historical Society.