In 1892 the "Review of Reviews", a journal part founded by William T Stead, carried a fictitious tale titled From the Old World to the New. The tale is the story of a clairvoyant - Stead was interested in spiritualism - aboard the White Star Line's Majestic who sensed a ship had collided with an iceberg, and how the Majestic was able to rescue the survivors. Later, in 1886 William Stead wrote How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid Atlantic, where a liner sank with insufficient numbers of lifeboats causing a great loss of life.
Twenty-six years after he wrote that piece first-class passenger William Stead, travelling to New York to speak at a peace congress at the request of the president William Howard Taft, found himself aboard a sinking liner. Many have expressed the opinion that his story was a premonition, or predicted the loss of the Titanic. Certainly, following his death in the sinking of the Titanic, both stories received greater prominence as a consequence.
Testimony as to what happened to William Stead during the sinking are given by survivors. During the US inquiry first-class steward Andrew Cunningham attested to how William Stead asked for his help putting on a lifejacket, and after that he never saw him again. In correspondence with Walter Lord for his book A Night to Remember stoker George Kemish recalled seeing William Stead sitting in the first-class smoking room, calmly reading a book and this scene is recreated in the 1958 film version of the book.
William Thomas Stead died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was not identified. For much of his later life William Stead was interested in spiritualism, and in the days following the sinking a number of spiritualists claimed to have communicated with his spirit.
On 25th April 1912 a memorial service was held for Mr Stead at Westminster Chapel on Buckingham Gate in central London. The service was attended by representatives of the Queen and Prime Minster and Mr Stead's family. During the service the hymn Nearer My God to Thee was sung and Mr Stead was described by the Reverend Dr Clifford in his eulogy as "a journalist - brilliant, gifted, unconventional, rapid, accomplished, as a fountain of fresh and original ideas...always a prophet".
The memorial is the form of a bronze bas-relief tablet showing a head and shoulders right profile likeness of William Thomas Stead in later life. The profile is set beneath a central swag with laurel leaf garlands on either side. Beneath the profile the tablet carries the following inscription:
W. T. Stead. 1849 - 1912. This memorial to a journalist of wide renown was erected near the sport where he worked for more than thirty years by journalists of many lands in recognition of his brilliant gifts fervent spirit & untiring devotion to the service of his fellow men.
Either side of the inscription are two allegorical figures, to the left a figure of St George representing 'Fortitude' and to the right the a female figure holding a wreath in her right hand and a globe in her left, representing 'Sympathy'. The tablet in inscribed with the name of its designer, George Frampton RA., and is dated to 1915. A near identical memorial resides in New York, albeit with a different inscription:
This tribute to the memory of a journalist of worldwide renown is erected by American friends and admirers. He met death aboard the Titanic April 15 1912 and is numbered amongst those who dying nobly enabled others to live. Finis coronat opus [the end crowns the work].