One hundred nine years ago today the world reacted in horror as news of the sinking of the Titanic spread. The RMS Titanic was carrying 2,233 people traveling from Southampton in the United Kingdom to New York City. However, she was only carry enough life boats for 1,178 people. Anxious people at home with relatives on board held their breaths as news was telegraphed of reported survivors and confirmed losses. One such message was cut off in mid transmission leaving a fragmented name, “Mile…” At home the family of Francis Davis Millet held out hope that this name was Millet.
Frank as he was known was born on November 3, 1846 in Mattapoisett to Asa and Huldah Byram Millet. He showed early signs of intelligence and was keeping a diary by the time he was eleven years old noting the physiology, arithmetic, Latin and other studies he was engaging. He also was interested in world affairs and read the newspapers on a regular basis. In the late 1850s, Frank was well aware of the political issues facing America and even attended a lecture titled “Is War Justified Under Any Circumstances?”
When Civil War came to America, Frank enlisted at the age of 15 as a drummer boy and would also assist his father who was a surgeon during the war. When the war ended Frank enrolled at Harvard and graduated in 1869. For a time after that he wrote for several newspapers in Boston before entering the Royal Academy at Antwerp in Belgium where he quickly established himself as an artist winning recognition for his work. He traveled throughout Europe after he left Antwerp exploring and painting. He then returned to Boston where he assisted in decorating the Trinity Church.
He began writing again for Boston newspapers and when the Turkish War broke out he covered it as a special correspondent. He wrote about the war as well as the people it affected. On observing a group of Turkish refugees he wrote “The mother was about half dressed; the girl was scarcely covered… she was crying from the cold, hugging herself into the ragged bit of blue cloth… When the cavalcade of misery halted, bread was given to the starved women and children…”
He was decorated during the war for his bravery and helping the wounded receiving several medals including the Romanian Iron Cross, the Russian Military Crosses of St. Stanislaus and of St. Anne and other medals.
After the war he went to Paris where he painted and served as a member of the Fine Arts Jury of the Paris Exposition. While in Paris he wrote to friends that he had a “malady that is very contagious… it is the kind of malady that… the more it attacks the more he wants [it]”. The malady he wrote of was love and in the spring of 1879 he married Elizabeth Greeley Morrill.
A well-regarded American Academic Classicist, Millet was close friends with Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Mark Twain, both of whom were present at his 1879 marriage to Elizabeth Merrill in Paris, France; Twain was his best man. He was also well acquainted with the impressionist artist John Singer Sargent, who often used Millet's daughter Kate as a model, as well as the esteemed Huxley family.
After they married they returned to America settling in East Bridgewater. When their first child was born they received a letter from their good friend Mark Twain who joked he was disappointed with the birth of their daughter. He was “hoping it was going to be triplets. However I trust in God it will be made up to you next time.”
They never had the triplets but did have four children one of which died in infancy. The Millets moved to Boston and then New York. Frank worked on many more art projects during his life including the position of the director of Decorations of the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1892, he developed public works of art in Baltimore, Newark, NJ, and other cities. He also returned to work as a war correspondent in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.
Millet was among the founders of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and was influential in the early days of the American Federation of Arts.
Frank Millet did not survive the sinking of the Titanic, he was last seen helping women and children into a lifeboat. The crew of the MacKay Bennett, a cable repair ship that was contracted to recover bodies left behind after the Titanic sinking, found his lifeless body. He was returned home and was laid to rest in Central Cemetery in East Bridgewater.
In 1913, the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain was erected in Washington, D.C., in memory of Millet and his long-time friend Archibald W. Butt , with whom he shared a home. A bronze bust in Harvard University's Widener Library also memorializes Millet.
A plaque is mounted on the home of his birth, 7 Water Street, Mattapoisett, in commeration.