Evelyn Wauchope


Cash-strapped seamstress stowed away but landed all smiles

1913 - 2010

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It was an opportunity she could not miss. At 39 and working as a seamstress, Evelyn Wauchope had longed for a better life and felt that the Empire Windrush standing in Kingston Harbour was the answer to her dreams. But to get on board, she had to stowaway.

This had not been her original plan. According to one of her shipmates, Sam King, in his 1998 memoir Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, Evelyn had sold her Singer Sewing machine and furniture to raise the fare but when she went to book her passage was told that women could only travel first class, where tickets cost almost double.

Not having sufficient cash but determined to reach England, she took her place at the back of the embarkation queue with her case and “crept under the rope, bypassing the checking officer, and lost herself among the other ladies”. She befriended a female passenger who let her stay in her cabin. Word got around, and people generously dipped into their pockets to help raise the correct fare. As a result, Evelyn was able to land with the necessary documents and “no entry was made against her”, says Sam.

On arrival at Tilbury docks, she was the passenger who attracted more press coverage than any other. The London Evening Standard described her a “pretty and dusky Kingston dressmaker”, and quoted her as saying, “There were no prospects for me in Jamaica. I could not get a normal passage so I slipped aboard – I’m not telling you how – and hid. Troops fed me with food brought from their canteen.”

The paper also said that “Mortimer [Bobby] Martin, manager of five Jamaican boxers, organised a whip round on the troop deck which realised £50 pounds. So [Evelyn’s] fare (£48) was found and now, with £4 in her pocket, she is heading for France.”

Shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, who was also on board, had suggested that Evelyn come and work for her in Paris. Evelyn preferred to try her luck in London and found accommodation at a hostel in Earl’s Court, then got a job in the rag trade with a Polish firm. Within four years she was able to buy a house in Camden Town.

In October 1952, Evelyn married Grafton Othniel Holdip at St Pancras Register Office. Fifteen years her junior, he hailed from Barbados but had a sister in White Plains, New York. The couple decided to make new lives there and set sail on March 22, 1954 on board the American Producer, travelling first class.

By 1960, Evelyn and Grafton had become US citizens and had made more than one return visit by plane to England. They lived comfortably on the top floor of their house at 19 Primrose Street, White Plains. Evelyn died there on May 20, 1984, and Grafton on April 11, 2017.

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