The Lusitania Disaster: Part 4 The Exhibition

May 2022

Part 4 of our special min-series on the Lusitania disaster. Dr Sam Willis meets Lusitania historian Peter Kelly and together they explore some of their favourite items in the Lusitania exhibition at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. They discuss two different ships linked with the Lusitania story – the Falaba, a passenger ship of Liverpool’s Elder Dempster line sunk by a German U-Boat off the southern coast of Ireland a matter of weeks before the Lusitania disaster; and the Carmania, a Cunard line Atlantic liner like the Lusitania. But unlike the Lusitania the Carmania was converted into an armed ship and went on to sink an armed German merchant cruiser in Bermuda. Sam and Peter also discuss Peter’s project researching the biographies of all of those on board Lusitania on her last voyage and also the extraordinary satirical medallions made in Germany to commemorate the sinking.

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    Sam Willis
    From the Society for Nautical Research in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis. And this is the Mariners Mirror podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. Hello everyone and welcome to the Mariners Mirror podcast. This episode was part of our mini-series on the sinking of the Lusitania terrible event when the enormous Cunard passenger liner was sunk off the coast of Ireland by a German U boat in May 1915, killing 1193 people. This is episode four, in which Lusitania historian Peter Kelly and I explore some of our favourite items in the Lusitania gallery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. If you need more background on the events, then do please check out the earlier episodes in which you can hear eyewitness accounts as well as a general history of the ship and the disaster. For now, though, we’re back again with the excellent Lusitania historian Peter Kelly. Peter is an Irish born researcher whose main interests are Irish genealogy, and European and maritime history during the First World War. His interest in the Lusitania goes back to his childhood when he first read about the sinking of the liner close to where he lived, and also discovered that a family friend was a survivor of the sinking. This interest progressed over the years to the point where he now concentrates mainly on researching the lives of all those on board on that final fateful voyage. Peter lives in the southwest of Ireland, and is especially interested in communicating with relatives or descendants of those on board the final voyage. So if you have an ancestor on that final voyage, then do please get in touch. I hope you enjoyed listening to him as much as I enjoyed talking with him, as always, here is Peter, and we are inside the Lusitania gallery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

    Sam Willis
    Here we are, we’re inside now and looking at a large picture of a steamship what’s going on ?

    Peter Kelly
    This is a magnificent painting of a ship called the Falaba.

    Sam Willis
    Three feet high. And it’s all, I mean

    Peter Kelly
    It’s about six feet, six feet by about four and a half feet about that. But it’s a beautiful painting by Gerald Maurice Burn, it’s oil on canvas, and you have a lovely port scene at the back there. I’m not sure what port it is, is it Liverpool with that building?

    Sam Willis
    So we’ve got Liverpool in the background in the foreground, we’ve got a large steam ship, big black hull, painted red just by the waterline. Three decks, white decks, one funnel belting out black smoke, couple of masts, not a very large ship. But a very well to do one. There are a few figures on the deck. Clothed, well dressed. It looks like a Victorian scene almost maybe the turn of the 20th century. So the Falaba why is this important?

    Peter Kelly
    Well, the Falaba is important because the sinking of this ship in April about three weeks before the sinking of the Lusitania on the seventh of May. The sinking of this ship, very nearly brought the United States into the First World War

    Sam Willis
    So it had already nearly happened.

    Peter Kelly
    Yes. Know what was happening in America was, you had the submarine war going on around the British Isles. And this was affecting American trade, and also American lives. So you had the newspapers, the media in America, Congressman, House of Representatives officials, they were all saying that if one American life was lost, as a result of the U-boat actions, America should declare war, President Wilson should declare war. And lo and behold the Faliba is sunk, an American Life, a man by the name of Leon Chester Thrasher was lost and where the Falaba then in comes into it is Thrasher’s remains were recovered in County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. And he was presumed to be a Lusitania victim. And he was buried by Cunard who took all the expenses. When they were sorting out everything, his possessions and so on and so forth, they realised that he hadn’t been on the Lusitania at all. He’d been on the Falaba and he’s buried in, his grave is in remarkable condition, his headstone is very close to a wall in a cemetery, as a result of protective from the elements. And he lives nice and quietly in a corner of West Kerry cemetery. And nobody realises that man, under a headstone very nearly on his own, brought the United States into the war,

    Sam Willis
    but it was eventually it was the Lusitania ,the sinking of the Lusitania, what impact did that have?

    Peter Kelly
    It was an ingredient because, again, if America declared war after the Falaba, if it had declared war after Lusitania, the first thing that would have happened was America would have had to raise an army, would have had to equip an army, he would have to raise the stockpile of munitions that would have stopped all that war material coming to Europe, which is badly needed. So if America had declared war at that time, in most in many opinions, the Allies would have lost the war, because by the time the Americans would have everything done on their side, and then managed to get their troops over that would have taken at least a year. America started preparing for war after particularly the Lusitania. Now it was a slow build-up, a manageable slow build-up of an army, equipment, weaponry, and the Q ships, liberty ships that were coming across. So when America declared war in 1917, she was able to instantly come over to Europe. And that made a difference that that injection of extra manpower when the British were after suffering, massive losses, and Germans, and no fresh recruit, fresh soldiers were getting scarce. And then all of a sudden, ships arrive in Bordeaux and places, and all these fresh American, well nourished, well equipped, well trained troops are coming off. And that basically is what most people agree

    Sam Willis
    The Falaba has an interesting ingredient of that whole story.

    Peter Kelly
    It is it’s very, very seldom people hear about it. But she was key in focusing the mind of the Americans that we better prepare for war, and then the Lusitania after that. But the American politicians were quite clear, clever. And, you know, they did it right, by building up slowly. Because if they had stopped all the war materials, they’d run out of shells that run out of medical equipment and run out of uniforms that are run out of horses, because horses will be transported. And basically, the Allied offensive, or defensive would have come to a halt.

    Sam Willis
    Now, this is your personal project, People of the Lusitania.

    Peter Kelly
    This, as far as we know, was never done by any other museum for any other exhibition like this. And this is biographies of all those we know to have been on board Lusitania when she sank.

    Sam Willis
    That’s some project. So say that, again, biographies of everyone we know on board the Lusitania. And we get how many? How many of is that?

    Peter Kelly
    I reckon there was 1962. No, there’s going to be disputes. There are some records we have in the Sydney Jones library belonging to the University of Liverpool, where people wrote letters to Cunard, convinced that relatives of theirs were on board because they said they were going on board. And they’ve never been heard of since. Were there crew members bringing people on, taking the money, not declaring? We don’t know, there are some people travelling under false names for one reason or another. So we’ll never really know how many people were on board. But some of my peers, my contemporaries, say that’s three names in particular that I’ve duplicated. And I accept that as possible. But I’d rather remember somebody twice, then forget somebody, that’s really looking at, you know, everybody deserves to be remembered

    Sam Willis
    Just in case they are the same people

    Peter Kelly
    If they are the same people well and good, but if not, it’s not going to do any harm remembering twice,

    Sam Willis
    What are the name’s?

    Peter Kelly
    There’s a man called Robert Anderson and he’s also believed to be Robert Anderson McKenzie. To define the difficulty with that man, for I have the arguments for people are Robert Anderson was listed as having been killed. And Robert Anderson McKenzie was listed as having survived, which he did. McKenzie was an interesting character, and a tragic case there because he was a gracer from Scotland, came to Manchester, then moved to Belfast, and then moved to Dublin. And he was travelling back from America. He survived. He went back to a shop in Cavendish Road just off for Collins Street, which many people know as where the Easter rising took place in Easter 1916. The story goes that he was standing outside the shop. Some of these rebels came to take over his building to use as a sniper post. He refused to let him in. And they shot him dead on his own doorstep. So he survived the Lusitania. And in April 9016, he was shot dead outside his own premises.

    Sam Willis
    So, a terrible story.

    Peter Kelly
    So we have all these names in here. And we have another interesting here, I think is the map.

    Sam Willis
    So what we’re doing here. There’s an interactive computer screen and you can see is this where they’re from? This is where the crew members, okay, so this is this is a map. It’s like Google Maps with a load of dropped arrows and you can see that where all the crew members came from, and so they’re all around so many Liverpool, Birkenhead we’ve got someone from Sunderland.

    Peter Kelly
    It’s a bit unstable at the moment. But you can see you can see where Bootle and Toxteth Park, Bootle to the north to the city centre, and Liverpool is expanding. Liverpool is expanding, so there we’re building more and more houses all from the city centre. And a lot of these are owned by railroad companies and steamship companies for the workers. And today, these are still the working class areas Bootle, Toxteth Park, and you go up around there, you will find people that worked in the railways, and the merchant, Merchant Navy, the history and so many people that I’ve met somebody that descenders that will be here today live in the same houses that their ancestors, that were on the Lusitania. They have great affinity with their origins here, and these houses are passed down, through the generations, It’s so many, we’re still living in at the same addresses.

    Sam Willis
    So we’ve also got, these are the figures here, let’s explore some of the passengers. Take me through a couple of interesting passenger, you can show me here,

    Peter Kelly
    Although it does quite a number of you know, we’re looking here to survivor rates, first of all, and we’re looking at 1962 people on board. And 1191 of those were lost. So we had 771 survivors, even got onto the crew who survived of the cruise 696 crew members 405 are lost 291 survived. Of the 1266 passengers 786 lost 480 survive, when you go to the classes you can see between saloon class, second class, and third class, there was uniformity survival rate, death rate, unlike other ships where the upper class were getting the priority on the lifeboats. This was just every man and woman for themselves.

    Sam Willis
    Saloon class was that first class, first class, second class, and third?

    Peter Kelly
    Third class would then be called steerage class as well. So they’ve been declared classes, you know, just over half the women survived, infants and children. It’s done very, very well. But this is the only place it’s done.

    Sam Willis
    So let’s now explore just a couple of characters.

    Peter Kelly
    We have quite a number. There’s, there’s a few things that we don’t have today that was very much happening back then. For instance, when a woman married, she took on the nationality of her husband. So we have Beatrice Abbess who was born in the Bristol area, and she married a musician, by the name of Abbess. He was a famous concert violinist or whatever. So when she died, she was listed as Belgian because he was Belgian. Her two children even though they were born in Britain, they were all Belgian citizens, therefore they couldn’t claim off the British government. Who else have we got, so we’ve Osmund Bartle Wordsworth, who was a descendant of the great poet William Wordsworth? And his stories after taking on a new line recently, as recently as last October, he survived. He joined up got a commission and he was killed in action in 1917. His remains were lost. His name was recorded on Arras Memorial to the missing, and only a few years ago, remains were uncovered and were positively identified as his remains, only recently last October. So there’s a rededication he now has a grave after 105 years, he was killed in 1917. And he’s now going to get recognised. So it’s moving on all the time. Yeah. But so many people in there

    Sam Willis
    You mentioned someone like Henry the eighth. How is someone like Henry the Eighth?

    Peter Kelly
    There was one. I’m trying to think of his name. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but he was married six times, he’s a fascinating character. He’s a fascinating character in that he, he emigrated from England from London, at the age of 17, and it seems he disappeared in America for a while, and then he turns up in Kansas City, Missouri. And he spins a story that he’s a lawyer. And this all appears in the press and the press believe it. He then goes and he gets married to a local girl, well not to a local girl, but in Kansas City, Missouri. On the way to the wedding breakfast in the city that she’s from, to take a wrong turn, crossing over a railroad track, their car is struck by a train, she’s killed, and he suffers what’s reported in the media as a fractured skull. You would think that there’d be a period of mourning but not with this guy, five weeks later, he’s married for a second time. He goes on honeymoon, obviously, his wife found out about his lies. She leaves him, he returns to Kansas City to try and get her back. She won’t talk to him, he goes into a bar, and he shoots himself in the chest, right? He survived that. He then decides he’s going to do his best for his country, he comes back to England. Again, he talks his way into a commission, he gets a commission. And then as soon as he’s got his commission, he declares this bullet wound to the chest, so now he’s deemed to be unfit for service. So it can’t be said that he was shirking he’s volunteered. So now he’s leaving the army with the Commission, suffering from wounds so he’s spinning another story. He then returns to America, he introduces greyhound racing to New York and that area, makes a fortune, loses the fortune, gets into horses, makes a fortune, loses a fortune. Marries again, that wife died. Married again, we don’t know what happened there. And his six boys survived. He was one of the most colourful characters took quite a long time to research, because you couldn’t believe what you’re reading in the media. But you couldn’t make it up?

    Sam Willis
    But wonderful stuff. What a great story

    Peter Kelly
    You have lots and lots of other stories that will be available on the internet. Shortly, we have one or two little things to do first.

    Sam Willis
    Yeah, well, we’ll make sure that our listeners will get to hear about that. Now we’re walking across towards a magnificent ship model. Which is clearly not the Lusitania? So what are we looking at?

    Peter Kelly
    We’re looking at the Carmania. Now I suppose if you’re not sure, for the listeners, I suppose there’s no harm to mention that we had branding, we had corporate branding, even back in the early 1900s. Most of the Cunard ships, their names ended in’ IA’ and most of the White Star ships ended on ‘IC’. So you had corporate branding, as well as your motifs. And you can see here, the Cunard we’ve two funnels here on the Carmania, and they’re kind of what they called ochre, there was kind of a reddish brown, about three quarters away of the smokestack, and then at the very top, you’re black. So ships years ago in the distance in all that sea, they wouldn’t be able to see the ship clearly, but they would see the smokestacks that see them. And they know what line it was from.

    Sam Willis
    There was rather distinctive outline.

    Sam Willis
    So this ship is particularly interesting, because we mentioned earlier on about the design of the Lusitania and the Mauritania, and that could be converted to armed artillery cruisers. That was thought about but because of the amounts of coal that those ships consume, that were deemed to be uneconomical, would cost too much. Now Mauritania after the sinking of Lusitania did become a hospital ship. But Camania was converted into an auxiliary cruiser. And it did have a sea battle. And it did sink a German auxiliary cruiser, down around South America. And it’s the only instance of a passenger ship that was converted to an armed auxiliary cruiser actually sinking, engaging in battle, and sinking another armed auxiliary cruiser. So that’s, that’s what you need. Now she served for many, many years. She was one of the flagships of the Cunard Line. And this particular model is magnificent It must be about nine feet long. And yes, it is absolutely fantastic. It’s a beautiful, beautiful model. And that’s that’s the Carmania.

    Sam Willis
    Let’s talk briefly about the reputation that Cunard has for safety.

    Peter Kelly
    Up to the First World War their safety record was impeccable. Samuel Cunard with his Scottish background, it was all about dependability. Now he was a businessman in Canada. His parents had emigrated and Samuel was born in Canada, but obviously this scot influence as very much part of his life. Hard work and good name were very important to him and people like him. But there was a tender offered for transporting mail, the Royal Mail, from North America to England, British Isles back to Europe. Cunard saw an opportunity with a number of other businessmen. So they invested, but it was Cunards name was up there. And that’s the only real name we have for it. And it was all about making sure the mail got there. So he cut no corners, there was no risk taken, and he didn’t employ risky captains, he employed steady people. And he trusted them to employ steady people to crew. So deadlines were there, obviously. And the longer a ship was at sea it was costing more money. Cunard, Samuel Cunard was more constantly concerned about delivering on his word, and that was getting things across. So if your captain was late for a day, he didn’t get into a whole lot of trouble, if he was able to, to explain for weather reasons, tides, or whatever was, was there was a genuine reason that was fine. And that all went on until the First World War, and they never lost a passenger. Obviously, people did pass away at sea from illnesses and so on, but never through an accident. And this is where the company built up its reputation, dependability, reliability, and safety. You know, we think back in the 1800s, this Cunard started business in 1840. And we know that safety, health and safety wasn’t a big thing, especially with employers, all they want to do is make money Cunard was different. He influenced a lot of shipping lines as well, because they saw he was doing it in a correct where he was getting business. It’s working for him, we better do it. The other curious thing about Cunard as a company was they would take on young lads and start them off his ratings, and they’d come up to Seaman and Able Seaman and then to start doing their officer courses and getting their officer certificates. When they got to a certain level to didn’t have to leave Cunard, Cunard would watch them from a distance as they got their first commands, if they’re going to mess up, they are not going to mess up with my ship. No, you can come back, if they walked away for a year or a year and a half, and they hadn’t sunk anything, or they hadn’t demolished a quay wall or something, and they came back to Cunard then they would get a position more than likely as an officer. William Turner, who was the captain of the Lusitania when it sank, that’s how his career progressed. He had to leave Cunard for a number of years and come back. And then he moved up along, he started off as third officer, second officer, then first officer, until he eventually got command of various vessels. And he ended his days as the commander of the Cunard fleet. He was the highest master, highest rank master for commodore.

    Sam Willis
    Now let’s finish up let’s wander over and look at those medals because they were fantastic. Walking back through the exhibition now, there’s a bed from a cabin, there’s a wonderful bed from cabin C97 from RMS Olympic, gives you a sense of the luxury. There’s a life jacket here. Let’s just have a quick chat about this, its the only surviving complete lifejacket of this type from the sinking of the Lusitania. It was kept as a souvenir by a man from Cape Clear Island off the southern coast of Ireland. Cunard offered cash rewards to local fishermen for retrieving bodies. I’m not sure I’d trust that to keep me afloat very long. Can you describe it to us, please?

    Peter Kelly
    If you look at it, it’s a canvas belt, I suppose about eight inches in width. And it’s filled with flotation devices or some substance, some sort of foam, or sponge or something. Obviously, they didn’t have polystyrene, and that they’re using today. This tied around the waist, and it doesn’t look to be too effective. It’s not like the one where you put your arms through and wear like a vest.

    Sam Willis
    So this one was wrapped around the body and secured with thin shoulder straps and those straps themselves have been cut, suggesting it was removed from a body that had been recovered.

    Peter Kelly
    You see there’s no, when we look at it again here, most of what we have today to protect the head, so even if you’re unconscious in water, designed that naturally your head would be above water. There’s nothing here to support the head. So if you’re slumped, you can turn any direction. The other thing we know from survivors is that some people if you put them on in reverse, they turn you over for some reason.

    Sam Willis
    Really? Feet up in the air, like a duck.

    Peter Kelly
    Exactly. So there was a way of putting it on. If you didn’t put it on, right, your turn turtle. And people didn’t know. And you’d only 18 minutes to figure it out. And if you didn’t figure it out, that was it.

    Sam Willis
    Well now these medals, a magnificent story here. The Lusitanian medallion. So we’re looking at a case now there are 1,2,3,4,5, similar looking medallions, but gosh, they’re all different

    Peter Kelly
    There’s actually four, two of one particular medal here, three and four are the reverse and the front. So what happened, you have you have a picture of a ship no it doesn’t look very, like the Lusitania. But it’s a model of a ship. It’s a generic kind of, an etching of a ship on metal. Two and a quarter, to two and a half inches in diameter.

    Sam Willis
    So we’re looking at this first one, the original by Goetz. This is a medal, which has been created by the German art medallist called Goetz. He produced a commemorative medal marking, Lusitania sinking, What were the Germans commemorating?

    Peter Kelly
    This was something that was done in Europe, particularly in the late 1800s. They would commemorate events by making medals and we still have it today. You know, the giveaway Jubilee medals, they give long service medals, you know, in the military, and the police has a culture of medals, and we have civilian awards here in the United Kingdom. So this was just part of what was involved in the day. Now Karl Goetz was a very famous medal maker in Berlin. And he made this medal which shows the Lusitania sinking by the stern. So we can see the bow is to the right hand side is up. And you have which is wrong, exactly

    Sam Willis
    She went down by the bow

    Peter Kelly
    So you have aircraft and artillery pieces falling off the deck. So this is obviously reference to the fact that this is carrying military contraband. And the reverse of the middle, which we move over to here, we have a skeleton behind a ticket window, selling tickets for the Lusitania. And these are the unsuspecting passengers being sold the tickets by Dr. Death. And behind on the left hand side, you have somebody with a newspaper showing that the Lusitania is going to be sunk. So this was a depiction of the fact that the British government and Cunard were playing with the lives of innocent people. They were kind of protecting their cargo by a human shield, innocent human shield. Now what happened here was, Karl Goetz when he made the original medal, he got the date wrong, he put the fifth of May was the seventh. So number of these metals found a way to England and the propagandist immediately saw an opportunity. This now was proof positive that the Germans had conspired to sink the Lusitania. This was no mistake that the Lusitania had been deliberately targeted. The difficulty was that they got their day wrong. No, it seems to be a genuine mistake, because in the second edition medal by Goetz, he’s changed the day to the seventh May. So when the medal made its way to England, it was Lord Sainsbury, Sainsbury’s supermarkets, he had 300,000 of these medals made in iron as a propaganda tool. And the proceeds went to the Dunstable Blind Sailors Hospital. And he sold them in a nice little presentation box, which is about three inches squared with a depiction of the Lusitania. There was a little flimsy leaflet smaller than A4 size was sold with that, which will tell you the story, and this was German barbarity, barbarism, and they couldn’t be trusted and so on. The last one is the biggest one.

    Sam Willis
    The dance of the dead

    Peter Kelly
    Yeah, this is the another German medal, which was less well known, the French made a medal as well. I actually have a copy of a French medal. I think the Belgians, so it was number of these medals that were made.

    Sam Willis
    This shows death, as a skeleton, looking at the sinking Lusitania. Morbid, isn’t it the Germans celebrating this this is a year afterwards, 1916.

    Peter Kelly
    So I mean, this is what people did at the time. And you know, you can go back to that this this is where the rise of the tarot cards and that, people getting into all this sort of thing at that time. So, depictions of death, skeletons and so on, that was pretty normal for that time. The gold medals are quite rare.

    Peter Kelly
    So the original ones with the wrong date, May the fifth, 1915 if you’ve got one of these at home any of the listeners, it’s probably worth a few bob

    Sam Willis
    Well, I think that’s a great place to end our little talk. Peter, thank you so much for taking your time.

    Peter Kelly
    A tip for you, if you want to know whether the medal is genuine or false. Get a magnet and the magnet sticks to the medal. You’ve got a replica, that’s the iron one, Goetz medal, the original medal the magnet wants stick. Of course now with people being expert forgers and things like that, they can make these things to perfection now days so I’d be very slow, even if I was offered one now today, I wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway. But people make great forgeries at this stage.

    Peter Kelly
    Thank you Sam.

    Sam Willis
    Many thanks indeed for listening. Now please check out all of the other episodes on the Lusitania. There’s tons more stuff to find as well. If you’re interested in anything maritime or shipwrecks, or the First World War or whatever it might be, there’s something for you, I promise. In particular, please check out the Mariners Mirror podcasts YouTube channel where there’s some really innovative new film. Now this podcast comes from both the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the Society for Nautical Research. So please do take the time to check out what those guys have been up to you can find the Lloyd’s Register Foundations History Centre and archive at hec.lr foundation.org.uk. And the Society for nautical research is at snr.org.uk where you can join up to enjoy all of the numerous perks of membership including four copies of the printed Mariners Mirror journal each year, online access to over a century’s worth of maritime history scholarship, online seminars, and you can even come to dinner on board HMS Victory. What a treat

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