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Lusitania: her people remembered

27 March 2015 by Sarah

poster illustration of people on a U-boat watching the Lusitania sink

Today our major new exhibition Lusitania: life, loss, legacy opened at Merseyside Maritime Museum. The exhibition includes a resource, People of the Lusitania, which tells the stories of the passengers and crew on the ship’s final voyage. The resource is the result of many years of research by the Lusitania biographer and historian Peter Kelly, as he explains here:

“As a child I read about the sinking of the Lusitania and became fascinated with her story, especially as I grew up on the south-west coast of Ireland and was very familiar with the Old Head of Kinsale and Cobh (formerly Queenstown), which featured prominently in the story of her loss. To know that such a tragic event had occurred close to where I lived made me curious to learn all I could, initially about the events leading to her sinking, and later to her career as one of the greatest transatlantic liners of her age – the early 20th century.

In 1995 a school teacher and historian from Birkenhead – Graham Maddocks – began researching all those on board the final voyage of the Lusitania with the intention of publishing a book of their biographies. Graham had recently completed his book on the ‘Liverpool Pals’, the definitive history of The Kings (Liverpool Regiment) during the First World War, and was now turning his attention to the Lusitania.

In 1997 I became acquainted with Graham and it wasn’t long before he had recruited me to track down the graves of those on board the final voyage whose remains had been recovered, and also search for Irish newspaper reports on the tragedy. In July 2003 Graham passed away after a brief illness, leaving his work unfinished, and in 2004 I acquired some of his files from his family, with the intention of trying to complete the task Graham had started.

Since 2004 I have devoted much of my free time to researching the Lusitania, and particularly all 1,962 passengers and crew members who were on board when the great liner departed from New York on 1 May 1915 and sank just six days later, with the loss of 1,191 of those lives.

group photo by the Lusitania propeller, on the quayside by the Albert Dock

Peter Kelly (left) at the Lusitania propeller with exhibition curator Eleanor Moffat and Ian Murphy, deputy head of Merseyside Maritime Museum

As my research progressed, I realised that the volume of information I had accumulated made a book impossible due to size and costs. Then the perfect opportunity to make the biographies of all those on board the final voyage of the Lusitania came along when I met Eleanor Moffat, a curator from the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and the idea of making all the biographies available as part of the exhibition Lusitania: life, loss, legacy was conceived.

I am very proud and excited to be associated with Lusitania: life, loss, legacy as it breaks new ground in remembering the actual people, both passengers and crew, who were involved in one of the most tragic and defining moments in 20th century maritime history, the history of the First World War, and the social and economic history of Liverpool.

You can see the result of my years of research in the People of the Lusitania resource on a kiosk in the exhibition and also on the website at www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/lusitaniapeople The resource currently includes the biographies of all of the crew and will soon also have the passenger biographies added. You can also see infographics showing the fate of different types of people on board and a map showing where the crew lived, which really brings home the huge effect that the sinking had on the city of Liverpool.”

  1. Helen Gaskell says:

    Many thanks for all the hard work in putting this exhibition together, the family of survivor Thomas McAleavey really appreciated it.

    At the preview event we also met with other families of survivors and some others were the outcome as we know was very sad. The exhibits and presentation engaged everyone young to old and immersed us all in the event and aftermath.

    • Ellie Moffat says:

      Hello Helen,

      Many thanks for your kind words. It was very special for us to welcome so many relatives to the event – such feedback makes all the hard work worthwhile! I hope you are able to attend the commemorative events on 7 May.

      Best wishes,
      Ellie

  2. Christopher Cheetham says:

    I have just been told from a friend a tale of a ship’s captain from many years ago gifting her Auntie, pub landlady of The Grapes, Salford and The Salutation, who stayed there, a pair of the Lusitania’s brass candlesticks. Which she now has and as had for the past 30 years. No provenance. I cannot get any pictures of fitments on the Lusitania. My friend would like to gift them to the Liverpool Maritime Museum if they are from the Lusitania. How can we find out?

    Yours C.L.Cheetham

  3. Linda Cargill says:

    I have been writing and blogging about the Lusitania and the sinking on May 7, 1915 for several years now, but I’m in the United States where nobody pays attention to such historical events. I plan to visit Liverpool on a shore excursion this summer in early July. I will spend my time at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Already I’m posting pictures of your collection on my blog.

    • Ellie Moffat says:

      Hello Linda,

      Thank you for contacting us. What you are doing is so important, to ensure that as many people as possible are made aware of this very significant event in world history.
      I am in touch with a very knowledgeable Lusitania historian and author Michael Poirier – who lives in the US. He has been giving some media interviews over there recently, and I would be happy to put you in touch with him if you could email me at lusitania@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk.
      It was recently announced that there is to be a Lusitania commemoration in New York on the morning of the 7 May. I can send you more details about this too.

      I do hope you enjoy your time in Liverpool this summer.

      With best wishes,

      Ellie

  4. Ruth Hayden says:

    An excellent exhibition Ellie, we learned much about the Sinking & the ‘Family’ showing was much appreciated. We came away with vivid ‘understandings’ of what my Great Aunt Mary Phillips went through. She was one tough lady!

    History can be a ‘grey’ experience but this exhibition was full of ‘colour’ and despite the tragic nature it was a visit we would not have missed. I hope our small photographic & newspaper contribution adds something to the display.

    • Ellie Moffat says:

      Dear Ruth,

      Many thanks for your very kind words. It was lovely to meet you at the opening event, and I am so grateful for the photograph and newspaper cutting – I hope to add them to your Great Aunt’s biography in the near future.
      Are you able to come to Liverpool for the centenary events?

      With best wishes,

      Ellie

  5. Paul Spradbery says:

    A first-rate exhibition at a first-rate museum. I took my young sons to see ‘Lusitania – Life, Loss, Legacy’ today. They found it as fascinating and as thought-provoking as I did. Each exhibit was informatively and sensitively presented. Well done to all involved in bringing an important historical event to life.

  6. David Subacchi says:

    LEST WE FORGET

    Able Seaman Joseph Parry
    Helped save a hundred from the sea
    Awarded the Board of Trade Medal
    By a grateful king and country

    Able Seaman Joseph Parry
    A Welsh name from Merseyside
    Hauled the drowning from bloody waves
    Without his courage more would have died

    Able Seaman Joseph Parry
    His arms around a mother and child
    From the stricken passenger ship
    That a German submarine defiled

    Able Seaman Joseph Parry
    Presented with the infant’s shoe
    Kept it safe throughout his life
    And now in a museum
    It may be seen
    With the words he wrote
    On the tiny sole
    ‘Lest we forget
    Lusitania
    7th May 1915’.

    David Subacchi

  7. Mary Jones says:

    can you tell me what is planned for the 7th May please? Would love to attend but can’t find any info!

  8. Greg Taylor says:

    I was thrilled to attend the opening night of the exhibition and speak to relatives of Lusitania victims and survivors. The exhibition was well organised, thorough, fascinating and a must see for anyone interested in the great liner. I am now aboard the Queen Victoria for Cunard’s Lusitania Remembered Voyage and meeting more family members as well as others interested in and knowledgable about the Lusitania. I am telling them all they must come to see your exhibit if they have not done so already.

  9. Ellie Moffat says:

    Hello Greg,

    Many thanks for your kind words. The opening was indeed a very special occasion and we hope that the exhibition goes some way to ensuring that this important story is told to as many people as possible.
    I hope the Queen Victoria voyage is a memorable one for you and the other families.

    With kind regards,

    Ellie

  10. David Daly says:

    It’s a very interesting and moving site. A huge amount of valuable work has clearly gone into this valuable project. I used to live in Greenbank very close to the homes of some of the Lusitania’s crew which makes the biographies especially fascinating to read.
    Dave.

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