Robert Henry Cannon was born at Onchan in the Isle of Man in 1863, the son of John and Jane Cannon. His father was a farm labourer and when Robert left school he also worked on a farm. By 1884 he had left the island and gone to Liverpool, where he joined the Liverpool City Police Force. He served with distinction for 26 years and with the rank and number Sergeant 17’B’ he retired to pension on 23 May 1910. At that time he was serving at Prescot Street Police Station. By this time he had married Annie Whelan and in 1915 they lived at 51 Hannan Road, Kensington, Liverpool. The couple had no children.
Some time after leaving the police he embarked on a new strand of his career and began service with the British Mercantile Marine as a kind of ship board policeman, with the job of making sure that passengers were not carrying offensive or contraband materials. In that capacity on 14 April 1915, he signed on for service as Inspector in the Deck Department on the
Lusitania at Liverpool, at a monthly wage of £4-10s-0d (£4.50). It was not his first voyage on the liner, but it is possible that his job was brought about because of the war situation. He reported for duty at 7am on the morning of 17 April, before the liner left the River Mersey for the last time.
Having completed her last ever east to west crossing of the Atlantic, the
Lusitania left New York on the early afternoon of 1 May 1915 for her return voyage to Liverpool. She never made it however, for on the afternoon of 7 May she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the Old Head of Kinsale, only about 12 to 14 hours away from the safety of her home port. Robert Cannon was killed as a result of this action. He was aged 52 years.
On 10 May 1915 the 'New York Times' carried the following item:
"Edward Cronican of 1404 Amsterdam Avenue (is seeking) news of his adopted father, an uncle by marriage, Inspector Robert Henry Cannon, 50 years old, who is in the service of the British Government and whose duty was to search transatlantic travellers in order to safeguard the liners. The inspector was six feet four inches in height and a powerful swimmer and consequently may have made shore."
His body was recovered from the sea and it was landed at Queenstown with two others on the evening of Wednesday 12 May, from a Royal Naval torpedo boat. As it was unidentified at that time, it was allocated the reference number 176 in one of the temporary Queenstown mortuaries.
Once a positive identification had been made it was shipped back home to Liverpool, where it was buried on Monday 17 May 1915 in Ford Cemetery, Litherland, in Section I, Grave 290.
There are no other 'Cannons' buried in this grave, which dates from 1882 and although there is a commemorative stone over the grave, in red marble, it has been broken at the top. The inscription which refers to Inspector Cannon is intact, however, and states:
"ALSO ROBERT H. CANNON,
WHO WAS LOST ON THE LUSITANIA, 7TH MAY 1915,
AGED 52 YEARS,
THE BELOVED HUSBAND OF ANNIE CANNON"
Although Inspector Cannon was born in the Isle of Man, his name does not appear on the war memorial on the sea front at Douglas. This is almost certainly because his widow did not forward his details after the war, or possibly because Onchan, which is just on the edge of Douglas Bay, had its own memorial.
When he engaged for service on the Lusitania on 14 April 1915, he gave his age as 53 years and his birthplace as St John, which presumably is on the Isle of Man.
In August 1915 Annie Cannon received from Cunard the balance of pay owed to her late husband in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage. This was reckoned to be from 17 April 1915 until 8 May - 24 hours after the liner had been sunk.
1871 Isle of Man Census, 1881 Isle of Man Census, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, Gore's Directory, Tom McDonough, New York Times, Joe Symon, PRO BT 334.