Francis 'Frank' Hennessey was born in Walton Workhouse, Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on 2 September 1870.
He married Annie Size on 19 November 1902 and they had five sons; Nicholas, William, Francis, John and Gerald. The family home was at 25 Gray Street, Bootle, Lancashire, England.
He was a professional merchant seaman, starting his service at the age of 16. He then served on many ships, including troop ships during the Anglo/Boer War of 1898 to 1901.
Family tradition has it that he fought as a soldier during that war and shot himself in the foot to get back to Britain. The family also believe that whilst serving with the Cunard Steam Ship Company on the New York service, he once met and knocked out John L Sullivan, the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, in a New York bar!
He engaged at Liverpool on 12 April 1915, as an able seaman in the Deck Department on board the
Lusitania, for what proved to be her final voyage. As an able seaman, his monthly rate of pay was £5-10s-0d (£5.50). He reported for duty at 7am on 17 April, the day the liner left the River Mersey for the last time.
He had been promoted as a lookout on 10 March 1915 on a previous voyage on board the vessel and was serving in this capacity on the afternoon of 7 May, when the ship was attacked. He actually saw the track of the torpedo that sank her, too late to report it in enough time for evasive action to be taken. On 12 May 1915 he gave a sworn deposition to an officer of the Board of Trade in Liverpool in which he is recorded as saying:
"The said ship was in the vicinity of the Head of Kinsale and at 2 p.m., deponent went on look out in the crows nest on the foremast taking the port side look out, relieving Parry A.B.. The look out men going off watch made no report of anything seen, everything seemed to be in order.
Deponent looked well all round and saw nothing unusual. Some time between ten past and fifteen minutes past two, the look out on the starboard side of the crow’s nest, Quinn A.B. suddenly said “Good God, Frank, here’s a torpedo.”. Deponent looked over the starboard bow and saw the wake of a torpedo nearing the ship and coming very fast.
Quinn at the same time was reporting it to the bridge, shouting it very loudly and only a very few seconds later, the torpedo struck the steamer’s starboard side about between the first and second funnels.
Orders were shouted for “All hands to boat stations”, and deponent made his way to his own boat, No. 2 on the port side. By the time he reached the boat, the steamer had listed so much to starboard that the boat could not be got out. Very strong efforts were made but the list got worse and deponent went with the officer and others and tried other boats further aft on the same side. The boat deponent was working at was got part way down unevenly with some passengers in it but while this was going on the steamer sank.
Deponent was in the water and managed first of all to get hold of a boat chock, and then pushed this over to a lady passenger. After swimming a good while, deponent got to a collapsible boat with several persons on it, including Mr. Luce, one of the officers.
The boat repeatedly turned over and several of the people were lost by this. Finally, the boatswain’s boat took them on board and later transferred them to a trawler."
"Parry AB" was Able Seaman Joseph Parry, who later won a medal for his bravery in saving life after the ship sank. "Quinn AB" was Able Seaman Thomas Quinn and "Mr Luce" was almost certainly Third Officer John T Lewis. All three came from Liverpool and all three survived.
In 'The Tragedy of the Lusitania' privately published in 1915, second cabin passenger Frederick S Judson described reaching a lifeboat, in which he found Able Seaman Hennessey and Second Officer Percy Hefford. He said:
"Between them these two men saved at least a dozen lives. Hennessy (sic.) dived repeatedly and brought women up."
Having been rescued and landed at Queenstown, Hennessey eventually got home to Liverpool where he was officially discharged from the
Lusitania. Upon discharge he was paid £3-18s-8d (£3.93), the balance of wages owing to him. Like all members of the crew, he was paid up until 8 May, 24 hours after the liner went down.
Undeterred by his experience, he went to sea again just two months after his ordeal. On 8 July 1915 he joined the Lusitania’s sister ship the
Aquitania and served on her for the rest of the war, during which time she was mainly used as a hospital ship.
He died in Mill Road Hospital, Liverpool, at the age of 57 years, on 4 May 1927 and was buried in Yew Tree Cemetery.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Tony Hennessy, PRO ADM 137/1058, PRO BT 100/345, Tragedy of the Lusitania.