James Hume was born in Belfast, County Antrim, Ireland in 1896 and he lived with his parents Thomas Drew and Elizabeth Hume at 98 Canmore Street.
He first went to sea when he was 17 years of age and he engaged on the Lusitania at Liverpool as an able seaman in the Deck Department on 14 April 1915 at a monthly rate of pay of £5-10s-0d (£5.50). At his time of engagement he was advanced £1-10s-0d (£1.50) of this wage. He reported for duty at 7am on 17 April, the day the vessel left the River Mersey for the last time. His previous ship had been the Sachem.
He survived the sinking three weeks later and on his return to Belfast his experiences were reported in 'The Belfast Telegraph' on 12 May 1915:
"Young Hume said that he was in his bunk snatching a few hours' rest when he was awakened by the sound of an explosion. With the others in the room he rushed on deck, where a scene of great excitement prevailed.
Members of the crew were hurrying to and fro carrying out orders and directing the passengers to the boats. He was making his way to his allotted boat when a woman carrying a baby stopped him and inquired where she could get a life jacket. "You can have this one", replied Hume, handing her the belt he was carrying over his arm.
He assisted the woman to fix on the life belt, and in her thankfulness she snatched a gold watch from her breast and pushed it into his hand, ignoring his protest. Hume placed the token of a woman's gratitude in a pocket of his "dungarees", and after directing her to one of the boats, went to his post.
The boat at which he was engaged was lowered, but before anyone could be got on board, a sudden list of the liner caused the frailer craft to be upset.
Hume went on to describe the herculean efforts of the officers and crew to get the available boats filled with passengers, but he said the terrible list of the ship greatly hampered their efforts. He himself had climbed on to a rail, and when the liner was half submerged he sprang into the sea, his drop being one of about sixty feet.
"All around the ship," he continued, "you could see nothing but heads bobbing up and down in the water and when I looked back I saw the stern of the vessel in the air. People too terrified to jump were clinging desperately to the sides, and they went down when the ship sank."
He gave a pathetic account of how about forty people clinging to an upturned boat were swept away, one after the other, by the buffeting of the waves.
"I managed to swim over to a collapsible boat which was floating bottom upwards, the canvas covering being still attached. There were about forty of us clinging to it, including half-a-dozen girls, whom the men folk did their best to support. The boat was continually turning over on its side, however, and one by one the others lost their grip and disappeared. A child of about six years was washed up against me, and I endeavoured to support her but lost consciousness, and when I came to my senses I was aboard a fishing boat. I do not know what happened to the child. I was over four hours in the water, and that with nothing on but an undershirt, so you may guess I was nearly frozen. My feet were so cut up that I could scarcely walk."
In the course of his narrative, young Hume said that some passengers in the boats started singing to keep their spirits from falling. "Rule Britannia" and "Tipperary" were two of the airs he heard as he was clinging to the upturned boat. On a raft, on which several women were huddled, he saw a clergyman in an attitude of prayer.
Hume spoke in great praise of the kindness of the people of Queenstown. He was provided with clothes "coat and trousers, about two sizes too large for me," he laughingly remarked - and a pair of tennis shoes, and was thus garbed when he reached Liverpool.
A sorrowful scene was presented at the Liverpool docks, he said, where crowds of people were gathered, anxiously scanning the faces of those who came ashore, all on the look-out for dear ones who had been aboard the ill-fated Cunarder.
One young woman rushed out from the crowd and, clasping Hume around the neck, kissed him, only to drop back the next moment with the cry "Oh, I thought you were my brother." She proved to be the sister of a fireman on the Lusitania."
His parents in Belfast did not realise until the evening of 7 May that the ship had gone down as they had not looked at their daily newspaper until then. It was not until the Saturday morning when a telegram arrived from their son announcing his safety that their terrible suspense and anxiety came to an end.
On his eventual return to Liverpool, James Hume was paid off from the Lusitania’s last voyage and received wages of £3-8s-8d (£3.43). In common with all the members of the crew he was paid up to and including 8 May, 24 hours after the liner sank.
1901 Census of Ireland, 1911 Census of Ireland, Cunard Records, Belfast Telegraph, PRO BT 100/345.