Frederick Hugh O’Neill was born in Plymouth, Devon, England in 1863, the son of William and Mary Jane O’Neill. He was a professional seaman in the mercantile marine, having previously been in the Royal Navy. He lived with his parents in Devon, and lodged at 77 Highfield Street, Liverpool between voyages out of the port.
On 12 April 1915 in Liverpool he engaged as an able seaman in the Deck Department on board the
Lusitania at a monthly rate of pay of £5-10s-0d (£5.50). He reported for duty at 7am five days later, before the liner left Liverpool for the last time. It was not his first voyage on the vessel.
Having completed her voyage to New York, the Lusitania began her return on 1 May 1915 and six days later, on the afternoon of 7 May 1915, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 within sight of the southern coast of Ireland and only 250 miles away from her home port.
Able Seaman O’Neill survived the sinking and having been rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown made his way back to Liverpool. Some time after that he was officially discharged from the
Lusitania's final voyage and received £5-10s-8d (£5.53) wages for his service on the liner from 17 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the liner had been sunk.
Fellow able seaman Edward Heighway who also survived the sinking also lived at 77 Highfield Street.
On 17 June 1915, the third day of Lord Mersey’s enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the
Lusitania, Frederick O’Neill was called upon to give evidence. In his testimony he stated that he was with the boatswain, John Davis, and a number of other crew members in the baggage room when the torpedo struck, and they ascended to the deck by way of the baggage lift. On reaching the deck he observed a torpedo pass astern of the vessel, travelling from port to starboard. He was assigned to lifeboat number 14, on the port side of the
Lusitania, but was unable to launch it due to the listing of the vessel. He then managed to launch the corresponding lifeboat on the starboard side, lifeboat number 13. With the other survivors on board he rescued a number of people from the water and all were eventually taken on board HMS Stormcock.
The boatswain, John Davies, also survived the sinking.
Frederick O’Neill continued to serve in the mercantile marine for many years before retiring.
He died in Plymouth, Devon in 1944, aged 81 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England and Wales, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345.