Thomas William Quinn was born in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada in 1877, the son of Thomas and Martha Quinn. His father ran a timber business and Thomas had one brother and three sisters. At the age of fourteen years, he left St. John and went to sea for the first time. It was to be his profession for the rest of his life.
Having decided to settle in Liverpool, Lancashire, he married Ann Jane Kelter - always known as ‘Jane’ or ‘Janie’, on the 3rd November 1898 in the Registry Office in Liverpool, and they lived at 1 Court, 3 House, Liver Street, Liverpool, with their children. In total, the couple had seven children, but by 1911 only five had survived - Thomas James, Kathleen, Eileen, Archibald (Archie), and Jane. Kathleen had had a twin sister, but she was tragically burned to death in a fire, and no details are known of the seventh child.
Thomas William Quinn spent most of his working life with The Cunard Steam Ship Company and he signed on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool, on 12th May 1915 as an able seaman in the Deck Department, for what would be her final voyage ever out of the River Mersey. His monthly rate of pay was £5-10-0d, (£5.50p.). On engagement, £1 of this sum was advanced to him. He was on board when the vessel sailed, on the morning of 17th May.
His eldest child, Thomas James Quinn also served on the liner’s final voyage, as Bosun’s Boy. Like his father when he first went to sea, he too, was only fourteen years old and tragically, he was killed just three weeks later when the
Lusitania was sunk. Thomas senior, however, survived. He was aged 38 years at the time.
On 12th May 1915, after he had got back to Liverpool, Able Seaman Quinn gave a deposition under oath, which gave his account of the sinking. This stated: -
The said ship was off the Old Head of Kinsale and deponent went on lookout duty in the crows nest at 2pm, relieving Seagrave A.B. and taking the starboard side watch, Hennesey (sic.) A.B. taking the port side watch. Deponent asked Seagrave (sic.) “Anything in sight?” and he replied “Nothing doing”.
Deponent took a good look around and saw nothing unusual, but only a little while later, deponent estimates at 2.10 pm, he noticed a white wake away on the starboard side about 200 yards away and coming on, it seemed to be, at about 35 knots racing for the forward.
Deponent instantly said to his mate “Good God, Frank, here’s a torpedo” and at once shouted to the bridge very loudly “Torpedo coming to strike us amidships”, and within a few seconds the torpedo struck the steamer’s starboard side and deponent noticed that No 5 boat was blown to atoms by the explosion.
Deponent heard orders “All hands to boat stations” and he and his mate upon this went down from the crows nest and to their proper boats.
Seagrave was Able Seaman Patrick Seagraves from Grove Place in Liverpool, who did not survive the disaster and
Hennessy was Able Seaman Francis Hennessey, from Gray Street in Liverpool, who did survive.
A photograph of six crew member survivors appeared in the national press of the time outside the official enquiry conducted into the sinking. The enquiry, which was chaired by Lord Mersey, was held in London, in June and July 1915 and one of the men in the photograph is named as G. Quinn. It is possible that this was Thomas Quinn, wrongly named, as it is known that he also gave evidence to the main enquiry.
In common with all the crew of the Lusitania, whether they survived or perished, Thomas Quinn was paid up to and until 8th May, 24 hours after the liner sank and the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £8-18s-8d., (£8.93p) was eventually given to him at Liverpool.
Throughout the rest of his life he continued to serve the Cunard Line. Despite the part he played in the tragic loss of his son Thomas, which he must have bitterly regretted, he remained cheerful and totally devoted to the rest of his family. He was a gentle man, with a soft speaking voice and he would amuse his children and grandchildren with tales of his time at sea and his ‘party trick’ was to bite copper pennies in half with his teeth - he still had all his own teeth on the day he died! He also had the knack of making his entire family think that each one was the most important person in the world, - and he was very well liked by everyone - family and outsiders alike. He could often be found chatting to his sea-faring cronies outside the Sailors’ Home in Liverpool.
After the death of his wife Jane, - the one and only love of his life - he seemed to lose all interest in life and after he had a fall, pneumonia set in and he was taken into The Southern Hospital, Liverpool, where he died in October 1947, aged 70 years. Neither he nor Jane had really ever got over the loss of Thomas James.
He was later buried in Springwood Cemetery, Allerton, in Roman Catholic Section 18, Grave 660.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Julie Langley, PRO ADM 137/1058, PRO BT 100/345, Roy Makinson, M. Waldron.