Neil Robertson was born in Govan, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1876. In 1915, he lived at 146, Bedford Road, Bootle, Lancashire, England, with his wife, Nina.
He was a professional mercantile marine seaman and he engaged as Ship’s Carpenter in the Deck Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool, on 12th April 1915 at a monthly rate of pay of £9-5s-0d., (£9.25p.). He then reported for duty on the morning of the 17th, before the liner left Liverpool for the last ever time on her crossing of the Atlantic Ocean to New York.
Having arrived there safely, he was on board on the early afternoon of 1st May when the liner began her delayed return crossing to Liverpool. She was scheduled to leave the Cunard berth at Pier 54 at 10.00 a.m., but had waited to embark passengers, some crew and some of the cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel the S.S. Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for use as a troop ship. Then, six days out of New York, on the early afternoon of 7th May, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and probably only about twelve to fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port.
Carpenter Robertson survived the sinking, however and after being rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown from where he eventually made it back to his Bootle home.
One there, he went to the Cunard offices in Water Street, Liverpool, where he was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s last voyage and given the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £9-5s-0d., (£9.25p.). This represented payment for his service from 17th April until 8th May 1915; 24 hours after the liner had gone down.
On 15th June 1915, he was called to Central in Westminster, in London to give evidence concerning the sinking of the liner to the official enquiry held under the chairmanship of Lord Mersey. He gave evidence on the third day: -
Amongst the maritime papers concerning Neil Robertson which have survived in the collection of The National Galleries and Museums on Merseyside is a signed photograph of saloon passenger Robert Timmis, a British cotton broker living in Gainesville, Texas in the United States of America. Dated and posted from London on 21st June 1915, Timmis has also written the following dedication: -
To Neil Robertson, Carpenter Lusitania who took me into a damaged collapsible Lusitania lifeboat about two hours after ship had been torpedoed May 7.1915. I being in the water without a life belt. He acted as a good seaman + a brave man.
Robert Timmis’ story was told many times immediately after the Lusitania's
sinking and for a long time afterwards, but none of the accounts mention Carpenter Robertson’s part in his survival, although there can be no doubt that it was significant.
In an interview with one of his nephews Ian Walker in 1999, Mr. Walker told the author that his uncle was like many of his race - tall and red haired and had helped to rescue others after the sinking, apart from Robert Timmis. However, not long after the disaster, he suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of his experiences and eventually left the sea to run a hotel in Scotland, which he bought apparently with money awarded to him by way of compensation!
What is known is that in June 1923, Neil Robertson together with a Mr. R.O. Chisholm was granted a provisional specification for a patent by The Patent Office in London for a
Steering course indicator for night and day use. It is not known whether this apparatus ever made the pair any money but a fellow crew member on board the
Lusitania's final voyage was Second Steward Robert D. Chisholm and it is likely that this former shipmate was Neil Robertson’s fellow patentee.
Neil Robertson died in Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland, on the 3rd June 1955, aged 79 years.
1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, NGMM DX/1478, PRO BT 100/345, Ian Walker, Michael Poirier.