Peter Smith was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, in 1856, the son of Thomas and Ann Smith. The family owned the firm of Potter's Shipbuilding in Blackston Street, Liverpool, Lancashire. In 1915, he was living with his wife Faith Eaton Smith (née Marlow), whom he married in Liverpool on the 24th July 1879, at the family home, 48, Monfa Street, Bootle, Liverpool, Lancashire. He was a prominent Freemason and a member of Trafalgar Lodge, No. 225 based in Liverpool.
He joined the Cunard Steamship Company in the 1880s and at the time of his death, had completed over 30 years of service with the company. By 1915, he was employed as a master at arms in the Deck Department on board the
Lusitania, a position which was to all intents and purposes, that of ship's policeman.
On 12th April 1915, at the Cunard offices at Water Street, Liverpool, he engaged in this rank for the
Lusitania’s voyage to New York which was scheduled to leave Princes Landing Stage on the morning of 17th April. His rate of pay was £5-10s-0d., (£5.50p.), £1-10s-0d., (£1.50p.), of which was advanced to him at the time. There were two masters at arms engaged for this voyage, the other one being 46 year old William Williams.
Having successfully completed the liner’s westward voyage, Master at Arms Smith was still serving in the same capacity when the Cunarder left New York after a delayed start just after mid-day on 1st May, to begin her return to Liverpool. Then, on the afternoon of 7th May 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, off the southern coast of Ireland and only about twelve to fourteen hours away from the safety of her home port.
Peter Smith unfortunately lost his life as a result of this action and as his body was not recovered and identified afterwards, he has no known grave. Consequently, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London. He was aged 59 years. Despite being a Freemason, however, his name is not embossed on the bronze roll of honour dedicated to Merseyside Freemasons lost in the Great War, at the Masonic Hall in Hope Street, Liverpool.
In Kinsale Court House, in Kinsale, County Cork on 10th May 1915, an inquest was still in progress, held by Coroner John J. Horgan, into the deaths of five bodies landed there on the evening of 7th May.
Third class passenger survivor Michael Doyle, gave evidence to the inquest and said that he was talking to the Master at Arms, when the torpedo was seen approaching and that he, (although he did not name him) had exclaimed :-
Here comes the submarine - as sure as hell she’ll get us.
It is not known whether Mr. Doyle was referring to Peter Smith or William Williams! Master at Arms Williams did survive the sinking, however and eventually made it back to Liverpool.
In August 1915, Peter Smith’s widow Faith was sent the balance of wages owed to her husband in respect of his engagement on the
Lusitania’s last voyage, which was reckoned from 17th April until 8th May 1915, 24 hours after the great ship had foundered.
In May 1917, Faith Smith was paid £13-0s.-2d. in compensation by The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited who also granted her an annual pension of £13-1s-7d. (£13.08p.), payable at the rate of £1-1s-9d. (£1.09p.) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Bootle Times, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Imperial War Museum, PRO BT 100/345, PR. 13/24, PRO BT 334.