Andrew Cockburn was born at 8 Coalmarket, Kelso, Roxburghshire, Scotland in 1871, one of the four children of Alexander and Anne Cockburn (née Black). When he was only three years old his mother died and in 1876 his father married Jane Jones Chalmers and they gave the young Andrew a further twelve half brothers and sisters.
After initial education Andrew Cockburn undertook an engineering apprenticeship with Messrs Morrison and Sons of Leith, Midlothia, and completed study at Lockie’s Evening Academy before becoming a journeyman with R&W Hawthorn, Leslie & Company of Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England.
In 1892 he joined the shore staff of The Cunard Steam Ship Company in Liverpool as a fitter, where he remained for a year before he sailed on the maiden voyage of the
Lucania as Second Engineer, on which he served until 1896. During that time the Lucania completed the then fastest transatlantic crossing of five days, seven hours and 25 minutes, capturing the fabled ‘Blue Riband’ from the American Lines vessel Paris.
In 1897 he married Laura Forrett at Liverpool and they had three children; Margaret Alexandra, who was born in July 1902, Flora Jane, who was born in December 1907 and Nancy Laura, who was born in 1910. Laura died in 1922 and he went on to marry Maude Packer in 1936.
From 1893 onwards Andrew Cockburn served Cunard at sea on many liners including the Umbria, the
Campania and the Ivernia. At some stage during this period of time, he was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, later being awarded the Royal Naval Reserve Decoration (RD). In March 1914 he was appointed Intermediate Second Engineer for the maiden voyage of the Aquitania.
He had decided to retire from active life at sea sometime that year, but on 4 August the First World War broke out and everything changed. At that stage he was serving on the
Lusitania’s sister ship the Aquitania. On 2 August that vessel was requisitioned by the British Admiralty as an armed merchant cruiser and he was then re-commissioned as a Royal Naval Reserve Engineer-Lieutenant. He was reassigned to the Lusitania in January 1915, having completed a single voyage to New York and back on the
On 12 April 1915 at Liverpool he engaged for a further period of service on the
Lusitania as Second Engineer in the Engineering Department at a monthly rate of pay of £22-0s-0d, and reported for duty on board on the morning of 17 April 1915, before the liner left the River Mersey for the last time. At that time the family home was at 16 Kitchener Street, St Helens, Lancashire, England.
Having completed her westward crossing to New York, the liner left there just after mid-day on 1 May 1915 for her return journey to Liverpool, having taken on board passengers, cargo, and some of the crew of the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for use as a troop ship. Six days out of New York she was torpedoed by the German submarine
U-20 within sight of the Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland.
Engineer Cockburn survived this action and was later called to the investigation into the sinking presided over by Lord Mersey at Central Hall, Westminster, London. He was questioned on Wednesday 16 June 1915 by The Attorney General, Sir Edward Carson and informed him that his normal engine room watch was from 8am until 12 noon each day.
He then said that when the torpedo had struck he was outside his cabin on ‘C’ Deck and had immediately gone down into the engine room where he could see that the watertight doors were already closed. Once there, having put on a lifebelt, he conversed with the Chief Engineer Archibald Bryce and the Second Engineer (probably Second Senior Third Engineer George Little). The engine room was in darkness by this time and as all the steam had gone, everything was stopped. He could hear water rushing in, but could not tell exactly where.
Realising that nothing more could be done for the ship, Cockburn went back up on deck, which was by this time severely listing to starboard. He was just in time to get over the deck rail and some netting before virtually stepping into the sea just as the
Lusitania sank, taking him with her. Having struggled back to the surface, he kept himself afloat for a while by clinging to a valise, before he managed to get on top of an upturned boat. He was eventually picked up by the Royal Naval Trawler
From there he was landed at Queenstown and then eventually made it back to Liverpool where, at Cunard’s offices in Water Street, he was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s last voyage and paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of it. This amounted to £17-17s-6d (£17.87 ½) and covered the period from 17 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the great liner had foundered.
When he first went back to sea after the Lusitania sinking, he served on board the
Mauretania carrying troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Britain and then in March 1917 he was appointed Chief Engineer of the
Aurania on her maiden voyage, under Admiralty control and fitted out as a troopship. He was still serving on board her on 4 February 1918 when she was torpedoed by the German submarine
UB-67 off the coast of Ireland, on a voyage to New York. Although she did not sink immediately as a result of this action and was taken under tow, the tow parted in heavy weather off western Scotland and she was driven ashore and wrecked near Tobermory, on the Island of Mull in Argyllshire, with the loss of eight of her crew.
Cockburn survived this second shipwreck however, and after it returned to the
Mauretania, firstly as Senior Second Engineer then in 1919 he became her chief engineer, serving on board for the next ten years or so.
He finally retired from the sea on 31 December 1932 and was awarded the honour of The Order of The British Empire, in 1935, for his service to his country.
He died aged 84 years at his then home at ‘Hendersyde’, Wilton Road, Shirley, Southampton, Hampshire on 15 August 1955. He was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton. He left an estate of £16,158-17s-5d (£16,158.87) to his widow and their three daughters.
His second wife Maude died in 1960, his daughter Margaret in December 1967, aged 65 years, his daughter Flora in November 2002, aged nearly 95 years and his daughter Nancy, in 1995, aged 85 years.
In a letter to the author in April 2003, his grandson John Ackroyd, Flora’s son, stated:
"He was described by all who knew him as a quiet modest man.
I remember him describing with great pride how he had beaten some of the American Ryder Cup team at a golf putting game played on board ship. He knew how the ship rolled!"
Register of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1881 Census of Scotland, 1891 Census of Scotland, 1911 Census of England and Wales, John Ackroyd, British Vessels Lost At Sea, Cunard Records, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, Lusitania Saga and Myth, Marine Engineers’ Association Journal, Mersey Enquiry, Probate Records, PRO ADM 137/1058, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 348.