Annie Elizabeth Adams was born Annie Elizabeth Macnutt (or McNutt) in Liverpool, Queens County, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the 26th November 1868, the daughter of Andrew Harlow and Annie Smith (née Fralick) Macnutt.
On 5th April 1915, she married Welsh widower Henry Adams at St. Margaret’s Church in Washington, D.C., and shortly after, the couple set out to travel to Henry Adams’ native town of Tenby, in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Mr. Adams was a director of The Mazawattee Tea Company Limited, of Tower Hill, London and was in charge of the American branch of the firm, in Boston, Massachusetts.
For their journey, the couple booked saloon class passage on the Lusitania which was scheduled to sail from New York on 1st May 1915 and having left Boston at the end of April, they boarded the vessel, (with ticket number 1298), on the morning of that date. They were escorted to their accommodation in room B27, which was the responsibility of First Class Bedroom Steward James Holden from Liverpool. After a delayed departure, the liner finally left port just after mid-day.
Six days out of New York when she was twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland and only 250 miles away from her Liverpool home port, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20. Although Henry Adams did not survive this sinking, Annie Adams did.
After being rescued from the sea, she was landed at Queenstown, where she must have related her story to a press representative. Her experiences were featured in a book
The Tragedy of the Lusitania, written by Captain Frederick D. Ellis and published not long after the sinking, in 1915: -
Mrs. Henry Adams, wife of a London merchant told one of the most graphic tales of the disaster. She had just finished examining the unidentified dead in the coffins on the Cunard pier and had given up as hopeless, her search for her husband, when approached. In the succeeding ten minutes she poured forth a tale in which romance, happiness, terror and tragedy were interwoven in a fashion no creator of fiction could conceive.
"My husband and I were married in Washington on April 5," she said. "We were coming to London to make it our home. He did not wish to sail on the Lusitania because of the threats of the German Embassy, but some of my relatives are Cunard officials and I have always been a confirmed Cunarder, so I insisted on the Lusitania. On the night before we were torpedoed, something prompted my husband to try on the lifebelts. We got them down from the top of the wardrobe, and after putting them on left them under the berths.
When the shock came we were both in the writing room on the top deck. I knew the ship was doomed, but my husband was just as sure she could not sink. However, we went down to the stateroom, got our life-belts and ran back to the top deck, preservers in hand. The ship was listing so that it was very difficult to walk. On two occasions while ascending the stairs my husband was struck and knocked down. On deck he wanted to stand and listen, but I kept in the lead and helped him climb the sloping deck and reach the rail on the higher side.
Here we saw a boat ready to be lowered. Some one shouted, 'Women first,' but I refused to get in, insisting on staying with my husband. He seemed dazed and almost unconscious. I put a life preserver on him and then put on my own. In the meantime the captain had ordered the boats not to be lowered. A bosun, standing beside me on the deck, said, 'We're resting on the bottom. We cannot sink.' This statement calmed most of those about us.
My husband sat down on a collapsible boat. He seemed unable to stand. There we remained for several minutes, holding on to the rail in order to keep from sliding down the inclined deck. Suddenly I saw a great wave come over the bow and instantly my husband and all of us were engulfed. As the ship sank, I found I was being carried down under a life-boat.
It got pitch black. Then suddenly it became lighter. The dark blue turned to light blue and then I was in the sunshine - afloat, though I could not swim. Finally I caught hold of a piece of wood and held on. After a time, a raft carrying twenty men and one woman floated by. I begged the men to help me aboard, but they did not want to, and it was only when the woman upbraided them that one of the men dragged me on the raft.
There was something wrong with the raft, as it kept capsizing time and time again. Each time it was less buoyant and almost every time it overturned one or more of the poor wretches would disappear. Finally the other woman went down. I made use of my gymnastic knowledge, and as the raft turned I crawled hand over hand, always managing to stay on
Finally, only six of us were left and then the raft sank from under us and we were left alone in the water. Altogether it was three hours and a half before a torpedo boat came. I saw it in the distance, but was so exhausted and numb with the cold by then that I lost consciousness and knew no more until I recovered aboard the torpedo boat.
One of the heroes whose name has not been mentioned was aboard that boat. He was Second Officer Burrowes. After the doctor had given me up for dead he continued to work on me, and finally succeeded in reviving me. He did as much for others as well, but he refused to accept even thanks."
Mrs. Adams was clearly mistaken as to the identity of her ‘hero’ as the second officer on board the liner was named Percy Hefford. The only crew member with a name resembling
Burrows, was Stewards' Boy William Borrows, who, being aged only 14 years of age at the time, could not have been confused with a Second Officer! Her account continued: -
At the conclusion of her description of her experiences, Mrs. Adams made a startling statement regarding the conduct of the ship's officers and men.
"Although I am closely identified with the Cunard Line and would wish to do nothing that might minimize the hideous crime of the Germans, I feel it my duty to humanity to say something that may prevent a repetition of this needless loss of life.
Not only were the boats undermanned before being lowered, but the equipment itself was faulty. The raft I was on leaked and the collapsible boats had rusty, unworkable hinges, a matter that could have been remedied by oiling once in a fortnight. If the members of the crew got their deserts the stewards would be praised to Heaven and the stokers would be damned to hell. The former behaved magnificently. Of all that great number of men charged with our safety only the stewards showed any appreciation of their responsibility. The behaviour of the stokers was too terrible for words. I myself saw many instances of their bestiality.
As for the conduct of the officers, I have to say that they were conspicuous by their absence throughout the whole twenty minutes. There surely must be an investigation that will place the blame for this unnecessary adding to the number murdered”.
Mrs. Adams’ acerbic comments about the officers and some of the crew are not mirrored in the accounts of most of the passengers who left behind their accounts of the sinking.
Eventually, having travelled to Dublin by train, she got on a boat bound for Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, where she was photographed, with other survivors, before travelling to her late husband’s home town of Tenby and her sister-in-law’s residence, at Gower House in Tudor Square.
Her husband’s body was eventually recovered from the sea and shipped back to Tenby for burial and Annie Adams was principal mourner when it was buried in Tenby (St. Mary’s) Cemetery on Thursday 27th May.
On 17th June 1915, she received property recovered from this body care of a Mr. G.H. Champion, of Winchester House, Old Broad Street, London E.C., who was presumably a lawyer. She later lived at 3. Arlington Gardens, Ilford, Essex.
Bedroom Steward Holden who had looked after Mr. and Mrs. Adams in room B27, like Henry Adams, did not survive the sinking.
Suffering from the shock of her ordeal, and the grief of losing her husband, Annie Adams was committed to the Brighton Borough Mental Hospital, where she remained until she died on the 29th November 1923, aged 54 years.
Sometime after the sinking of the Lusitania, a sister of Annie, a Mrs. Florence J. Wall, residing in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, lodged a claim on Annie’s behalf in Canada for injuries suffered in the sinking and for the loss of her husband. Unfortunately, Annie had died before the case was settled and Mrs. Wall wrote to the Commissioner, to inform him of Annie’s death. Mrs. Wall sought compensation to travel to England to investigate the circumstances of Annie’s life and death in England, and to have her remains exhumed and transported to Canada for burial. She was awarded the sum of $2,000, but it is not known whether or not Mrs. Wall followed through with her intentions, and if Annie’s remains were ever brought back to her native Canada for burial.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of Canada, 1881 Census of Canada, 1891 Census of Canada, District of Columbia Select Marriages 1830 – 1921, Cunard Records, Daily Sketch, Pembroke County Guardian, Probate Records, Tragedy of the Lusitania, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, UniLiv D92/2/443, UniLiv. PR13/6, Canadian Claims No. 769, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Stuart Williamson, Hugo Thiel, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly