James Bohan was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States of America on the 10th August 1874, the eldest child of James and Ellen Bohan (née Kelly). His father - an Irishman, and his mother - Scottish born, had married before immigrating to Boston, but while James was still a young baby, they had returned to his mother’s native city of Glasgow, where they set up home at 109. South Portland Street. Although born in the United States of America, James was a British subject.
He became a businessman and a founder and director of James Bohan and Co., Wholesale Furriers of 20 Charles Street, Bradford. The company also had premises in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, although the mainstay of the business was woollen goods. James Bohan travelled frequently between Toronto, Glasgow, and Bradford, but his principle residence was at 43. Adelaide Street West, Toronto.
In the spring of 1915, he had reason to travel from Toronto to Glasgow and Bradford in connection with his business and booked his return passage through agents A. F. Webster, & Son, of Toronto. They booked him as a saloon passenger on the
Lusitania sailing which was due to leave New York on the morning of 1st May. Consequently, he left Toronto by rail at the end of April and arrived at the Cunard Quay, Pier 54, on that morning. Once on board the liner, - with ticket number 13102 - he was escorted to his cabin - room E65 - which was the personal responsibility of First Class Bedroom Steward Alfred Wood, who came from West Derby, a suburb of Liverpool.
Because of a delay in loading cargo, passengers and crew from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war work, the
Lusitania left her berth for the last time just after mid-day on 1st May 1915 and slipped into the North River.
Six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk within sight of the southern Irish coast and only hours away from her home port of Liverpool. James Bohan was fortunate to survive the sinking and having jumped into the sea and got into the remains of a collapsible lifeboat; he was eventually picked up and landed at Queenstown. From there, he eventually got back to his family in Glasgow, where he gave an interview to the press regarding his experiences. This was reported in the
Bradford Daily Argus for Thursday 13th May 1915 and said: -
He took not notice of the warning of an English-speaking German who accosted him as he was boarding the liner and told him the vessel was to be torpedoed, and sailed as arranged. Feeling somewhat unwell on the day of the disaster, Mr. Bohan was taking a rest in his saloon cabin, five decks down, when the ship was struck.
The first indication he had that something was amiss was when the crash came. Water began to pour into the cabin. Slipping on a pair of trousers, he made at once for the top deck, on which a considerable number of people had already assembled. Everybody seemed to be cool and collected, and there was no sign of panic.
He was given a lifebelt by his steward, and he climbed down the davits into one of the boats. It was found impossible to loosen the ropes, however, and by that time he could feel the ship was going. Deeming it best to get as far as possible from her when the final plunge came, Mr. Bohan, who is a good swimmer, dived into the sea, and swam away as hard as he could go.
On looking up at the Lusitania, it seemed, on account of the heavy list, as if one of the gigantic funnels was coming right down on top of him, and he made off again as fast as he could, until he was quite exhausted.
Beginning to feel the effects of his exertions, he turned on his back and lay for some time with his arms folded watching the vessel go down. Just as she took the plunge, a big tidal wave rushed towards him, carrying with it a mass of floating debris and bodies. He got one or two cracks from the wreckage but managed to get hold of a big box, though his efforts to get on top of it were unavailing.
Along with two others, however, he succeeded in securing a collapsible lifeboat and though they could not float it properly through the lack of knives, only being able to get it half open, they picked up twenty-seven people. To keep the vessel afloat was a difficult, task under the circumstances; indeed had it not been so calm, their frail craft would have been wrecked.
After a while, they were sighted by a small fishing smack and taken aboard, their number making the total aboard that craft fully one hundred. After drifting about for another hour, a steamer hailed them and they were taken to Queenstown, where every hospitality was afforded them.
The fishing smack was possibly the Peel 12 and the steamer
which eventually landed them at Queenstown was probably the Queenstown harbour tender
Flying Fish or perhaps the Royal Naval trawler Indian Empire.
Bedroom Steward Wood, who looked after James Bohan in room E65 and got him a lifebelt, also survived the sinking and eventually made it back to his Liverpool home.
James Bohan returned to Canada in August 1915 and lodged a claim for compensation with the Canadian government. He personally gave evidence of the injuries he had suffered as a result of the sinking of the
Lusitania, and the long-term health problems he experienced. His evidence, supported by his physician, Dr. H.M. Cook of Toronto, was that he had been in perfect health up to the time of the sinking; however, as a result of his exposure in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean for about two hours, he had developed a hardening of the arteries. His blood pressure became very high and he suffered partial paralysis on one side of his body. He had been unconscious for a period of six weeks, suffered permanent deafness in his right ear, and was hospitalised for eight months, requiring the permanent attendance of two nurses while confined in hospital, and sometimes four nurses. To recuperate, he had travelled to Florida twice, which cost him $3,000, and he was unable to work for a number of years. He was awarded a total of $51,471.20 by the Commission, which included compensation for his medical expenses, trips to Florida, loss of personal effects, and personal injuries.
James Bohan never married and made many trans-Atlantic crossings following his survival. He died in Toronto, Ontario, on the 12th August 1927, aged 53 years, and his remains buried in Mount Hope Catholic Cemetery, Toronto.
Massachusetts Town and Vital Records 1620 – 1988, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of Scotland, 1901 Census of Scotland, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, The Toronto World, Bradford Daily Argus, Cunard Records, Edmonton Journal, PRO 22/71, Canadian Claims case No. 771, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly