Alfred Russell Clarke was a born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, on 7th October 1859, the second son of John and Mary Clarke. His father was a leather tanner, and later a farmer, and Alfred was one of eight known children.
On completion of his education, Alfred became a leather tanner, and by the mid-1880’s, he was manufacturing his own leather goods and establishing himself in business in Toronto, Ontario. He manufactured leather linings, leather vests, moccasins, and other leather clothing, including, as war loomed in Europe, military style Sam Browne officer’s belts and gun holsters.
On the 11th October 1887, he married Mary Louise Boustead in Toronto, and the couple had three children – Isabel Louise, Alfred Griffith Boustead, and Vivian Russell. The family home was at 72. Roxborough Drive, Toronto.
By 1915, he was president and managing director of his own firm - A.R. Clarke & Co. Ltd., Toronto, and he was also the chairman of the Canadian Manufacturers Association in Toronto, governor or the Toronto Housing Company, and a director of the Canadian Credit Association. As well as being a member of the Civic Guild, and a member of the advisory board of the Canadian National Exhibition.
In the spring of 1915, he decided to travel to England to try and secure contracts to supply the British military with his leather goods, and booked saloon passage through travel agents A. F. Webster & Son, Toronto, on the May sailing of the
Lusitania from New York to Liverpool. Leaving Toronto at the end of April, he arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May 1915 in time for the liner’s scheduled 10 o’ clock departure.
Having boarded with ticket number 13105, he was escorted to his accommodation in room D3, which was under the personal supervision of First Class Bedroom Steward William McLeod, who came from Bebington, near Birkenhead, in Cheshire. McLeod was a long-term Cunard employee and had reached the rank of Chief First Class Bedroom Steward, but was serving in an ordinary capacity on what was to become the
Lusitania’s final Atlantic crossing.
The liner’s sailing was delayed until the afternoon as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from her the Anchor Liner, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty as a troop ship, at the end of April. The
Lusitania finally left port just after mid-day and just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May; she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her destination.
Alfred Clarke was one of just over 100 saloon passengers to survive the sinking and stated that he was blown clear of the liner from the force of the explosion when the torpedo struck and having been rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown.
He was transferred by train, ship, and ambulance to the Fitzroy Private Hospital, London, from where he sent word to his family that he was recovering from his ordeal. Such was not the case, however; as he had suffered a broken rib which punctured a lung and pleurisy, and then pneumonia developed. When word reached his family of his deteriorating health, his wife travelled to London and was with him when he died on 20th June 1915. He was aged 55 years at the time. His wife accompanied his remains back to his native land, where a funeral service was held in their home, before Alfred Russell Clarke’s remains were interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto.
Bedroom Steward William McLeod also perished in the disaster and never saw his home again, although his body was recovered from the sea and returned to Bebington for burial.
Mary Louise Clarke submitted a claim for compensation for $125,000 for the loss of her husband which was dealt with by the Canadian Commission established to deal with all such claims. In her evidence to the Commission, it was revealed that Alfred Russell Clarke had assets worth in excess of $500,000 at the time of his death, and the she, three of her husband’s sisters, and two of their children were solely dependent on him. It was also stated that by the time she gave evidence to the Commission, her son, who had succeeded his father as managing director of the company had mismanaged the company and eventually lost it, and had died in 1923. On the 14th May 1927, the Commission finally decided on her case and awarded her the sum of $7,500, with interest at a rate of 5% per annum from the 10th January 1920 to the date of the settlement. This sum was in compensation for the expenses incurred by her travelling to London to care for him in his final days, the loss of his personal effects and the samples of leather goods he had in his possession when travelling on the Lusitania.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1861 Census of Canada, 1871 Census of Canada, 1881 Census of Canada, 1891 Census of Canada, 1901 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of Canada, Ontario Canada Marriage 1826 – 1936, Canadian Claims Case No. 892, Cunard Records, PRO 22/71, The Gazette, The Toronto Sun, Toronto Star, Graham Maddocks, Lawrence Evans, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.