Phoebe Amory was born Phoebe Sledge in Cliffe, Kent, England on the 5th of June 1851, the daughter of William and Phoebe Sledge. Her father was employed as a coastguard.
There is evidence to suggest that in 1869, she married Richard Lee in Lambeth, London. Nothing is known about this period of her life, but it is believed that she had a number of children at this time.
In 1880, Phoebe emigrated from her native land and found her way to Canada. It is not known if she was still married to Richard Lee, or what became of him. However, on the 22nd June 1896, she married Alfred Howard Amory, who was from London, England, in York County, Toronto, Ontario. Alfred had previously been married in England in 1880, and had a number of children, but whether or not he was widowed or divorced prior to his marriage to Phoebe is unknown.
It would appear that some of his children with his first wife, and indeed with Phoebe, were outside of wedlock! Indeed, they had at least four children between 1883 and the time of their marriage in 1896! It is unknown exactly how many children Alfred and Phoebe had together, or how many children they had from other relationships, but it seems likely that between them they had at least eight sons and one daughter.
On the 10th March 1913, Alfred Amory died, leaving Phoebe to reside in the family home at 602. Bathurst St., Toronto, with some of their children.
When the Great War broke out, three of her sons, Alfred, Arthur, and Ernest, immediately joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and were sent to England for training for the front.
As a result, she decided to travel to England to be near them and to visit her 90 year old mother. Consequently, she booked as a second cabin passenger on the
Lusitania, sharing a cabin with Mrs. Martha Whyatt and Miss Mary Higginbotham, and joined the vessel at New York on the morning of 1st May 1915, in time for her scheduled 10.00 a.m. sailing. This was then delayed until the afternoon as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war service as a troop ship, at the end of April.
The Lusitania finally left port at 12.27p.m., and just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20. At that point, she was off The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland and only 250 miles hours away from her Liverpool home port destination.
On the evening of 6th May, Phoebe sold a programme for the Seamen’s Charities Benefit Concert to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt in his suite. He paid five dollars for the ten cents programme. “There”, he told her, “that’s for your lovely smile”.
Phoebe Amory survived this sinking, however and after she was rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, her name was published in the press on a list of survivors. This was the first indication that her sons in England, and her mother, had that she had sailed at all as she wished to keep her visit a surprise! She was then given a rail and boat ticket to London and expenses of £0-4s-0d., (£0.20p.).
However, having seen her name on the list, two of her three soldier sons travelled to Euston Station in London when the first survivors arrived there, to await her arrival - the third was serving with his regiment in Flanders, having just taken part in the first gas attack at St. Julien near Ypres. Although she did not arrive there with the first batch of survivors, eventually a happy reunion was made with her sons when she did eventually reach England.
Phoebe Amory departed from Liverpool on 7th August 1915 on board the S.S. Orduna, arriving in New York on 16th August and from there returned to her home in Toronto.
In the weeks and months following the sinking, the family of one of the second class passengers who was listed amongst the missing – Richard Preston Prichard, wrote to a great number of survivors seeking information about him in the hope that he had survived. One of those who received a letter from his mother was Phoebe Amory. It would appear that the letter was sent to the address that Phoebe Amory was staying at while in England, but by the time it had arrived, she had returned to Canada and the letter was forwarded to her by her brother. She was unable to be of any great assistance to Mrs. Prichard, except to state that she had seen her son at the Seaman’s Charity Benefit Concert on the eve of the sinking, but she gave some information as to her own rescue: -
‘... was at the half past one luncheon when the crash came and I went with everyone and picked up a life belt called the Boddy belt ... after getting in a life boat and after it got filled it broke to pieces and throghing (sic.) me into the water and was picked up by a boat by a boat hook stuck in my hair and clinging on the side for two hours you will be able to imagine I could not now (sic.) anyone as the boat had 60 persons in it & after I was picked up by a fishing boat transferred onto a steamer to Queenstown ... .’
Herbert Amory, another of her sons, enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1916. All four of Phoebe Amory’s sons survived the war and returned to Canada.
Phoebe Amory lodged a claim for injuries and the loss of her possessions against Germany. She sought $12,720.00, $1,660.00 of which was for the loss of her possessions, and was eventually awarded $6,650.00.
Undeterred by her experience, Phoebe Amory crossed the Atlantic Ocean a number of times between the two World Wars. Her last visit to England was on board the
Queen Mary in December 1938, when she was aged 87 years. She remained in England for a month before returning on the
Aquitania in January 1939.
Phoebe Amory died in Welland, Ontario, on 17th April 1942, aged 92 years, and was buried in Park Lane Cemetery, Toronto.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1861 Census of England and Wales, Ontario Canada Marriages 1801 – 1926, 1911 Canadian Census, New York Passenger Lists 1820 - 1957, Cunard Records, The Times, UniLiv.D921/1, IWM GB62, Canadian Claims Case No. 759, Yorkshire Post, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly