People's Stories

Everyone on the Lusitania's last voyage, including passengers and crew.

Joseph Sydney Arter

Joseph Sydney Arter

About Joseph Sydney

James Sidney Arter was born in King’s Norton, Worcestershire, England, on the 15th May 1885, the second of the three sons of Frederick Stephen Selby Arter, and his wife, Eleanor Emily (née Griffiths).  His older brother was named Arthur Douglas, and his younger brother named Frederick Stephen.  The family home was at ‘Silverburne’, Cotton Lane, Moseley.  His father was a manager in a local electro plate factory.

Following the completion of his education, James worked for a time with an estate agency.  His youngest brother, Frederick Stephen died in 1891, aged 4 years, and his father died in 1904, aged 47 years.

His home was in St. Agnes Road, Moseley, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England.

In 1909, James left England and arrived in the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia) in early 1910, and found work in the rubber plantations.  When war broke out in Europe in 1914, he decided to return to England and join the fledgling Royal Flying Corps.  By the spring of 1915, he had reached Seattle, Washington, in the United States of America, and he continued his journey back to England by travelling across the country to New York City.

Having booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the Lusitania before he left Seattle, 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 10.00 a.m. sailing.

This sailing was then delayed until the early 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 work as a troop ship at the end of April.  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 250 miles away from her home port.

James Arter survived this sinking, however and having been rescued from the sea; he was landed at Queenstown, and eventually completed his journey home, where he arrived on Monday, 10th May.  He must have spoken to a reporter from the Birmingham Gazette almost immediately after his arrival home, as details of his experience appeared in the 11th May edition of the newspaper.  The report stated: -

‘... Mr. Arter stated that he was just finishing lunch when the liner was torpedoed.  A muffled explosion was followed by the ship taking an immediate list.  Everybody hastened to their cabins to get the life-saving jackets, but he saw no sign of panic.’

Mr. Arter was lowered from the sinking ship in a boat, in which he stood up, being let down from a height of 80 to 90 feet on the port side.  As there was not sufficient room in the boat for all, he dropped off into the sea, wearing his life-saving jacket and managing to keep afloat for about an hour before scrambling on to a capsized boat. ...'

Cunard records record James Arter’s forename as Joseph, but this was obviously an error.

It would appear that James’ intentions of enlisting in the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot failed due to some deficiency with his eyesight, and he returned to the Federated Malay States, arriving in November 1915, where he continued to work with the Batu Tiga (Selangor) Rubber Co. Ltd..  He resided at Glenmarie Estate.  On the 19th January 1919, he married Mavis Home Morrison at St. George’s Church, George Town, Penang.

On the 5th November 1929, while returning home with his wife from a dinner at Government House, Kuala Lumpur, the couple discovered a vehicle blocking the road.  On leaving his car to investigate, James Arter was assaulted by a man, described in the media as a ‘Tamil’, who struck him over the head with the starting handle of a car.  As a result of his injuries, James was hospitalised for a number of months.

James Arter died on the 18th August 1932 at Bungsar Hospital, Kuala Lumpur, Federated Malay States, following an operation to amputate one of his legs.  He was aged 47 years.  He was interred at Cherasrod Cemetery.  He left his estate of £6,430-14s.-8d. (£6,430.73½p) to his wife and mother.

There is no doubt that James Sidney Arter became an influential, valued, and trusted member of business and society in the Federated Malay States.  Shortly before his death, he had been made a director of the Batu Tiga (Selangor) Rubber Co. Ltd., having been an employee of this company since 1911, and also at the time of his death, he was the president of the Incorporated Society of Planters, and was generally credited with having saved this society from financial ruin during a recessionary period some years previously.  He was also a member of the Federal Council, and the Selangor State Council, chairman of the Malayan Local Committee of the Rubber Grower’s Association, president of the Malayan Planter’s Provident Fund, president of the Planter’s Benevolent Fund of Malaya, and a member of many others which included the Rubber Research Institute and the Indian Immigration Committee.  He had also held positions in the Kuala Lumpur District Planter’s Association, and the Planter’s Association of Malaya.

In July 1933, his widow married Edward Stuart Housley at St. George’s Church, George Town, the same church where she had married James Arter!

Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, Washington Passenger & Crew Lists 1882 – 1961, Cunard Records, Birmingham Gazette, San Francisco Examiner, The Straits Times, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, Probate Records, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.

Copyright © Peter Kelly

Joseph Sydney Arter



Age at time of sailing:

Address at time of sailing:

Tell us more

Do you know more?
If you have information about this person, please let us know.