Elizabeth Shearer Barbour, always known as ‘Bessie’, was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, on the 23rd May 1873, the daughter, and one of nine children of William and Margaret Barbour (née Alexander). The family home was at 21. Roxburgh St., Greenock, Renfrewshire, and one of her brothers was a parish councillor in Greenock.
On the 4th May 1907, she boarded the Sicillan at Glasgow, bound for Montreal, Canada, and subsequently settled in Victoria, British Columbia.
In the spring of 1915, however, she decided to return to Greenock on a holiday and as a consequence, booked second cabin passage on the
Lusitania at New York. At the end of April 1915, she left Victoria and journeyed to Vancouver by rail and then across the continent of America to New York, where she joined the liner in time for her last sailing ever across the Atlantic Ocean, which eventually began just after mid-day on 1st May. She shared a cabin with a Mrs. Bertha Prescott, who was also travelling from Canada.
The Lusitania had originally been scheduled to sail at 10.00 a.m., on that morning, but she had to wait to embark passengers, cargo and crew 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. Then, six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, the ‘Greyhound of the Seas’ was torpedoed twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland by the German submarine U-20, and sank just eighteen minutes later. At that stage of her voyage, she was only 250 miles from the safety of her home port.
Bessie Barbour was counted amongst the survivors and having been rescued from the sea, she was landed at Queenstown. Her ordeal during and after the sinking meant that she had to receive hospital treatment there, however, but during the time she was under treatment, she was able to send a cable to her brother, Mr. John Barbour, in Greenock to tell him of her survival. Her injuries can not have been too severe, however, as she was not detained more than three days.
When she was adjudged fit enough to travel again, The Cunard Steam Ship Company at Queenstown gave her a boat and rail ticket to Glasgow, Renfrewshire and expenses of £0-5s-0d., (£0.25p.). With these, she eventually made it back to her native home.
In November 1915, Bessie Barbour replied to a letter she had received from the family of one of the second class passengers who was listed amongst the missing, and never found – Richard Preston Prichard. In the letter, she stated that she recognised Mr. Prichard from the photograph that was supplied with the letter she had received, although she had not met or spoken with him while on board. In her reply, Bessie Barbour gave some information as to her own survival: -
‘... I was three hours in the water, with life jacket on, and clinging on to a spar, when picked up by a torpedo destroyer from Queenstown and afterwards was taken there, in this boat there were thirty of us in all, but we ladies were kept in a different part of the boat from the gentlemen ...’.
Bessie Barbour never married and died on the 5th November 1952, aged 79 years. Her residence at that time was South Ouplay Farm, Uplawmoor, Renfrewshire.
Scotland Births & Baptisms 1564 – 1950, 1881 Census of Scotland, 1891 Census of Scotland, 1901 Census of Scotland, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Cunard Records, Dundee Advertiser, Edinburgh Evening News, Probate Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/1, UniLiv. D92/2/230, IWM GB62, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly