James Anderson Beattie was born at Westerkirk, Dumfries, Scotland, on the 4th July 1861, the eldest of the four sons of Walter and Eliza Beattie (née Anderson). He was educated in Glasgow, Renfrewshire, and Edinburgh, Midlothian. When a relatively young man, he went to the United States of America and as a minister of The Reformed Church, he became pastor of a church in Amsterdam, New York. During this period, he had become a naturalized citizen of the United States. He later became a missionary and for 21 years prior to 1915, served in India in this capacity, at least some of it at the American Arcot Mission at Chittoor, Madras Presidency in India. He was married to Margaret White Dall in Manhattan, New York, on the 30th September 1889.
In 1914, he and his wife had taken a year’s break from Indian missionary duties and gone to America and Canada. In the spring of 1915 they were living in Welland, Ontario, Canada and for the first part of their return to India, booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the Lusitania from New York to Liverpool. Leaving Welland at the end of April, they joined the liner at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York port, on the morning of 1st May 1915 in time for the liner’s scheduled 10 o'clock departure. This was then was 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 service as a troop ship, at the end of April.
The Lusitania finally left port at 12.27 p.m. and six days later, James Beattie was killed after the vessel was torpedoed and sunk, in sight of the southern Irish coast, by the German submarine
U-20, only hours away from the safety of her home port and destination. He was aged 54 years. His wife Margaret survived the sinking.
In a letter to the Cunard Steamship Company, which she sent after she returned to England, she described what happened to her husband after the torpedo struck: -
…”We both jumped from the vessel just before she went down, and swam to a piece of wreckage to which we clung. I was rescued by a trawler some time afterwards – but my husband died in the water”…
The Reverend Beattie’s body was one of the first of the many victims’ to be recovered from the sea, however, and having been landed at Queenstown it was laid out in the mortuary set up in the yard next to the Cunard office on Lynch’s Quay, where it was given the reference number 9.
Eventually, after it had been positively identified, it was buried on 10th May 1915, in private grave No. 6, Row 15, in The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, two miles north of the town, where it lies to this day. It was on 10th May 1915 that most of the victims of the disaster were buried, after a long funeral procession which began at the Cunard Offices on the quayside at Lynch‘s Quay. Its location has been re-designated today, however, as No. 476, in Section B of the cemetery.
He is buried next to two other Lusitania victims, ship’s doctor Surgeon James Farrell McDermott, who originally came from Cork City and second cabin passenger Ernest Thomas, who was travelling from Canada.
Property recovered from his body was handed over to the Reverend Victor J. Cotter of Queenstown, on the 10th May, to be given to his widow Margaret. She was staying at the clergyman’s home whilst she recovered from her ordeal and he had identified James Beattie‘s body and recovered it from the mortuary prior to its burial. She eventually made her way to England where she stayed at 25. Lyme Grove, Romiley, Nr. Stockport.
She eventually went to Scotland, presumably to visit either her own relatives, or those of her late husband, staying initially at The Orchard, 58. Craigleith Road, Edinburgh, and later at Wellington Bank, Hawick, Roxburghshire.
While staying in Hawick, Margaret Beattie received a letter from the family of Richard Preston Prichard, a second class passenger who had been lost and whose remains were never recovered, or if they were, they remained unidentified. This family wrote to a great number of survivors seeking information about their loved one, including Margaret Beattie. On the 29th June 1915, Margaret replied to their correspondence, and although she could offer no information on Richard Preston Prichard, she did give an account of her own experience, and the fate of her late husband: -
…”There was a wild rush upstairs when the shot was fired. My husband and I waited quietly till (sic.) every one had gone up. While we were on our way to the deck my husband remembered our life belts, and went back to the cabin for them. When we reached the middle deck we saw almost no one – all were up on the top deck where the boats were being launched. The ship by this time was very much over on her side. When we saw the sea breaking over her bows my husband and I jumped into the water and swam for a little and then we got hold of a plank to which we clung. After being in the water for about four hours I was rescued by a trawler. My dear husband was lost, but I had the great satisfaction of finding him on Saturday and seeing him laid to rest in the cemetery in Queenstown”…
On 2nd October 1924, the Mixed Claims Commission awarded Margaret Beattie the sum $12,000.00 in compensation for the loss of her husband, and a further $1,010.00 for the loss of their personal belongings in the sinking of the
Eventually, Margaret Beattie erected a tombstone over her dead husband’s grave which still survives today, despite being in poor condition. It consists of a Celtic cross on a three tiered base, with the monogram
AJB in the cross's centre. The inscription, which is set onto the three tiers, reads: -
THE DEAR MEMORY
OF MY HUSBAND
THE REV. JAMES A. BEATTIE
MISSIONARY IN INDIA FOR 21 YEARS,
WHO DIED OFF QUEENSTOWN
7TH MAY 1915, AGED 54.
"JOY COMETH IN THE MORNING"
There may be some significance in the fact that the Lusitania sinking is not mentioned at all on the inscription!
Scotland Select Births & Baptisms 1564 – 1950, 1871 Census of Scotland, 1881 Census of Scotland, New York Marriage Index 1866 – 1937, Cunard Records, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 261, New York Times, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv D92/2/219, UniLiv. PR13/6, IWM GB62, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Lawrence Evans, Sombra Layton, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly