Margaret White ‘Maggie‘ Beattie, was born Margaret White Dall in a Goods Office at Stirling Railway Station, Stirlingshire, at 7.30 a.m., on 20th June 1859, the third daughter of William Christie and Margaret Dall, (née White). Her father was a goods clerk for the Scottish Central Railway and the family home was at 71 Cowan Road, Stirling. Margaret was one of ten children, four daughters and six sons!
On the 30th September 1889, she arrived in New York City having sailed from Glasgow on board the
Ethiopia, and on the same day she married The Reverend James Anderson Beattie, a Scottish minister of The Reformed Church who had been a missionary in India for some 21 years, some of it at least spent at The American Arcot Mission, Chittoor, Madras Presidency.
In the spring of 1915, the couple had been in Welland Ontario, Canada, having taken a year’s break from their work in India, and for the first part of their return journey back to India, they booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the
Lusitania from New York to Liverpool. They consequently left Welland at the end of April 1915 and travelled by rail to New York, where they boarded the
Lusitania on the morning of 1st May in time for her scheduled 10 o’clock sailing. This was then held up while she embarked passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel
Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service as a troop ship at the end of April.
Six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, Margaret Beattie and her husband were separated after the liner was torpedoed by the German submarine
U-20, off The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland. Although she survived, he, unfortunately, was lost as a result of this action and it is probable that she only owed her survival to the fact that she was able to get into one of the comparatively few lifeboats which was successfully launched. She was eventually taken on board the Royal Navy trawler
Sarba, under the command of Lieut. H.G.C Field, and landed at Queenstown.
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”…
Having been landed at Queenstown where she was taken to the home of cleric The Reverend Victor J. Cotter, she made her recovery. It was whilst staying there that she identified her husband’s body in the mortuary set up in the yard next to the Cunard office at Lynch’s Quay. From there, property recovered from The Reverend Beattie’s body was handed to Reverend Cotter to give to her.
She was also, no doubt, present at her husband’s funeral at The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown on 10th May 1915, and she eventually erected an inscribed tombstone over his 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!
Margaret Beattie eventually made her way to England where she stayed at 25. Lyme Grove, Romiley, Nr. Stockport, before moving north to Scotland where she stayed at The Orchard, 58. Craigleith Road, Edinburgh.
The family of Richard Preston Prichard, a second class passenger who was presumed lost, wrote letter to all the survivors of the Lusitania sinking they could identify, endeavouring to discover anything about his fate. On receiving a letter from his mother, Margaret Beattie replied on the 29th June 1915, from Wellington Bank, Hawick, Scotland. In her reply, Margaret Beattie told of her ordeal: -
… We were sitting at lunch when the vessel was struck. We were at the second table.
As it was not possible to accommodate and serve meals to all the passengers at the same time, passengers were given the choice of first or second sitting for lunch and evening dinner. When Mrs. Beattie states that
‘they were at second table’, she is stating that they were accommodated at the second sitting for lunch. She continues: -
Those who were served at the first table would be on deck or in the smoking saloon when the blow fell. Your son’s cabin could not have been very far from ours for our no. was 84. We were on the same floor as the dining saloon.
There was a wild rush upstairs when the shot was fired. My husband and I waited quietly till (sic.) everyone 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 say 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 its 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.
Margaret Beattie tried to reassure Mrs Prichard by continuing: -
Your son would have had time to go for his life belt seeing he was in cabin D90.
She also suggested he might have been one of the brave men who gave up their life belts to women and children and goes on to say: -
Perhaps he was one of the brave men who gave his belt to a woman. While I was waiting for my husband to bring my belt a man offered me his.
In Queenstown two of the rescued women who were in the same room in the hotel where I was told me that men had taken off their bets and given them to them. There were a great many such cases.
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
Following her recovery, Margaret Beattie returned to India to continue he missionary work and returned to Great Britain in 1921. Whether she went abroad again after 1921 on missionary work cannot be determined.
She spent her final years residing at 41. Darnell Road, Edinburgh, and it was here that she died on the 30th July 1947, aged 88 years. She was interred at Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh in a grave she shares with her brother and sister-in-law, both of whom died in 1948.
Scotland Select Births & Baptisms 1564 – 1950, 1861 Census of Scotland, 1871 Census of Scotland, Cunard Records, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 261, IWM Documents.11647, New York Times, The Scotsman, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, UniLiv D92/2/219, UniLiv. PR13/6, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Lawrence Evans, Sombra Layton, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly