Mabel Juliet England was born in Clapton, Middlesex, England on the 30th April 1865, the daughter of James and Jane England. The family were originally from Devon, but by the time Mabel was born, the family home was at Sprighill House, Upper Clapton, Middlesex, where her father was a landowner.
On completion of her education, Mabel studied nursing, and was a staff nurse at the Metropolitan Hospital, Kingsland Road, Hackney, London. Later, she was employed by Lambeth Borough Council as the superintendent of the Municipal Milk Depot.
On the 26th September 1891 at All Saints Church, Marylebone, London, she married George King Bourke, an Irish-born artist. In 1896, George immigrated to the United States of America, where he applied for, and was granted, U.S. citizenship in California in January 1910. It is likely that the couple became estranged as Mabel described herself as a ‘widow’ in the 1911 Census return she completed.
It is believed that around 1914, Mabel went to Canada with her friend, Ella Woods Lawrence, and took up residence at 196, Kennedy Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Mabel and Ella had been friends for many years, and had most likely met when both were working as medical nurses in London.
Because of the Great War, Mabel and Ella decided to return to England and become Red Cross nurses - one account states that it was the Serbian Red Cross! As a consequence, the women booked second cabin passage on the
Lusitania and joined the liner at New York before she sailed from that port for the last time, just after mid-day, on 1st May 1915.
When the ship was sunk, just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, by the German submarine
U-20, both nurses were killed, and although Ella Lawrence’s body was recovered, that of Mabel Bourke never was. As a consequence, she has no known grave.
However, she is commemorated on her Ella’s grave in The Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, on a grey concrete cross set onto a three tiered base, which bears the inscription: -
ELLA WOODS LAWRENCE
AND OF MABEL BOURKE
BODY NOT RECOVERED.
DROWNED IN THE "LUSITANIA" MAY 7TH 1915
A sister of Ella Woods Lawrence was Frances Isobel Lawrence, who was in holy orders and known as Sister Frances O.S.R of Alton Abbey, Hampshire.
When she heard of the disaster, knowing that her sister and her friend were on board the
Lusitania, she hurried to Queenstown to search for them both. The Cork Examiner
for 12th May 1915 tells of her pathetic vigil and the arrival of a set of bodies landed by the Dutch tug
Poolzee at the Cunard wharf in Queenstown, on 10th May 1915: -
Her appearance had all the signs of a ceaseless grieving when the worst news had reached her of her two sisters, Miss Laurence
(sic) and Mrs. Bourke, both of whom were coming to England to become Red Cross nurses.
She gazed with longing on the features of the female victims as they were borne on the stretcher, till finally, she recognised one of her sisters, Miss Laurence.
She bore up bravely until the last woman was brought in and finding that there was still no trace of her other sister, Mrs. Bourke, she broke down.
On 15th April 1916, Albert Victor England and Miss Louise Jane England, Mabel Bourke’s brother and sister, were granted administration of her estate at London. Her effects amounted to £1870-8s-6d., (£1870.42½p).
Although many reports at the time stated that Mabel Bourke and Ella Lawrence were sisters, this was not the case, and they were not related to one another by blood or marriage.
Mabel’s husband, George King Bourke died in Los Angeles, California, on the 28th March 1930, aged 71 years, and is interred in San Gabriel Cemetery, Los Angeles. There is no mention of Mabel on his gravestone.
Mabel is also remembered on the gravestone of her parents in the Municipal Cemetery, Walton-on-Sea, Surrey.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, London England Births & Baptisms 1813 – 1906, 1871 Census of England & Wales, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, New York Times, Probate Records, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, Surrey Advertiser and County Times, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly