Thomas Brownlie was born in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on the 23rd March 1874, the second son and third child of Thomas and Margaret Brownlie (née Stewart). His father was a railway engine driver, and while still an infant, the family moved to Rutherglen, where the first resided at Farie Street, and later, Castle Street.
Thomas junior grew up to become a locomotive fitter and machinist, and then, in 1907, he immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He made at least one return visit to Scotland, which occurred in 1911.
In September 1913, Thomas crossed over the border from Canada to the United States of America, and joined his brother, Hugh, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sometime later, he moved again, this time to Freeport, Nassau County, New York State, and found work as a railway fitter.
He found work as a railway fitter in New York and 1915 found him living and working in Freeport, New York, in the United States of America. By that time he was married and his wife, like his mother, was also called Margaret. He found work as a railway fitter in New York.
It is not known when or where he met Margaret McKeeman, from Rutherglen, Lanarkshire, but as he had lived in Rutherglen before he immigrated to Canada in 1907, it is likely that they met while growing up there. In 1913, Margaret had immigrated to Freeport, where some of her older siblings had earlier settled. Whenever and however they met, in November 1914, Thomas and Margaret returned to Scotland where they were married in Rutherglen on the 15th November 1914. After their marriage, they returned to Freeport.
In the spring of 1915, however, he and his wife decided to return home to Great Britain, possibly because of the war and as a consequence, they booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the
Lusitania from New York to Liverpool. Accordingly, on the morning of 1st May 1915, the couple boarded the liner at her berth at Pier 54 in New York in time for her scheduled 10.00 a.m. departure.
The liner’s sailing was then delayed until the 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. The
Lusitania finally left port just after mid-day and just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the coast of southern Ireland and only 250 miles away from her Liverpool destination.
Although Margaret Brownlie managed to survive the sinking, her husband died as a result of the action. He was aged 41 years.
His body was eventually recovered from the sea, however, in early July at Belmullet, County Mayo, about 200 miles around the coast from where the
Lusitania had gone down. After two months immersion in the water, it must have been impossible to make a visual identification of it and it was at first given the reference number 8 for remains recovered from that area. Property taken from it probably then established its true identity and on 10th July, it was buried in Belmullet Protestant Cemetery, in County Mayo, where it lies to this day!
The property recovered from it was sent to his widow Margaret on 26th July 1915 at 21, Castle Street, Rutherglen, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, presumably where family relatives lived. It consisted of a travellers cheque book drawn on Mellor National Bank of Pittsburgh, a wedding ring, a keeper ring, a gentleman’s signet ring, a gold bracelet, a gold locket and chain, a brooch, a gold watch, and a bar from a watch chain, a gold ring with the initials
T.B., a pocket knife, a lead pencil, a pocket mirror, and some American coinage. It would appear from the above that before the ship sank, Thomas Brownlie had the presence of mind to take charge of his wife’s jewellery as well as his own!
On the same day that Margaret Brownlie received the above, she also took possession of a leather pocket book with the name
Thos. Brownlie on the front, which had been found floating in the sea and handed in at the Cunard office in Queenstown. It contained $39 in American treasury bills, two Cunard baggage receipts numbered 745583 and 745584 and four photographs of ladies. It also had the names Thos. Brownlie, Elgin Avenue, Winnipeg, Canada and
Mrs. Thos. Brownlie, 4 Castle Street, Rutherglen, Scotland in it.
Having returned to Rutherglen, and having recovered from her ordeal, Margaret Brownlie took up nursing, and in 1919, received permission to disinter her husband’s remains and have him buried in Rutherglen. It is not known whether she ever went through with this.
Margaret never re-married and returned to Freeport in 1922, where she found employment as a domestic nurse. She returned on a number of occasions to Great Britain, her last known visit being in 1938.
Margaret Brownlie died in Amityville, Suffolk County, New York State, on the 12th November 1952, aged 78 years.
Scotland Select Births and Baptisms 1564 – 1950, 1881 Census of Scotland, 1891 Census of Scotland, 1901 Census of Scotland, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/6/2, UniLiv D92/2/213, Cunard Records, Graham Maddocks, Denise Deighton, Stuart Williamson, Lawrence Evans, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.