Margaret McKeeman was born in Rutherglen, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on the 27th August 1874, the daughter of Daniel and Margaret “Maggie” McKeeman (née Wallace). Her parents had emigrated from Ireland to Scotland, and her father was a stone mason.
On completion of her education, Margaret became a cotton weaver and emigrated to the United States of America in 1913, where she was reunited with some of her older siblings in Freeport, Nassau County, New York State.
It is not known when or where she met Thomas Brownlie, but as Thomas had lived in Rutherglen before he immigrated to Canada in 1907, it is likely that they met while growing up there. In 1913, Thomas had left Canada to join his brother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before later moving to Freeport. In November 1914, Thomas Brownlie and Margaret McKeeman 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, they decided to return home and they could not have fared badly, financially, in America, as they were able to book second cabin passage with The Cunard Steam Ship Company to sail from New York to Liverpool on the
Lusitania. They boarded the liner at her berth at Pier 54 in New York on the morning of 1st May 1915, in time for her scheduled 10.00 o’clock sailing, but had to wait until just after mid-day before the liner actually departed for what would become her final ever crossing of the Atlantic.
The delay was caused as she had to take on board passengers, cargo and some crew from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war work as a troop ship. Then, six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only 250 miles from her home port.
Although her husband perished in the sinking, Margaret Brownlie managed to survive. This was probably because she was able to get into one of the few lifeboats which were successfully launched. Having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, she probably toured the temporary mortuaries there, in a vain search for her husband’s body, before eventually completing her journey to Scotland.
Her husband’s body was recovered from the sea eventually, however, two months after the sinking, off the Doolin and Arran islands on the west coast of Ireland and buried locally. Property recovered from it was sent to Margaret Brownlie on 26th July 1915 at 21, Castle Street, Rutherglen, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, presumably the home of relatives. She also received, on the same date, a leather pocket book which had been recovered from the sea and handed in at Queenstown, which had also belonged to her husband. Amongst other information, it had had the names Thos. Brownlie, Elgin Avenue, Winnipeg, Canada and
Mrs, Thos. Brownlie, 4 Castle Street, Rutherglen, Scotland in it.
Margaret Browlie applied for financial assistance from the Lusitania relief Fund and was awarded the sum of £20-0s-0d., initially, and given a further £50-0s-0d. for training purposes to further her education in nursing.
In 1919, Margaret received permission to disinter her husband’s remains and have him buried in Rutherglen, but is not known whether she ever went through with this.
In 1922, Margaret Brownlie returned to Freeport and secured employment as a domestic nurse. She made a number of trips back to Great Britain in the years that followed, the last being in 1938, when she was employed by the Shepard family, who maintained homes in New York and London. She never re-married.
Margaret Brownlie died in Amityville, Suffolk County, New York, on the 12th November 1952, aged 78 years, and her remains were interred in Greenfield Cemetery, Hempstead, New York.
Scotland Births and Baptisms 1564 – 1950, 1881 Census of Scotland, 1891 Census of Scotland, 1901 Census of Scotland, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, 1940 U.S. Federal Census, New York Death Index 1880 – 1956, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv D92/2/213, UniLiv.D92/1/18-10, UniLiv D92/2/11, Graham Maddocks, Stuart Williamson, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.