Ellen ‘Nellie’ Crosby was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, in 1874, the daughter of Edward and Margaret Crosby, (née Davies). Her father was a carter, specifically working for the railways, and the family home was at 13. Homer Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool.
When she reached her mid-teenage years, Nellie found work as a domestic servant, and then as a dressmaker.
On the 13th May 1910, Nellie, and her younger sister, Annie, boarded the Allan Line steamer
Victorian at Liverpool and disembarked a week later in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. From there, they travelled by rail to Vancouver, British Columbia, in search of work. Their younger brother, Edward Pierce Crosby, had immigrated to Vancouver in 1907, so it is likely that he encouraged them to join him. His address was at Union Ave., Collingwood East, Vancouver, so maybe all three of them resided at this address.
Perhaps because of the war, the sisters decided to return to North Wales to visit their mother and aunt, a Mrs. Goodwin, who by this time were residing at ‘Arfryn’, Voel Gron, Bagillt, North Wales. Edward Crosby had died in Liverpool in 1909, leaving Margaret Crosby a widow. As a result, they booked as second cabin passengers on what would be the
Lusitania’s final voyage. The liner left New York just after mid-day on 1st May 1915 and six days later, when she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland, both sisters perished.
Although they had already intimated to their relatives in Bagillt that they hoped to sail on the
Lusitania, this was not confirmed until the day after the sinking when a letter arrived from their brother in Vancouver stating that the sisters had left New York on the vessel.
Fearing the worse, but nevertheless hoping for good news, Mrs. Crosby and her sister then travelled to Liverpool and the Cunard offices in Water Street, to seek further information. This proved to be of no avail, however; and they eventually reluctantly accepted, that both daughters must have been killed.
Although Annie Crosby’s body was never recovered and identified, that of Nellie Crosby was recovered from the sea, and landed at Queenstown where it was given the reference number 133.
It was then buried on 10th May 1915, in The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, in Mass Grave C, 3rd Row, Lower Tier, where it lies today. It was on 10th May that most of the victims of the sinking were buried, after a long funeral procession which began at the Cunard Office at Lynch’s Quay, in Queenstown itself.
At the time, of her burial, the identity of body of No. 133 was not known to Cunard who described it as: -
Female, 33 years, A.H.A.H.A. on black stockings, 5’, brown hair, long straight nose, good teeth, slight build, and photo of young man wearing glasses, very high laced boots, wore bloomers, no dress.
Presumably, Nellie Crosby had lost her dress in the course of the sinking or more likely had taken it off so that she might swim easier!
Before burial all the recovered bodies were photographed in their temporary mortuaries, as the mounting heat of May meant that they could not all be hygienically stored. Anxious friends and relatives of those missing were then invited to identify their loved ones through these photographs.
It was thus later, whilst studying these photographs, that another sister, Agnes Crosby, was able to identify Nellie Crosby’s corpse in September 1915, mainly from a prominent scar on its forehead.
Her letter to Cunard to confirm the identity stated: -
Deceased has a prominent scar on her forehead a little to the left and 3 inches in length. Height about 5’ 3”. Hair turning grey from brown. Age 40, medium build, Eyes brown - wore spectacles. Wedding ring converted into a signet ring.
Property recovered from this corpse, was handed to Mrs. Crosby at ‘Arfryn’, on 25th November 1915, and consisted of a gold engraved bangle, a diamond ring, an 18 carat gold wire knot ring, a 14 carat gold single pearl ring, a small enamel plated brooch, a 9 carat fetter and knot necklet, a pearl brooch and a 9 carat gold pendant, bearing the photograph of the man with glasses, which had been mentioned in Cunard’s original description.
Nellie Crosby was aged 40 years at her time of death.
Both Nellie and her sister are commemorated on a municipal war memorial in the village of Bagillt. They are the only female victims of the Great War to be named on it and their inscription states: -
ELLEN AND ANNIE CROSBY, OF VOEL GRON,
BOTH DROWNED ON THE
Also commemorated on the same memorial is Gunner Thomas Davies Crosby of Voel Gron, who was a brother of Nellie and Annie Crosby. He was serving as an Acting Bombardier with the 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, in Belgium, when he died of wounds on the 12th June 1916, at a Casualty Clearing Station. He was buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, West Vlaanderen, Belgium.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, UK Outward Passenger Lists Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935,Cunard Records, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Liverpool Daily Record, County Herald, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/6-2, UniLiv D92/2/364, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Denise Deighton, Tony Jones, Tony Knight, May Stanton, Peter Threlfall, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.