Martha Frances King, known at various times of her life as “Martha” or “Frances”, was born Martha Frances Stevens in Bicester, Oxfordshire, England, on the 26th November 1856, the daughter of William and Ann Elizabeth Stevens (née Hall). In 1862, her mother died, and less than a year later, in early 1863, her father also died, leaving her an orphan at the age of 7 years.
Following the death of her parents, Frances was sent to the New Orphan Homes, also known as the ‘Müller Homes’, at Ashley Down, near Bristol, Gloucestershire. George Müller, a Prussian evangelist, established the orphan homes in 1849 for children who had lost both parents through death. He strived to teach boys a trade, and prepare girls for domestic service; however, Frances became a civil servant after leaving the orphan homes, which is an indication of how good an education she received there.
The circumstances of her meeting William Edward King, an insurance inspector, are unknown; however, the couple married on the 24th November 1883, and set up home in Egremont, Wallasey, Cheshire. The couple had seven children – Joseph Francis William (known as “Frank”), Sydney, Percy (who was born in 1889, and died in 1891), Ida Mildred, Dorothy Frances, William Francis and Raymond. They were well known in the Seacombe area and were prominent members of the Seacombe Congregational Church in Marlowe Road.
In 1908, the family decided to immigrate to the United States of America. William King departed first, and found work in Douglas, Wisconsin. Frances King, and their children – Ida, Dorothy, William and Raymond, followed him when they departed from Liverpool on board the Empress of Ireland on the 4th September 1908. After a few years, the family went to live in Lockport, Illinois, where William King became a full-time minister.
It was the birth of a granddaughter to her son, Frank, and daughter-in-law, Florrie, that occasioned Frances to decide to return to Wallasey for a visit. The new parents lived at what was the original family home, 27, Erskine Road, Seacombe, Wallasey.
Frances King consequently booked a second cabin passage on board the Lusitania for her return to Seacombe, and having left Lockport by rail, she joined the liner at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May 1915, but lost her life just six days later, when the liner was torpedoed and sunk within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. She was aged 58 years.
Her body was one of the first to be recovered from the sea; however, and it was originally given the reference number 7. It was then positively identified by her son, Sydney, (acknowledged in Cunard records only as Mr. S. King), in a mortuary at Queenstown. Three days after the disaster, on 10th May 1915, it was buried in private grave Row 18 Grave 27, in The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, County Cork. There is no sign of a headstone over the grave today, nor does it look as if it ever had one!
Property recovered from her body, was handed over to Sydney King at Queenstown and another son, presumably Frank, was also present at the time. In 1915, Sydney King lived at Winslow, Northamptonshire, for in
The Northampton Mercury for 14th May 1915, it was stated: -
Mrs. King, a sister of Mr. W.H. Stevens, the well-known clothier of Winslow, was a passenger on the Lusitania, and was on her way to pay a visit to her son who on Friday morning left Winslow for Liverpool to meet his mother. There was a pathetic sequel to this journey, as his mother was not amongst the survivors and he subsequently went to Queenstown and identified his mother’s body.
An inquest on Mrs. King's death was held at Queenstown on Saturday 15th May 1915 and the verdict of the jury was: -
She was wilfully and unlawfully drowned by the crew of a German submarine on the high seas.
The Jury also concluded that this act was most atrocious murder and further found that the ship was unarmed and expressed entire abhorrence of: -
.... the cowardly, unnatural and un-Christianlike conduct which prompted the perpetration of this abominable attack on non-combatant men, women and children, citizens of so many neutral and other nationalities of the world.
In a brief article in The Wallasey and Wirral Journal for Saturday 15th May 1915, it was also stated: -
Mrs. King ..... left Seacombe for the United States some years ago, and was returning to, the Homeland on a visit to her son who lives in Wallasey. As soon as the latter heard of the disaster, he went over to Kinsale. Mrs. King was amongst those rescued but she was so terribly exhausted by the affects of shock and immersion that she passed away in her son’s arms a short time after he reached her.
This account does not seem likely; however, in view of all the other versions of her story published at the time!
Frances King's son, 128120 Gunner Frank King, 193rd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, was killed in action on 17th December 1916 and was buried in Sailly-Au-Bois Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Curiously, his widow, Florrie, placed a death notice in the Liverpool Daily Post newspaper on the 16th August 1917, announcing that her brother-in-law, 2nd. Lieutenant Sydney King, 4th Bn. Cheshire Regiment, had been killed in action on the 31st July 1917 and also remembering her husband, Frank, and mother-in-law, Frances, in the same notice. Sydney King survived the war, although he was wounded, captured by the enemy, and interned in a prisoner of war camp, so whatever initial information she had been given that caused her to take out this notice was incorrect.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1861 Census of England and Wales, 1871 Census of England and Wales, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Bootle Herald, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, The Cross of Sacrifice, Volume I, Cunard Records, Steve McGreal, Northampton Mercury, Soldiers Died in the Great War, PRO BT 100/345, Wallasey News, Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle, Liverpool Daily Post, Jim Alberico, Graham Phillips, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly