Reginald William Beauchamp, always known as ‘William’, was born in Bath, Somerset, England, on the 14th October 1877, the son of Francis and Sarah Jane Beauchamp (née Loxton). According to census records, the family home was at Holly Brook Cottage, Westbury, near Wells, Somerset, where William resided with his maternal grandfather, mother, and his brother and sister. On completion of his education he found work in a paper mill.
In 1905, he had emigrated to the United States of America and originally settled in New York, before relocating to Otsego, Michigan. He found work as an oiler in a paper mill.
However, in the spring of 1915, he decided to return home - perhaps because of the Great War and consequently booked as a third class passenger with The Cunard Steam Ship Company on the
Lusitania’s May sailing from New York to Liverpool.
Leaving Otsego at the end of April, he arrived ay the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour in time for the liner’s scheduled 10.00 a.m. sailing, but had to wait until the early afternoon before she actually began what was to become her final voyage. This was because she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the S.S.
Cameronia, owned by the Anchor Line, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty as a troop ship at the end of April.
Six days out of New York, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20. At this stage of her voyage, she was only hours away from her home port and actually within sight of the coast of southern Ireland.
William Beauchamp was one of some 130 plus third class passengers who survived the action, but during the course of the torpedoing or the sinking itself, he lost several fingers from one of his hands. He was aged 36 years at the time.
Fellow third class passenger survivor Thomas Snowden who originally came from Leicester gave an interview with a representative of
The Leicester Daily Mercury on his eventual return home and mentioned William Beauchamp in it. This was published on 11th May 1915 and stated: -
Some distance away, there was a life raft. When I reached it there were some twenty-four of twenty-five other persons on it. The number was gradually added to and eventually this too began to sink. Far out was an overturned boat. I jumped off and swam to it. Others were doing the same. I reached it and with help got it righted. Those who were with me then began to pick up others. Among those I helped to pull in was Lady Allan. Another man I pulled in was called Beauchamp.
The boat that then rescued Snowden, Beauchamp and others from the lifeboat was the Hopkins and Jones Liner
Westborough, of Cardiff, masquerading as a Greek steamer the S.S. Katerina, which was outward bound from the Caribbean, laden with sugar and diverted from Queenstown where she was going to re-coal.
Presumably, William Beauchamp was also picked up by this vessel, and after having been landed at Queenstown, he was taken to hospital to have his injuries attended. His injuries included the loss of three fingers from his right hand. He responded well to treatment, however, and upon his discharge, was given a boat and rail ticket to Bristol, Gloucestershire, by Cunard, as well as £0-5s-0d., (£0.25p.). travelling expenses. Thus it is likely that his original intended destination was there.
On the 19th June 1915, his mother, Mrs. Sarah Beauchamp, wrote from Westbury, Nr. Wells, Somersetshire, to the Cunard Steam Ship Company seeking £500 for the loss of his son’s fingers, and £45 for the loss of his possessions and money as a result of the sinking. He received the standard reply that was given to all those seeking compensation from the company – sue Germany!
In 1918, William married Lily E. Edwards in Leicester, Leicestershire, and is not thought the couple had any children.
On the 1st November 1953, William Beauchamp died in Leicestershire, aged 76 years. His address at the time of his death was 117. Leicester Road, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire. He left an estate of £574-9s.-9d. (£574.48½p).
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. 1895 – 1956, Cunard Records, Leicester Daily Mercury, UniLiv.D92/1/1, UniLiv D92/2/101, Probate Records, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly