Alice Hesketh was born in Gorton, Chorlton, Lancashire, England, in 1886, the daughter of Thomas and Catherine “Kate” Hesketh (née Hughes). Her father was a railway wagon maker and the family home was at 7. Almond Street, Gorton, and later at 99. Taylor Street, Gorton. On completing her education, Alice found work in one of the local textile factories as a ‘cotton spinner’.
On the 9th April 1913, Alice, heavily pregnant, arrived at Portland, Maine, in the United States of America, on board the White Star liner,
Arabic. From there she made her way to St. Thomas, Elgin County, Ontario, Canada, where on the 12th April she married John Blackshaw, who was originally from Stockport, Cheshire, and was working as a labourer on the railroads. Presumably, Alice had met John Blackshaw prior to him immigrating to Canada, or while he was home on a visit. On the 21st June 1913, Alice gave birth to a son, whom they named John. The family home was at 15. Barwick Street, St. Thomas.
In the spring of 1915, Alice decided to return to England, presumably to introduce her son to her family, and booked third class passage for herself and her infant son on the May sailing of the
Lusitania which was scheduled to leave New York for Liverpool at 10.00 o’clock, on the morning of 1st May 1915. No doubt having left St. Thomas in April, mother and son arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York in time for the liner’s sailing on that morning, but had to wait until the early afternoon before the liner left port. This was because she had to wait to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel Anchor Lines vessel the S.S. Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service at the end of April. Their ticket had been numbered 7650.
Then, six days out of New York on the afternoon of 7th May, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20. At that time, she was only about 250 miles away from her Liverpool destination. Both Alice and John Blackshaw were killed as a result of this action. She was aged 29 years - her son was literally a babe in arms.
In an attempt to establish identities for the pair, however, Alice Blackshaw’s husband sent the following descriptions of mother and child to Cunard at Queenstown: -
Any news of Mrs. Blackshaw? Green dress (speckled) gold locket and chain, wedding ring and gents signet ring.
Also child (male) 2 years, wearing ring with imitation pearl on 3rd finger of the left hand. (No1 breeches) red coat.
Despite these descriptions, the bodies of neither mother nor son were ever recovered from the sea and identified, and as a result, neither has a known grave.
Merseyside newspaper The Wallasey News published an article not long after the sinking stating that a Mrs. Blackwood
and her baby, travelling to see her sister a Mrs. Turton, of The Model Farm Market, Mill Lane, Liscard, Wallasey, Cheshire, had both been lost in the
Lusitania sinking. Whereas there were no persons of this name on board the vessel, it is interesting to speculate whether or not they might have been confused with Alice and young John Blackshaw.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Ontario Canada Marriages 1801 – 1928, Cunard Records, Deaths at Sea 1871 -1968, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. PR13/6, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly