William Brown was born in Sunderland, County Durham, England, in 1883, the son of Matthew and Jemima Amelia Brown (née Baxter). On completion of his education, William became a ship’s plumber, and then a fitter. His father died in 1899.
In the early 1900’s, he had immigrated to Canada, and found work as a steam fitter with the Canadian Pacific Railroad in Toronto, Ontario. He resided at 53½ Fairview Avenue, West Toronto. His widowed mother and some of his siblings joined him in Toronto in 1910.
In the spring of 1915, he decided to return home to assist in the war effort by working in the local shipyards. As a result, he booked a third class passage from New York to Liverpool on the
Lusitania and joined the vessel before she left New York just after mid-day on 1st May 1915.
Six days later, when the vessel was sunk, twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her destination, he was lucky enough to be counted amongst the survivors and having been taken from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he eventually made it to Middlesbrough, to the home of relatives.
Later, he applied for financial assistance to The Lusitania Relief Fund, set up after the disaster by The Lord Mayor of Liverpool and other local dignitaries, to help those and their relatives, who found themselves in difficulties as a result of the sinking. He also forwarded a claim to the Cunard Steamship Company, who directed him to write to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, for $75 in cash and $190 in personal effects lost as a result of the sinking.
By this time, however, William Brown had obtained employment as a fitter at the armaments manufacturing firm of Armstrong and Co., at a weekly wage of £3-10s-0d., (£3.50p.), and the committee administering the fund declined to grant him any award on the grounds that he already had adequate means of support.
Some time after the sinking, a pocket book containing some papers and belonging to William Brown, was found either in the sea or on the shoreline in southern Ireland and handed in to Cunard’s offices in Queenstown. It was eventually reunited with its owner at the Bright Street address on 1st December 1915. These papers included a membership card for the Sunderland Lodge of Co-Operative Plumbers, and two letters of reference from J. & E. Hall of Dartford, Kent, and J. Crown of the Strand Shipbuilding Yard, Sunderland.
William Brown was interviewed about his experience on his arrival in Queenstown, and his brief account was syndicated in newspapers around the world, including the 9th May edition of
The Daily Missoulian: -
William Brown of Alaska (sic.), another of the survivors, decided not to join the rush for the boats: "I came to the conclusion that a lifebelt was the best thing for me," he said," so I went to my cabin and secured one. With it on, I slid down a long rope into the water. Subsequently I got to a boat."
His mother also gave an interview in Canada, which was published in the Toronto Star on the 8th May: -
“He chose the Lusitania because it was the fastest boat as such was most likely to be safe,” said the mother of William Brown of 53½ Fairview Avenue, a passenger on the lost liner, who was on his way to England to get work in the shipyards. “He had been a ship’s plumber and had worked as a steam-fitter at the C.P.R. shops,” aid Mrs. Brown. “he got out of work, and knowing that men were needed in England he decided to go there.” Mr. Brown is 31 years old, and unmarried, and is well known in West Toronto.
William Brown later lodged a claim for the loss of personal effects and money which was decided by the Canadian Commission established to decide on such claims. In December 1926, he was awarded his full claim of $940.00, with interest of 5% from the 7th May 1915. This would suggest that he had returned to Canada after the War.
1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Cunard Records, Liverpool Record Office, Toronto Star, The Daily Missoulian, The Lusitania Resource, UniLiv D92/2/241, Canadian Claims Case No. 879, Graham Maddocks, Stuart Williamson, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.