Richard ‘Ric’ Chamberlain was born in Kirkby, Liverpool, Lancashire, England in 1857, the son of Richard and Sarah Chamberlain. He was married to Sarah Louise Chamberlain (née Rawling) in 1884, and in 1915 they lived at 7 Grote Street, Edge Hill, Liverpool, Lancashire.
He engaged as a night watchman in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania on 12 April 1915 at Liverpool at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d (£4.25). He reported for duty on board the liner at Liverpool Landing Stage, on the morning of 17 April, in time for the
Lusitania’s last ever voyage out of the River Mersey to New York. It was not the first time that he had served on ‘The Greyhound of the Seas‘.
Having completed the liner’s crossing to New York without mishap, Richard Chamberlain was still serving on board as the Lusitania left New York on the start of her return voyage to Liverpool on the early afternoon of 1 May. Six days into the voyage, on the afternoon of 7 May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. At that time, she was only about 14 hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port. Night Watchman Chamberlain lost his life as a result of this action. He was aged 57 years, although when he engaged, he stated that he was 52.
His body was recovered from the sea and landed from the Royal Naval patrol boat HMS Heron at the fishing village of Kinsale, given the reference number 5. At the inquest held on the death of Lieutenant Robert Matthews, one of the
Lusitania’s passengers, on 8 May, Sergeant Michael Power of the Royal Irish Constabulary at Kinsale also gave evidence of identification of Chamberlain’s body although he did not know his identity at the time. He stated:
"He was also one of the crew, about 50 years of age, with grey hair and a beard. He was bald. He wore a striped blue shirt... He wore spectacles and cotton drawers. He had teeth lost in the front of his mouth. There were the initials “F.E.L.T” on the back of his coat in red thread. he had two pence and some keys on a brass chain in his pocket. There were no other marks of identification on body or clothes."
The inquest was convened on the initiative of local Coroner John J Horgan in The Market House in Kinsale itself and the verdict of the coroner’s jury, on all the bodies landed was eventually that:
"We find that this appalling crime was contrary to international law and the conventions of all civilised nations and we therefore charge the officers of the said submarine and the Emperor and Government of Germany under whose orders they acted with the wilful and wholesale murder before the tribunal of the civilised world!"
On 10 May 1915 Chamberlain’s body was buried in St Multose Churchyard, Kinsale. The cortege formed up at the Barrack Square in Kinsale and consisted of three coffins, that of Night Watchman Chamberlain, fellow crew member Night Watchman George Cranston and that of an unknown female victim, later identified as second cabin passenger Mrs Margaret Shineman.
The procession was led by a detachment of the Connaught Rangers and was followed by a few surviving crew members and members of the Kinsale Urban Council and Kinsale Harbour Board. He was buried in Grave M3, next to Night Watchman Cranston.
The inscription on the kerbstone of the grave states:
"GEORGE CRADUCK AND RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN
VICTIMS OF THE LUSITANIA OUTRAGE 7 MAY 1915"
Night Watchman Cranston is clearly buried under the wrong name but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has stated that it will rectify this in due course.
Despite his having an actual grave location, the records of the Commission also showed Richard Chamberlain to have been lost at sea and consequently his name is erroneously recorded on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
Following information given to the Commission by the author, the grave was inspected by one of its officers. Whilst he was satisfied that Night Watchman Chamberlain was adequately commemorated, it was decided that the grave will be inspected at regular intervals in the future to monitor its condition. It is possible that if Night Watchman Cranston is given a Commission headstone, then one might also be erected for Chamberlain.
Consequently if the bronze panels at Tower Hill ever have to be replaced in the future, Chamberlain's name will be erased from the replacement. The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission state that his Mercantile Marine rank was
In August 1915 his family received from Cunard the balance of pay owed to him in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage, which was reckoned to be from 17 April 1915 until 8 May, 24 hours after the liner had gone down.
The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted a yearly pension to Sarah Chamberlain to compensate her for the loss of her husband, which amounted to £38-11s-10d (£38.59) payable at the rate of £3-4s-4d (£3.21½) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Birkenhead News, Cork Examiner, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.