John Henry Murphy was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England in 1883, the son of Nicholas and Susan Murphy. His father died while he was in childhood and his mother supported the family as a qualified midwife. In 1915, the family home was at 1. July Road, Newsham Park, Liverpool.
He was a professional Mercantile Marine sailor and he engaged as a first class waiter in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d., (£4.25p.). He then reported for duty five days later in time for the liner’s last ever departure from the River Mersey. It was not the first time that he had served on the
Having completed the liner’s voyage to New York, he was on board, serving in the same capacity, when the liner left New York for the last time at 12.27 p.m., on 1st May 1915. In the afternoon of 7th May 1915, she was torpedoed twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland by the German submarine U-20, and sank within eighteen minutes. At that stage of her voyage, she was only about fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port.
John Murphy lost his life as a result of this action, although his body was recovered from the sea after the disaster and landed at Queenstown. There, in one of the temporary mortuaries, it was given the reference number 136, until a positive identification had been made. Once this had been done, however, the body was described as: -
Male, 30 years, John Murphy. Steward’s uniform, clean shaved, 5’ 8”, dark hair, straight nose, good teeth, sturdy build, braces marked Shirley President, shirt marked 11 W.R., trade mark shirt “The Berlin”. Black laced boots with toe caps. Cunard Office label marked Table 81 September 18 20.
There was no property recovered from the body, which was buried on 10th May 1915 in Mass Grave C, in the Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, two miles north of the town. This was the day upon which most of the victims buried in Queenstown were laid to rest, after a long funeral procession which began outside the Cunard office at Lynch‘s Quay on the waterfront. John Murphy was aged 32 years at the time of the sinking, although when he engaged, he stated that he was 30 and Cunard‘s personnel in the mortuary obviously agreed with this age when they described the body!
Despite the fact that he has an identifiable burial site, however, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware of the fact and after the Great War, commemorated him on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London.
However, once the author had established beyond doubt that he was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, the Commission agreed to erect a permanent memorial to him where he is buried and this was done in November 1998.
It takes the form of a monument of Irish limestone, sited at the head of Mass Grave B, the centre one of the three. The names of crew members buried in the three mass graves are incised on two black granite panels on the memorial, with a legend in between them, which reads :-
1914 - 1918
IN HONOURED MEMORY
OF THOSE NAMED WHO,
SERVING ON THE
DIED WHEN THE SHIP WAS
SUNK BY ENEMY ACTION
ON 7 MAY 1915
AND ARE BURIED NEARBY
The name of First Class Waiter John Murphy is incised on the right hand panel.
The Commission has also stated that should it ever be necessary to renew the panel bearing his name on the Tower Hill Memorial, his name would be omitted from its replacement.
In August 1915, his family received the balance of pay owed to him in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage. This was reckoned from 17th April 1915 until 8th May, 24 hours after the great liner had gone down.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England, 1891 Census of England, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, PRO BT 334.