People's Stories

Everyone on the Lusitania's last voyage, including passengers and crew.

Johan Adolph Pedersen

Johan Adolph Pedersen

About Johan Adolph

Johan Petter Adolph Ingvald Pedersen, usually just known as Adolph Pedersen, was born in Ringsaker, Norway, on the 26th March 1846, the son of Peder and Karen Pedersen.  At some stage in his life he had come to England and on the 1st May 1872, he married Margaret Crowe Brown in St. Bride’s Church, Liverpool.

In early 1915, the family lived at 144, Adelaide Road, Liverpool, Lancashire.

For much of his life, Adolph worked as a clerk before joining the mercantile marine and serving on trans-Atlantic liners as an interpreter.

On 15th April 1915, he engaged as an interpreter in the Stewards' Department on board the Lusitania at the Cunard offices in Water Street, Liverpool, at a monthly rate of pay of £4-15s-0d., (£4.75p.).  He joined the vessel before she left Princes Landing Stage for the last time, on the morning of 17th April.  It is possible that on engagement he gave his surname, or it was erroneously recorded, as being Pederson!

Having successfully completed the liner’s voyage across the Atlantic, Pedersen’s professional skills were called upon not long after the Lusitania left New York on the early afternoon of 1st May, for her return journey home.  What happened is described by authors Des Hickey and Gus Smith in their book Seven Days to Disaster, published in 1981: -

During the customary search for stowaways after the liner sailed, the master-at-arms had surprised three men in a steward's pantry near the Grand Entrance on the shelter deck.  Staff Captain Anderson confronted the men, demanding to know who they were, but they refused to give him any information.  Suspecting they might be Germans, he sent for the ship's detective William Pierpoint and the interpreter Adolph Pederson.

Anderson knew of the German threats to the Lusitania, but nothing of the espionage ring.  When Pierpoint formally arrested the men, Anderson decided to take them to Liverpool for questioning by the authorities.  After Pederson confirmed they were Germans the men were locked in the ship's cells.  Pierpoint questioned them again later, but was unable to learn if there had been an attempt to plant explosives on the Lusitania.

There were two Masters-at-Arms serving on the Lusitania, Peter Smith and William Williams.  William Pierpoint was not actually the ship's detective, but a Liverpool City policeman, who was on an official mission to New York, the details of which have never emerged, even to this day.

The three Germans having been put down below in the ship’s cells were probably amongst the first to die after the liner was torpedoed and sunk, six days out of New York, on 7th May 1915, by the German submarine U-20.  At that time, she was within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only about fourteen hours away from the safety of her home port.

Pedersen survived this action, however and after floating in the sea, clinging to wreckage, he was eventually picked up by one of the ship’s lifeboats and landed at Queenstown.

Third class passenger Agnes Crosbie from Kirkcudbright in Scotland described seeing him in the sea and later at Queenstown, in the edition of The Dumfries and Galloway Standard, which was published on 12th May 1915: -

Three men, one of whom was an interpreter in the Lusitania were discovered clinging to wreckage.  They made a piteous appeal for help, but the lifeboat was already so over laden that assistance had to be refused.  The seaman in charge of the lifeboat shouted “Cheer up,” and told them that there were some lifeboats coming up behind which would be able to rescue them.  In Queenstown, after my arrival, I was delighted to meet the interpreter on the street and to learn that the men had been ultimately picked up by a lifeboat.

Fellow third class passenger George Ward travelling to Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, from Newark, New Jersey, also mentioned seeing Pedersen in the sea as told to a reporter of The Northampton Mercury in the edition of Saturday 14th May: -

I noticed the third cabin interpreter swimming in a barrel, and I did not anticipate that I should see him again, but he was picked up.

Interpreter Pedersen eventually returned to Liverpool, where he was officially discharged from the Lusitania’s final voyage and given the balance of wages owed to him, which amounted to £4-17s-2d., (£4.86p.).  This was in respect of his sea service from 17th April until 8th May 1915; 24 hours after the great liner went down.

Master-at-Arms Smith and Staff Captain Anderson both perished in the sinking, but Master-at-Arms Williams survived to return eventually to his Everton home.  Everton is a district of Liverpool.  William Pierpoint also survived and returned to his police duties until his retirement in 1924.

In March 1919, The Cunard Steam Ship Company in Liverpool received a letter from the Norwegian Consulate, in South Castle Street in the city, asking if a man named Olaf Kornelius Pedersen had served on the Lusitania’s last voyage.

Cunard replied in the negative, but stated that there had been an Adolf Pederson (sic.) who had been on board, but: -

..... he had died on the 17th inst. at his home in Hull.

In point of fact, Pedersen had died on 16th March 1919 at his home at 4, Kingston Terrace, Witham, Hull, his daughter Mrs. A.M. Holden being present at his death.

The cause of death stated on his death certificate was in two parts and stated: -

(1) Torpedoed and sunk on Lusitania.  In water struggling 4½ hours.

3 years 10 months

(2) Twisted bowels + formation of Tumour, developed ultimately into a Sarcoma.

This conclusion would indicate that Pedersen’s death was directly attributable to the sinking of the Lusitania and the diagnosis had first been made three years and ten months i.e. in May 1915.  As such, he would have been entitled to be regarded as a war casualty. 

With this in mind, in May 2002, the author approached The Commonwealth War Graves Commission with the information and a copy of his death certificate and asked that his death status be changed and his burial place be officially commemorated.

However, the Commission replied that they were unable to recognise him as an official casualty of the Great War, as the time which had elapsed since his injuries was too long to establish a link with his death, despite the cause of death on the death certificate!  Apparently, Mercantile Marine deaths during the war were not viewed in the same way as military deaths from identifiable wounds!

His death certificate stated his age at death to be 72 years, thus fixing his age at 69 years when he served on the final voyage of the Lusitania, and not 62 years as he stated when he signed on.  It was fairly common, however, for Mercantile Marine seamen to understate their ages when they engaged on a ship in those times, in order to secure employment easier!

Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, General Register Office, Dumfries and Galloway Standard, Northampton Mercury, PRO BT 100/345, Seven Days to Disaster, UniLiv.D921/1.

Johan Adolph Pedersen



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