Arthur Henry Adams, known as “Harry”, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States of America on the 17th December 1868. He graduated from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering and then found employment with the Western Electric Company. He was sent to Paris, France, to work for the company, who at that time were installing a telephone system in the city.
While working in Paris, he met and married Gertrude Edwards, a classical singer, from Texas, U.S.A. Their son, William McMillan, was born on 5th September 1895 in while they were resident in Paris.
Harry later left the Western Electric Co. and moved to England, where he set up his own business in Bedford, Kent. By 1903, his company, Adams Manufacturing Co. was producing motor cars. He later went into partnership with Edward R. Hewitt, and they designed and built Adams Hewitt motorcars, before the company folded in 1914. Following the closure of the company, Harry found employment with The U.S. Rubber Company of 58th Street, New York, N.Y. and became their European General Manager. His annual salary was $13,000.00, an enormous sum in those days!
In November 1914, Harry travelled to the New York, where he was joined at the end of March 1915 by his son, William McMillan Adams, who was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge. By this time, William was contemplating enlisting in the British Army, as many of his friend’s were doing at that time, and was taking a short holiday before “joining up”.
Whether or not Harry approved of his son’s intentions, father and son booked as saloon passengers on the May sailing of the
Lusitania - they were both on the same ticket, the number of which was 46102. They boarded the liner at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May 1915, and Harry Adams was allocated room D37 with his son in nearby D45. Both rooms were under the personal supervision of First Class Bedroom Steward Edwin Huther, who came from Liverpool.
Six days out of New York, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her Liverpool destination, the
Lusitania was torpedoed by the German submarine U-20.
Harry Adams was not with his son when the torpedo struck, but realising immediately that the situation was serious; he retrieved his coat and hat from his room and found William Adams on the rapidly listing starboard fist class deck. Grabbing his son by the arm, he led him to the higher port side of the vessel, insisting that they should give help where it might be needed!
Des Hickey and Gus Smith in their 1981 book Seven Days to Disaster, stated: -
The order for passengers to clear the decks had been heard by William McMillan Adams and his father. Looking at the lifeboats swinging dangerously inwards on the port side, young McMillan Adams knew they would have to be pushed over the rail of the ship before they could be launched. But passengers were ignoring the orders from the officers. They were climbing into the boats and refusing to leave them.
Only one seaman was waiting to help when Albert Bestic reached No.2 lifeboat, the first boat on the port side. It was crowded with passengers, most of them women in full length skirts. He took his place at the stern davit, the seaman at the for'ard davit, and then called to McMillan Adams, his father and another man in the crowd to help push the lifeboat over the side. As the boat swung out Albert heard a sharp crack. Either somebody had loosened one of the guys or it had snapped under the strain. “Stand back!” he yelled. But so fast did the bow of the lifeboat spin inwards that it swept passengers off the collapsible and slid forward to smash against the superstructure of the bridge, crushing people in its path.
It was the snubbing chain which held the boat to the deck which had been prematurely disconnected by accident or panic.
Albert Bestic was Junior Third Officer Albert Arthur Bestic, who was in charge of lifeboats 2 to 10 on the port side.
Following this debacle, father and son managed to get into a crowded lifeboat - it might even have been No. 2 - which was still attached to the
Lusitania by the forward and after falls. Harry Adams, removed his coat and tried hard to loosen them but without success. Realising that the liner was about to go down, he exhorted his son to jump from the lifeboat and then did the same. Father and son then swam as fast as they could away from the foundering steamer, but although William Adams subsequently survived, Harry Adams did not and as his body was never recovered from the sea and identified, he has no known grave. He was aged 46 years.
In the days immediately following the disaster, some confusion occurred as to whether he had actually perished or not, as a there was also a Mr.
Allan H. Adams, on board the Lusitania travelling as a second cabin passenger. When his name appeared on a list of survivors, unfortunately, it appeared as
The matter was only cleared up when Allan H. Adams reported in person to the Cunard office in Queenstown, on 12th May, although the survivor was
still referred to as A.H. Adams, long after this. This was also the case in July 1915, when a cable seeking financial help for Mr. Allan H. Adams
still refers to him as A.H. Adams.
Bedroom Steward Huther who had looked after both first class rooms, also perished in the sinking, although Third Officer Bestic survived.
Gertrude and William McMillan Adams lodged a claim for the loss of Arthur Henry Adams and his possessions with the Mixed Claims Commission after the War. This Commission was set up pursuant of an agreement between the United States and Germany after the War, whereby survivors and relatives of victims, of German actions against United States citizens, could pursue claims for compensation. Gertrude Adams was awarded $75,842.00 for the loss of her husband and his possessions, and her son being awarded $7,500.00. William McMillan Adams was also awarded $2,335.00 under a separate claim for loss and injury he suffered in the course of the sinking.
Cunard Records, Liverpool Record Office, U.S. Passport Applications 1795 – 1925, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 530 & 637, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO 22/71, PRO BT 100/345, Seven Days to Disaster, UniLiv. PR13/6, Graham Maddocks, John P. Adams, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly