Alexander Campbell was born in Killin, Perthshire, Scotland, on the 9th May 1871, the son of George and Janet “Jessie” Campbell (née Campbell). He was the eldest of four known children, and his father was a Police Sergeant, and later an assurance agent. The family home was at 8. Market Street, Killin, before they later moved to 3. North Methven Street, Perth.
Alexander Campbell started off his working life as a clerk, and rose to be the general manager of Messrs. John Dewar and Sons, whisky distillers, in Great Britain, before being appointed as general manager of their business in the United States of America and Canada in 1913.
In 1903, he married Maude Esther Martha Friend in Lambeth, London, and the family home was at Hollywood Crescent Road, Wimbledon, Surrey, England. The couple had three children – Malcolm Alexander (1904 – 1992), Kenneth (1906 – 1988), and Janet Elizabeth (1912 – 1997).
Having had travelled extensively across the world for the firm, but he was not in the strongest of health, having contracted jungle fever in India and typhoid fever in China. He could not swim, either!
In February 1915, he had travelled from Liverpool to New York on board the
Lusitania, and while there, he was appointed John Dewar’s general manager in India and set out to return to England on the first stage of the journey there.
Consequently, he booked saloon passage from New York on the Lusitania and once he had boarded, with ticket number 46116, he was allocated room D31, which was the personal responsibility of First Class Bedroom Steward Edwin Arthur Huther, who came from Liverpool.
Just before the liner sailed, just after mid-day on 1st May 1915, Alexander Campbell spoke to the local manager of Dewar’s, Mr. F.J. Saunders, whose office was at 50, Rank Street, New York, about the possibility of being torpedoed. This conversation was later reported by the manager, in the book The Tragedy of the Lusitania: -
I spoke to him just before the Lusitania sailed, about the chances of her being overtaken by a submarine and torpedoed. He treated my remark in a humorous manner by turning to the bedroom steward with the remark, “Have you got plenty of lifeboats here?”.
The steward laughed and replied, “You don’t want any lifeboats on this ship, Sir. We can run away from anything the Germans have afloat.”.
Saunders also remarked: -
He was not very robust physically and could not swim, so I am very much afraid that his chances of being alive are very slim.
Alexander Campbell also spoke to the assembled press as he boarded, about the German warning that had appeared in New York newspapers on the morning of the 1st May, as stated in the book
The Tragedy of the Lusitania: -
I think it’s a lot of tommyrot for any government to do such a thing and it is hard to believe the German Ambassador dictated the advertisement. The Lusitania can run away from any submarine the Germans have got and the British Admiralty will see the ship is looked after when she arrives in striking distance of the Irish coast”.
Nevertheless, he was killed six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, after the Cunarder had been torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, off the coast of southern Ireland. As his body was never recovered and identified afterwards, he has no known grave.
Presumably the bedroom steward spoken to by Campbell was Edwin Huther, who also perished in the sinking.
Alexander’s brother, Robert Campbell, a prominent solicitor in Perth, travelled to Queenstown in search of his brother, or his remains, but was unsuccessful. When Alexander Campbell’s will was proven on the 4th October 1915, his brother, Robert, his widow, and a man named David Beveridge were confirmed as executors. AS his will was sealed, the value of his estate is unknown.
Scotland Select Births and Baptisms 1564 – 1950, 1881 Scotland Census, 1891 Scotland Census, Cunard Records, Evening Telegram, New York Times, Probate Records, PRO 22/71, PRO BT 100/345, Dundee Evening Telegraph and Post, The Tragedy of the Lusitania, UniLiv D92/2/369, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.