Conway Seymour Godfrey Campbell-Johnston was born in Walton, Suffolk, England in 1859, the son of Alexander Robert and Frances Helen Campbell-Johnston (née Palliser). He was one of ten children, and his father worked for a time at the British Foreign Office. The family were very wealthy for that time - his mother being listed as a member of the British Peerage, and members of his extended family had attained high rank in the British Army and Royal Navy over a number of generations.
Nothing is known of his childhood, but in the late 1870’s or early 1880’s, he was commissioned into the Royal Navy. On the 25th September 1886, he was promoted to the rank of acting sub-Lieutenant, and held this rank until he retired and went on the Royal Navy Reserve list on the 2nd November 1893. Sometime after this, he went to the United States of America, and due to the wealth of his family, he could be described as being a ‘man of independent means’!
On the 28th April 1896, he married Ida Amelia McBride in Santa Barbara, California and they lived on a ranch at San Rafael Heights, San Francisco, California. Despite being 55 years of age when the Great War broke out, Conway Campbell-Johnston decided that it was his patriotic duty to return to Great Britain and offer his services to his country. As a result, in the spring of 1915, he put his California affairs in order and booked saloon passage on the
Lusitania for himself and his wife for the liner’s sailing of 1st May 1915.
Travelling from Los Angeles, California, in April 1915, the couple arrived in New York at the end of the month and stayed at The Belmont Hotel, before joining the liner on the morning of 1st May at her berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour. Once on board, (with ticket number 46147), they were escorted to room B43, which was under the personal supervision of First Class Waiter James Holden who came from Liverpool and was acting as a first class bedroom steward on what became the liner’s last ever voyage!
The liner did not depart from the port until just after mid-day on the 1st May and just six day later, when she was torpedoed and sunk, both Conway and Ida Campbell-Johnston were killed. At the time of her sinking, the Cunarder was only twelve miles away from the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her Liverpool destination. Conway Campbell-Johnston was aged 56 years.
Although Mrs. Campbell-Johnston’s body was recovered from the sea and sent to England for eventual burial, his was never recovered and identified and as a consequence, he has no known grave.
His brother, Mr. Louis Campbell-Johnston, lived at Woodcote Grove, Coulsdon, Surrey and later took receipt of property found recovered from his wife's body at that address.
On the 28th February 1917, administration of his will was granted to his brother, Louis Campbell-Johnston, and his effects amounted to £1,236-4s-0d (£1,236.40p).
Waiter James Holden who had the responsibility for the welfare of both the Campbell-Johnston’s in room B43 also perished in the sinking and never saw his Liverpool home again!
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1861 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1900 U.S. Federal Census, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, UK Navy Lists 1888 – 1970, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Cunard Records, San Francisco Chronicle, UniLiv D92/2/370, UniLiv. PR13/6, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Nyle Monday, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.