John Fenwick was born in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on the 3rd May 1871, the son of Charles and Helen Fenwick (née Garvie). At the time of his birth, his father worked as a blacksmith, and the family resided at 28. Brandon Street, Glasgow. His father later became an inspector of water works, and the family moved to Mugdock Reservoir, where they were accommodated in a cottage provided by the water company.
On completing his education at Milngavie Public School, John trained as an apprentice draper with Messrs. Costigane Bros., Granite Street, Glasgow. Some of his older brothers were also drapers and they opened their own drapers shop in Milngavie, Stirlingshire, while another brother went to Switzerland where he was involved in the manufacture of Swiss embroidery. In the mid-1890’s, John joined his brother in Switzerland and expanded on their business.
He resided in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and was married with three children, the eldest being aged 12 years in 1915. He was then employed by the Syndicate Trading Company, 66. Faulkner Street, Manchester and St. Gallen, which was a consortium of independent businesses who came together to form a company that traded world-wide. He travelled annually to the United States of America in the course of his business.
On the 9th March 1915, he had boarded the s.s. America in Genoa, Italy, and disembarked in New York City on the 24th March. From there, he travelled to a number of cities conducting business. On the first leg of his return journey to Switzerland; he booked saloon passage on the May sailing of the Lusitania from New York to Liverpool. Having stayed at The Marie Antoinette Hotel in New York City, he arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour in time for her scheduled 10.00 a.m. sailing, on 1st May 1915.
Having boarded the vessel, - with ticket number 46144 - he was escorted to his accommodation in room D11, which was the personal responsibility of First Class Bedroom Steward William McLeod who came from Birkenhead, on the opposite side of the River Mersey from Liverpool. He was, in fact a long serving chief first class bedroom steward in the Cunard Steam Ship Company, but on the
Lusitania’s last voyage, he was serving in a lower capacity.
The liner’s sailing was delayed until the early afternoon as she had to take on board passengers, crew and cargo from another Cunard liner, the
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war service as a troop ship. The
Lusitania finally left her berth just before 12.30pm. Then, just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from the safety of her Liverpool home port.
John Fenwick lost his life as a result of this action and as his body was not recovered from the sea and identified afterwards, he has no known grave. He was aged 44 years.
Bedroom Steward McLeod, who had looked after him in room D11 also died as a result of the sinking and never saw his Birkenhead home again!
Scotland Select Births and Baptisms 1654 – 1950, 1871 Census of Scotland, 1881 Census of Scotland, 1891 Census of Scotland, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Cunard Records, Milngavie and Bearsden Herald, Montrose Standard, Daily Record, Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg Daily Independent, PRO 22/71, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. PR13/6, UniLiv D92/2/148, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.