Ellen Gardner was born in Preston, Lancashire, England, on the 12th July 1885. Details about her parents or other family members are unknown, but she became a weaver after leaving school and sometime prior to 1909, she immigrated to the United States of America.
On the 14th July 1909, she married Arthur Candlish, who was also a weaver, and who also came from Preston to the United States of America in 1904. They had no children.
In 1911, Arthur had become a naturalised U.S. citizen, as did Ellen because of their marriage, and in 1912, they decided to return to England to visit their relatives and enjoy a holiday.
On the 22nd June 1912, Arthur and Ellen Candlish boarded the Mauritania to return to their home at 167. North Main Street, Pawtucket. The captain of the
Mauritania on that, and many other voyages, was one Captain William Thomas Turner.
In the spring of 1915, however, they decided to return home to England, and to re-settle in Preston. As a consequence, they booked second cabin passage for themselves from New York to Liverpool and joined the
Lusitania at Pier 54, in New York before the liner left there for the very last time, on the early afternoon of 1st May 1915. Captain William Thomas Turner was the captain of the
Lusitania at this time!
Six days later, after the vessel was torpedoed and sunk, although her husband was killed, Ellen Candlish managed to survive. Having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, she was taken in by Mrs. Thompson, the wife of the deputy American Consul. Having recovered from her ordeal, and presumably searching in vain for her husband, she eventually made it to 13. Dunmore Street, Preston, where she gave an interview concerning her experiences of the sinking to a reporter from
The Lancashire Daily Post. This was published in the edition of 11th May 1915.
Mrs. Candlish stated that when the vessel was struck, she and her husband immediately went to their cabins for their life-jackets. On regaining the deck, he tried to persuade her to enter a lifeboat, but she refused to go without him. They were standing, talking to each other when the ship took her final lurch. As the water washed over the decks, her husband was swept from her side.
She was carried into and out again of a lifeboat that broke loose but afterwards she was hauled into another boat. There were fifteen persons in the boat as well as a dead woman and a dead baby. It was not until three hours and a half after the vessel sank that they were picked up by H.M.S. Julia.
The lifeboat into which Emma Candlish was hauled was probably No. 22. The
Julia, known to have helped rescue survivors from the sinking was a fishing vessel, but was almost certainly
not under Royal Navy command at the time.
Mrs. Candlish last heard of her husband from a gentleman, Mr. Gray who had sat opposite to him at table. Mr. Gray told her that he saw Mr. Candlish sitting on the top of an overturned boat, paddling with an oar. Neither Mr. Gray nor she have seen him since.
The exact identity of Mr. Gray is uncertain as there were two second cabin survivors of that name - James P. Gray and Robert D. Gray.
As to the scene on board the ship after she was struck, Mrs. Candlish said that all the people behaved well and there was no panic. She was much impressed by the fortitude of the women who showed little signs of excitement.
A lady told her on the day preceding that on which the ship sailed about the warning issued to intending passengers of the Lusitania, but no attention was paid to it. During the course of the voyage there was some joking as to the idea of the vessel being torpedoed, for no-one believed it could be done.
Some time after this, she applied for financial assistance to The Lusitania Relief Fund, in Liverpool. This fund had been set up after the disaster by The Lord Mayor of Liverpool and other local dignitaries to help survivors and dependants of dead passengers. The awards committee eventually offered her the sum of £5-0s-0d. At this time she was residing at 13, Dunmore Street, off Ribbleton Lane, Preston, Lancashire.
The Cunard Steam Ship Company also offered her free passage back to America, and she took up this offer by sailing to New York on board the
S.S. Orduña on the 11th November 1915.
Confirmation of her return to America is supported by the fact that she lodged a successful claim with the Mixed Claims Commission for compensation for the loss of her husband and their property which was lost when the liner sank. On 21st February 1924, the Mixed Claims Commission awarded her the sum of $10,000.00 for the loss of Arthur, and a further $682.00 for the loss of their joint property.
Ellen Candlish moved to 617. 60th Street, Brooklyn, New York City, and by November 1917 she was working as a stewardess on ocean liners out of New York harbour. In 1926, she married a ship’s steward named Frederick J. Whensley, who was an Australian citizen, although he had been born in Devon, England. Their marriage took place in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Following her marriage, Ellen gave up her position as a stewardess.
Although the couple resided at 36-20 Parsons Boulevard, Flushing, New York, they made regular trips back to England to visit friends and relatives.
Ellen Whensley died at Alderney Hospital, Parkstone, Dorset, England, on the 24th February 1964, aged 78 years. A few days prior to her death, she had been staying with her husband at 3. Fernside Court, Fernside Road, Poole, Dorset, when she suffered a fall. Her remains were cremated at Bournemouth, Hampshire, some days later.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Australia Marriage Index 1788 – 1950, 1915 Rhode Island State Census, 1930 U.S. Federal Census, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, U.S. Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates 1916 – 1940, Cunard Records, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 239 & 2199, Lancashire Daily Post, Preston Herald, Liverpool Record Office, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv D92/11, UniLiv D92/2/138, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.