Elizabeth Alice Clay, known as 'Lillie', was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, England, in late 1870, the second daughter of William and Mary Robina Clay (née Richardson). In 1915, she lived at the family home, 14, Windsor Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England.
Her father was a shipbroker at the time of her birth, and later became a very successful coal exporter. By the time of his death in 1894, he had become quite wealthy, to the point where his family were so well off that they were able to live on his estate without the need to work.
On the 28th May 1914, Lillie arrived in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on board the
Teutonic, intending to first of all go to British Columbia, and then San Francisco. In April 1915, she left from San Anselmo, California, to return to her home in England.
Consequently, she booked as a second cabin passenger on the May sailing of the
Lusitania which was scheduled to leave New York for Liverpool, at 10.00 a.m. on 1st May. Lillie Clay arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York in time for that sailing, but like all the passengers and crew, she then had to wait until just after mid-day before the liner actually left port. This was because the Lusitania
had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war service as a troop ship, at the end of April. Six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, as she was steaming past The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland and only about 250 miles away from her home port and destination. Lillie Clay was killed as a result of this action. She was aged 44 years, although when she boarded the Lusitania, she gave her age as being 40 years..
On the morning of Wednesday 12th May 1915, however, the crew of a fishing yawl from Long Island, County Cork, found an upturned lifeboat apparently marked
22a Lusitania, Liverpool, seven miles south-east of the fishing village of Schull, about fifty miles from where the liner had gone down. Underneath it were the bodies of six victims, four females, one boy and one baby. One of the female bodies was that of Lillie Clay. Apart from evidence of identification, some post cards were also found on the body.
It was afterwards landed at Queenstown, where it was given the reference number 180, in one of the temporary mortuaries there and described as: -
Female Body believed to be Lillie Clay, woman about 5’ 1” and 33 years, slight build, oval face, regular features, a large mass of black hair, eyebrows light brown, eyes light blue. and one top left side tooth gold stopped, and another on lower right side also gold stopped.
Dress. White silk blouse with white bone buttons, light grey costume, cloth coat fastened with one large button covered with same material, black silk stockings, black patent leather laced shoes, brown kid gloves on both hands, no trace of rings on fingers.
Jewellery. Attached to coat a long brooch, apparently silver enamel inset. On the left wrist a plain silver bangle, and on the right wrist a fetter link bangle, apparently gold, round neck a thin gold chain, with gold cross attached, inscribed “May 16th 1914” “Elizabeth from Clayton”.
Property. From inside pocket in jacket, seven Post cards addressed as follows :- 1. to Miss J. Highfield Jones, Falkener, Bushey, Herts, 2. Miss Duck, 16, High St. Bushey, Herts. 3. Mrs. B. Anderton, 9, Claremont Terrace, Newcastle on Tyne. 4. Miss Park, Amstrong Street, Dunston on Tyne. 5. Miss V. Vicars, Cumberland. 6. Countess Douamont, Hotel Imperial, Athens. 7. Miss Temple address not written, also an Aliens Restriction Order 1914. Landing card, name obliterated. A receipt from the New York Cloak and Suit House inn the name of Miss Clay, dated April 1915. A letter addressed to Mrs. W.P. Abbott, New York, signed Lillie Clay. 2 20$ Bills, 1 100$ Bill, £4.10s in gold, 16/6 in silver, 50 cents in American, 5 cents Canadian.
On Friday 14th May 1915, the body was sent for burial to Newcastle upon Tyne and arrived at Windsor Terrace, on the following morning. It was then conveyed to Jesmond Cemetery, Newcastle for interment. Canon Inskip, Vicar of Jesmond, officiated at the service, which was attended by many relatives and friends. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. Bainbridge and Co., of Market Street, Newcastle.
From a letter sent to the Cunard offices at Queenstown, from New York and received on 21st May, after her body had already been buried, Miss Clay was described as: -
Age 40 years, weight 100 pounds, stature short, hair dark, eyes dark.
The colour of her eyes in the description conflicts with the description of her corpse.
The property recovered from her body was sent to her mother, at the Newcastle address on 5th June 1915. Her mother forwarded the sum of £10-0s-0d to the Cunard office at Queenstown to be divided amongst the persons who recovered her daughter’s body. On 22nd June 1915, administration of her estate was granted to Miss Mary Beatrice Clay, her sister, at Newcastle. Her effects amounted to £2,261-7s-10d., (£2,261.39p), a considerable sum for those days.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, England Select Births and Baptisms 1538 – 1975, 1871 Census of England & Wales, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, U.S. Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. 1895 – 1960, Cunard Records, Probate Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, UniLiv D92/1/3, UniLiv D92/2/15, UniLiv. PR13/6, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.