Vincente Egaña Aguirre was born in on San Nicholás Street, Bilbao, Spain, in 1886. Although nothing is known of his parents, it is known that he studied commerce in a local school.
When he was aged 16 years, he immigrated to Puebla, Mexico, where two of his brothers – Ricardo and Ramón, were already established in business. He established himself as merchant, buying and selling various goods, and exporting indigo to Great Britain and other European countries. He also owned, or was heavily involved in Compañia de Cerillera de Puebla, a company that made matches and matchboxes.
In the spring of 1915, he decided to travel home to visit family and friends, and while doing so, he decided to visit England to conduct some business. Consequently, on the 17th April 1915, he boarded the Monterey at Veracruz, Mexico, on the first stage of his journey to Europe, and disembarked in New York City on the 24th May. He stayed at the Hotel America, which was situated at West 47th Street.
Then, on the 1st May, he boarded the Lusitania as a second cabin passenger at Pier 54 in New York harbour. He was fortunate enough to survive her torpedoing and sinking, just six days later.
Before the Cunarder went down, however, he was instrumental in helping to save the lives of more than a few ladies by helping them into the ship’s lifeboats. He, however, jumped into the sea when the liner finally sank, but was pulled into a lifeboat and eventually landed at Queenstown.
Fellow second cabin passenger Mrs. Rose Lohden told of the important part played in her rescue and that of her daughter, by Señor Egaña on her eventual arrival to her native Bristol.
Mrs. Lohden and her daughter E1sie were rescued in the nick of time by a young Spaniard Vinceti (sic) Egana who showed most remarkable chivalry and heroism. After carrying fainting women in his arms to the deck from which the boats were being lowered, Egana rushed back again and again to render further assistance “There were tears in his eyes,” said Mrs. Lohden. “and his one concern was how many he could save before he thought of his own life.
He spoke not a word of English; his¬1anguage was the language of chivalrous looks and absolute unselfishness. I think I am right in saying that he and Captain Turner were the last men on the Lusitania. Jumping into the sea, he swam round in the hope of saving other souls. I was overjoyed when we picked him up.
Having recuperated in Queenstown, Vincente Egaña then took a steamer to mainland Britain, finally arriving at Euston Station in London on the morning of Sunday 9th May. His arrival there occasioned the comment in the popular press: -
Mr. Vincenti Egana, the Spanish gentleman whose heroism was related by Mrs. Lohden was amongst the arrivals at Euston on Sunday morning - a modest retiring looking youth, tucked away in the corner of a crowded car. There was sorrow in his dark eyes, but he had no story to tell.
If Rose Lohden was correct, and he could not speak not a word of English, it is no wonder that he had no story to tell!
It was reported in November 1926 that Vincente Egaña Aguirre had married, by proxy, at the Begoña Basilica in Bilbao; however, no details of his bride are known. It is likely he was in Mexico at the time of the wedding.
Vincente Egaña Aguirre made frequent trips between Mexico and Spain for many years, at least until the years of the Spanish Civil War; however, nothing further is known about him.
New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Ayr Advertiser, Cunard Records, The Scotsman, Western Mail, UniLiv D92/2/26, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.