Nellie Fentiman was born in Teddington, Middlesex, England, on the 12th January 1882, the daughter of Frederick Arthur and Amelia Rosina Fentiman (née Kersey). The family home was at Wealdstone House, Wealdstone, Middlesex, England, the property of the Cobb family, to whom her father was head gardener.
Nellie Fentiman was a domestic servant and for some time had served as maid to Mr. and Mrs. Cobb’s daughter at Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, before taking up a similar position in South Africa. Then, in 1912, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the United States of America to work in the same capacity for Mr. W.B. Walker and his family in Manchester, Massachusetts.
By 1915, however, her mother back in Wealdstone had contracted cancer and not having long to live, at the end of April 1915, her father cabled Nellie Fentiman to return home as soon as she could. She cabled back immediately that she would return home on the Lusitania. Consequently, on the morning of 1st May 1915, the boarded the vessel as a second cabin passenger at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour for what would become the liner’s last ever crossing of the Atlantic.
The Greyhound of the Seas then left port for the last time just after mid-day, after a delayed start brought about because she had to take on board passengers, some crew members and some cargo from the Anchor Lines ship the S.S. Cameronia. Then, six days out of New York, on the 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 her Liverpool destination. Nellie Fentiman was killed as a result of this action. She was aged 33 years.
Her body was recovered from the sea, however, and landed at Queenstown, where it was taken to one of the temporary mortuaries set up there and given the reference number 148, where it was described as: -
Female about 26 years, 5’5” dark brown hair, prominent teeth, very sound.
On 13th May, it was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, just outside the town in Mass Grave B, 6th Row, Lower Tier.
In a letter sent by her father to the Cunard Steam Ship Company, dated the 12th May 1915, prior to her identification, and in an effort to aid same, he stated: -
“Aged 33 years, 5’ 5” or 5’ 6” in height, dark with dark brown hair and eyes, thinly built, small scar on cheekbone (? Right or left), wore eyeglasses, all linen plainly marked “N. Fentiman”.
Would doubtless be wearing gold ring set with one row rubies and one row pearls, bracelet half chased and half plain (hinged), thin gold necklet with turquoise cross pendant, and loose (gold) knot brooch with hanging opal”.
As it was necessary to bury all the recovered bodies as soon as was practicable, for hygienic reasons in the increasing heat of May, they were all photographed in the temporary mortuaries set up in Queenstown before being buried. Anxious relatives of those missing were then invited to identify their loved ones through these photographs.
It was not until September 1915 that her family identified the photograph of the remains reference number 148 as being their daughter. It transpired that the photograph was forwarded to Cunard’s New York office and there it was viewed by people who knew her. The photograph was then forwarded to her daughter, who made the positive identification.
On 20th September 1915, property recovered from her body, which may also have aided its identification, was sent to her father at the Wealdstone address. On 7th June 1915, he had already taken possession of a cheque which related to a banker’s draft made out in his daughter’s favour, which had been recovered from the sea and handed in at the Cunard Office at Queenstown. The property recovered consisted of a gold Cossack watch with a brooch attached and made by Watson, a gold bracelet with a patent clasp on it, a gold ring with stones set into it, a gold pendant brooch with an opal set into it, a fine gold necklet with a cross and turquoise stones set into it and two handkerchiefs.
Although Nellie Fentiman’s last resting place is not personally marked, she is commemorated on the family grave in The Church of All Saints, on Uxbridge Road, Harrow Weald, Greater London, the pertinent inscription stating: -
ALSO OF NELLIE FENTIMAN
DAUGHTER OF THE ABOVE
WHO LOST HER LIFE
THROUGH SINKING OF THE
LUSITANIA MAY 7TH 1915
Her mother Amelia had died not long after her daughter, in 1915, aged 57 years and her father Frederick died in 1917, aged 59 years. It is likely that the tragedy of their daughter’s death hastened the demise of both of them!
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, London England Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813 – 1917, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Massachusetts Passenger and Crew Lists 1820 – 1963, Cunard Records, Harrow Observer, New York Times, Boston Daily Globe, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/6, UniLiv D92/2/28, UniLiv D92/2/316, UniLiv. PR13/6, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Paul Courtney, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.