John Napier Fulton was born in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on the 16th June 1848, the son of Alexander and Marion Fulton (née Napier). He was one of seven known children, and his father was variously described as an iron master or engineer. The family moved to Hammersmith, London, sometime in the late 1850’s.
In August 1860, his father was admitted to a lunatic asylum, and died there in December 1862. During this period, the family broke up, with his mother and some of his siblings living with his maternal grandparents in Kensington, London, and John and others believed to have been living with other relatives.
The family later re-united and lived at 35. Priory Road, Hampstead, London, and John trained to be a solicitor. On the 5th December 1873, at the Registry Office, Kensington, London, he married Sadie Prosser, the daughter of a colonel in the United States Army. At the time of their marriage, Sadie professed to be aged 23 years; however, it transpires that she was aged 14½ years!
In June 1876, John qualified as a solicitor, and sometime between then and 1881, the couple immigrated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. John, it would appear, was also an accountant, and had a successful business in Montreal. He and Sadie had one child, a daughter – Christian Alexina Napier Fulton, born in 1906 in Montreal, and the family home was in Summerlea, Lachine, just outside Montreal.
John Fulton had purchased quite an amount of undeveloped property in the Lachine area over many years; however, there is evidence that he purchased much of the property by way of funds stolen from some of his clients. In September 1900, at the Court of Queen’s Bench, Montreal, he was convicted of stealing a large amount of money from a Mrs. Coristine, which was the proceeds from the sale of valuable securities while he was acting as a power of attorney, and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was released from prison having served 3½ years.
In 1912, John and his wife bought property at Ryde, on the Isle of Wight in England, and were living there. John commuted regularly between Ryde and Montreal conducting business, but by 1915, he, and his business dealings, were under serious scrutiny by the authorities.
In early 1915, he had been in Montreal, and to return to England, he booked a second cabin passage on the May sailing of the
Lusitania, which was scheduled to leave New York for Liverpool on the morning of 1st May 1915. By this time, his health was failing him, and he was described as being crippled by rheumatism, and could only walk with the aid of walking sticks.
Having left Montreal some time in April, John Fulton boarded the liner at her berth at Pier 54 in New York port on that morning, expecting to leave there at 10 o’clock, but he had to wait until 12.27 p.m. before the liner actually sailed, because she had to embark passengers, cargo and crew from Anchor Liner the S.S. Cameronia, which had been requisitioned at the end of April by the British Admiralty, for use as a troop ship.
Then, six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, the Lusitania was torpedoed by the German submarine
U-20, twelve miles off The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland and sank just eighteen minutes later. She was then only about fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port.
John Fulton was one of over 375 second cabin passengers who lost their lives as a result of this action and as his body was never recovered from the sea and identified afterwards, he has no known grave. He was aged 66 at the time of his death, although his wife claimed he was aged 59 years!
Sadie Fulton lodged a claim for compensation, on her own behalf, and also on the behalf of their daughter, for the loss of her own personal property (valued at $3,000), which John Fulton was bringing back to Ryde with him, the loss of his personal possessions (valued at $2,750), and the loss of her husband (for which she claimed $75,000), with the Canadian Commission which had been established to deal with such matters.
While the case was being considered, a number of individuals and legal firms sought to have any award being made directed to them in compensation for thefts perpetrated by John Fulton. A number of them produced court orders and other legal papers in support of their claims.
In February 1927, the Commission published their decision and Sadie Fulton was awarded $1,500 for the loss of her possessions, their daughter, Christian, was awarded $6,000 for the loss of her father – Sadie not being considered in this regard, and the Commission awarded the estate of John Fulton $3,750, which no doubt all those attempting to recoup some of their losses, pursued with great vigour!
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Scotland Select Births and Baptisms 1654 – 1950, 1851 Census of Scotland, 1871 Census of England & Wales, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of Canada, Cunard Records, Canadian Claims Case No. 848, PRO BT 100/345, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.