Catherine “Kate” Euphemia Duncan was born in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on the 13th July 1865, the daughter, and youngest of the nine children of Alexander and Margaret Orrock Duncan (née Geddes). Her father was a road contractor.
It is believed that in late 1890, she emigrated to the United States of America, and very soon after her arrival in New York City, she married William Cassie (also known as ‘Cassey’), who was also from Old Deer, and was a granite merchant. Their wedding took place on the 4th December 1890 in Manhattan, New York City, and the couple travelled to 81. Merchant Street, Barre, Vermont, where William had prepared a home for them.
The couple had two daughters – Margaret M., born in 1894, and Ethel Mary, who was born in 1899. It is not known what became of William Cassie from around the time of the birth of his second daughter in 1899. It is possible that he had died, or perhaps the marriage had ended.
What is known is that the couple’s eldest daughter, Margaret, was sent to England to live with her aunt, Mrs. Helen Hope, in Workington, Cumberland, while Kate went to work as a housekeeper for the Davidson family in Barre. She lived in the home of the Davidson’s with her younger daughter and described herself as being a single woman!
In the spring of 1915, she decided to visit her daughter in Workington, and consequently booked passage as a third class traveller on the Lusitania, which left her berth at Pier 54 in New York, at 12.27 p.m. on 1st May 1915. This departure, delayed from her scheduled time of 10.00 a.m., was to allow her to embark some of the crew, the passengers and the cargo from the Anchor Liner Cameronia, which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for use as troop ship at the end of April.
Six days out of New York, on the afternoon of 7th May, the liner was torpedoed by the German submarine U-20, and sank after just 18 minutes. At that stage of her voyage, she was within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only about 250 miles away from her Liverpool home port. Kate Cassie managed to survive this action however, and having been rescued from the sea, she was landed at Queenstown from where she eventually made it to England to be reunited with her daughter.
She returned to America in September 1915, because on the evening of the torpedoing, Chief Steward J.F.V. Jones was handed a heart-shaped gold pendant and chain, bearing a photograph of Kate Cassie. It took some time to identify the owner from this photograph but once it was established that it was indeed Mrs. Cassie, according to original Cunard records, the pendant was forwarded to her, via the company’s New York office, on the previously mentioned Anchor Lines vessel Cameronia on 24th October 1915. At that time, despite her previous third class status, she was staying at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the city.
However, sometime after the sinking, Kate Cassie applied to The Lusitania Relief Fund for financial assistance to make up for some of her lost possessions. This fund was administered by The Lord Mayor of Liverpool and a committee of local worthies. It is not known whether or not they looked at her application with sympathy; however, as a New York fund with similar intentions was certainly richer and thus able to give larger amounts to Lusitania survivors who were resident in the United States! Thus, the Liverpool fund tended not to give awards to persons who were entitled to the New York fund, by reason of their residency.
It is likely that Kate Cassie made numerous trans-Atlantic crossing in later years as her daughters moved between the United States of America and relatives in England, and then, in late 1949, she died in Lewisham, London, England, aged 84 years.
Scotland Select Births and Baptisms 1564 – 1950, New York Extracted Marriage Index 1866 – 1937, Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of Scotland, 1881 Census of Scotland, 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Massachusetts Passenger Lists 1820 – 1963, Cunard Records, The Barre Daily Times, Liverpool Record Office, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.