Tales from the Parish Returns: The Lusitania

The sinking of RMS Lusitania in 1915 is one of the most infamous events in maritime history.

On 7 May 1915, just 11 miles from the coast of Ireland, the Lusitania was struck by torpedoes fired by German submarines. 2,001 passengers lost their lives. The sinking of the Lusitania caused an international outcry, especially in the United States of America, as 128 out of 139 US citizens on board lost their lives.

The parish return for North Petherton shows a Somerset link to the vessel.

Parish Return Extract for North Petherton

Parish Return Extract for North Petherton

It records that the Fish family of North Petherton, were aboard the ship.  It then relates how Mrs Fish, her three children and Miss Rogers, a sister, were struck by the sinking:

The youngest child was drowned, and the second-a girl- was in the water, but was kept afloat by the mother who wore a lifebelt. When rescued all but the mother thought the child dead and those in the boat wanted to throw her overboard. In her devotion however, the mother refused to believe that the girl was no more and steadfastly declining to part with her, applied herself to resuscitation and had the joy of witnessing the child regain consciousness. Miss Rogers, who wore a blanket coat, was in the water for more than an hour. She must have become unconscious, as she has no idea how she was saved, her first recollections were of being in a boat and someone giving her coffee.

The passenger lists for the Lusitania provides the family’s names:

Sarah Mary Fish, age unknown

Eileen Fish, aged 10

Marian Fish aged 8

Joan Fish aged 5 months

They were travelling as second class passengers from Toronto. There are several Rogers listed, but the only Ms Rogers on the passenger list, also sailing 2nd class from Toronto, is Elizabeth Rogers (age unknown), so we can assume this was Sarah Fish’s sister.

The 1911 census for North Petherton shows the family living with Sarah’s mother, Elizabeth Ann Rogers. We can see that Sarah was 28 on census night and was born in North Petherton. Her children, Sadie Eileen Fish and Marion Enid Fish were both born in Bristol. The 1911 census reveals an Elizabeth Rogers born in North Petherton, working as a Ladies Costumer’s assistant in Eastbourne, Sussex. Could this be the sister?

The marriage register for North Petherton shows us that Sarah Mary Rogers married Joseph Fish of Redland, Bristol, a contractor, on 18 August 1903. We can assume that Joseph Fish was serving in the armed forces at the time of his family’s voyage on the Lusitania, but without further information we cannot confirm this.

What we can confirm is that no Joseph Fish with a wife of Sarah is listed on the Commonwealth War Graves website, which hopefully suggests that wherever he was on 7 May 1915, he was later reunited with his family.

For more information on the Lusitania visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Lusitania

For the passenger lists visit: www.lusitania.net/passengerlist.htm

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