Friday 10 January 2014

The Burnside Memorial, Brompton Cemetery

The Burnside Memorial dates from around 1943 when Josephine Smith Burnside (nee Eaton), the daughter of Scottish-Canadian Department Store magnate, died. The memorial commemorates her two children who both pre-deceased her, Allan Burnside who died in Paris in 1937 and her daughter Iris who died at the age of 20 on board the Lusitania in May 1915. Iris was born in Holloway and Allan in Hornsey but the family had extensive cross Atlantic connections in Canada, Ireland and Scotland as well as England.

On the 7th may 1915 Iris was travelling with her mother from New York to visit relatives in Ireland. They decided to travel despite warnings placed prominently in the press by the Imperial Geman Embassy “that the zone of war includes water adjacent to the British Isles” and that vessels “flying the flag of Great Britain or of any of her allies are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone….do so at their own risk” They were not alone, the ship had 1959 passengers and crew when it departed from pier 54 on Chelsea wharf in Manhattan on the 1st May.

Official warning from the German
embassy to potential passengers
The luxury liner was very fast and on the 7th May she was cruising parallel to the south coast of Ireland and due to dock in Liverpool late in the afternoon. At 2.00pm Iris and her mother along with their maid Martha Waites and three Canadian friends,  Frederick McMurtry, George Powell and Walter McLean, were enjoying lunch in the main restaurant. Shortly afterwards the ship’s course was intercepted by U-Boat U-20 commanded by Walther Schwieger. The Lusitania was flying a neutral flag (despite being a British ship) and was carrying small arms rounds and explosive fuses according to it’s manifest. It had previously been used to transport troops and there is some evidence to suggest that the munitions it carried regularly weren’t limited to small arms. The U boat commander decided to attack, without warning. At 2.10pm a single torpedo hit the ship on the starboard bow just below the wheelhouse. Seconds later there was a second larger explosion from within the ships hull. The Lusitania began to rapidly founder with a prominent starboard list that made it difficult to launch the lifeboats; only six out of 48 were launched in the 18 minutes it took for the ship to sink. 1195 people were drowned including Iris Burnside,   Martha Waites Frederick McMurtry, George Powell and Walter McLean. Only Josephine survived.

Ironically one of the survivors of the Lusitania was the captain William Thomas Turner. Quite properly he tried to remain with his ship as it went down but the waters sucked him from the wreckage and he was recovered unconscious from the sea by one of the many rescue boats that arrived on the scene to help the wrecked passengers and crew.  

Portrait of Iris Burnside by ME Gray in the Toronto Museum

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