With great thanks to Fionnuaghala Smith,
Chairperson Cobh Tourism , photographer & owner of Cobh PastTimes
ALFRED GWYNNE VANDERBILT
The Lusitania Centenary Commemoration 2015 Committee was formed in late 2014 which Hendrick Verwey organised and was Chairman.
Phelim Murray had recently purchased the ex TSB bank building on West Beach which was originally the Cunard Line Shipping Office. Cobh Pastimes became the first tenant to go into the building after he became the owner. Phelim organised a replica crest to go over the front door where it would have been before Cunard Line and White Star Line merged and became Cunard White Star Line. Cunard vacated this building and the crest was taken down and languished in the basement of Casement Square for near enough 40 years only to be discovered in 1973. When the building was taken over on a long lease by An Post and the Social Welfare Office it was actually put on display on the steps going up to the Social Welfare Office. It was in a bad state of disrepair. It was handed over to Cobh Museum who restored it to its present state and can be seen in the doorway of the Museum.
This building and the Cunard Area Manager, Jerome B. Murphy, became the pivotal operations centre when the RMS Lusitania sank in May, 1915. There was a major communication blockade put on the tragedy by the Admiralty, initially, so Jerome had to work alone in helping both the living and the dead. For his work beyond the call of duty he was honoured with an MBE.
A very good informative article in the Independent about him can be found at this link:
I knew the Cunard Centre (Phelim changed the name to the building) had a special and important role to play in the commemoration events in 2015. At Committee level we discussed about a photographic exhibition and with kind permission of Phelim Murray it was to go on display in this building. I was able to find non-digitised glass plate negatives in the National Library of Ireland. These had never been seen collectively since they were taken 100 years previously. They were the family firm of A.H. Poole who ran a commercial studio in Waterford from 1884-1954. The NLI held a large collection of glass plates which contained studio portraits of people from Waterford and reflects the social and economic life of the city. I would surmise that the Lusitania made a big impact on everyone in Ireland and this probably made A.H. Poole come to Cobh. His work is stunning and on par with the Lawrence Collection etc. just less well known as he confined himself more to Waterford and his studio. However, when you see his work you can tell he was not a photo-journalist. Photo-journalism is going quickly to an area, recording events and keeping in mind that your Editor wants to sell the newspapers. A.H. Poole’s work shows planning, composition and the importance of the photographer’s location. Cobh Pastimes also professionally photographed the actual burial register and a replica of the original was put on display. Cobh Pastimes researched the information for each photograph and overall presentation of the exhibition and printed and framed the collection. The National Library of Ireland kindly digitised them into high quality TIFF files and they were in excellent condition.
After setting up a Lusitania Commemoration Facebook page (which was part of the Cobh Tourism page) families of survivors and victims and ship’s captains and crew who helped in the saving of lives and retrieval of bodies started to contact this page. Most contact came from the U.K. but others came as far as Australia and Canada. Cunard had also set up a special 7 day RMS Lusitania Commemoration Cruise on the Queen Victoria which many of these people who contacted us were going to be on. The mass and single graves that are located in the Old Church Graveyard are under the ownership of Cunard and glass memorial headstones with all the names known were engraved and a ceremony was arranged with all top brass of Cunard and families of victims present.
There were many events planned around the dates in May. One poignant one, which was suggested by the late Cllr Claire Cullinane, who was also on the committee was to have a flotilla of small ships sail into the harbour from Roches Points in the evening dusk into darkness. This was to signify the amount of boats that left Cobh that day to row, steam or sail out to save as many people as they could. Most of these vessels would not have reached Cobh until 9.00 – 11.00 p.m at night bringing in survivors first as priority. Cobh was the main destination point for survivors and victims as being a garrison town it would have more facilities to manage the situation. The Queen Victoria was originally scheduled to sail at 6.00 pm, however, the Port of Cork was able to persuade her to stay until after the Flotilla sail past. I was part of the flotilla and after eating, drinking, sleeping Lusitania for the last couple of months with getting the exhibition organised I felt very emotional in this wonderful tribute.
One person who contacted the page was Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt 111 who is the grandson of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt who went down with the ship in a heroic way. Mr Vanderbilt was a member of the richest family in the world at that time and was a race horse breeder. He would frequently travel to the U.K to purchase race horses. Indeed, three years earlier he was booked to be on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic but some business forced him to cancel that trip!
On the morning of the journey, American newspapers carried warnings from the German Embassy that anyone travelling in the waters around the U.K. were legitimate war targets for their submarines. Mr Vanderbilt was asked by a reporter just before going onto the gangplank of RMS Lusitania whether he was worried about these warnings. He was alleged to have been unconcerned saying that the Lusitania (or Lusi as she was fondly known as) could outrun any German submarine any day!
Mr Vanderbilt 111 wanted to pay tribute to his grandfather. I was in contact with him by phone and email over a number of weeks. He decided to donate a family picture of his grandfather, which was taken in a studio in the U.S. and he prepared it, organised the tribute on it and shipped it over to us to be included in the Photographic Exhibition which ran for 6 months in the Cunard Centre.
Mr Vanderbilt then decided he would come over himself with his Godson, Peter. To make the visit more personal for him I arranged for him to be able to privately visit the waters where the Lusitania was and lay a wreath. John O’Regan, who owned the Samuel J (and whose father, Henry, had worked for Cunard in Cobh up to his retirement,) and his two sons, Alan and Sam, were the Skipper and Crew for Mr Vanderbilt and Peter. They also arranged the timings so he would be back at Roches Point for 8.00 pm and the Samuel J became part of the flotilla of boats that sailed into Cobh that evening.
Words on the Picture Presentation (please note, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt wrote this himself, the American spelling is used and not changed):
ALFRED GWYNNE VANDERBILT
1877 – 1915
So That Others Might Live
A frequent traveler between New York and London, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt was in the Dining Saloon when the torpedo struck.Coming on deck, he encountered a woman and child who were without life preservers. Vanderbilt gave the panicked woman his belt despite the fact that he could not swim. As Lusitania sank, he organised a search for children, urging his valet to “find all the kiddies you can”. Last seen at the the railing as the ship went down, he was standing calmly with two elderly passengers whose fates were similarly sealed: Lady Mackworth and Charles Froham, the famous theatre impresario. Vanderbilt’s body was never found. His widow, Margaret Emerson, and his sons survived him: William Henry Vanderbilt (age 12), Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt Jr. (age 3) and George Vanderbilt (age 1)
Used by permission of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt III
Written by: Fionnghuala Smith, Cobh Pastimes Old Time Photography Studio, 14, Pearse Square, Cobh, Co. Cork.
Telephone: 086 8565906