Mrs Francis Washington Stephens

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Lusitania victim torpedoed twice

Mrs Frances Washington Stephens is the woman whose body was twice claimed by a German submarine.

Wife of the enormously wealthy George Washington Stephens of Montreal, Frances lost her life at age 64 on the Lusitania. Her husband was not with her, but she was travelling instead with her infant son John, his nurse, Carolina Millen, and her own personal maid, Elsie Oberlin. All four were drowned.

The body of Frances (No. 28) was the sole one recovered among the first class quartet. Her body was embalmed in preparation for its return to North America. The casket was taken to Liverpool by Mr Wedderburn Wilson, the accredited representative of her husband.

There it was said to have been embarked on the 10,920-ton Hesperian for the Atlantic crossing. This is not entirely confirmed, but it is the established story.

Six hundred passengers crowded aboard Hesperian. But the Allan Line vessel was not long out of Liverpool when she was torpedoed 85 miles southwest of the Fastnet on September 4, 1915 - less than a week after Count Bernstorff, the German Ambassador to the US, had assured Washington that ‘passenger liners will not be sunk without warning.’

Mrs Washington Stephens’s coffin reportedly went to the bottom of the sea with the 32 lives lost. This is not confirmed, although her body was undoubtedly re-sunk on his transfer back to the USA on some vessel.

The Hesperian survivors once more swarmed onto the quays of Queenstown, including one man who had been blinded on the Western Front only to have his sight restored by the shock of the explosion.

The heightened irony is that Mrs Washington Stephens’ corpse, if indeed on the Hesperian, was sunk by the same submarine — U-20 — which had first taken her life on the Lusitania.

Only a panel on a grave marker in Mount Royal cemetery in Montreal now commemorates her passing.

Mark Baber

For whatever it's worth:

The New York Times, 9 September 1915

Ten Passengers Dead or Missing and 16 Members of Crew
MONTREAL, Sept. 8---A list of the dead and missing passengers from the liner Hesperian, which was recently sunk in the British war zone, was made public today at the Allan Line company's office. The list contains ten names, as follows:

Dead, Miss Carbury.

Missing, Miss Alice Bannister, Joseph Fowler, Miss Fowler, Emily Morrey, an infant; Maria Jenkins, Mary A. Barr, Ellen Taylor, 4 years old; W. Cownley, and a Canadian soldier, name not given.

The list also gives the names of sixteen members of the crew and includes the name of F. J. Wolfe, who, dispatches from Queenstown said, was an American citizen.

Relatives of Mrs. George Washington Stephens, widow of the Hon. G. W. Stephens, who met her death in the Lusitania sinking, have been notified that her body, recently found off the coast of Ireland, went down with the Hesperian.


Thanks, Mark.

That is the first directly contemporaneous account I've seen in confirmation.

What an extraordinary coincidence, eh - being sunk twice, once when alive and once when dead, by the SAME submarine.

Staggering stuff.

Thanks again. See you in Belfast next year?

Hello Senan
Here is the link to the Stephens family. Poor Mrs. Stephens was taking the baby to see his father. After the demise of his son and mother, Francis Chattan Stephens died of the flu.
Mrs. Stephens was in good company on the ship. Her companions and tablemates included Lady Allan and her daughters, William Robert Grattan Holt, Frederick Orr-Lewis, and Dorothy Braithwaite. Mrs. Stephens and the baby were last scene on the portside as the deck was going under water.
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