The Lusitania Resource > People > Deck Crew List > Mr. James Alexander McCubbin, Chief Purser

Mr. James Alexander McCubbin, Chief Purser

James McCubbin Purser Lost
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Born James Alexander McCubbin 1852 St. Peters, Liverpool, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
Died 7 May 1915 (age 62) RMS Lusitania At sea
Age on Lusitania 62
Body 91
Interred Toxteth Park Cemetery Church of England Section A, Grave 5 Liverpool, England
Citizenship British (English)
Residence Bootle, Liverpool, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
Spouse(s) Annie McCubbin (1876 - ?, her death)
James McCubbin (1852 - 1915), reported as age 50 but actually 62, was Chief Purser of the Lusitania. He was in charge of the safekeeping of passengers' valuables and the head of the victualling department. His job was to ensure that the passengers under his care were comfortable, entertained, and content. After his service with Cunard, McCubbin had planned to retire to a farm he had bought in Golders Green, just outside of London, England. McCubbin was a friend of Florence Sullivan. When the Lusitania was sinking, James Leary attempted to get his valuables from McCubbin without success. Isaac Lehmann also saw McCubbin smoking a cigarette with Dr. James McDermott. McCubbin was lost in the Lusitania sinking. His body was recovered, #91, and buried in Liverpool.


James McCubbin was born in 1852, in the Parish of St. Peters, Liverpool. He was the son of Alexander McCubbin and Ann McWilliams. In 1876, at age 24, James married his cousin, Annie McCubbin, daughter of Peter and Susan Hill McCubbin. At the time, James was a Purser's Assistant working for the Cunard Company. James and Annie lived at the family home of his uncle David and aunt Anne in 30 Lower Mersey, View Street, Bootle, West Derby, Lancashire. Five years later in 1881, at age 28, James appeared on the Liverpool census as a Corn Factory Director. He and Annie were then living at 79 Sutton St, West Derby, Lancashire. This seems to have been a rather temporary job, as James spent the rest of his life working for Cunard. His wife Annie and their infant child predeceased him. Afterwards, James devoted his time to local charities in Liverpool. He continued to advance in the Cunard Company, and when not at sea, he lived with his family at the Lower Mersey View. James took some time to visit relatives in the southern hemisphere. In December 1893, he arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, aboard the Orotava. He was 42 years old then. He spent time with the part of his family in Melbourne and then visited more family living in New Zealand before returning to Liverpool. When ashore, he is known to have resided at 2 Queen's Road and St Alban's Road, Bootle, near Liverpool and also stayed at hotels in Liverpool, notably the Midland Adelphi Hotel and the North Western Hotel, which were both situated in Lime Street, in the center of the city. James McCubbin was an accomplished flautist and sometimes performed for the entertainment of the passengers. However, on one voyage of the Cunarder Saxonia, someone put flour inside his flute just before a concert. On the first note, both he and the Bostonian matron accompanying him were covered in a white cloud of flour. After that incident, McCubbin refused to perform in public again. In his service aboard Lusitania, McCubbin was an affable man who entertained the reporters who boarded the liners at Quarantine in New York. He would provide them with breakfast and serve whiskey while he sent bellboys to retrieve millionaires and passengers embroiled in scandal so that the reporters could interview them. Contrast this with Captain Rostron, who refused reporters permission to board the Carpathia, then carrying the survivors of the Titanic disaster. McCubbin's mother's family, the MackWilliams, was from London. Perhaps with this in mind, McCubbin purchased a farm in Golders Green, then on the outskirts of London, for his retirement. His death in the sinking of the Lusitania, however, prevented him from enjoying the property that he had purchased.

The last voyage of the Lusitania

He engaged as Purser on board the Lusitania at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 for what would become her final voyage, at a monthly rate of pay of £17-0s-0d., and he joined ship on the morning of 17 April, before she left the River Mersey for the first leg of her voyage to the United States of America.  On his engagement, he gave his home address as 8, Water Street, Liverpool, which was the official address of the Cunard Steam Ship Company. It was not the first time that he had served on the vessel and having reached New York without mishap, he was performing his duties when the liner left the Cunard berth at Pier 54 there, on the early afternoon of 1st May 1915, for her return home.  The other members of his staff were Second Purser Percy Draper, Assistant Purser George Beesley, Assistant Purser Arthur Burden, Assistant Purser William Harkness and Junior Assistant Pursers Alfred Harrod and Leonard Sloane. According to Hickey and Smith's Seven Days to Disaster, McCubbin was a friend of Florence Sullivan, who was returning to Ireland with his wife Julia. McCubbin had promised them the best cabin and dining seating in second cabin if they boarded the ship early enough, which the Sullivans did. McCubbin also took the Sullivans for a tour of the ship and showed them a place to sit in the saloon (first class) lounge and music room where they would be unnoticed, as they held second-cabin tickets. Hickey and Smith continue to state that, on the day of the disaster, just before the torpedoing, Flor Sullivan asked McCubbin to borrow his binoculars. Julia used the binoculars to scan the coast of Ireland. In an account of the sinking published in The Maidenhead Advertiser of 12 May 1915, Mr. George A. Kessler, an American wine merchant, living in Maidenhead who had travelled as a saloon passenger on board, told of a conversation with Purser McCubbin:
On Wednesday [5 May, two days before the sinking] I saw the crew taking the tarpaulins from the boats and I went up to the purser and said: “It's all right drilling your crew, but why don't you drill your passengers?”  The purser said he thought it was a good idea and added “Why not tell Captain Turner, sir?”
After the Lusitania was torpedoed and was sinking, saloon passenger James Leary came up to him, asking, "How about my valuables?" McCubbin answered, "Young Man, if we get to port you will get them, and if we sink you won't need them." In a further account of the sinking printed in The New York Times on 2nd June 1915, Mr. Isaac Lehman from New York, also traveling as a saloon passenger, stated:
I walked up to B deck and met my steward - by the name of Barnes - on the way, and told him to get me a life preserver.  I waited for him to get this and he put it on for me, saying that it would come in handy.  I walked out on B deck and met the ship's doctor and the ship's purser, who told me there was not a chance for the boat to go down, that I should remain calm, and I was foolish to have my life preserver on.  However, I did not take very much notice of this outside of the fact I laughed at them and said it was better to be prepared if anything did happen.  This was the last that I saw of these men.  I understand they have been drowned.
Purser McCubbin was indeed drowned, or at least he was killed when the ship went down but his body was recovered from the sea.  At first it was not identified and was given the reference number 91 in one of Queenstown's makeshift and temporary mortuaries.  Cunard staff there described his body as very stout!  Upon eventual identification, however, it was sent to Messrs. R. McDougall and Co. Ltd., of St. Anne Street, Liverpool, for burial in the family grave in Toxteth Park Cemetery, in Smithdown Road, Liverpool. His funeral took place there on 14 May 1915.  The coffin, which was draped with the union flag, was carried by six quartermasters from the Cunard Steamship Company and was met at the cemetery gates by a number of boys from the Seamen's Orphanage, an institution supported by Purser McCubbin, and they led the cortege to the graveside, where The Reverend C.W.R. Higham conducted the funeral service.  Purser McCubbin was aged 62 years, although he had given his age on engagement as 60! Amongst the many mourners present there, were the chairman of the Cunard Line, Mr. A.A. Booth and its general manager, Mr. A.D. Mearns and survivors from the disaster, including Chief Steward John Frederick Valentine Jones.  At the end of the service, the boys from the orphanage sang the hymn "Star of Peace."  From his staff of pursers, only Draper and Harkness survived the action, all the others were also killed. Purser McCubbin's remains still lie there today, along with those of his family, in Church of England Section A, Grave 5.  The pertinent inscription on the headstone states:
His father had died in May 1863 aged 39 years and his mother in October 1871 aged 42 years. On 3rd June 1915, his property was handed over to Mr. R. Mills, Solicitor, of Harrington Street, Liverpool, who was the executor of his will.  It consisted of £2-12s-6d., (£2.62½p.), in gold and silver British coinage, some American coinage, a gold watch and chain, two pairs of spectacles, a fountain pen, a gold pencil, a knife, a bunch of keys and a pair of cuff links. When his will was proven on 22nd March 1916, his money and effects amounted to £3,336-18s-10d (£3,336.94), which was a considerable sum for those days.  His next of kin had already been sent the balance of wages owed to him for the Lusitania's last voyage, in August 1915! In the book The Tragedy of the Lusitania, published in 1915, actress Hilda Spong who knew the purser very well, reported:
He had spent all his life at sea working hard, and this was to have been his last voyage.  Two days before the Lusitania sailed, he told me, with great joy, that he had purchased a small farm near Golders Green, about twenty miles from London.  There he intended to spend the remainder of his days.

Links of interest

The 'Cub' Report - November 2009 James McCubbin at the Merseyside Maritime Museum
Contributors Cliff Barry, UK Peter Kelly, Ireland Penny McColm (great-grandniece of James McCubbin) Ellie Moffat, UK References Kalafus, Jim and Michael Poirier (2005) Lest We Forget Part 2:  As the Lusitania Went Down ET Research. <> McColm, Penny. "A Tragedy at Sea." The 'Cub' Report. McCubbin Family History Association. November 2009. Web. 27 July 2011. <>. “Used His Revolver on the Lusitania.” The New York Times, 2 June 1915. Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths 1891 English Census 1881 English Census Bootle Times Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cunard Records Maidenhead Advertiser Probate Records Toxteth Park Cemetery Burial Records The Tragedy of the Lusitania UniLiv.D92/1/8-10 UniLiv D92/2/406 PRO BT 334.

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