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Dr. James Farrell McDermott, Surgeon

Dr. James McDermott, 38, was a ship's surgeon aboard Lusitania who worked with the Lusitania's assistant surgeon, Joseph Garry.  McDermott was from Cork, Ireland, but lived in Wallasey, Liverpool.  Isaac Lehmann saw McDermott and Purser McCubbin calmly smoking on deck during the sinking. Dr. McDermott was lost in the Lusitania disaster.  His body recovered, #200, and buried in grave #474 in Queenstown's Old Church Cemetery.


James Farrell McDermott was born in Cork City, County Cork, Ireland on 19 July 1876, the eldest son of Charles William and Agnes Theresa McDermott (née Ahern). The family originally lived at Eldred Terrace, South Douglas Road, Cork. His father was a former Board of Trade Superintendent at Cork and later moved to Chester, Cheshire, England. James McDermott qualified as a doctor at the University College, Cork, in 1905. He was well-known as a wing three-quarter on the University rugby team. McDermott took the MB, BCh and BAO of the Royal University of Ireland in 1906. He first sailed as a ship's surgeon for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and having transferred to the Cunard Steam Ship Company, where he worked for the next seven years until his death in the Lusitania disaster. McDermott's first ship was the Umbria. He then transferred to the Caronia and it was on board this vessel in 1908 that he and the rest of the crew were involved in the rescue and treatment of the victims of the Messina earthquake, the Caronia being one of the first vessels to enter the Straits after the disaster occurred.  Following service on the Saxonia and the Ivernia, he joined the Mauretania just after the outbreak of war and after she was laid up he was transferred to the Olonia and sailed to India to transport troops of the British Army from Bombay to Egypt and France. After further service on the Bologna and the Andania, he joined the Lusitania in early 1915. Because of his work on the passenger liners, by this time he and his family had moved to 42 Radnor Drive, Wallasey, Cheshire, England across the River Mersey from Liverpool. There James McDermott was a Freemason and a prominent member of Israel Lodge number 1502. He engaged for what became the Lusitania's final voyage on 12 April 1915 at Liverpool at a daily rate of pay of £0-16s-0d (£0.80). It was the third time he had sailed on the ship. The Lusitania’s regular surgeon was Doctor John Pointon, and McDermott only engaged for this voyage because Pointon was ill. The Lusitania left Liverpool on the morning of 17 April 1915 and reached New York on 24 April. She left on her return voyage just after midday on 1 May. Six days later, on the afternoon of 7 May, she was torpedoed 12 miles off the coast of southern Ireland by the German submarine U-20, and sank just 18 minutes later. At that stage of her voyage she was only 250 miles from the safety of her home port. In an account of the sinking printed in The New York Times on 2 June 1915 Isaac Lehman, an export broker from New York traveling as a saloon passenger on board the ship saw McDermott and Purser James McCubbin on B deck. Purser McCubbin and Dr. McDermott were calmly puffing on cigarettes. At this time, water was already surging along the starboard side and flooding onto C deck. Lehmann 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.
McDermott and McCubbin were lost in the Lusitania sinking. Lehmann survived as did the "steward by the name of Barnes," First Class Bedroom Steward William Barnes, who lived in Albion Street, Wallasey, not too far away from Surgeon McDermott‘s home. McDermott's body was recovered and identified as of Friday, 14 May 1915. His body was described as:
"Dr. F. J. McDermott, Fleet Surgeon. Property.  Receipt for 71 Marconi wireless shares, Certificates of shares, 500 The Ren. Syndicate Ltd. 2 £5 Bank of England Notes, 1 £1 Treasury Note, draft for £2, 2 from Messrs. Coutts & Co. leather book, some papers, receipt for £200, 2 half pennies, 1 shilling and fountain pen, 1 book."
On 17 May 1915 Dr McDermott was buried in a private grave in The Old Church Cemetery, two miles north of Queenstown, in Row 15, Grave 4, and later re-numbered Grave 474. There was no headstone on his grave until 85 years after his death. In the year 2000, following representations by the author to The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which was initially unaware that Surgeon McDermott had a known grave, the Commission erected a headstone over his final resting place. It follows the normal Commission pattern and in keeping with other stones in the cemetery, is made from grey marble and bears, over a Christian cross, the inscription:
The MM stands for Mercantile Marine. Obviously after such a passage of time it was not possible to add a private or family inscription beneath the cross. His body is buried next to two other Lusitania victims, second cabin passengers Ernest Thomas and the Reverend James Anderson Beattie, who were both travelling to England from Canada. As the Commission had believed that he had no known grave, Dr. McDermott was commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial to the Missing of the Mercantile Marine, in London. The Commission has now amended his entry in the memorial register to show his actual burial place and has stated that should it ever be necessary to re-cast the relevant bronze panel on the memorial, his name will be omitted from its replacement. He is also commemorated on a bronze roll of honour dedicated to freemasons from Liverpool lodges that were killed in the Great War, at the Masonic Hall in Hope Street, Liverpool. Irish newspaper The Cork Examiner said of him on Wednesday 12 May 1915:
"He was a man of fine appearance and great charm of manner, and was very well liked by the officers and crew of the Lusitania and other ships of the Cunard Line, on which he had been doctor."
The property recovered from his body mentioned above was handed to his father, Charles McDermott, at the family home in Wallasey on 3 June 1915. Administration of his estate was granted to a Mr McDermott, probably his father, at Chester on 7 July 1915. His effects amounted to £1,100-6s-0d (£1,100.30).

Links of interest

James Farrell McDermott at the Merseyside Maritime Museum Contributors: Geoff Cuthill Michael Holland, University College Cork Curator, Ireland Peter Kelly, Ireland J. Kontzle James Maggs Ellie Moffat, UK Senan Molony, Ireland Judith Tavares References: Molony, Senan.  Lusitania:  An Irish Tragedy.  Mercier Press,  2004. Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths 1911 English Census 1901 Census of Ireland British Medical Journal Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cork Examiner Cunard Records New York Times Probate Records UniLiv.D92/1/8-11 UniLiv D92/11 Wallasey News, 15 May 1915. Wallasey & Wirral Chronicle White Star Journal PRO BT 334

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