Mr. James Joseph Leary

James Leary Saloon Passenger Saved
James Leary image: Michael Poirier/National Archives
Born c. 1879 Please provide date and location
Died 1933 Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Age on Lusitania 36
Ticket number 46063
Cabin number B 16
Traveling with Thomas King (work colleague)
Lifeboat overturned lifeboat
Rescued by 050
Occupation Businessman (woolen buyer)
Citizenship United States
James Leary, 36, was a woolen buyer for Brokaw Brothers, a Manhattan clothing house.  He was married and lived at 404 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, United States.  He was traveling on theLusitania on business with Thomas King. Leary's ticket was 46063 and he stayed in cabin B-16

Last voyage of the Lusitania

Leary and King did not hear of the German warning that British ships such as Lusitania could be attacked until they had boarded the ship. Early in voyage, Leary had deposited his valuables at the Purser's Office with Purser James McCubbin. Leary and King had seen the lifeboat drill one morning, where 10 to 12 men jumped in and out of a lifeboat on the starboard side. Observing this, King remarked, "How would you like to take your chances with that crowd in case we are torpedoed?" During the voyage, Leary also won the ship's mileage pool. On the day of the disaster he slept late and missed the first luncheon sitting because his steward had blotted the skylight to his stateroom as a wartime precaution.  He had breakfast in his cabin and took a walk out on deck where he could see the Irish coast and that the ship was moving slowly. By the time he was ready for lunch it was after 12:30. Leary and King lunched with Alexander Campbell, James Battersby, and Charles Hardwick. Their table was three tables from the entrance. King excused himself immediately after lunch to take his medications, while the other four sat in the dining room and conversed.


The luncheon party started out to the deck, and just got out the threshold of the doorway when the ship was torpedoed. To Leary, the explosion sounded like an excavation in the subway. He went up to C deck. The stairway was quite crowded. He looked over the side of the ship and claimed to see "this tremendous hole" where the torpedo had hit. He also saw a lifeboat upset and throw all of its people into the sea, with the boat swinging in the air by one rope. Leary's account from 1917 is one of the first the mentions seeing elevators caught between floors and "filled with passengers screaming", unable to go up or down as the list was too great and the electricity had stopped.  The horrifying sight made Leary more determined to save himself. This is not mentioned in his 1915 account. Reaching the boat deck, he still did not have a lifejacket.  He saw a man in a blue uniform, whom he presumed to be an officer, with a lifejacket and asked him to hand over.  In response, the other man said, "You will have to get one for yourself; this is mine." Taken aback by such a response, Leary said, "I thought, according to law, passengers came first." The other man answered, "Passengers be damned.  Save yourself first." Leary grabbed the lifejacket and shouted in hysterics, "If you want this one you will have to kill me to get it." While Leary presumed that the other man was an officer, he could not identify the officer. The unhelpful person was more likely a regular crew member. Leary went up to A deck and found Thomas King. Leary said to him, "Well, Tom, we finally got it." "Yes," King answered, "I knew it all the way over." Leary started to put on his lifejacket upside-down, but a more level-headed passenger helped him fix it, saying "If you got in the water that way you would be feet up". Leary and King were standing below the captain's bridge on the port side. They saw Staff Captain Anderson was standing on a little bridge, shouting instructions to the seamen, one of them being, "lower no more boats. We have closed certain bulkheads in the ship and she won't sink, and we can get into port." Leary calmed down with this news and made his way back to his stateroom.  The list was still so terrible that climbing down the stairs was "quite a struggle."  He passed McCubbin and asked, "How about my valuables?" "Young man," the purser replied, "if we get to port you will get them.  If we sink you won't need them." Leary continued on his way to retrieve his overcoat, hat, and a flask of brandy.
James Leary image:  New York Herald, Monday, 10 May 1915.  Courtesy Jim Kalafus.
Leary met up with Thomas King again on the port side boat deck. Near a lifeboat, they had to lean up against the wall due to the list. Leary heard how a seaman hacked off the fingers of a man desperate to get into a lifeboat with an ax. Leary said to King, "I think we had better take our chances on deck" so they did not try for that lifeboat. A few minutes later there was another explosion, which, to Leary sounded like the boilers. Soot and coal dust "and different things" covered everyone on deck, and the ship plunged into the water. Unnerved, Leary jumped into a lifeboat still attached to the ship.  When the Lusitania went under, so did the boat, and so did Leary.  A lifeboat oar caught his leg "and it seemed to me I went as far as the ship did, because there was a terrible drag from this thing holding me." He managed to find his way to a collapsible boat, but he and others with him were unable to raise the sides.  Repeatedly, the waves would wash those aboard off again and they would have to clamber on again.  Not everyone managed to last through every passing wave.  He observed, "bodies would float around, and we would push them away when they were dead." With a badly gashed leg, for the next four-and-a-half hours Leary witnessed fourteen people on his raft lose strength and slip away.  Leary was picked up by the torpedo boat 050 that was sent out by Admiral Coke. Leary's 1915 and 1917 accounts are the same in essence, but the 1917 account is much more detailed. This leads to the question, was Leary exaggerating in his 1917 account, or did he just have more room and time to reflect and elaborate that was not afforded to him when he first told this story in 1915? Leary was visiting Hollywood in 1933 when he died of a heart attack.

Links of interest

Encyclopedia Titanica: Lest We Forget – Part 2
Contributors: Jim Kalafus, USA Michael Poirier, USA Judith Tavares References: Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981. Kalafus, Jim and Michael Poirier (2005) Lest We Forget Part 2:  As the Lusitania Went Down ET Research. <> Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

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