Mr. Robert Wishart Cairns

Robert Cairns, 49, was a British citizen, an American director of an Anglo-American brewery.  He was the director of six companies.  Cairns paid passage for a saloon class ticket to Purser James McCubbin upon boarding, therefore his name and cabin number did not show up on initial passenger list published in the newspaper accounts.

After Lusitania was struck by the torpedo, Cairns went to the port side boat deck.  He noted that very few crew members were on deck at the time, “one at the bow and one at the stern,” lacking the manpower to ready and lower the boats.  Lusitania was listing so far to starboard that the port side lifeboats had swung over the deck and could not be lowered.  Cairns stepped back five or six paces and told the other men, “the moment I rush to the centre of the, push like wild.”  Together, they were able to push the lifeboat over the side of the ship.  Cairns believed that without the passengers, the lifeboat could not have been lowered at all.

Cairns then assisted women and children into lifeboat 14 before getting in himself, saying, “women and children must go into the boat first and men afterwards.”  The lifeboat for 60 people was filled to about 40 people and then lowered.

As the lifeboat was lowered, one end tilted up and two passengers fell out and into the water.  As Cairns recalled, the boat reached the water safely, without scraping the rivets on the side of the ship.  But as soon as they touched water, the boat immediately started leaking water from the bottom.  Apparently the plug was not in the bottom of the boat, causing the lifeboat to fill with water.

Five or six gentlemen tried to bail out the lifeboat with their hats, but soon the lifeboat was filled with water and flush with the sea. Robert Cairns saw the boat turn over and float “keel upwards” with only a few people hanging on.

Cairns was saved and later testified at the Mersey Inquiry.

Contributors:
Michael Poirier

References:
Minutes of Evidence as given at the Mersey Inquiry.

Poirier, Michael. “The Tale of Boat Fourteen.”

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