Mr. Robinson Pirie

Mr. Robinson Pirie Saloon Passenger Saved
Robinson Pirie Portrait taken by McMillan of Dundas, Ontario. Image credit:  Jean Freeman
Born Robinson Pirie 21 June 1855 Dundas, Ontario, Canada
Died 12 July 1920 (age 65) Canada
Age on Lusitania 59
Ticket number 46112
Cabin number B 58
Traveling with none
Rescued by unknown
Occupation Clothing store manager
Citizenship British (Canada)
Residence Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Other name(s) none
Spouse(s) Margaret Jane Joslin (1879 - ?)
Robinson Pirie (1855 - 1920), 59, lived at Hess St. South in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  He was traveling on the Lusitania as a buyer for W. E. Sanford & Co.  Pirie had gone down with the ship and then surfaced, struggling with a boy to stay afloat while clinging onto a box. They were picked up by a collapsible boat before they were rescued.


Robinson Pirie was born 21 June 1855 in Dundas, Ontario to George Mitchell Pirie and Margaret Ann Booth of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Robinson married Margaret Jane Joselin in 1879. They had five children, three of which were sons.  His oldest son was George Robinson Pirie FRCP who was a doctor well-known for his expertise in childrens' diseases.  He was born in 1879 and died in 1938.  The next son was Joslin and he was born in 1880 and died in 1930.  The youngest was Lt. Gordon Moore Pirie (born 1897) who also served in the 116th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He died on August 21st, 1920 in Hamilton of sickness related to his wartime experience.  All three sons are buried in Grove Cemetery in Dundas, Ontario. Robinson Pirie had worked at Oak Hall, a retail clothing store, on Toronto's King Street in the 1890s and was a one time manager.  Robinson died on 12 July 1920.


Pirie's experiences of the Lusitania wreck were reported in the Hamilton and Dundas papers. Robinson Pirie is mentioned in The Hamilton Spectator on Friday, 7 May 1915 and on Saturday, 8 May 1915.  The Saturday 8 May Hamilton Spectator reported that Robinson's brother, Dr. Harry Pirie of Dundas, received a cablegram indicating that his brother was safe.  A letter to his wife recounting his experiences was published in The Dundas Star on 27 May 1915.  The same letter was also published in The Hamilton Spectator. The following is Robinson Pirie's letter that appeared in the Hamilton Spectator in May 1915:
I have no doubt but you will have full reports of the Lusitania before this reaches you.  It is certain that the circumstances of each individual are different, so that apparently conflicting stories may be true.  I was stretched out on a couch in the lounge.  The impact was sufficient to make the ship tremble, and the listing was so quick that I had to get out by grasping the arms of chairs and tables.  The room was full, most of the inmates thrown down or stumbling to the low side, or starboard, getting out. I concluded that the damage was too severe to be overcome, and decided not to attempt to go to my room for either belt or anything else, and went through what rooms I could, looking for a belt.  I finally got one, and then made for the port, or upper side.  The ship righted slightly.  There was no definite attempt to lower boats; in fact, I was endeavoring to help when stopped by an officer.  At this time possible a couple of dozen men jumped. One boat was lowered, which opened up at the prow.  Another collapsible was pushed over.  It sank, as there was no plug in it.  Another was lowered and got away, these were away aft from me. A sailor near urged the people to get free of ropes.   I had just stepped clear, that is, over the taffrail.  The ship had taken so decided a list that the side was about the same angle as the top deck.  The boats, which had been swung out ready to drop, swung back and crushed a number of people against the saloon;  then the ship suddenly dived down, and we were all drawn down with her. I, being a fairly good swimmer, was not afraid, but thought that I would never get up.  Have no idea of how far down we went, but upon coming to the surface saw two or three small boats and waving arms.  I then looked around for something to cling to;  got an oar, then a small block of wood, then a plank.  This was big enough for me to straddle, so I quietly rested until I had regained strength. Somehow I had gotten a long way from the small boats, and saw a box with a boy in it, possibly 16 years of  age, and commenced to work towards it, when I was bumped into by a man carrying a child.  These I gave my board to. Shortly after another young man came along in some wreckage and we then finally, after perhaps an hour, got to the box.  I got one end, the original boy got the other, the man and child with me at either side.  We finally got the child on top.  This box would probably be six feet long by two and a half feet square.  There were, of course, plenty of dead bodies bumping into us all the time, but no sign of any boats near us, but by some lack of judgment or our desire to try to clamber into the box, it started rolling. The boy at the other end and myself kept the others afloat for quite a long time by replacing their hands on the edge, but, becoming quite exhausted, the man with the child finally slipped away.  The other man, who by some means had got a firm grip, went around several times, we always trying to steady the thing with the mouth up, so that we could get the lid opened and so have more surface in the water, but this man in taking another turn, also disappeared, so that the boy and I were left. Feeling myself getting exhausted, I urged the boy into the box, got the lid opened out flat in the water; then I got him to give me his hand, and so got onto my stomach across the end, when I balanced myself and got refreshed. We were up and down several times, as although it was calm, it was not so calm as our Burlington bay, and a slight wave would come along sufficiently strong to set our box rolling.  Then it was a struggle to get it righted and the lid opened.  However, I was considering it was about the finish, also my friend's eyes said distinctly that a very little more and I will be in control and you will be gone.  When he commenced to shout he was agile enough to clamber up and got his legs into the box and helped me up onto my stomach several times.  However, he kept shouting and waving his arms; then called to me to shout, that there was a boat coming our way.  I got a renewed sense of strength then and after considerable time felt myself being thumped and rubbed, as apparently I had not quite lasted out. Anyway, as I was able to look around, there were at least eight steamers coming from different directions.  Their smoke was all that we could see.  I had been pulled into a collapsible by some sailors and passengers.  There were possibly a dozen women and about the same number of me and I think this was the last boat around.  I saw no others.  This boat, as most of the ones did which had been useful, floated from the deck as the ship went down, was got by some of the me, righted and picked up whom they could be we were not half filled.  It required the most of the saved to keep the others alive.  Some of the women were being forced all the time by slapping and rubbing.  However, shortly one of the large steamers got alongside and we were transferred.  It was a mine sweeper, bare and cold.  And now after five o'clock, I had for sometime been unable to stop trembling, felt terribly cold.  Was helped down into the engine room then they took off my shoes and socks, coat, vest, trousers and outer shirt, hung these up to dry and put me in a hot corner.  Very curiously I was covered by a coat of black tar, my hair, finger nails, ears, eyes, and nostrils, even my toe nails, can't imagine where it came from unless it was oil and coal which rose to the top of the water but I have been steadily scrubbing and do not yet feel clean. We steamed to Queenstown where we arrived sometime after nine.  There had been several died [sic] after the rescue.  These were taken ashore first.  I was helped up the gangway, asked my name, and a man assigned to help me to a hotel.  I think I was a little stupid at this time as I recall the great crowds held back on either side by Military and Police, and they were cheering and clapping hands, but I really could not make my legs work, but getting to the hotel I was given brandy then put to bed between hot blankets.  Could not sleep but the hotel people and Doctor were exceedingly thoughtful and kind, took away all my clothes to give them a thorough drying, offered me food and hot drinks repeatedly all night. Well, in the morning I was pretty well, slipped into the first shop, got a shirt, collar, and cap, had breakfast, then tried to find out who were saved.  I played cards with three of Eaton's men whom I knew very well and had crossed with repeatedly.  in fact, every day we four played deck quoits, shuffle board or something, nice fellows, all much younger than me, but they have not yet been heard of so I expect they are all lost.  Mr. and Mrs. Young I conversed with frequently, but have heard or seen nothing of them or of Struass of Coppley, Noyes & Randall.  In fact, I never remember coversing with so many people whom I knew, but there were very few of them saved.  I cannot understand how so many were saved as I believe about one third of the total have been.  I am sure that not more than 25% had belts or had time to get them.  I figure that we were struck say 10 to 15 minutes after two, went down in 15 - 20 min., and I was in the water, say 2 ¼ - 2 ½ hours.  I gave my Doctor several addresses to wire to as soon as I could, say 10'clock [sic] or 10:30.  He sent these messages and I do not know what he said byt I hope it was early enough to save your feelings.  To satisfy myself about my friends, I went through all the morgues, there were four of them, possibly 150 dead.  The police were going through their pockets, looking for identification marks of some kind and collecting their jewellry.  This was all in a little heap on each body.  I could see no face whom I knew but lots of very painful sights.  I was still shivering so made up my mind to get right away, so took the first train to Dublin.  This turned out to be a mistake as the crew of all kinds were placed in this train.  We went to Dublin, put aboard a boat for Holyhead, then a trin [sic] to Liverpool where we arrived at 6:30 Sunday morning.  The station was packed with people, friends of the crew, so that the excitement of looking for their friends, the learning of their being missed, caused a more painful scene than I _______ the crew were largely from Liverpool.  Lots of these poor women, many with babies in their arms, were screaming terribly.  I got away and got my train at 7:30 after four cups of good hot coffee but I could not face any food.  Arriving at Huntersfield about 12, I went directly to my friends.  Spur, he put me into a steaming bath and kept me there.  I then found out that the inside of my legs were very much discolored, all black and blue, a few gouges in the flesh which had to be bound up.  My hands were also a little torn.  I am still wearing Spur's clothing.  I feel stiff yet but have gotten over the shivering and really feel pretty good.

Links of interest

Lt. Gordon M. Pirie at the Patients of Brant Military Hospital Canada World War I - The First Contingent
Contributors: Jack Cobb Jean Cobb Jean Freeman Michael Green Clive Hickson Marika Pirie, Canada Michael Poirier, USA Hildo Thiel, The Netherlands

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