William Thomas Turner

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William Thomas Turner
William Thomas Turner 1915.jpg
Turner as captain of RMS Aquitania, 1914
Born(1856-10-23)23 October 1856
Liverpool, United Kingdom
Died23 June 1933(1933-06-23) (aged 76)
Great Crosby, Lancashire, United Kingdom
OccupationShip captain
Years active1864–1919
EmployerCunard Line
Known forMaster of RMS Lusitania
Alice Elizabeth Hitching
(m. 1883; separation 1903)
Partner(s)Mabel Every (1908–1933)

Commander William Thomas Turner, OBE, RNR (23 October 1856 – 23 June 1933) was a British captain. He is best known as the captain of RMS Lusitania when she was sunk by a German torpedo in May 1915.[1][2]

Career and honors[edit]

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Liverpool, England to Charlotte Turner (nee Johnson) and Charles Turner, who was a seaman. The younger Turner first set sail aboard the ship Grasmere somewhere between the ages of 8 and 13 (sources vary as to his age). Just like his last voyage on the Lusitania, his first sea voyage also ended in a shipwreck near Ireland, and he swam to the Irish shore to save himself.[3] Turner served under his father's command on Queen of the Nations. While best known now for his role in the Lusitania disaster, Turner was an excellent navigator who accomplished several crossings at notable speeds, including Liverpool to New York in 12 days in 1910, and was promoted for his skill despite his unsuitably gruff demeanor around passengers.[4] Turner was said to have referred to passengers as, "a load of bloody monkeys who are constantly chattering".[5]

Acts of heroism[edit]

While appointed to Cherborg, Turner gained recognition for personally rescuing a man and a boy who had fallen into the water after Alice Davies was wrecked in a collision with Cherborg. He again gained fame for rescuing a 14-year-old boy who had fallen off the Alexandra Dock, and was awarded the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society's Silver Medal. He received an illuminated address from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society for rescuing the crew of Vagne in 1897. Turner received the Transport Medal for outstanding service in 1902 when, as Chief Officer of Umbria, he moved troops to South Africa during the Boer War. Turner received yet another illuminated address from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society upon rescuing the crew of the West Point in 1910.

List of notable vessels Turner served aboard[edit]

Career with Cunard[edit]

Turner joined the Cunard Line in 1878 as Fourth Officer, following in his father's footsteps, and left Cunard in 1883 to gain additional experience required for a promotion. Turner gained his captain's licence in 1886, and then rejoined the line again in 1889. In 1903, Turner was given his first command, Aleppo.[6] While Cunard initially had concerns about Turner's gruff demeanour and avoidance of passengers, they found to their surprise that passengers actually enjoyed Turner's elusive act and that he was in high demand.

In 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, and an Admiralty inquiry brought serious charges against Turner. Winston Churchill was directly involved with the case. Although Turner was exonerated, the charges haunted him for the rest of his days, and he lived in seclusion.[7]

SS Ivernia[edit]

S.S. Ivernia (ca. 1900).

In the autumn of 1916, nearly a year after the sinking of Lusitania, Turner was appointed relieving master of the Cunard Line vessel SS Ivernia, which had been chartered for use as a troop carrier by the British government. On New Year's Day, 1917, the vessel was torpedoed in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek coast by a German U-boat, with 2,400 troops aboard. The ship went down fairly quickly with a loss of 36 crew members and 84 troops. Once again, Turner survived the loss of his ship to torpedoes. This time, The New York Times reported, he remained on the bridge until all aboard had departed in lifeboats and rafts, "before striking out to swim as the vessel went down under his feet." [8]

Personal life[edit]

Turner received the nickname Bowler Bill, for his custom of buying a brand new bowler hat upon taking command of a ship and wearing this hat on ship's business.

Turner married his cousin, Alice Elizabeth Hitching, on 31 August 1883. They lived together in Manchester and had two sons, Percy Wilfred (born 1885) and Norman Henry (born 1893). Alice moved out in 1903 with Turner's sons, when the couple separated. They remained separated for the rest of their lives, and Turner lived with his housekeeper and companion Miss Mabel Every.[9] Alice emigrated with Turner's sons to Australia in 1915, following the Admiralty's inquiry, and subsequently relocated to Canada at an unknown date. Without knowing his sons had relocated to Canada with Alice, Turner went in search of them upon being diagnosed with intestinal cancer. In November 1919, Turner retired, telling Mabel, "All I want now is a quiet life."[10] It was at this time he was awarded the O.B.E. at the behest of the Chairman of the Cunard Steam Ship Company Ltd.

Turner died of intestinal cancer on 23 June 1933.[11] Turner's son, Merchant Navy Able Seaman Percy Wilfred Turner, age 55, was lost on 16 September 1941 on MV Jedmoor when it was sunk by the German submarine U-98.[12]



  1. ^ "Captain Turner Dead. Commanded Lusitania When Liner Was Torpedoed". Montreal Gazette. 24 June 1933. Retrieved 27 February 2010. Captain William Turner was one of the few officers saved when the Lusitania of the Cunard Line was torpedoed by a German sub marine and sank off the ...
  2. ^ "Capt. Turner Dies. Lusitania Master. Went Down With Liner and Was Rescued After Being in Water Two Hours. He Began as Deck Boy. The Ivernia, Also Commanded by Him, Was Torpedoed In the Mediterranean In 1917". New York Times. 24 June 1933. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  3. ^ The Lusitania Resource: https://www.rmslusitania.info/people/deck/william-turner/
  4. ^ Korolev, Nick (1 February 2012). Dark Waters. Salvo Press. p. Part 2. ISBN 9781609770303.
  5. ^ Larson, Erik (10 March 2015). Dead Wake. 5-133. ISBN 978-0307408860.CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. ^ Protasio, John (15 August 2011). The Lusitania Disaster and Its Influence on the Course of World War I. Casemate. p. 17. ISBN 9781935149453.
  7. ^ Denson, John (16 June 2006). A Century of War: Lincoln, Wilson & Roosevelt. Ludwig Von Mises Institute. p. 136. ISBN 1933550066.
  8. ^ Gould, James E. (7 May 2015). "Why Should Captains Go Down With Their Ships?". The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  9. ^ Larson, Eric (10 March 2015). Dead Wake. 5-133. ISBN 978-0307408860.CS1 maint: location (link)
  10. ^ "Mr. William Thomas Turner, Captain, Royal Naval Reserve - The Lusitania Resource". www.rmslusitania.info. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Commander of Lusitania Dead", Daily Telegraph, 24 June 1933
  12. ^ "Casualty". www.cwgc.org. Retrieved 10 February 2019.

External links[edit]