Volume 8

The Sinking of the Lusitania: A Thames Connection

Althea Barker


In May 1915, the RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner was on its way from New York to Liverpool in England. The ship had over 1,900 passengers and crew aboard. There had been some warnings over the presence of German U-boats in the waters, but the passenger ship was thought to be safe from the impact of the war. Germany however believed that the ship could be carrying ammunition for the British war effort. This was denied, but decades later was proved to be correct. (1)

A crime that has staggered humanity:The torpedoing of the Lusitania. (2)

On the 7 May 1915 at 2.10pm, while off the coast of Ireland, the Lusitania was hit by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat. Within 18 minutes, the ship had sunk and over 1,100 people died. The event shocked many countries around the world, and caused a great increase in anti-German sentiment.

Back in New Zealand the feeling was just as strong. In the New Zealand Herald 10 May 1915:

THE LUSITANIA. The piratical sinking of the liner Lusitania, without warning and in violation of all the laws of nations and the principles of humanity, emphasises the truth that the safety of civilisation demands the rooting out of German militarism. Whatever the cost in blood and treasure Germany and her Austrian confederate, must be rendered powerless for evil and taught that there is no place in the world for a 'Kultur' which is infamous in its maxims and criminal in its practices.

Over the following days, the Thames Star Newspaper was filled with the news of the horror surrounding the sinking of the Cunard Line’s Lusitania. The news of the deaths at the Dardanelles was virtually overshadowed by this attack on civilians. The papers of the day, also featured articles on the rich and famous people who had drowned, with speculation over whether any New Zealanders were on board. Well there was in fact one man on the ship who had called Thames his home.

The Thames Connection

Mr. Edward John Heighway, a native of Thames, who is a survivor of the Lusitania disaster. (6)

On the 15th May 1915, the New Zealand Herald published a short article that indeed a man from Thames was aboard the Lusitania and that he miraculously had survived.

Cable advice was received yesterday by Mrs J F Heighway, late of Thames, who is now a resident of Epsom, that her son, Mr Edward John Heighway, was saved when the Lusitania was sunk. Mr Heighway was a member of the crew, but his mother does not know in what capacity. He is 40 years of age, and was born at Thames. It is interesting to recall that Mr Heighway received four medals for life-saving in connection with the Volturno disaster. One was pinned on his breast by the King, the second was the Royal Humane Society’s medal, one was given by Lloyd’s, and the fourth was the gift of a newspaper.(3)

Heighway’s survival from the Lusitania, an all but recent reminder that he was no stranger to disasters at sea. (4) The Thames Star gave a brief follow-up on 25th May 1915:

Man named Heighway, former Thames resident, hero of Volturno disaster, escaped during Lusitania sinking.(5)

Although the papers reported Edward John Heighway was born at Thames, family research has that he was born 22 December 1872 in Auckland. (7) His parents were Dora and John Felton Heighway. School records for Edward’s siblings show that the family may have been moving back and forth from Auckland. There is one school admission for Edward, where he attended the Waiokaraka School during 1884-1886, leaving to go into business. The family were at this time living in Baillie Street, Thames. Edward’s father John Felton Heighway was for several decades a well known and respected engineer and mine manager at The Thames. He was a manager of the Big Pump and involved at The Thames School of Mines. In 1891 the seven room family residence in Willoughby Street was put up for sale. (8) Heighway (Senior), was at that stage working at Mount Zeehan in Tasmania.

Edward John Heighway lived in England from the 1900s and died 23 Nov 1950, at Prescot, Lancashire, England. In 1951 the local newspaper reminded the town of the affection and respect that was held for the Thamesite.

Mr E J Heighway, one of early Thames’s most distinguished sons, died in England recently. He was born at Thames in 1872 and educated here, and earned later distinction for gallantry with English lifeboat crews. (9)

When we look back at World War One, the sinking of the Lusitania has become sometimes lost, in the many horrors and battles that surround this period in history.


  1. History: U-boats Sink the Lusitania in 1915
  2. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19150708-36-2
  3. New Zealand Herald May 20 1915
  4. SS Volturno (1906)
  5. Thames Star 25 May 1915
  6. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19150603-44-9
  7. NZ BMD Registration 1873/13645 and Family Trees at Ancestry.au
  8. Thames Star 2 November 1891
  9. Thames Star 10 May 1951: Obituary for Mr E.J. Heighway


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