Phillippa ”Phyllis” Richards: She was the wife of fellow passenger and survivor Thomas H. Richards. She had been born 4 May 1875 at Breage in the Helston district of Cornwall, England. In 1881, she was noted as being years old and her siblings were James O., 15, Millecent, 13, and Christopher, 9. In 1901, she was listed as a ”Farmer’s daughter” living at Helston. Her mother was a Millicent Conner (nee Oates; she was a farmer born about 1839 at St. Keverne, Cornwall) and her father was a John Conner, a farmer born about 1833 at Breage, Cornwall. Her parents had married 8 January 1863 at St. Keverne in the Helston district of Cornwall. She had a brother, Christopher, born about 1871 and a sister, Millicent, born about 1867. In 1891, she was listed as a draper’s assistant and her place of birth was Breage, Cornwall. She married Thomas H. Richards in the second quarter of 1907 at Helston, Cornwall. She survived the sinking of the Lusitania along with her husband and two sons, but lost her infant daughter Dora.
”FATHER TELLS HOW FOUR LIVES OF RICHARDS FAMILY WERE SAVED
Vivid Description of the Sinking of the Lusitania Is Detailed in Letters Written to Butte Relatives by Former Resident, Who, With His Wife and Children, Plunged Into Cold Waters of Atlantic When Huge Leviathan Went Down.
How his life and the lives of his wife and two children, all but one of a family of five Butte people, were saved, when the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, is detailed in a letter received by Mrs. Harry Skewes and family from her brother, Thomas Richards, yesterday. On the day previous a delayed note was received stating that the Richards family was well and recuperating in Wales, England, but there were no details and the letter which arrived yesterday was the first account of the escape of the Butte people. The letter stated that Doris (sic), the eighteen-month old daughter, perished, and also virtually discouraged any hope that Mrs. Trevarrow might be alive.
Mr. Richards was a resident of Butte for about 15 years and had crossed the Atlantic four times visiting in England. He made his previous trip about eight years ago when he returned to England to be married. Six months before the sinking of the Lusitania, he planned to return to take possession of land which he had purchased but delayed his departure from month to month in fear of a mishap on account of the European war. Finally, however, he made up his mind that he would wait no longer and so with his family secured passage on the ill-fated Lusitania early this month.
In his letter to his sister and her family Mr. Richards tells of their terrible experiences and the exact manner in which they were saved. A letter was also received from him yesterday by Fire Chief John Griffith of McQueen’s addition told of other details in connection with their escape. The letter received by Mr. Griffith was started before the boat was struck by the torpedo and finished after the writer had reached Cardiff, Wales. The first part of the letter was blurred somewhat by the waters of the Atlantic into which it was submerged when Richards plunged off the boat into the sea carrying it with him in his coat pocket when the boat settled. The letter to Mrs. Skewes follows:
‘Ashton, Helston, Cornwall, England, May 13, 1915.
‘We left New York at 12:30 o’clock Saturday. We were late owing to the fact that we had to take on the Lusitania the passengers for the Camperonia (sic), a Red Star liner, that was ordered to Halifax to take on troops or something. Everything went on very well until Friday. Had a lovely voyage – could not have expected better. Well, we were at dinner at the second sitting. We went to dinner at 1:40 in the afternoon. We had just finished eating and I was folding my napkin when the fateful shot came. Everyone was on their feet in a second and rushing from the dining room. I am thankful to say that I kept cool and sat there for a minute and asked others to sit still for a while until the rush was over. Then all of a sudden, the Lusitania went down on one side and everything was swept from the tables. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘Let’s go,’ there not being much of a crush. We went to our room hearing the words, ‘Women and children first in the boats.’
‘Well, I thought that Phyllis and the children might be in the boat all night, and, if so, would be cold, so I said to put on her fur coat. Then we put on four life preservers and made for the deck. There were only four passengers in each room, so none for Dora, and she was too small had there been one there.
‘I had a boy in each hand, and Phyllis had Dora in her arms. We climbed up four flights of stairs, then we saw an officer and asked him what he thought about it. He said: ‘There is no danger yet.’ Also he told us the best thing to do was to go up on the next deck and get into a boat. That stairway was full, and how we got up it alive I don’t know. I pulled the boys up and my wife followed. We were not there more than half a minute when the Lusitania was almost perpendicular, going down bow first, with the propellers in the air. We were standing on the side of the lounge room, going down with the Lusitania. When the lounge reached the water we all floated off.
‘We left (sic) the children go then, could not hold on to them any longer, until we came to the top of the water again. The first thing I saw was Percy and Cecil quite close to me. I caught Cecil, but Percy was too far from me. Could not see mamma. Well, I managed to get to a boat with Cecil and caught hold of it, bottom side up, with some men on it, and they helped Cecil on top. I looked around again and saw mamma holding on to the same boat and I asked the men on top to help her, which they did. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘give me a hand.’
‘Well, we were on the boat looking around for Percy and Dora, but could not see them. My watch stopped at 2:34 o’clock. We were on that boat until 6:10 o’clock, when we were taken off by the Indian Empire, a mine sweeper. We started for Queenstown at 6:10 o’clock by the clock on the boat.
‘Well, I should have said the first one I saw on the Indian Empire was Percy calling ‘Papa,’ but not crying. We got to Queenstown at 9:45 o’clock that night.
The first thing I did was to cable Charles and father. Then we got a bed and had our clothes dried. All next morning I spent hunting for Dora, but I could not find her, dead or alive. I viewed all the bodies, some 130 altogether. It was now 2:30 o’clock Saturday afternoon. The last I saw of Mrs. Trevarrow was at the table just before the crowd started for the decks.’
Mr. Richards, in concluding his letter, expressed thankfulness that four of the lives of his family were saved, and while experiencing grief at the loss of his infant daughter, he declared that all his friends have told him he should feel most fortunate, indeed, that only one of his entire family perished in a disaster which cost so many lives and in which entire families perished. Percy, the oldest boy, is 7 years old. Cecil is 4 years old, and the lost child 18 months.
The writer stated that all the members of his family who were saved are gradually recuperating, but that the hardship was a severe one and it will probably be many months before their health is completely recovered. They lost everything but their clothing, and while the disaster cost him several thousand dollars and the life of his little daughter, he wrote that he was extremely thankful that it was not worse, and states that he will go to work on his farm with the belief that the escape of his family was an act of providence.” (The Butte Miner, 29 May 1915, p. 6) The material presented on this page has been researched by Peter Engberg-Klarström. Copyright 2017 Peter Engberg-Klarström.
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