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Christie's, South Kensington, 11 May 2000, lot 13.
Property from the Collection of David Gainsborough Roberts
R.M.S. Lusitania was launched on 7th June, 1907, just ahead of her sister ship R.M.S. Mauretania. The ship was the fastest on record and completed 202 trans-Atlantic crossings between 1907 and 1915. She was also the first large passenger ship in the history of sea warfare to be sunk by a submarine without warning in an underwater attack.
When war was declared in August 1914, the Lusitania continued her regular service between Liverpool and New York, as if immune to the international situation. On 4th February 1915, the German Government had declared the waters around Great Britain and Ireland to be a war-zone within which all enemy shipping was liable to be sunk. The Lusitania embarked on her last voyage from New York to Liverpool on 1st May 1915 with 1,962 people on-board, including 189 Americans. On 7th May, the ship’s Captain Turner guided the ship parallel to the south coast of Ireland, unknowingly crossing the path of a German submarine U-20, under the command of Walther Schwieger. Just past 2pm, the U-boat fired a single G-type torpedo, hitting the Lusitania on her starboard side. The initial explosion was followed a few moments later by another from within the ship’s hull, and over the course of 18 short minutes, the Lusitania slid beneath the waves, claiming 1,198 lives in its wake.
Although a flotilla of small local craft rescued 764 survivors, the loss of the unarmed passenger ship along with almost two-thirds of those aboard provoked bitter condemnation of Germany and its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Apart from the brutality of her sinking, which shocked the civilised world, her loss hastened the United States' entry into World War I and remains, to this day, one of the greatest maritime tragedies of all time.