People on board
James Gibson was born in the Cootehill Union Workhouse in County Cavan on 3 December 1892. His mother, Sarah Gibson, was a Domestic Servant and the father’s name was not given on the birth certificate. Born with paralysis of the limbs, James was sent by a lady in Cootehill to the Cripple’s Home in Bray, Co Wicklow, founded in 1874 as a shelter for poor and homeless crippled children. James also had a serious hearing difficulty and, in December 1897, he was sent to the Claremont Institute in Glasnevin. Established in 1816, it was the first school in Ireland for the ‘Deaf and Dumb’, and was run by the Church of Ireland. As well as lip-reading, it provided a general education for about twenty-five children at a time, who may otherwise have been ignored by the general world. Rachel Pollard, in her history of the Institute “The Avenue”, not only describes the work of the school, but also gives details of James’s life that might otherwise have remained unknown.
In 1911 he began training in the carpentry workshop in Claremont and was also helping in the garden. The census of that year shows that, at age eighteen, he was the eldest of twenty-two pupils, male and female, along with two teachers, a matron and the Headmaster and his family. In 1912 James went to work as gardener with the Rector of Desertserges in County Cork, the brother of the Claremont matron.
James spoke with a peculiarly foreign accent and twice he was arrested as a German spy, once in Dublin and once in Belfast, but on both occasions was able to prove his connection to the Claremont Institute. The Institute files show that in January 1917 James had joined the Royal Scot Fusiliers. Apparently his degree of hearing and ability to lip-read had allowed him to pass his medical exam. However his military records that have survived show that in October 1918 he was serving as a Private in the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry, an Infantry Regiment that served on the Western Front. He had enlisted in Berwick-on-Tweed, giving Dumfries as his residence.
He did not survive the sinking of RMS Leinster on 10 October 1918, nor was his body recovered. His name is inscribed on the Hollybank Memorial in Southampton.