People on board
Gerald Palmer was born in Cork on the 4th of June 1904 to Paul Palmer and Marion Russell. Gerald was named Paul on the birth certificate and the family address was 89 Friar Street. Paul’s occupation was ‘Coachman’. A second child was born in November 1905, named Joseph. At this time Paul’s occupation was ‘Sexton’ and the family was living in Little Island, Cork. Paul and Marion had married in Liverpool in 1903, but nothing is known of the background of either. Reference to another son William was made in a letter in 1918, but as this William had just married he must have been from an earlier marriage.
In January 1906 the baby Joseph died and Marion Palmer died in March of T.B. at the age of twenty-six, a ‘Sexton’s Wife’. It is not clear what happened to the family then, though it is recorded that Gerald, partially paralysed from causes unknown, spent some time in the Cottage Home for Children in Kingstown and in the Infirmary, Shankill, Co Wicklow. In 1907 an application was made for Gerald to transfer to the Cripples’ Home in Bray, though this did not happen until 1909. Founded in 1874 by a Protestant philanthropic gentlewoman, Lucinda Sullivan, the Cripples’ Home provided residential care and treatment for children with a range of crippling childhood diseases. It later became Sunbeam House.
Gerald Palmer was recorded in the 1911 census, aged six, as one of the thirty Protestant pupils aged between four and twenty-one, living in the Home on Dargle Road in Bray.
When he was fourteen a place was found for him in Dr Barnardo’s Home in London, where young people with disabilities were trained for employment. He was due to travel to London on the 10th of October. Tragically he did not survive the sinking of RMS Leinster and his body was not recovered.
At the end of December 1918 his father, Paul Palmer, wrote to the Matron of the Cripples’ Home saying that he had just received her letter with the news of Gerald’s death. It is clear that he had lost touch with Gerald, “I deeply regret that I have not written to him often”; “I trust he is in heaven now with his poor dear mother”; “When one’s home is broken up what a separating”. His own life was not good at the time, “I have been in a very poor way of living and not in good health”, but he had seen Willie (presumably Gerald’s half-brother) who “had a home to bring him (Gerald) to”. Though Paul Palmer appears to have effectively abandoned his son, his closing words are heart wrenching, “did Gerald ever say he loved me or did he ever ask for Willie?” He wondered was there a photo of Gerald.
Children who died in the Cripples’ Home and Sunbeam House were buried in a plot in Deansgrange cemetery. Though Gerald Palmer was not buried there, recently a commemorative plaque was placed on the grave in his memory.
It appears that Gerald’s date of birth was recorded incorrectly as 1903 on the Cripples’ Home Admission form. It is clearly 1904 on the birth certificate.