Sinking of the Leinster in 1918

by Sue Beesley

A first hand account by Elizabeth Costello re-told by her daughter, Rosalind Pulvertaft.

I was a passenger on the Leinster, on my way back to Cambridge, when she was sunk in the Irish Sea about 43 miles west of Holyhead, Anglesey on passage from Dublin.

The SS Leinster, the normal passenger boat from Dublin to Holyhead was , of course, packed with troops aw well as ordinary passengers.

I am a bad sailor and was below, lying down, when the torpedo struck. Alarm bells rang and there were shouts telling us to go on deck.

I grabbed a life belt from under the berth, and idiotically, a floppy velour hat and heavy coat I had bought on my way tjrough Dublin.

The scene on deck was chaotic, the ship was listing badly and the attempt to launch lifeboats was mostly futile, ending in tipping the would-be passengers into the water.

There was, however, none of the screaming and fighting depicted in such scenes in the cinema. Most people just stood still, apparently unable to move.

I was reminded of one occasion when I had accidentally dug a mouse's nest, she just sat there making no attempt to rescue her babies.

Personally, I decided that I didn't like the lookm of boats. I put on my life jacket and jumped into the sea.

The next few minutes were spent in a frantic effort to get rid of the hat which settled over my face and nearly drowned me.

As soon as I could, I swam awaay from the ship as I didn't want to be sucked down when she sank.

No doubt this swim saved my life as the second torpedo struck almost immediately and she blew up and sank. I can still see the plunge and the thick scum of oil and coal dust left on the surface.

I have been told there was a considerable interval, some hours, before the news of the sinking reached Dublin.

I found myself floating near a raft so packed with people that at intervals it submerged, tilting sideways, and many were thrown into the sea.

I made no attempt to get onto ot but after a time I realised I was getting very cold and would soon lose control of the situation, so I tied my arm to the raft by means of some rope that hung from the side.

A Tommy in uniform was lying on his face on the raft looking down at me. he kept repeating in a slurred, half-drunken voice, "Oh dear, I don't like to see you down there, come up here with me dear."

I have no memory of the interval between this and the time I woke up to find myself completely naked, lying on a table, very drunk, in a torpedo destroyer that picked me up.

No doubt I had been given artificial respiration and had the scum wiped off me.

I had also been given whisky which accounted for my cheerfulness. I vaguely remember sitting up, surrounded by my rescuers, making tea-party conversation, quite unembarrassed by my lack of clothing which was remedied by someone's dressing gown.

When we reached Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, it chanced that a Captain Martin and his wife, who lived near us in Dunmore, Co. Galway, happened to be there on holiday.

They took me in, clothed and fed me and sent a telegram to my parents. As there was not television and we were not on the telephone, my parents were in the happy position of hearing of my survival before they heard of the disaster.

On account of the explosion and the long delay in rescue, there were few survivors. I was one of the very few live ones my rescuers fished out of the sea.

They corresponded with me for months but I am unable to remember the name of the ship or that of any of the men to who I owe my life.

The ship that rescued Elizabeth Costello was the HMS Mallard. This fact was researched by Declan Varley of the Tuam Herald.

Elizabeth Costello married R J V Pulvertaft, Professor of Pathology at Westminster Hospital, London. They had three children and I am the second daughter, Rosalind. Elizabeth Pulvertaft, nee Costello, died in 1985, aged 88.

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Comments for Sinking of the Leinster in 1918

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Sep 20, 2016
Medal to Leinster crew member from holyhead
by: Andrew gray

Hi after loosing my father we. Came across a medal that was awarded to a crew member of the Leinster also a plaque,the medal was awardee to a Holyhead man,I will put his name up when I get a chance as we have so many medals to go through..

Nov 03, 2015
Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster in 1918
by: Philip Lecane


It's great to hear from you. I'm amazed at the level of interest which has built up around the sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster. I think that the commemorative event on 10 October 2018 will have a huge attendance. One hundred years after the tragedy, we will remember Daisy Lovelace and all those who died with her. It really would be fantastic if you were able to attend.

Just to correct a misspelling in my 28 May 2015 message......emails can be sent to info[at] The website is at

Best wishes,

May 28, 2015
Daisy Lovelace
by: Philip Lecane

Hi Graeme, Thank you for your reply. I will email you directly. Just to tell readers of this thread that the R.M.S. Leinster site is at Emails can be sent to the site at infro(at) Best regards, Philip

May 27, 2015
daisy lovelace
by: graeme

Hi philip, i would be more than happy to send you a photo of dasiy's grave. im just having trouble sending you a email so if you would like to email me at graemegreen1377(at) then i can just reply to you. Thanks, graeme.

May 27, 2015
Daisy Lovelace
by: Philip Lecane, author of "Torpedoed! The R.M.S. Leinster Disaster"

I was delighted to read that Graeme was able to confirm that Tracy's great aunt was a passenger on the R.M.S. Leinster and to give information on her place of burial. As a passenger list was never published, I set about compiling one for my book on the sinking. I believe the listing to be about 98% to 99% accurate. Unfortunately, when Tracy contacted me in 2007 I was unable to be of help, as Daisy Lovelace was not on my listing.

Two pals and I are making long-range plans to commemorate the centenary of the sinking, in 2018. One of my pals has prepared two databases. The first is a list of passengers and crew, taken from my book. Thanks to Graeme, and to the excellent "Anglesey Today" website, Daisy Lovelace's name will be added to the list. The second database contains the contact details of people who would like to be informed of plans to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster.

This is to ask if people who had relatives aboard the R.M.S. Leinster on 10 October 1918 (survivors as well as casualties) would contact me and my pals through the website [Even people who were previously in touch should contact us, please, in case your contact information is out of date since your previous contact.]

I would be very grateful if Graeme and Tracy would also contact me through, please. I would like to hear from Graeme as I would be very grateful for a copy of the photo he has offered to take of Daisy Lovelace's headstone. I would like to hear from Tracy again because I am so pleased Graeme was able to help her and because I always like to hear from R.M.S. Leinster relatives.

May 25, 2015
tracy moore
by: graeme

Just to add if you are not able to get to fornham st martin i would be more than happy to take a photo of her gravestone and email it to you. Graeme.

May 25, 2015
tracy moore
by: Anonymous

Tracy moore, to let you know, your great aunt was on the leinster, she is buried at fornham st martin, a small village just outside bury st edmunds. It mentions on her gravestone she lost her life aboard the leinster.

May 08, 2011
Daisy Lovelace
by: Tracy Moore

My mother tells the story of her Aunt, Daisy Lovelace, who went to Ireland from London in 1918 to organise her wedding with a soldier from Ireland. She apparently was on the RMS Leinster when it sank and the story has come down to me that she died. I have tried to find the proof that she was on the Leinster but I haven't been successful.

Jul 05, 2010
Robert Bassett
by: Philip Lecane, author of "Torpedoed! The R.M.S. Leinster Disaster"

The night before the sinking, Lieutenant Robert Bassett from Cork and Major Charles Duggan from Hampshire stayed in Rosse's Hotel, Parkgate Street, Dublin.

Both were doctors in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Also stayting in the hotel was Lieutenant Halse of the New Zealand Army, who had been hospitalised in Ireland for an injured shoulder.

To keep the shoulder in place he had his left arm clamped into an iron frame. The three men boarded the R.M.S. Leinster together.

The Irish Times of 12 October 1918 said that after the first torpedo struck, Bassett placed a lifebelt around Halse's neck.

The three men jumped overboard and became seperated. Halse could not swim, but he managed to stay afloat until a lifeboat came along full with people.

For nearly three quarters of an hour Halse clung to the lifebaot with his uninjured hand. Becoming exhausted, he told the seamen in charge of the boat that he could no longer hold on. Ropes were fastened around him and he was hauled into the boat.

He suffered such agony with his injured arm that he became unconscious. He was treated in the Red Cross Hospital at Dublin Castle.

An account by Major Louis Daly of the Leinster Regiment said that Halse was accompanied by his servant, who kept him afloat until they were picked up.

While the injured Halse survived, unfortunately Lieutenant Robert Bassett (28) and Major Charles Duggan (51) were lost.

Bassett's body was recovered and buried in Grave H.10.31 in St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork. Duggan's body was not recovered.

He is commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton. On 10 October 2003, on the 85th anniversary of the sinking, Basset's grand niece Marilynn Hearn, was among a group of relatives who sailed to the site of the Leinster sinking aboard the Irish naval vessel L.E. Aoife.

Jul 03, 2010
Drowned 10th Oct 1918 RMS Leinster
by: Bassett, Lieut. Robert(Bob) John

My Great Uncle Lieut. Robert (Bob) John Bassett
R.A.M.C.,M.C., I/C 2/4th Hants Regiment B.E.E. Son of Thomas W. and Emily Bassett, 3, Wellesley Terrace, Off Wellington Rd., Cork was only 28, was returning to France from leave.

On the night of Oct 10th 1918 my Grand mother Grace Bassett woke up suddenly to see her only older brother Bob standing at the foot of the bed, and she said to him "Bob! What's the matter?

Why are you home?

And she then thought she was dreaming, and went back to sleep.

A day or two later a telegram arrived asking someone to come and identify a body, so her step-brother was despatched to either Dublin or London to identify the body.

When he returned my Grand-mother asked if it was him, and when he said yes, my Grandmother asked if he had a cut across his forehead, and was he biting in his bottom lip, which was a mannerism when he was worried.

And her step-brother said that was exactly how he looked, and asked how did she know that.

She replied, "He appeared to me at the bottom of my bed on the night he died!"

He was last seen on board HMS Leinster giving his life jacket to a woman and child.

He is buried HN10 31 St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Glasheen Rd., Cork. Grace Bassett told me this story personally.

She married Robert Ireland Torrie, my mother Joan Hilary Ann Torrie, married my father Harry Elmes in 1943, I was born in 1945. Mark Elmes, Fir Hill House, Monkstown, Cork.
e-mail: elmes(AT)eircom(DOT)net

Jan 20, 2009
HMS Mallard and Rowland Lloyd
by: David Phillips, Anglesey Today


Thank you for your very informative contribution about the role of HMS Mallard in this tragedy.

You can use the contact form here.


Jan 20, 2009
From the author of "Torpedoed! The R.M.S. Leinster Disaster"
by: Philip Lecane

A very interesting account of a terrible ordeal. I'm only sorry I didn't have the account when writing my book about the sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster.

The information I have on Elizabeth Costello in my book is taken from contemporary newspapers and is as follows.

Miss Elizabeth Costello, Dunmore, Co. Galway. Clung to a raft for about an hour before becoming unconscious. Taken onto another raft, from where she was subsequently rescued.


HMS Mallard was under the command of Welsh born Lieutenant Rowland Lloyd, Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). Lloyd had served in the merchant navy before the war.

In 1910 he was appointed Sub-Lieutenant in the RNR. On the outbreak of war he was called for service with the Royal Navy. He had been in command of H.M.S. Mallard since March 1918.

The 350-ton ship had been built by Thornycroft shipyard in 1897. With an overall length of 210 feet, she had two funnels and an armament of one 12 pounder, five 6-pounders and two 18 inch torpedo tubes.

The ship had a crew of 63. Due to a fault in its design the front of the ship tended to be wet due to water hitting this area. The Mallard?s fore bridge was washed away while the ship was steaming to the site of the Leinster sinking.

After the war Rowland Lloyd, captain of H.M.S. Mallard, returned to work with his previous employer, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (RMSPCo).

He took a shore job in Southampton, as he was not well enough to go to sea for any length of time. However, in the late 1920's he travelled once or twice to South America with his wife and daughter.

A founder member of the Southampton Master Mariners Club, he was a keen fisherman and held several records in the 1920?s for trout fishing.

After surviving several bouts of pneumonia and a serious hit and run accident, he retired from the RMSPCo in 1931 with the rank of Assistant Marine Superintendent.

He lived the rest of his life in Southampton, where he died in 1940.

For more information on the sinking see

Jan 07, 2009
by: John McQuaid

What a wonderful account of what must have been a terrifying experience. Thank you.

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