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13 November 2014

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You are in: Hampshire > History > Transport Heritage > The Persia's fateful voyage

SS Persia

SS Persia

The Persia's fateful voyage

The P&O liner Persia was the first passenger ship to be torpedoed without warning during WW1. She sank in December 1915 - hundreds of passengers lost their lives. Among them was a woman who later became one of the world's best-known icons.

On December 30 1915, the P&O passenger ship, Persia was on her way to India with 500 passengers onboard. Among them Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and Eleanor Thornton, his secretary and mistress.

John Montagu

John Montagu

South of Crete, Persia was spotted by German U-boat number 38 and became the first passenger ship to be torpedoed without warning.  She sank in five minutes in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean - taking most of her passengers with her.

The British aristocrat survived thanks to his bespoke life jacket, Eleanor - who was also known as 'Thorn' went down with the ship, her body was never found.

Montagu, fell in love with Eleanor in 1902 when she worked for him on The Car Illustrated, his motoring magazine.

Eleanor Thornton

Eleanor Thornton

Eleanor was a society beauty of the day and the love of Lord Montagu's life, he even used her figure as the mascot on his car.  Better known as the Spirit of Ecstasy, Eleanor's image adorns every Rolls Royce in the world.

Their affair would have caused a national scandal at the time and was kept under wraps from all but a few family and friends. The lovers also had another secret; an illegitimate daughter - Joan who was given away for adoption.

Nearly 90 years later the ship which was carrying a cargo of gems, gold and silver bullion was found.  A salvage operation was mounted at 3,000 metres down, the deepest in the world.

SS Persia artefacts

SS Persia artefacts

The salvage team found the door to the strong room and cut it open hoping to find the lost gold, silver and jewels, but behind the door the room was empty.  The fortune remains hidden within the wreck.

They were able to bring many of the ship's artefacts back to the surface including knives and forks and passengers Christmas gifts, clothes and jewellery.

Many of these artefacts are on display at a permanent exhibition at Beaulieu's Maritime Museum at Bucklers Hard which opened on May 19.

The exhibition tells the remarkable story of the Persia,  Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and Eleanor Thornton. Eleanor's grandsons, Richard and John Moorby - who are considered part of the Montagu family were special guests.

For more information, Beaulieu 01590 616203.

last updated: 14/10/2008 at 12:21
created: 20/05/2008

You are in: Hampshire > History > Transport Heritage > The Persia's fateful voyage

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