Campbell, Hugh Conway (Hugh)
SS Miriam Thomas, Merchant Navy
Lost at sea, supposed drowned, on Sunday 15 March 1942 (aged 52)
No known grave
Family grave headstone in Whitechurch Cemetery, Ballywalter
Hugh Conway Campbell was born on 17 May 1889 (in some records, 16 May 1889) in the townland of Ballycopeland, Co. Down and he was a son of William John and Grace Campbell (nee Fitzsimmons, sometimes Fitzsimons) who were married on 31 August 1886 in Newtownards Registrar’s Office. William John Campbell from Ballybarnes, Newtownards worked as a labourer and he was a son of David Campbell, a labourer. Grace Fitzsimmons (aged 19) from Ballybarnes was a daughter of John Fitzsimmons, a labourer.
William John and Grace Campbell (nee Fitzsimmons) had at least four children:
Hugh Conway (born 17 May 1889 in Ballycopeland)
Mathew (born 22 January 1891 in Ballycopeland)
David (born 28 October 1893 in Ballymullen)
Unnamed male child (born 11 May 1899 in Mary Street Lane, Newtownards)
William John Campbell died of pneumonia on 25 March 1907 (aged 42) and on 7 June 1913 Grace Campbell (nee Fitzsimmons) married James Mennis (a widower from Mill Street, Newtownards who worked as a labourer) in Newtownards Registrar’s Office.
Hugh Conway Campbell and District Nurse Zillah O’Neill (nee Gunning) were married on 23 June 1923 in Christ Church, Carrowdore.
Zillah’s first husband, Rifleman John O’Neill (No. 19157), was killed in action during the First World War. John and Zillah O’Neill (nee Gunning) had two daughters, Mary Jane (Molly, born 23 October 1911 in Ballywalter) and Johnina (Joan, born 17 October 1915 in Whitechurch, Ballywalter).
Hugh Conway Campbell was a Master Mariner and he and Zillah Campbell (formerly O’Neill, nee Gunning) had two daughters, both of whom were born in Bangor:
Dorothy (born 9 June 1925)
Rhoda (born 21 August 1926; died 8 May 2004)
Hugh and Zillah Campbell and their children moved to Ballywalter.
Hugh’s stepdaughter, Molly O’Neill, died of pulmonary infection and heart failure on 31 December 1930 (aged 19); his wife Zillah died of influenza on 13 May 1931 (aged 40) and his other stepdaughter, Joan O’Neill, died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 18 September 1931 (aged 15). Within a period of nine months Hugh Campbell lost his wife and both of his stepdaughters. All three were buried in the same grave in Whitechurch Cemetery, Ballywalter.
After their mother’s death, Dorothy and Rhoda Campbell lived with relatives in Denbigh in Wales.
Hugh Conway Campbell was 5 feet 7 inches tall and he had an anchor tattooed on his left hand. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Navy as Captain aboard the SS Miriam Thomas. Built in 1920 by Colby Brothers Ltd., Lowestoft, this cargo ship was owned by the Carriers Shipping Company, Liverpool. On the night of 15 March 1942 Captain Hugh Conway Campbell was one of at least seven men who lost their lives when the SS Miriam Thomas sank some seven miles south of Chicken Rocks. She sank after a collision with the Admiralty Hospital Ship Vasna which was on route from Barry Roads in Wales to Ponta Delgado in Portugal. A subsequent enquiry into the sinking held that the Vasna alone was to blame. There was no negligence on the part of the Miriam Thomas.
In the Register of Deceased Seamen seven men who were aboard the SS Miriam Thomas were listed as ‘supposed drowned’ – Hugh Campbell (Master), Harry Owen Roberts (Mate); Joseph Balmer (Engineer), Tommy Hill (Second Engineer), John Mulhall (Fireman), Howell Roberts (AB) and Cornelius Glavin (AB).
These seven men who died aboard the SS Miriam Thomas are not included in the CWGC Debt of Honour website. Captain Hugh Conway Campbell was 52 when he died and he is commemorated on the family grave headstone in Whitechurch Cemetery, Ballywalter. His effects amounted to some £35 and probate was granted to the journalist David Edward Pryce Roberts and his wife Annie Ruby Roberts.