John Watson Lawrence (1869-1895) was the son of  Walter Bowne Lawrence (1839-1912) and Annie Townsend (1841-1902), and was named after his grandfather, John Watson Lawrence (1800-1888). The chief newsworthy episode in his life was the unusual manner in which it ended.

He was Harvard ’91 and gone to work for the family brokerage firm W. B. Lawrence and Son. During he winter of 1894-1895 he suffered from teh grip, returned to work too early, and was prostrated. His physician recommended a sea voyage and aa change of scene. He and his brother Townsend left for a bicycle tour of England and the continent. While bicycling around Southampton, he fell unconscious from his bike. The two brothers went to Paris to consult a learned physician, who recommended complete rest.

They abandoned the tour  and went to Le Havre, where they booked a last minute passage on La Bourgogne. Very early the second day out, John rose and went for a stroll on the promenade deck. The only others up were two steerage passengers. A half hour later his brother Townsend came looking for him.

The two steerage passengers reported, in somewhat broken English,  that twenty minutes previously a young man had been chasing his straw hat and fell overboard. It had not occurred to them this was an important enough incident to report. Townsend sounded the alarm, the ship swung around, but there was no trace of John.

Four days later a seaman was was stretching an awning which suddenly parted also went overboard and was lost. His hat was recovered.


La Bourgogne was cursed. On July 4, 1898 in dense fog the Brutish ship Cromartyshire, traveling at full speed, rammed La Bourgogne.

“La Bourgogne began to list immediately to starboard. Many of the lifeboats on that side were wrecked in the collision and the boats on the port side proved impossible to launch due to the list. As the ship started to list and the stern went under, the crew began to panic. Showing little concern for the passengers, the crew began piling up on whatever lifeboats were available and launched them to sea. Some used fists and oars to beat up any passengers who attempted to come near the boats. Some passengers were stabbed. Half an hour later La Bourgogne completely disappeared beneath the waves, taking with her almost every woman and every single child.”

Of teh 220 crew, half survived. Of the 506 passengers, only about 70 survived. All the children died.

Americans demanded that the crew be tried and punished. The French whitewashed everything, and nothing was done. Instead they put out this propganda poster.

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