Fate of Volturno’s Fourth Engineer discovered

When SS Volturno burned in the Atlantic in early October 1913, the fourth engineer on board was a young man by the name of James Belfield. He was rescued by SS Kroonland and taken to New York, and returned to England on RMS Olympic Oceanic with the majority of Volturno’s crew landed in the United States. According to Kroonland’s passenger manifest, the 23-year-old Belfield was 5′ 6″ (1.67 m), had brown hair and blue eyes, was born in Rockhampton, Australia, and was living at No. 369, East India Dock Road in London (the same address given by Volturno’s 2nd engineer, New Zealander Frank Malcolmson).

While searching Australian newspaper articles online, I came across Belfield’s death notice, and it helps to fill in some details about his short life.

Kirkee War Cemetery, Pune

James Belfield is commemorated on Face F of the Kirkee War Memorial, pictured here in April 2011. (Photo credit: ankita224)

According to the article, published in the 30 April 1919 edition of the Morning Bulletin of Rockhampton, Queensland, word had recently been received of Belfield’s death, due to a fever in Bombay (present-day Mumbai), India, at the age of 29.

James was the eldest son of Mr. R. W. Belfield, a former secretary of the Mount Morgan Gold-mining Company. James had gotten his start in the Mount Morgan Company’s workshops, learning mechanical skills there. Later, he applied those same skills when he went off to sea as an engineer. I haven’t found anything that indicates how long Belfield had been working as an engineer at the time of the Volturno disaster.

After the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, Belfield worked on transport ships between Canada and England, work which was probably not at all different from his duties on Volturno. At some point, he apparently signed on with the Royal Navy, but it’s not clear whether it was before his transport duties (since some transports were run by civilian crews) but it surely must have been before he worked on mine-sweeping duties in the North Sea.

Belfield had transferred to the Royal Indian Marines by about 1916 when he participated in a relief expedition to Kut-al-amara, in present-day Iraq. He received his commission as a Lieutenant around that same time. And, as mentioned above, he died in Bombay from a fever, five months after the end of the war.

Using information from that news article, I found the memorial page for Belfield at the Find-A-Grave website under the name “Engineer Sub-Lieutenant James Stewart Belfield”. His date of birth was reported as unknown, and his date of death as 24 April 1919. He is commemorated on the Kirkee War Memorial, in the Kirkee War Cemetery near Pune, India. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, this means either that Belfield’s remains were among about 600 reinterred there from the Sewri Cemetery in Mumbai in 1960, or he is one some 1,800 servicemen buried in elsewhere in India or Pakistan (which was a part of India before independence) where their graves can no longer be maintained. (See update below.)

Now knowing a full name for Belfield and taking his approximate birthdate of 1890 from the Kroonland manifest, I searched the Australian Birth Index available through Ancestry.com, and found a James Stuart Belfield who was born in 1889 in Queensland to Robert William Belfield and the former Margaret Bannon. Ancestry also has several entries from their Australian Electoral Rolls index for 1913 that list Belfield in The Range, Mount Morgan subdivision, Capriconia division, with the Stewart spelling of his middle name. (In addition to James, the rolls also list William and Margaret, likely his parents, and three possible sisters: Ethel Isabel, Margaret, and Winifred Mabel, all of whom were also living in The Range.)

So taking all of the information together, James Stewart Belfield was born in Rockhampton, Queensland, in 1889, likely between mid-October and the end of the year (else he would have been 24 on the Kroonland’s manifest) and died on 24 April 1919 in Bombay and was buried somewhere in India.

Update: The Australian War Memorial website page for Belfield, reports that he was buried in the Sewri Cemetery, so his remains were likely reinterred in the Kirkee War Cemetery in 1960 with the others so moved at that time.

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2 Responses to Fate of Volturno’s Fourth Engineer discovered

  1. Georgia Bennett says:

    do you have a picture of the ship that i could see of the Volturno my grandfather came here on that ship one year before the desaster

    thank you
    Georgia