Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

In the 1911 census James Kanavan, who at the time was serving as a blacksmith aboard HMS Jupiter at Portland, told the enumerator that he was 44 years old. As he had been born at West Derby, Liverpool in 1859 he was in fact 52. Was he trying to convince the naval authorities that he was still young enough to be awarded another contract? In the end it made no difference as he was retired shortly afterwards.
Before he joined the Royal Navy James had lived at home in Liverpool with his mother Rebecca, who had been born at Portsmouth in 1833. He was already working as a blacksmith in 1881 and probably joined the Royal Navy shortly afterwards as he is missing from the 1891 census, presumably at sea. At the census in 1901 he was serving aboard HMS St. Vincent then moored in Portsmouth Harbour when he also reduced his age by eight years, saying he was 34.
In 1902 James Kanavan married Fanny Sinclair at the parish church of St. Thomas's in High Street, Old Portsmouth. Fanny had been born in 1878 and was the daughter of James and Ellen Sinclair of 6 Bush Street West in Southsea. As James was 19 years older than Fanny perhaps he started lowering his age to lessen the difference. James and Fanny set up home at 38 Wainscot Road in Eastney where by 1911 they had four children, Lizzie (b. 1904), Willie (b. 1907), James (b. 1909) and Jessie (b. 1911).
Inevitably retirement from the navy did occur and James took his family back to Liverpool where he had a job as a Customs Officer. A fifth child was born in 1913 but Fanny died in childbirth. In July 1914 James was recalled to the navy and was posted to serve on HMS Bayano, an armed merchant cruiser. The ship was torpedoed by U27 off Ireland on 11th March 1915 with the loss of 197 lives including James Kanavan. He died leaving five young orphans who were taken back to Portsmouth by an aunt who raised them there.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) list Blacksmith James Kanavan (151358), Pensioner, Royal Navy, HMS Bayano, died 11/03/1915. Commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 9).
James Kanavan is also commemorated on the Anglican Cathedral WW1 Memorial Cross though not on the Cenotaph. He is not listed in "The National Roll of the Great War", Section X.
Tim Backhouse
November 2014
With thanks to Cynthia Sherwood for additional research