Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Ian Holbourn.
On an expedition to Iceland in 1899, 27-year-old Ian Holbourn passed by the Isle of Foula in Scotland. He visited Foula the following year, and determined to buy the island. He succeeded in doing so, and thus became laird of Foula. When he took his future wife to visit Foula, she was surprised they were treated like royalty.
Ian was a lecturer at Oxford, Cambridge, and London. His topics ranged from archaeology and architecture to Greek philosophy and medieval history to social and ethical problems. He was invited by the Lecturers’ Association of New York to tour the United States, and presented over one thousand lectures at universities across America.
For twenty years, he had been working on a manuscript entitled The Fundamental Theory of Beauty. He had taken it with him to the U.S., hoping to have it ready for publication in 1916.
Returning home on the Lusitania, he was outspoken in lobbying for passengers to learn proper evacuation and how to put on lifebelts, and was critical of the captain’s refusal to hold lifeboat drills for passengers. A group of men came to him and ordered him to stop talking of these things and upsetting the others. For their refusal to face the dangers of sailing into the war zone, he called them the Ostrich Club.
When the Lusitania sank, he jumped into the sea with a few of his most important manuscripts. He swam to an overcrowded lifeboat, where he was refused to come aboard. He threw in his manuscripts so at least they would be saved. After nearly an hour in the water, he was pulled into another lifeboat, and survived.
In Roll Back the Clouds, Geoff Bonnard hears Professor Holbourn warn of the possible danger and derisively refer to the Ostrich Club.