James Kennedy Chapman AM

b. 03/02/1860 Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. d. 10/10/1925 Jarrow, Tyne and Wear.

DATE OF AM ACTION: 27/11/1908 Jarrow, Tyne and Wear.

James K Chapman AM

JAMES KENNEDY CHAPMAN was born 3 February 1860 in Kirkaldy, Fife, Scotland, the son of Alexander Chapman and Margaret Chapman (née Whitton). In 1881 he married Betsy Lawson in Dysart, Fife, and they went on to have five children. In c.1885 he moved to the important shipbuilding town of Jarrow, then part of County Durham, but now part of Tyne and Wear. Working initially as a Boilersmith, by 1908 he was working as a Works Manager at the Mercantile Dry Dock Company.

With the S.S. Cairngorm in dry dock for repairs in late November 1908, it was here that Chapman gallantly rescued his colleague Thomas McCormack, before then also attempting to save the original casualty, Alexander Graham, at which point he was himself incapacitated and saved by others nearby.   Tragically, the first rescuer, Archibald Wilson, died as a result of his attempt to save Mr Graham. The various men had been working in 15-minute shifts whilst applying an anti-corrosive chemical (‘Ritchie’s’ bitumen paint) to the inside of the stoke hold tank – a vast iron tank 43 feet long, 14 feet wide, but only 3 feet high. Despite taking some precautions, the noxious fumes soon began to render each of them unconscious in turn. As recorded in the coroner’s report, considering the various acts of bravery: ‘Chapman showed the greater bravery. He entered the tank first; but apparently he was in a responsible position and therefore more was expected of him.’

Bearing these considerations in mind, both Chapman and McCormack were recommended for the Albert Medal, being presented with their medals by the King at Buckingham Palace on 22 July 1909, with a posthumous award of the same medal to the widow of Archibald Wilson. In addition to this, Chapman and McCormack were each also awarded bronze medals by the Carnegie Hero Trust Fund, and were entered into the Roll of Heroes.

Chapman died on 10 October 1925, and the Shields Daily News records that Chapman had been a deacon at the Ellison Street Presbyterian Church, and a member of the Bede Lodge of Freemasons. As such, Chapman did not therefore live to see his Albert Medal upgraded for a George Cross, whereas McCormack was able to, making this incident the earliest act for which the George Cross was subsequently bestowed.



On the 27th November, 1908, workmen were engaged painting the inside of an iron tank in the stokehold of a steamer lying in dry dock at Jarrow. Owing to the fact that very strong fumes were given off by the anti-corrosive paint or solution used the men were working in relays, each squad of three men being relieved after 10 or 15 minutes had elapsed. A workman named Graham was overcome by the fumes, and the chargeman, Archibald Wilson sacrificed his life in endeavouring to save Graham. Thomas McCormack, who had already been affected by the fumes while at work in the tank, went to Wilson’s assistance, but was himself rendered insensible, and was rescued by James Kennedy Chapman, Works Manager at the Dock, who, having pulled McCormack out, re-entered the tank and endeavoured to save Graham, but was himself overcome by the fumes. The rescue of Chapman and Graham was eventually effected from the top of the tank.