“What A Watch Tells Us About The Titanic Final Hours”

RMS Titanic pictured in Queenstown, Ireland 11 April 1912
Source:Cobh Heritage Centre, Cobh Ireland/Wikimedia Commons

The Smithsonian magazine has an interesting story about the Titanic watch that belonged John Starr March, of New Jersey. In 1912 he was aboard Titanic as a mail clerk for the U.S. Postal Service. He was 48 years old at the time and had two daughters. His wife had passed away in 1911 and had worked on ocean liners before. During that time, he had experienced at least eight emergencies which worried his daughters. They wanted him to stay on dry land but the lure of being aboard Titanic was too good to pass up, so he went aboard to run the mailroom.

Being a mail clerk back then was an important job-whether or land or sea. You had to pass examinations and show you could handle the job of correctly sorting out mail so that it could be easily processed when it arrived for delivery in the United States. Mail clerks were initially bunked in the third-class passenger area and ate there as well. They were moved to different quarters later and ate in a private dining room after the clerks protested the arrangements.

On that fateful night, the March and the other mail clerks worked hard to save as much mail as they could. They were seem frantically trying to save mail and bought sacks up to the deck in the hopes of eventual rescue. Sadly, none of the mail clerks survived the sinking. March’s body was found and was buried in New Jersey. His engraved watch, which stopped at 1:27 am, was given to his two daughters. It now resides in the National Postal Museum. We know of many great people who were lost when it sank, and of the band that played, and stories of heroism as well. It is easy to overlook though, those who toiled to make sure that letters and packages were properly sorted for arrival in New York. And sadly, perished trying to make sure some letters were saved from the icy waters.


What a Watch Tells Us About the Titanic’s Final Hours (Smithsonian,  Aug 2021)