John Quinn was born in Belfast on 3rd March 1876 the son of a shoemaker, he was one of 7 sons who all worked as sailors or in the Belfast Docks as labourers. John, along with many others, took part in the Dock Strikes that occurred in Ireland during the early decade of the 20th century. Such was his vigor and determination for worker's rights during this time, he was blacklisted from working in the docks and the family story is that he turned up for worked every day for a period of 3 years but was never chosen. He had to use his imagination (and someone else's work papers) in order to gain employment again, this time as a sailor - the Titanic was the second ship he worked on after this period of unemployment. John Quinn signed on for work in March 1912 and along with the rest of the crew boarded ship on 1st April 1912 as a fireman. The original ship's manifest for this journey (Crew List at the Public Record Office, Belfast, reference Trans/2a/45/381/c) states -
''the said crew shall be on board this steamer on Monday morning, 1st April 1912; Firemen at four o'clock, and Seamen at six o'clock, and from that time until she is safely moored in one of the Southampton Docks they shall perform all work required of them by the Officers in command without any further payment than is entered against their names. Firemen to clean down after arrival as may be required. Food and bedding will be provided on the way round to Southampton, also tickets for the return journey to Belfast. Five shillings per day to be paid for detention in Belfast Lough, commencing from mid-night, Monday 1st April 1912.''
John Quinn and the other firemen were to be paid 3 shillings for this voyage but were given extra money as they were detained from sailing for an extra day because of bad weather. The crew were discharged at Southampton on 4th April 1912 with comments of 'VG' (very good) entered against their names for 'ability' and 'good conduct'. It is a faimly story that John tried to enlist as a crew member on the Titanic's journey from Southampton but as the crew had already been signed up for this journey, John returned to Belfast.