Mr John McErlean was born in Belfast, Ireland but his exact age remains unclear (he was possibly born as early as 1848). Hailing from a Roman Catholic family, he was the son of Joseph McErlean, a labourer but the identity of his mother is unknown.
Described as a widowed seaman and giving his address as 3 Fountain Street North, McErlean was married in Belfast’s St Patrick’s Church on 17 January 1879 to Margaret Catherine McGiffin (b. circa 1861), a reeler in a mill. No details of McErlean’s first marriage are known.
John and Margaret became the parents of ten children, the known among them being: Anthony (b. June 1879), John (b. January 1881), Jane (b. circa 1884), Mary Louisa (b. April 1887), James Stuart (b. June 1889), Hanora (b. April 1891), Joseph (b. January 1893), Margaret (b. August 1896) and John (b. circa 1903). Two children died in infancy: firstborn John died aged fourteen in April 1895 as a result of typhus whilst son Joseph was a sickly child and died aged nine months in October 1893 from malnourishment.
McErlean appears on both the 1901 and 1911 censuses as a resident of Nelson Street, Belfast (194 and 128, respectively) and is described as a sailor on the former and dock labourer on the latter.
McErlean’s ship prior to Titanic had been the Hilda Crary (?). He joined Titanic at Belfast for the delivery trip to Southampton where he then disembarked.
Remaining a resident of 194 Nelson Street for the rest of his life, John McErlean continued working at the Belfast docks. Whilst at work on 13 April 1915 he was involved in an accident that left him with a fractured sternum and punctured lungs. Treated for his injuries in the Royal Victoria Hospital, he died two days later on 15 April 1915, reportedly aged 54. His final resting place is unknown.