John Collins

Titanic Scullion

John Collins

John Collins was born in Belfast, Ireland (modern-day Northern Ireland) on 24 October 1894.1 

He was the son of James Henry Collins (1856-1908), a mariner, and his wife Harriett Russell (1859-1921) and he grew up in a Roman Catholic household.

John was one of nine children born to his parents, two of which were lost in infancy. His known siblings were: James (b. 24 September 1877), Benjamin (b. 30 October 1879), Elizabeth (b. circa 1880), Paul (b. 6 November 1885), Joseph (b. 16 April 1889), Margaret (b. 21 December 1891) and Catherine (b. circa 1895).

John first appears on the 1901 census of Ireland living at 53 Dagmar Street in the Court Ward of Belfast City Centre. His father passed away around 1908 and by the time of the 1911 census John, his widowed mother and a few remaining siblings were by then living at 33 Ballycarry Street in north Belfast's Clifton Ward. John, aged 16, had already left school and was working as a messenger. He would later work at the Ulster Reform Club, a gentleman's club on Royal Avenue in the city centre of Belfast which consisted of liberal Unionists and whose members included Lord Pirrie.

When he signed on the Titanic on 4 April, 1912 Collins gave his Belfast address as 65 Ballycarry Street and indicated that the Titanic was his first ship. As a Scullion he received £3, 10s per month.

On the evening of the 14 April Collins stopped work at 9 o'clock and walked up and down the alleyway for a bit, before going to his bunk where he fell asleep around 10 o'clock. He was jarred awake by the collision and put on his trousers. He got out of bed and heard steam being vented off from the stokeholds.

Leaving his quarters he proceeded on to the forward well deck and saw the deck almost packed with ice on the starboard side. Following his journey, he returned below where word was passed that it was not serious. John went back into his bunk, but remained dressed. Soon after he came out again and saw stewards in their white jackets in the passageway directing passengers. Soon word came to get lifebelts on and get up to the upper deck. He proceeded to the deck, where he met with a steward he had befriended and asked his lifeboat assignment. He was told No. 16, so he went up to that boat and saw firemen and stewards "with their bags ready for No. 16." Sensing there was no hope for him with that boat he proceeded along the port side saloon deck where he found a steward helping a woman and her two children. The steward had one of the children in his arms and the woman was crying. Collins took the child off of the woman and the group made for one of the boats.

They saw the collapsible boat taken off of the saloon deck, and then the men forward began shouting to go aft. Just as they were turning around and making for the stern a wave washed them off the deck and the child that Collins was carrying was washed from his arms. He was held under the surface for a bit by some wreckage and the people around him, but he finally managed to break the surface. He saw the boat that had been taken off, collapsible B, with a man on it. He swam over to it and pulled himself aboard.

''...I met a companion of mine, a steward, and I asked him what number my boat was, and he said No. 16, and I seen both firemen and sailors with their bags ready for No. 16 boat. I said to myself, ''There is no chance here,'' and I ran back to the deck....the wave washed us off the deck.....When I came to the surface I saw this boat that had been taken off...I swam over to it...
Senator Bourne: How many were on the collapsible boat?
Collins: Well, Sir, I could not exactly say; but I am sure there was more than 15 or 16...we were drifting about for two hours on the water...she was upside down, Sir, and the water washed over her. She was turned over, and we were standing on her.'' (Am. Inq., pp 626-633)

The boat drifted about a mile and a half from the Titanic, from where she sank. Collins described an explosion followed by the stern popping back in the water. It then turned over and went down. They were drifting about for a few hours, when they saw the lights of the Carpathia, her topmast lights first. With daylight, they saw their own lifeboats and shouted to them. Those standing on the overturned collapsible were taken aboard lifeboats 4 and 12.
Collins later testified before the U. S. Senate inquiry into the disaster.

John Collins returned to his native Belfast but did not let his disastrous first working voyage deter him and he continued to work at sea into the 1920s and beyond. He lost his mother to a stroke on 10 November 1921. 

Collins was married in Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Ardoyne, Belfast on 11 July 1919 to Mary McCorry (b. 22 May 1891). Mary hailed from north Belfast and was the daughter of grocer Hugh McCorry and the former Mary Muldoon. Her then current address as was stated as 15 Elmfield Street, Belfast whilst John's address at the time was 23 Hillview Street, Belfast and he was described as a merchant seaman. They went on to have three children, Benjamin, Hugh and Mary. 

In later years John lived at 15 Elmfield Street, Belfast with his wife's family. He later suffered from the deleterious effects of syphilis and was soon paralysed as a result of his illness. He was committed to a psychiatric facility, Belfast Mental Institution in Ballylesson, Northern Ireland where he died on 6 February 1941.

His last surviving child Mary died in Spain in 2011.


  1. Birth date as per circa 1919 crewman card but no birth record for him has been located to verify this date.

References and Sources

Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
Death Certificate
Stephen Cameron (1998) Titanic: Belfast's Own. Dublin, Wolfhound Press. ISBN 0 86327 685 7
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912
The Weekly Telegraph, 27 April 1912

Research Articles

Titanica! (2017) Titanic Survivors' Untimely Deaths
The tragic stories of Titanic survivors who died prematurely...


Photograph of Scullion John Collins

Documents and Certificates

(1941) John Collins (Death Certificate)
Search archive online

Comment and discuss

  1. avatar

    Arun Vajpey said:

    I have been trying to gather important information on , the 17-year old scullion on board the Titanic. As we know, Collins was one of the last survivors to leave the doomed ship. He later served in World War I. I would like info on his was record, particularly details of his internment as a POW in Germany. It appears that there he met a fellow allied prisoner named Woods who befriended him and with whom Collins discussed his Titanic experiences. I am trying to find out WHERE and for HOW LONG... Read full post

  2. Holly Peterson said:

    Hi but cannot seem to find a picture of him around the age when he was on Titanic. Any help would be much appreciated! Thanks! P.S. My name is Alzbeta, not Holly

  3. Chris Dohany said:

    A circa-1912 pic of Collins was published in Steven Cameron's book "Belfast's Own," that would be your best obtainable bet. Perhaps harder to locate is a group shot of Collins and other surviving stewards whilst returning to England aboard Celtic after the U.S. Inquiries. I know this photo ran in THS's "Titanic Commutator," but I'm not certain which issue. Additionally, a photo of Collins in his 20s is on his Merchant Mariner's card, which at one point was contained on a CD-ROM produced by the Public Records Office.

  4. Holly Peterson said:

    Thank you Chris. You are certainly an avid researcher; I had no idea such photos existed. Do you think you could post them on this thread for me? Don't worry about legal issues or anything; I'm not going to put the photos in a published book. I merely collect them for fun and want to put them in my scrapbook. It's okay if you feel unwilling to post the photos on the internet. Thank you so much, Alzbeta

  5. Bob Godfrey said:

    Alzbeta, the law of copyright applies to the internet as well as to books. So material which is under copyright can't be posted here without permission from the copyright holder, even though we obviously don't have commercial motives.

  6. avatar

    Arun Vajpey said:

    I have been trying to get some information on John Collins, the (then) 17 year old victualling assistant who was one of the last survivors to leave the Titanic and eventually ended up on the overturned Collapsible B lifeboat. A few years later, he ended up as a POW in Germany during the First World War. I want to find out where in Germany he was imprisoned and some details on the other inmates of that POW camp. Can anyone help with suggestions or information? Thanks in anticipation. [Moderator's Note: This message, originally a separate thread, has been moved to this pre-existing thread... Read full post

  7. Emma Richardson said:

    Hi Arun Ancestry has some WW1 service records, although many service records were destroyed in the Blitz during WW2. You may be lucky to find his records on there. Should any survive they should list details of any POW camp John was held at. I was lucky to find the record of one of my relatives and it was quite detailed with dates and places. I went to Kew in London where the originals are held. Message me if you need some help with this Good luck.

  8. marius mckee said:

    I am John Collin's grandson. His daughter Mary (my mother) lives in Spain. We have a few photographs of him from the 1920's and 30's. I would be very interested in any more information about him, he died 14 years before I was born.

  9. monica e. hall said:

    My son is a chef. From what I know of this job, I don't think any of them would have survived, sadly.

  10. michael said:

    I wanted to ask if it has been determined (or at least speculated) as to the identity of the woman and her two children whom John Collins tried to help (where one of the children was eventually washed out of his arms)? Thanks in advance! Michael

  11. avatar

    Collins80 said:

    My name is Christopher Collins. I am from North Carolina USA. I Remember my grandmother telling me her great grandfather was from Belfast Ireland and also family of ours lived in Dublin Ireland. When I saw this it just makes me wonder...

  12. avatar

    Arun Vajpey said:

    I know that the above post is over 10 years old but I just saw it yesterday. I don't think anyone can find out for certain but from careful analysis of all available survivor accounts - especially those of August Wennerstrom and John Collins, my guess is that the woman was the Swedish Third Class... Read full post

  13. avatar

    Arun Vajpey said:

    checked out that link posted by the ET guest almost 13 years ago. It is from a web archive called "Wayback Machine" and while there is some useful information in it, there is a lot of melodramatic embellishment and also one major but... Read full post

  14. avatar

    Collins80 said:

    experience. The daughter Mary became Mary McKee after marriage and in the early and mid 1990s was living in England. At that time I was doing some research into John Collins and spoke to Mary McKee several times over the phone. She knew very little about her... Read full post

  15. avatar

    Arun Vajpey said:

    AFAIK, John Collins did not have a sibling by any of those 3 names and his wife was Mary. Children were named Benjamin, Hugh and Mary - so it is likely that you are not a direct descendant. BUT, they were large families and for all you know James Collins' - John's father -... Read full post

  16. avatar

    Arun Vajpey said:

    I was consulting my notes and comparing the information therein with Collins' testimony at the American Inquiry. Slightly contrary to what the article says, Collins arrived at Lifeboat #16 while it was still being loaded with Moody and Wilde in charge. He helped with the latter part of the loading and hoped to be allowed to go in it himself but it was Wilde (a few years later, while a WW1 POW in Germany Collins told Woods, a fellow prisoner, that it was the 'Senior officer, the one next to the Captain') who stopped him since there was already more than enough... Read full post

  17. avatar

    Dhugal Robertson said:

    My name is Dhugal Robertson my Grandmother was Mary McKee she had 4 children and my mother is Roisin Robertson. We have just found this thread and are happy to answer any questions. Unfortunately my uncle who posted further up has passed away we have lots of past photos, details and medals. Please feel free to contact and ask questions.

  18. avatar

    Arun Vajpey said:

    My condolences on your uncle's passing. May he rest in Peace. Between 1985 and 2002 I did a lot of research on John Collins and during the course of this, spoke several times on the phone with Mrs McKee in the mid and late 1990s. She did not know her father well as he died when she was very young but passed on some bits of information from her older brother who was living in the USA at the time. She was going to send me his contact details but unfortunately we lost touch when she moved from "Tir Na Nog" - I think that was what her house was called. We moved ourselves in... Read full post

  19. avatar

    Patricl Corbett said:

    Hello Chris. I am Patrick Corbett. My great grandmother was John's sister Elizabeth, born Elizabeth (Collins) Woodcock. She was actually born on 16 May 1884. Her daughter was Elizabeth (Woodcock) Comey, my grandmother. They lived in Dublin, where my Ma, Philomena (Comey) Corbett was born and... Read full post

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Gavin Bell, UK
Peter Engberg-Klarström, Sweden
Phillip Gowan, USA
Rob Ottmers, USA

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) John Collins (ref: #1811, last updated: 20th May 2018, accessed 22nd July 2021 13:32:01 PM)

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