Mr John Thomas Poingdestre

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Photo: Alex Glendinning

John William Poingdestre 1 was born in St Helier, Jersey in the Channel Islands on 16 November 1884.2

He was the son of Philip George Poingdestre (b. 1844), a carpenter, and his wife Eliza (b. 1848), both St Helier natives; and he had ten known siblings: Elvina (b. 1871), Philip (b. 1872), William (b. 1874), Lily (b. 1876), James (b. 1879), Eliza (b. 1881), Emma (b. 1883), Olive (b. 1885), Arthur (b. 1887) and Violet (b. 1890).

John first appears on the 1891 census living at 27 Old St John's Road in St Helier, the house that his family would occupy for years to come, appearing at that address on 1901 and 1911 census records. Poingdestre was absent from the family home on the 1901 census, having already commenced a career at sea, but he is known to have become, like his father, a carpenter beforehand. 

He joined the Royal Navy on 13 March 1900. Described as standing at 5' 5" he had auburn hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion; he also sported a scar on his left leg. His first ship was the St Vincent and also served aboard Agincourt, Revenge, Excellent, Victory I and Goliath, among others. He was listed on the 1901 census as crew aboard Martin, a tender to St Vincent, in Portland, Dorset. Initially employed as a cabin boy, he rose to become a seaman and soon attained able seaman status. His conduct was generally very good although he was shown to have spent at least two occasions in the cells for rule breaking. His last voyage was aboard Vivid in late March 1909 after which he was discharged in light of evidence put against him that he had sodomised a deck boy. He joined the merchant service that year with the White Star Line and served aboard Teutonic and Oceanic.

He had been married in Southampton in 1906 to Florence Maud M. Gallichan (b. 1884), a fellow St Helier native, and by 1912 the couple had four sons: Wilfred John (1906-1980), John W. (1908-1916), Percy C. (b. 1910) and James P. (b. 1911). The family appeared on the 1911 census residing at 4 Nelson Street on Chapel Road, Southampton and John was described as an able seaman for Royal Mail. A month before he joined Titanic he had been aboard the Oceana when it sank on 16 March 1912 in the Dover Strait.

When he joined Titanic in Southampton on 6 April 1912 Poingdestre gave his address as 4 Elm Road, Southampton and his previous ship as the Oceanic; as an able seaman he could expect monthly wages of £5.

Not long after joining the ship Poingdestre made it his business to find out which lifeboat he was attached to and found that information at the top of the foc'sle ladder leading down to the mess, discovering he was assigned to boat 12. He also recalled having a boat drill.

On Sunday 14 April Poingdestre was on the 8pm to midnight watch and was standing by; although he described the weather as fine he noted how cold it was when he joined his watch and how it got noticeably colder as the night progressed. At the time of the collision he was just outside the mess room on C-deck under the foc'sle head when he felt the impact and noticed a vibration running through the ship, followed by a change in motion of the engines. Rushing out to the forward well deck Poingdestre saw ice lying on the starboard side and took a piece and brought it with him back to the mess room where he waited for about ten minutes and saw the carpenter (John Maxwell) who informed him that the ship had started to take on water and to get up to the lifeboats. Instead of springing to action Poingdestre remained where he was for a few minutes until boatswain Arthur Nichols piped "all hands up and get the lifeboats ready." He immediately left the mess area and proceeded to the boat deck.

Arriving at the portside boat deck he began readying several of the boats before crossing to starboard and doing the same, cranking out around ten in total and lowering some of the boats, particularly those aft starboard ones, flush with A-deck. After doing this sometime around 12.15 am he returned to his quarters located forward on E-deck to put some boots on and passed a large number of "foreigner" male third class passengers assembled on the forward well deck, many clutching their luggage, alongside a few third class stewards. 

After arriving back at his quarters and fastening his boots a wooden bulkhead dividing the seamen's quarters from third class areas of the ship on the starboard side gave way and he ended up waist deep in seawater; he did not stick around and retreated back to the boat deck towards boat 12. On his way he heard Captain Smith pass the remark "Start putting the women and children in the boats."

Arriving at boat 12 Poingdestre met Lightoller and noted that a strong and restless crowd had gathered around the boats 12, 14 and 16. Poingdestre and Lightoller began filling the boat until it had 40 occupants, Lightoller reportedly being wary of putting any more people in for fear that the falls could not withstand the extra weight. The crowd had also started to rush at boats 12 and 14 and Poingdestre did his best to keep them back; he assisted Wilde fill boat 14 which was then lowered and returned to his own boat where by now several other seamen had gathered, which included seamen Clench and Lucas. Bringing Clench with him in boat 12 the boat was then lowered, having being ordered by Lightoller to stand by close to the ship.

Positioned about 150 yards from the ship when she sank, Poingdestre stated that he thought that the ship buckled and broke apart, the forward part disappearing with the stern section righting herself to an even keel for a couple of minutes before finally sinking.

Poingdestre did not see any people struggling in the water but pulled back to the scene to see if anybody may have needed assistance. Hearing only cries and screams, he reportedly saw no swimmers or bodies, only hundreds of deckchairs. Sometimes a cry seemed as close as 100 yards away but with only he and Clench rowing toward it they made little headway before the cry stopped. After a period of fruitless searching Poingdestre started to hail other boats; boat 4, commanded by John Foley was the first to approach, followed by boat 14 under Lowe's command, the latter of which distributed its passengers between the other two boats, a dozen going into boat 12. Soon a third boat approached, collapsible D, and from that boat Poingdestre borrowed seaman William Lucas and two firemen. Boat 12 would also later take aboard occupants from the upturned collapsible B.

Poingdestre was later called to give evidence to the British Inquiry into the sinking; he returned to Britain and resumed his career at sea.

Following the disaster Poingdestre and his wife would have a further two sons, Philip George (1912-1984) and Raymond M. (1915-1996). A family source indicated that he chose never to discuss the Titanic disaster and was not close to his children, his wife allegedly being forced to put them into care as she could not manage them and with Poingdestre only visiting them a handful of times.

John Poingdestre continued to serve in the merchant service throughout the duration of WWI and beyond, during which he apparently survived another shipwreck. What became of him is currently unknown but he appears to have died prior to 1940: One family source indicates that he went to Manchester, Nova Scotia and collapsed and died there in the mid-1920s but there is no documentary proof of this.

His widow Florence was remarried in 1945 to Richard Shotter (b. 1876), a widowed coal porter. She remained in Southampton and died in 1971

Notes

  1. Middle name under contention; universally accepted as John Thomas Poingdestre but this is seemingly not the case. When he joined the Royal Navy he stated he was John William Poingdestre and was listed as " John W. Poingdestre" on the 1901 census. At the time of his marriage he gave his name as "John Thomas Poingdestre" and continued to give this name on his circa 1919 crew card.
  2. Birthdate as per naval record. Census records confirm his year of birth as circa late 1884 but on his circa 1919 crew card he stated his birth date as 16 November 1878 and whilst signing on Titanic stated his age as 32. Other dates offered include 16/6 November 1886 or April 1886.
 

Articles and Stories

Titanica! (2018) 
WHICH TITANIC SURVIVORS HAVE NEVER BEEN FOUND?
Hampshire Telegraph (1914) 
Guernsey Evening Press 
 

Comment and discuss

  1. Michele Halliday said:

    Hello, I was told I had a relative who was on the Titanica. Does anyone have any info on John Poindexter (or Poingdestre). Thank you.

  2. Bob Godfrey said:

    Michele, John Thomas Poingdestre was a seaman on the Titanic. He was placed in charge of lifeboat 12 and gave evidence at the inquiry that followed the disaster. His entry in the biography section is here, but be sure to look for him also in the transcripts of evidence from the hearings:

  3. Michele Halliday said:

    Mr. Godfrey, Thank you so much for the info. I wasn't sure if he was a seaman or not now I know. I also did not know his middle name was Thomas. Thank you.

  4. Michael Baines said:

    I am seeking information about John Thomas Poingdestre, ex Titanic, Olympic, Oceana, Teutonic etc. I am related to the Bromley Kent branch of the Poingdestre family. I am looking for information about him, his seafaring career and his family. All information will be very greatfully received Michael

  5. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    The information on Mr. Poingdexter that's on ET can be found

  6. avatar

    Brian J. Ticehurst said:

    Michael - this might help: (From Guernsey Evening Press, April/May 1912) Jersey Address: 28 Old St. Johns Road, Jersey. In 1996 his family were still in business in Southampton - Baitdiggers and Fishing Tackle Dealers. Jack Poingdestre, whose parents lived at 28, Old St. John's Road, also had his home in Southampton. A month earlier he had been on the crew of the Oceana when it sank of Newhaven. That had been on March 16th. He at least was used to shipwrecks. Able seaman Jack Poingdestre was one of those who helped to clear the boats. He remembers seeing one boat with a 65-passenger... Read full post

  7. Gordon Lee said:

    Michael,I live in Fremantle Western Australia,& one of my great friends is Barry Poingdestre,who swims regularly opposite my house on the Swan River.As I do a lot of travelling he often looks after my home & garden & collects the mail.He is 70 years of age & is from the Channel Islands.His father,s brother was on the Titanic so he would be related to you.Can you beleive that my Grandfathers brother was lookout Reginald Robinson Lee.I have had a photo taken of the 2 of us together at the Swan River & will post it when it is developed.Regards... Read full post

  8. Michael Baines said:

    Does anybody know which ship J. T. was on that was torpedoed during WW1. Thanks in advance

  9. Michail Michailakis said:

    Hi, It seems she was no less than Titanic's sister ship, HMHS Britannic Regards, Michail

  10. Michail Michailakis said:

    Michael, Are you sure he had also served on the Olympic?

  11. David Haisman said:

    I went to school wih Peter Poingdestre at Southampton's Central School in 1950. Any connection to that family Brian Ticehurst? Cheers, David H

  12. Arne Mjåland said:

    John Thomas was another of these "mysterious" crew members who there is little knowledge about. Dec- 30 1998 I had a letter from Mrs Coxon, England. She is a granddoughter of John Thomas. She wrote: "My father (Son of John Thomas) is the only living son left.He is 87 years old living in Edinburh with my mum (78) John Thomas and wife Florence had 6 sons, first born James Poingdestre died 2 years old of manangitis. Wilfred John, Percy James Philip (my father) Philip anda Cast. Raymond. all born Southampton except the first one. My father told me that he and his brothers were put into homes.... Read full post

  13. avatar

    Inger Sheil said:

    Hallo Arne - I believe Senan Molony has done a bit of work on Poingdestre/Poindexter (he favours the latter spelling). Interesting notes on your correspondence with his descendants!

  14. Michael Baines said:

    Does anyone have a brief tree about JOHN THOMAS POINGDESTRE and his family that they would be willing to share. Any information will be very welcome. Michael

  15. Ella Poindexter said:

    The Poindexter Descendants Association has a page on John Thomas Poingdestre which has, as references, one link that leads to an empty page with a picture of him but an error message "Sorry that item cannot be found." The PDA page is at ... Read full post

  16. Bob Godfrey said:

    Ella, the photo on that second page isn't Mr P, it's just a stock image that appears on all error pages. The link to his biography entry should be as follows:

  17. Mark Baber said:

    That "stock image," Bob, is of , it seems.

  18. Bob Godfrey said:

    I know, Mark, and I've always wondered why poor old Hardy should get the role of delivering all the bad news. Should be replaced by an image of Phil with police cap and whistle, like the 'Go to jail' square on a Monopoly board! :-)

  19. Ella Poindexter said:

    Thank you for the correct link. Although I saw his picture on the PDA site, I didn't look that closely on the error page; just thought it was weird to have a picture on a page that couldn't find the item.

  20. Ella Poindexter said:

    My cousin, who maintains the Poindexter Descendants Association (PDA) site has updated the links on John Poingdestre's page .

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Alex Glendinning

References and Sources

Agreement and Account of Crew (PRO London, BT100/259)
Wreck Commissioners' Court, Proceedings before the Right Hon. Lord Mersey on a Formal Investigation Ordered by the Board of Trade into the Loss of the S.S. Titanic
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2017) John Thomas Poingdestre (ref: #1369, last updated: 15th February 2017, accessed 3rd June 2020 08:39:05 AM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/john-thomas-poingdestre.html