Mr Joseph Dawson was born in St Thomas, Dublin, Ireland around September 1888.
He was the son of Patrick Dawson (b. 1857), a joiner, and Catherine Madden (b. 1856), natives of Carlow and Dublin respectively. He had a younger sister, Maggie (b. 1892) and came from a Roman Catholic background. His mother had a daughter from a previous relationship, Bridget Theresa (b. 1880).
A young Joseph appears on the 1901 census living with his family at 49 Lower Rutland Street in Mountjoy, Dublin.
Initially earning a living as a carpenter and builder's porter, Dawson joined the British Army, signing up in Dublin on 21 July 1908 at age 19 and he went on to serve in the Army Medical Corps (regiment number 1854). He was described as standing at 5' 7" and weighing 144 lbs; he had brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion and sported a small scar on his left eye brow. Medical reports show that Dawson was treated for a range of ailments, including boils and laryngitis. His oral health was poor and he had five teeth removed from a "very septic" mouth in 1909 and as late as February 1911 he was still having dental work carried out at a cost to the public purse.
He began his training at Aldershot before serving at Netley, Hampshire and he appears there on the 1911 census and was described as a 21-year-old unmarried private. What became of his parents is not clear but by 1911 his sister Maggie had also relocated to England and lived with her half-sister Bridget, Mrs John Kennedy and her family, at 39 St Anne's Street, Birkenhead.
Dawson was transferred to the Army reserves on 20 July 1911 following a three-year service and it may be surmised that he went straight into the merchant service at this time.
When he signed on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912 Dawson gave his address as 70 (should read 17) Britons Street, Southampton and his previous ship as Majestic and as a trimmer he could expect monthly wages of £5, 10s. The local address he specified was the home of a Mrs Priest, the mother of fireman Arthur John Priest. It has been suggested that Dawson was romantically linked with one of Priest's sisters.
Joseph Dawson died in the sinking and his body was recovered (#227) and was buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 8 May 1912.
CLOTHING - Dungaree coat and pants; grey shirt.
NO MARKS ON BODY OR CLOTHING
EFFECTS - N. S. & S. Union 35638.
His grave has since become a shrine to devotees of the 1997 film Titanic in which one of the leads, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is named J. Dawson.
Dawson's army documentation records his death in brusque terms:
Became non-effective by death (drowned on S.S. Titanic) on 14th (sic) day of April 1912.