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Mr. Unsinkable: The Man Who Survived the Sinking of Titanic and 3 Others
Arthur John Priest witnessed four ships sink before he turned 29 in 1917. Captains refused to hire him and he was forced to retire.
Arthur John Priest witnessed four ships sink before he turned 29 in 1917, including the Titanic in 1912. He called it a career before he turned 30 in part, allegedly, because nobody wanted to sail with him anymore.
John was a firefighter onboard the Titanic (1912), the Alcantara (1913), the Britannic (1916), and the Donegal (1917). All four sank. The Titanic hit an iceberg during the middle of the night on April 14th and was sunk by 2:30 AM on the 15th. The Alcantara and Donegal sank from combat. The Britannic was a hospital ship during World War I and hit a mine on its way to Greece to provide aid. John was onboard the Olympic, too, when it collided with another ship. It narrowly made it back to shore in 1911, but it foreshadowed greater misfortune for John.
John’s story wasn’t unknown at the time. It was published in newspapers around England after he survived his fourth wreck. The press might have weakened his chances at getting a new job; he was viewed as bad luck. John’s resilience was remarkable. According to one article published on April 23, 1917, John suffered from “frost-bitten toes and an injured leg” when the Titanic sank, was “wounded by shrapnel” during the sinking of the Alcantara in 1913, and “escaped with a rather serious injury to the head” from the Donegal when it sank in 1917. And despite all this misfortune, another article published on April 27, 1917, reported that “On his recovery, Priest will go to sea again.”
I had brunch with a close friend the other day, and she told me about this incredible story of John Priest that she’d heard about, and told me to look into it! I found a little bit of information, but searching for John in the newspapers.com database stirred up a couple of fascinating pieces to his story. I think John certainly qualifies for the Legends in the Archives newsletter, and hope you enjoy learning about his wild story.
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Jack Palmer is a History and Psychology double-major at Duke University. I’ve done genealogy research since I was 10 and love writing about it for family, friends, and anybody else who might enjoy a blast from the past.
Saffron Walden Weekly News. “Arthur John Priest, ship’s fireman…” Saffron Walden Weekly News. April 27, 1917. URL: https://www.newspapers.com/image/801311972/?terms=John%20Priest&match=1 (accessed May 12, 2023).
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