Arthur John Priest
The Unsinkable Stoker
John Priest c. 1912
Arthur John Priest
31 August 1887
|Died||11 February 1937 (aged 49)|
|Resting place||Hollybrook Cemetery (Southampton)|
Arthur John Priest (born 31 August 1887 in Southampton, died 11 February 1937 in Southampton) was an English fireman and stoker who was most notable for surviving the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and while also working as a stoker, survived the sinking of no fewer than four other ships, including the HMHS Asturias, the RMS Alcantara, the HMHS Britannic and several other ships, that were involved in ship collisions. Priest eventually gained the moniker the unsinkable stoker.
Priest was the son of Harry Priest, a labourer and his wife Elizabeth Garner, and was one of twelve children. In 1915, Priest married Annie Martin, née Hampton in Birkenhead and had three children, called Arthur John, George and Frederick Harry. The family lived for a number of years at 17 Briton Street, Southampton.
Priest worked as a stoker, in the bowels of steam-powered ships. He was considered a part of the black gang, in a group, totalling 27 men, which consisted of six firemen, two trimmers, and the firemen's steward colloquially known as a 'peggy' whose task was to bring food and refreshments to the group. It was considered back-breaking work, often done while stripped to the waist due to the sustained and intense heat of the furnaces. Priest is known for surviving five ship sinkings and one collision. The ships he voyaged on included the HMHS Asturias 1907, RMS Olympic 1911, RMS Titanic 1912, RMS Alcantara 1916, HMHS Britannic 1916 and SS Donegal 1917. Accidents and sinkings at this time were relatively common. On the Titanic alone, more than 600 tons of coal per day had to be shovelled into the furnaces to maintain an even speed for the ship.
Life was not pleasant for Priest and he seemed to have a string of bad luck while working on different ships. After surviving the sinking of five ships in total and one major collision, Priest finally retired from working at sea and left his job as a stoker aboard ships. He lived out the rest of his days on dry land in Southampton, England with his wife Annie. This retirement seems to be forced since he once claimed that "no one wished to sail with him after these disasters." It is likely he had a son also by the name of "John Arthur Priest", that was born in 1917 only to die three years later. Other than his amazing survival stories, not too much more is known about him. It is not known what he did for a living after leaving the sea behind forever. We also do not know much about his wife or any other members of his family. Yet, we do know that "he died at his Southampton home at the age of 49 from pneumonia with his wife Annie at his side in 1937. He was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery Southampton, England." History has given him the nickname of The unsinkable stoker, a name that is very fitting for his amazing stories of survival at sea.
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