By Allen Kane, Former Director, National Postal Museum

Royal Mail Ship Titanic

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Sea Post Clerk John Starr March's pocket watch

This watch, in an engraved gold-plated case, was found on the body of John Starr March (1861-1912), an American sea post clerk assigned to the RMS Titanic. The watch’s hands point to 1:27, probably having stopped on the morning of April 15, 1912, as the ocean liner sank in the North Atlantic.

Although the drama of one of the greatest maritime disasters “the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic” was played out over the course of just a few hours, the tragic event has captivated our imaginations for decades. What few remember, however, is that Titanic was more than the largest and most luxurious vessel of her time. She was also an “R.M.S.,” a “Royal Mail Ship.”

During Titanic’s frantic final hours on April 15, 1912, Titanic’s postal clerks, along with steward Albert Theissinger and several others, desperately tried to save the 200 sacks of registered mail by dragging them to the upper decks and possible safety. Theissinger was the only survivor to recall seeing the mail clerks alive. When he finally abandoned the seemingly suicidal task, the five mail clerks — Americans Oscar Scott Woody, John Starr March, and William Logan Gwinn and British postal workers James Bertram Williamson and John Richard Jago Smith — were still frantically at work, sloshing waist-deep in freezing water. None of the five postal clerks survived the disaster.