People on board
HIGGINS, John Joseph
John Joseph (Jack) Higgins was born in Dublin on 12 October 1880 at Lisburn Street, off Church Street, to Peter Higgins and Mary Rorke / Rourke, the third of eight, possibly nine children. Peter, a labourer, and Mary, who had married in 1877, lived at a series of addresses, all in the Grangegorman / Smithfield area. At the time of the 1901 census Peter was a widower living with just two of his children. Jack had married Mary Kenny, also of Smithfield, in August 1900 at the age of twenty, giving his occupation as ‘Postman’. They were living in one room in 1901 at 30 Arran Quay where their first child, Elizabeth, was born in August 1901 and Jack was a ‘Telegraph Clerk’. A boy, Peter, was born in February 1903 and died the following August. Josephine was born in 1904 and John Anthony in 1905, both while the family were living on Viking Road in Smithfield. They then moved a short distance to Manor Place where four more children were born; Eileen in 1907, who lived only three months, Gerard 1908, Mary 1911 and Patricia 1914. By 1916 they had moved to Prospect Square in Glasnevin where another unnamed child was born and died. On the birth certificates of all the children Jack’s occupation was given as ‘Sorter G.P.O.’
He gave some written reports of the events providing first hand evidence of the conditions. He was working with two other men on the registered mail in a partitioned area off the main sorting office when the torpedo struck the bow of the ship at the point where the men were working. The office was wrecked and immediately flooded, Higgins escaping by holding on to electric wires while the rising water lifted him up the space where the stairs had been. Two other postal workers joined him on deck and they put on life jackets but only Jack Higgins managed to get into a lifeboat before the second torpedo struck; he reported seeing another postal worker go over the rails as the ship was struck again. He was eventually picked up by a British destroyer and taken to Kingstown where he was given dry clothes by the Red Cross and brought to the G.P.O. on a military lorry.
Jack’s grandson tells the family story about how Mary had heard the news of the sinking on the radio and thought she was seeing a ghost when he walked in the door. He was obviously unwell from shock and exposure but he did go back to work in the G.P.O. The family suffered personal tragedy in 1920 when the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, died in the Mater hospital from appendicitis and his father, Peter, died the following year, aged seventy. The family stayed in Prospect Square in Glasnevin and Jack retired about 1945. Mary died in 1951 and Jack followed in 1955. Both are buried in Glasnevin cemetery alongside the children they had lost in early childhood.