John Chapman had worked alongside his father, a tenant farmer, for as long as he could. By age 31, he still hadn’t been able to save enough money to buy a small farm of his own and marry his sweetheart, Lizzie Lawry. Fed up with the fickle climate of Cornwall and frequent arguments with his father, John headed to Canada in 1906, hoping to earn a living and come back for Lizzie.
Lizzie Lawry (bottom right) with her extended family
After four years in Canada, John moved to the state of Washington and worked as a grave digger. Finally, in 1911, he returned to Cornwall, where he and Lizzie were married. She was 28, and John was 36. The couple decided to emigrate to Wisconsin where Lizzie’s brother had moved, so John booked two second class tickets on Titanic.
On board, the Chapmans met other families from Cornwall. After dinner on April 14, they participated in hymn singing in the dining room and had coffee and cookies, brought around by the stewards. Later, as they talked in bed, they felt a jolt. John checked with others in the corridor. When a steward instructed them to come on deck with their lifejackets, he stuffed Lizzie’s purse with their marriage certificate, baggage receipt, baggage insurance form, and all their money.
They reached the port side, where “Women and children only,” was the order given by Second Officer Charles Lightoller. Lizzie boarded a lifeboat, but when she realized John was not able to join her, she immediately climbed out, refusing to be separated from him. John held tight to Lizzie’s purse, and they were last seen clinging to railings as Titanic’s bow dipped below the icy waters of the north Atlantic.
The recovery ship, Mackay-Bennett, picked up John’s body, still clutching Lizzie’s purse. In his pocket was his watch, which had stopped at 1:45 am, approximately 35 minutes before the ship completely sank. Lizzie’s body was never found.
John Chapman's grave marker, Halifax, Nova Scotia
John’s pocket watch and other personal effects were given to his father, who passed them on to his nephew. The watch is now on display in the Maritime Museum, Cornwall.