He was born as Richard May in Pancrasweek, Bradworthy, Devon, England in the closing months of 1885.
He was the son of John May (b. 1862), a farm labourer, and Mary Elizabeth Slee (b. 1863), Devonshire natives who had married in 1882. He had five siblings: John Henry (b. 1883), Ethel Mary Elizabeth (b. 1891), Elsie Rebecca (b. 1896), Sarah Jane (b. 1897), and Mabel Grace (b. 1900).
He appears on the 1891 census living at Week Hill Cottage, Pancrasweek and on the following 1901 census at Burmard House, Holsworthy by which time he was described as a carter on a farm. His family appear on the 1911 census living at Week Park, Black Torrington, Highampton, Holsworthy but Richard is not listed with them.
Richard worked as a farm hand and at some time moved from Devon to live in Yeovil, Somerset. By 1912 he had moved to live at Heath Cottage, Alum Chine Road, Bournemouth, Dorset.
He boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a Third Class passenger (ticket number 341826, which cost £8, 1s) under the new name of John Adams. There is speculation that he was fleeing a failed relationship and it is believed he was heading for La Porte, Indiana.
John Adams died in the sinking. His body was recovered by the cable ship CS Mackay-Bennett (#103) on 23 April 1912 and buried at sea the following day.
|NO. 103. - MALE. - ESTIMATED AGE, 28. - HAIR AND MOUSTACHE, LIGHT.
CLOTHING - Grey suit; soft striped shirt; brown boots.
EFFECTS - One silver watch; one nickel watch; two coin chains; pouch; two knives; purse $15.00 in gold; $3.00 in bills and coins.
THIRD CLASS TICKET NO. 341826.
NAME - JOHN ADAMS.
The Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund paid £20 to his "mother" "Mrs Adams", at Heath Cottage, Alum Chine Road, Bournemouth, Hampshire.
His father died on 8 January 1918 and his mother on 16 November 1940. Richard has a memorial on his their gravestone which is located in the churchyard of the Methodist Chapel in the small hamlet of Lana near Pancrasweek, Devon. The inscription reads:
|In Loving Memory of
Beloved husband of
of Week Park, Black Torrington
died January 8th 1918
aged 56 years. - Also of Richard, beloved
son of the above
who lost his life on the Titanic
April 15th 1912
aged 28 years. - Thy Will Be Done.