Joseph Boxhall

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Joseph Groves Boxhall Jr.
Photo of Joseph Boxhall, fourth officer on RMS Titanic.jpg
Born (1884-03-23)23 March 1884
Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, U.K.
Died 25 April 1967(1967-04-25) (aged 83)
Christchurch, Dorset, England, U.K.

Commander Joseph Groves Boxhall RD RNR (23 March 1884 – 25 April 1967) was the Fourth Officer on the RMS Titanic, and later served as a naval officer in World War I.

Early life[edit]

Boxhall was born in Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the second child of Miriam and Captain Joseph Boxhall, Sr. He was born into an established seafaring tradition: His grandfather had been a mariner, his uncle was a Trinity House buoymaster and Board of Trade official, and his father was a respected master with the Wilson Line of Hull.

Boxhall followed in the footsteps of his ancestors on 2 June 1899, when he joined his first ship, a barque of the William Thomas Line of Liverpool. Boxhall's apprenticeship lasted four years, during which time he travelled extensively. He then went to work with his father at Wilson Line and, after obtaining his Master's and Extra-Master's certifications in September 1907, joined the White Star Line. On 1 October 1911, he was confirmed as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve.[1] He served on White Star's liners RMS Oceanic and Arabic before moving to the Titanic as Fourth Officer in 1912; he was then 28 years old.

RMS Titanic[edit]

Like the ship's other junior officers, Boxhall reported to White Star's Liverpool offices at nine o'clock in the morning on 26 March 1912, and travelled to board the ship at Belfast the following day. After the RMS Titanic departed Southampton on 10 April, Boxhall settled into his regular duties; these included scheduled watches, aiding in navigation, and assisting passengers and crew when necessary.

When Titanic collided with an iceberg at 11.40 PM on 14 April, Officer Boxhall was off duty near the Officers' Quarters. Hearing the lookout bell, he headed immediately to the bridge, arriving just after the impact. Capt. Smith, who had also just arrived on the bridge, ordered Boxhall to perform an inspection of the forward part of the ship. He found no damage, but was later intercepted by the ship's carpenter, who informed him that the ship was taking water. A mail clerk confirmed this to Boxhall and Captain Smith. Later, it was Boxhall who calculated the Titanic's position so that a distress signal could be sent out. It was also Boxhall who sighted the masthead lights of a nearby vessel (possibly the SS Californian) and attempted in vain to signal by Morse lamp and distress flares.

Officer Boxhall was put in charge of lifeboat No. 2, which was lowered from the port side at 1.45 AM with 18 persons aboard out of a possible 40. He rowed away from the ship for fear of being pulled down by suction. Boxhall did not actually see the Titanic founder, as her lights had gone off and his lifeboat was about three-quarters of a mile distant. Boxhall spotted the RMS Carpathia on the horizon at 4.00 AM and guided her to the lifeboats with a green flare. After being collected by the Carpathia, Boxhall and the other survivors arrived at Pier 54 in New York on 18 April.

While in New York, he served as a witness in the American inquiry into the sinking. He and his fellow surviving officers were allowed to leave New York on the Adriatic on 2 May. After returning to England, Boxhall bore witness again, this time at the British inquiry. Much of his testimony concerned details of the lifeboat lowerings and Titanic's navigation, including the many ice warnings. He was also the first person to testify that he saw another vessel in proximity while Titanic sank.

Later years and death[edit]

Following the Titanic debacle, Boxhall briefly served as Fourth Officer on White Star's Adriatic. He was promoted to lieutenant in the RNR on 27 May 1915.[2] During the First World War, he was commissioned to serve for one year aboard the battleship HMS Commonwealth before being dispatched to Gibraltar, where he commanded a torpedo boat.

Boxhall returned to White Star following the war in May 1919, having married Marjory Beddells two months prior. On 27 May 1923, he was promoted to lieutenant-commander in the RNR.[3] He signed on as second officer on board RMS Olympic (running mate of Titanic) on 30 June 1926. After the White Star-Cunard merger in 1933, he served in senior capacity as first and later chief officer of the RMS Aquitania, although he was never made a captain in the merchant marine. After 41 years at sea, he retired in 1940. Boxhall was a generally taciturn and quiet man, usually reluctant to speak about his experiences on the Titanic. However, in 1958, he acted as a technical advisor for the film adaptation of Walter Lord's documentary-style novel, A Night to Remember, and also gave a BBC interview in 1962.

His health deteriorated sharply in the 1960s, and he was eventually hospitalised. The last surviving deck officer of Titanic, Boxhall died of a cerebral thrombosis on 25 April 1967 at the age of 83. According to his last wishes, his ashes were scattered to sea at 41°46N 50°14W – the position he had calculated as Titanic's final resting place over 50 years earlier (within about 15 miles of the actual Titanic wreck site at 41°43N 49°56W).

Portrayals[edit]

  • Jack Watling (1958) (A Night to Remember) Boxhall himself acted as a technical consultant to the film's writers and set designers.
  • Warren Clarke (1979) (S.O.S. Titanic) (TV movie)
  • Gerard Plunkett (1996) (Titanic) (TV miniseries) Boxhall is inaccurately portrayed as having been lost with the ship.
  • Simon Crane (1997) (Titanic) Boxhall is only seen twice, on the bridge following the collision and in a lifeboat while Titanic's stern rises dangerously behind him. He only has one line: "Bloody pull faster and pull!"
  • Glen McDougal (1998) (Titanic: Secrets Revealed) (TV documentary)
  • Cian Barry (2012) (2012 Titanic TV miniseries)

References[edit]