The following five letters, written to Mr. Joe Carvalho of Massaschusetts by Commander Joseph G. Boxhall span the time period of April 1961 through July of 1962, and reveal the sentiments of the Titanic officer regarding the 50th anniversary of the ship's sinking, as well as his recollections of the immediate aftermath of the sinking.
Commander Joseph G. Boxhall (left), Joe Carvalho (right)
Courtesy of Shelley Dziedzic
It will be noted that Mr. Boxhall retells several incidents in this series of letters. It is also apparent that he is living in reduced financial circumstances at this time.
All words, spellings, punctuation, dashes, etc. are reproduced here just as written in the originals. All five letters are on thin blue airmail self-folding stationery, written with a blue ink ballpoint pen with a red sixpence stamp featuring the Queen and Parliament with the address: J.G. Boxhall Commdr. RNR Ret. 11 Walcott Avenue Fairmile Christchurch Hants. England .
These are written just before the decline in his health in the mid sixties. He died in 1967 and his ashes were sprinkled on the sea as he requested, over the position thought to be where Titanic lay at that time.
Monday, 24 April 1961
Dear Mr. Carvalho,
I have to thank you for your very kind letter of the 14 th . Also for the two very nice photos of the beautiful models you made of the “Titanic”—Considering you are not a sailor I think you must possess great patience and skill—Personally I have never made a model, simply because I have not the patience. I am now a very old man of 77 , and most of my time reading and dozing off to sleep. I also have a very large garden –but not being a gardener I just cannot concentrate, therefore I am lazy where a garden is concerned. I suppose you know that only 4 of the Titanic's officers survived? But only 2 of us are alive-Herbert James Pitman who was 3 rd officer—I was 4 th officer, being the only one of four who was on duty at the time of the crash. Well, on 18 th March I was very surprised in the forenoon by a visit quite unexpected by Pitman—he with his nephew and wife had come to Bournemouth for the weekend—and my wife and I were invited to luncheon with them the next day—Pitman is a widower and lives at “The Red House”—Pitcombe. Bruton. Somerset. England .
Now I must tell that when I was 10 or 11 years old my father took us to Boston in S/S Alecto of which he was master. He docked at Mystic Dock Chelsea and whilst I stayed with English friends in Orange Street Chelsea , I will remember setting off fireworks in the street lined with trees then on the 4 th of July. I have been to Boston many times since in White Star ships, just calling to land the mail and passengers then proceed to New York . So I never had a chance to go ashore. If I come across a photo of Pitman taken in the last few years I will send it, but so far I have failed in my search. John Oldham is writing the “Ismay Line” but I don't know whether it has gone to the publishers yet.
I must close again with many thanks and kind regards.
Yours sincerely, Joseph Groves Boxhall
30 January 1962
Dear Mr. Carvalho,
Many thanks for your nice letter and photograph of your beautiful model of the “Titanic”. You must possess a tremendous amount of patience. However it looks a wonderful work of art. I have just discovered that I had to refer to an atlas to verify my spelling of MASSACHUSETTS . In fact, I have always used the abbreviated word MASS. As a boy of 11 my Dad took my Sister and I from Hull to Boston MASS. I was sea sick really all the journey. Father was master of a steamer called “Alecto”. We stayed with English friends who lived in Orange Street or Avenue, Chelsea and we had the pleasure of being there 4 th July celebrations. Since writing you in April—my old Shipmate Herbert John Pitman who was 3 rd officer of “Titanic”, and for some years Pitman and I have been the last 2 surviving officers of the 4 that were saved. I am sorry to say that he died on 7 Dec. and now –I am the only surviving officer of the “Titanic”.
So the “Ismay Line” has already reached America . The author John Oldham often used to travel here and spend hours asking questions. It is well-written and I trust it will become a best seller—but all the same I cannot see that it will can really interest anyone except Liverpool people or White Star Line folk.
Many thanks for the coupon they the G.P.O. exchanged it for this airletter. I don't know that I ever heard of the book entitled “White Star Liner Titanic 1911-12” that you mentioned.--I have read many and no doubt some of them are out of print. There was one named “Titanic” written by Filson Young and that commenced with the description of seeing the ship before she was launched and the book was the first I can remember but I have not seen it since the film “A Night to Remember”.-appears to have faded out.
Again, thank you for your model picture and the coupon. My kind regards and best wishes,
Joseph Groves Boxhall Commander RNR Retd.
1 May 1962
Dear Mr. Carvalho,
I have to thank you for your Air letter containing cuttings from “Boston Globe” and “Boston Daily Herald” both of Sunday 8 April and both very interesting reading—but I suppose this 50 th anniversary of her sinking on 15 April 1912 has again revived this terrible tragedy and I think it rather sad that it should all be churned up again. I have to thank you for the pictures of your beautiful models you have made. I had intended getting a copy of the Model Engineer published in London in April—then it slipped my memory—being an old, old man one's memory becomes very poor. I don't know whether I told in my previous letter that I visited Boston and laid up at Mystic Wharf Chelsea when I was a school boy about 1896. My father was Master of a steamer—we were there on July 4 th and enjoyed our fireworks. I have been there in the White Star ships many times since but never ashore—just a call on our way to New York .
Kindest Regards, Yours sincerely, J.G. Boxhall
25 th June 1962
Dear Mr. Carvalho,
Many thanks for yours of the 19 th June reminding me of your previous letter—however I am very slow at correspondence but as a matter of fact I mailed a picture and letter to you same day as you wrote to me –19 th June but by surface mail as the weight was 3 ½ oz.—I mailed it by the ordinary surface mail. Postage Air Mail would have cost 4 shillings and 6pence which is rather a strain on my rapidly diminishing capital.
I thank you for the reply coupon which has bought this Air letter for 6pence.
Yours sincerely, J.G. Boxhall
22 July 1962
Dear Mr. Carvalho,
I have to thank you for your letter of June 28 th . Also for the interesting book Proceedings United States Naval Institute –which arrived quite recently—The picture of the “Carpathia” must have been taken as she steamed over the place where the “Titanic” sank because I can see the British Red Ensign at half mast. Captain Rostron steamed over the ground searching for survivors but all we saw was one body of a man floating on his back in a dinner jacket. There was some flotsam-fittings, deck chairs and a considerable amount of granulated cork used by ship's painters under the deck heads whilst the paint is wet. It was some time later-(usually 10 days) when the bodies came to the surface—when the cable ship Mackay Bennett from Halifax recovered a very great number and took them to Halifax N.S.
Mr. Dent Ray you mentioned was a steward who made himself known to the Rank organization but I cannot remember meeting him. All this correspondence about the “Titanic” which appears to have flared up this 50 th year is getting me down and I am getting to the stage where I have more than I can cope with. Many thanks for the book and your photographs. Trusting you are fit and well.
Regards, Yours faithfully, J.G. Boxhall Commdr. RNR Retd.
Joseph Carvalho who lives in Massaschusetts was one of the original trustees and co-founders of the Titanic Historical Society of Indian Orchard when that organization was founded in 1963.
He has donated these letters to the Titanic International Society Archives.