Joseph Groves Boxhall - Radio Interview

Joseph Boxhall  Radio Interview, October 1962
Transcribed by Capt. Charles B. Weeks and Cathy Akers-Jordan

On that Sunday night the, 14th, of April, along with Moody who was the Sixth Officer, and we went on the bridge with Mr. Murdoch the First Officer. It was a clear night there were no signs of any fog. The set of stars was handed over to me that Lightoller had taken in the Second Dog Watch. When I got these stars I said,  “Now Moody you go around the decks and come back at nine o'clock.” I don't know whether the Captain came up before nine o'clock or after nine o'clock, but anyway, I didn't leave the bridge until after ten o'clock. Having worked the stars out and when the Captain came up I showed him the position on the chart she was just over twenty miles ahead of her Dead Reckoning. And at ten o'clock I told Moody to take over the bridge and I reported to the First Officer that I was going around the decks, it was the customary thing.

At the time when the ice berg was reported from the Crow's Nest, when they struck the bells… I was sitting in my cabin having a cup of tea, and immediately got up … And walked along to the bridge about sixty feet away on the same deck. I was about half way between the Officer's Quarters and the Bridge when the crash came… and  I didn't break my step. She was doing full speed and it didn't break my step.

When I got to the bridge, and the Captain had evidently arrived about the same moment, and I heard him say to Murdoch, “What, What is the matter? What have you struck?” He said, “we've struck an iceberg Sir.” He said, “I'm going Full Speed Astern, Sir, on the Port Engine.” She swung her head around towards Port; she was on the swing and that's why she was torn underneath.  She was penetrated in six compartments. 

Well, whilst the Captain was talking to Murdoch, at the starboard wing of the Bridge, I slipped down to go forward and have a look to see if I could find any damage, nobody told me to go. You had to go down about four bridge ladders, you see. And I went forward these Third Class Passengers these southern European people were streaming up on deck… and I went down I think it was two decks down as low as I could go without removing any hatches or anything. I went down to the Third Class and crossed over to the Starboard Side and I walked along there and looked in the cross passages. I couldn't hear any noise, I couldn't see any damage. And I eventually came up on deck again. As I was emerging on the deck some of these men were on their way back again to their beds. And there was one man had a piece of ice and I took it away out of his hands wondering where he got it from. And I spoke to him in English and tried to make him understand that there was nothing the matter. Go down and go to bed and go to sleep again, you see. And I took this piece of ice and walked along the upper deck on the Starboard side to see where the ice came from and there just inside of the ship's rail there was a powdering [?] of ice, running along as though she'd compressed it. There was no wind you see, and it would fall inboard.

I came up on to the bridge again and reported to the Captain, I've been down below, sir, right down as far as I can go without removing hatches or the tarpaulin, right through the Third Class accommodation forward and I don't see any signs of any damage, not even a glass port broken.” He said, “Did you see the Carpenter anywhere, Mr. Boxhall?” I said, “No, sir, I didn't.” He said, “I do wish you'd go down and find him, and tell him to sound the ship round forward and let me know right away.”  Well I didn't get down all the ladders down to the Fore Deck, when I met the Carpenter coming up, absolutely out of breath, and he said “Mr. Boxhall,” he said, “the Forepeak Hatch has blown off, and number one tarpaulin is ballooning up.” He said, “She's evidently making water fast. Go up to the Captain he is on the starboard wing of the bridge and tell the Captain.”

I didn't get down to the Fore Deck because I met the mail clerk coming up, and he said, “Mr. Boxhall, the Mail Room is filling.” So I said, “Oh, carry on, and you'll find the Captain on the Starboard Wing of the Bridge and report to him.” I said, “I'll go down there and have a look.” So I continued on my way down to the Mail Room. I tried to go into the First Class entrance from that lower deck, from the fore deck, but they got the watertight door closed and I had to come up all these ladders and go up on the Promenade Deck and then down through the Main Saloon Entrance, where I found the band was tuning up. And I got the way down to the Mail Room and got down as far as the Sorting Room, and all the mail clerks was there pulling letters out of the racks, and I was standing on the top of a companionway from the Sorting Room down to the Handling Room, and I saw a bag floating by. I instinctively stooped down to try and pick it up; I just couldn't reach it. I realized then that it was serious. So I started to come back again. When I got to the First Class Passenger Accommodations,  I met one of the [stewards, Mr. Dodd], and he said, “Mr. Boxhall, shall I send some men down there?” and I said, “I think you'd better not. I'll go up and report this to the bridge, and we'll send down and let you know.”

As I came up through the top lounge, where the band was, they were playing Alexander's Ragtime Band. And I got back to the Boat Deck and saw the Captain, and I told him and I said, “The Mail Room is filling, sir. Should I send a distress signal?” And the Captain said, “I've already sent a distress signal.” “What, what position did you send it from?” He said, “From the eight o'clock DR.” “Well,” I said, “that was about, she was about twenty miles ahead of that sir. If you like I will run the position up from the star position up to the time of the contact with the ice berg.” And because, I said, she was about twenty miles ahead of our position, amended this position and took it down to the wireless room, and Phillips the wireless operator was bending over his instrument, the telephone [sic], holding the telephone [sic], he says, “I'm in contact with the Carpathia.” Well I put the amended position down on the desk, and I said, “Now send that amended position. Do you understand?” He said, “Yes.” “Well,” I said, “send that off right away.” And that was the position the Carpathia came to.

And I worked on the boat covers, taking off the boat covers, on the Boat Deck, when I heard the Crow's Nest report a light on the Starboard Bow. Well I went on the bridge right away, and I found this light with my own glasses but I wanted the telescope to define what it was and I realized then it was two masthead lights of a steamer below the horizon and the lights were very close and I went back and told the Captain, “There is a steamer insight very nearly ahead but slightly on the Starboard Bow and if she continues on her course she'll pass close to us down the Port Side.” Well I asked the Captain, “Shall I send up some distress rockets, sir?” Then we started sending off these distress rockets, the Quartermaster and I on bridge, but I never knew how many I had fired. I knew very well that there were some in the box. The box holds a dozen and when, I told the Captain I said, “There are still some in there, sir, but I don't know how many I fired.” I didn't see any reply. Some of the passengers that was on the bridge said that they did see a reply.

We also called up this ship as she grew closer with a, with a Morse Lamp, a very powerful Morse Lamp that we had, and eventually this steamer approached and approached until you could see it with the naked eye and I should say that she must have been within five miles off, you could not only see her lights with the naked eye but you could see the lights in her portholes.  So I reckon that she, she must have been within five miles. And then eventually she turned away and showed her stern light. And about that time the Captain came across the bridge and said, “Mr. Boxhall, you go away in that boat,” pointing to the Port Emergency Boat number two. And he said, “Now hurry up Mr. Wilde is waiting to lower it.” So I said, “You see that white light over there, sir?” pointing it out to him. He said, “Yes,” I said, “that is the stern light of that ship.” I tumbled into this boat and it started to lower her. I tumbled into this lifeboat and we got lowered down. I found that I only had three of the ship's crew: a steward, a cook, and a sailor. She was being lowered very slowly, she wouldn't run, until you helped the falls, and eventually became water borne. I tried to count the passengers but it was difficult as they didn't speak English, you see.  And I reckon I had between thirty, about, around about thirty on board the boat. And the Captain looked over the side from the bridge and sang out and said, told [sic] me to go ‘round to the Starboard side to the gangway doors, which was practically at the opposite side to where I was lowered. I had great difficulty in getting the boat around there. There was suction. [And?] I was using the stroke oar standing up and there was a lady helping, she was steering the boat around the ship's stern. When I passed ‘round the boat to try and get to this gangway door  on the Starboard side her propellers were out of water. I'm not certain if I didn't pass underneath them.
 
But when I did eventually reach there I found that there was such a mob standing in the gangway doors, really, I daren't to go alongside because if they'd jumped  they'd swamp the boat. She was only a small boat, could hold about thirty five people. No, no buoyancy tanks in her at all -- the boat that was always turned out ready for emergency purposes, like man overboard. However I decided that it was not, that I daren't go along the side again, and I pulled off and laid off until I pulled away about a quarter of a mile, I suppose. And I couldn't, what struck me as being strange, that all the other boats, I couldn't see one of them.

Long before I left the bridge a telephone message had come through from First Officer who was, who was aft. And then he'd been lowering all the Starboard boats, and he told the Quartermaster aft to report to the bridge that all the starboard boats had gone. That's along time before I left the ship. Well those boats must have pulled around to the Port side which was really the South side, and I was on the Starboard side, on the North side of the ship all alone. I couldn't see a boat anywhere. That is when I burnt the green light, ah, to try and attract the other boats but I never found them.

The sea was perfectly smooth when we left the ship. Every star in the heavens was visible, but there was no moon. So it was dark. And then, well everything was very peaceful …  no wind … and no moon, stars, smooth water, until after about an hour then the wind got up and there was a little sea. For a long time we didn't move the boat, when we laid off on the Starboard side. You could see by the ah, by the arrangements of the lights, all the lights were burning and you could see that she was going down. You could see that her stern was, was getting pretty low in the water. She was certainly going down, there was no doubt about it then. And, ah, well we pulled, we got away clear of the ship and we just laid on the oars until eventually they … they, ah … realized that she'd gone and we heard all the screams. We couldn't do anything. And, ah, the screams went on for some considerable time. I can't remember the time when she sank, but it was in the early hours.

I didn't see any ice whilst I was in the boat, but I could hear, there was a little breeze sprang up before we got to the Carpathia, and I could hear the field ice or whatever it was, but I never saw any ice until after we'd been pickup by the Carpathia. Eventually we saw a rocket go up and it turned out to be the Carpathia, so she'd seen my green light that I'd burnt, so I burnt another one. And eventually she steered for the position that I was in, and consequently I was the first boat picked up. People on the Carpathia told me it was about, just [sic] before four o'clock, about five minutes to four, I think. And I got alongside there and everything was ready, derricks was [sic] hoisted, derrick falls with bowlines in them, and there was [sic] ladders over the side, absolutely everything had been done that was possible to be done. And, ah, the Captain kept sending down to know if there was an officer in the boat, and to send him up at once, but I sent the message back, “When I get the boat empty, then I'll come up. And I've only got one sailor in the boat.” And, ah, eventually the boat emptied and then I went up to the Captain, Captain Rostron, on the bridge. And he said, “What's, [sic] Where is the ship?” I said, “she's sunk.”  And I said, “I don't know where the other boats are, I've not seen them, they're all to the southward of us somewhere.”

And it was daylight eventually before any boats where sighted, and it was nearly eight o'clock, I think, as near as I can remember, it was certainly broad daylight when we picked up the other boats. We cruised around in the Carpathia, and eventually picked up all the other boats. And some of them were hoisted and left in their davits and some of them were turned in and put in on the deck. We steamed over the ground in the daylight. The California, Californian, she appeared. I don't know, I don't remember seeing any other ships. The captain was going to put his officers on watch and watch, so we Titanic Officers, the juniors, that was Moody [sic], and ah, Moody [sic] and Pitman and I, we, ah, we went on watches, we took soundings, and of course we got fog all the way into New York.


Published with the gracious permission of Mrs. Miriam Cannel, OBE, Mr. Boxhall's niece, and Mr. Tim Armitage, her grandson.

With many thanks to Arthur Credland, Keeper at Hull Maritime Museum, and Inger Sheil, Titanic researcher, for their kind assistance.

Related Biographies:

Joseph Groves Boxhall

Acknowledgements

Cathy Akers-Jordan and Capt. Charles Weeks

Contributor

Cathy Akers-Jordan

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