James Whittaker was born in Liverpool, England on 26 July 1880. Little else is known about his background.
Prior to 1912 Whittaker had been listed as a trimmer or fireman aboard a number of Liverpool-docked ships, including Empress of Britain, Saxonia and Lake Champlain. In April 1912 he was a trimmer aboard Carpathia when that ship rescued the survivors of the Titanic disaster.
Whittaker remained at sea during WWI and until at least the 1920s but his final whereabouts remain unclear.