Boxhall's 1959 Christchurch talk and Nautical Magazine article - now available to read


In 1959, 74-year-old Joseph Boxhall gave a talk at the Christchurch Red House Museum, which was attended by a William Sandrey who wrote it up into an article entitled "A Talk by the Fourth Officer of the Titanic" that appeared in the May 1959 edition of the Nautical Magazine on pages 262-264.

Now a full transcript of his account is available, courtesy of Brown, Son and Ferguson Ltd, with many thanks to Nigel Brown (director) and Richard Brown (www.skipper.co.uk).

You can read it in full here: Titanic's Officers - Boxhall's 1959 Talk in Christchurch, England

There are some interesting points:
-Boxhall's emphasis on the failure of the Californian elicited a "correction" and "unreserved apologies" a month later in the June 1959 edition of the Nautical Magazine (also reprinted at the above link)

-The article mentions that he "had just looked into his cabin when he heard the lookout sound three bells" confirming his later confession in 1962 that he "was sitting in my cabin having a cup of tea" whilst still on duty. (1962 BBC Radio broadcast)

-It also mentions that Boxhall "steered around to the starboard side of the sinking liner, but was afraid of getting too near in case he got swamped" which is a precursor to his later admission that he "found that there was such a mob standing in the gangway doors" that he aborted any attempt to take on further passengers. (1962 BBC Radio broadcast)
 
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Julian Atkins

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Hi Dan,

I agree with Sam, and a most useful link to an interesting site with lots of pages on Boxhall. The Nautical Magazine Article of 1959 is quite important, and this is the first time I have seen the article published in full.

A very important thread and post, so many thanks for bringing it to our attention.

The last time I looked at the "Titanic Officers" website a few months ago, there was nothing on Boxhall.

Cheers,

Julian
 
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Julian Atkins

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Hi Dan,

Your website is of considerable importance.

I believe you omitted to observe or comment upon Boxhall stating Titanic ended up heading westwards, and you mention Boxhall thought his lifeboat ended up being 'northwards'.

In fact, Boxhall's boat was the most southward, and closest to the wreckage, and there ought to be some comment on Boxhall getting things 'mucked up'.

The clear inference is that Boxhall's 'mystery ship' showing it's lights to Titanic (he implicated The Californian at various times directly or indirectly) would have had to have been in the icefield, or perhaps just on the other side of it westwards of Titanic.

None of this makes any sense so far as The Californian is concerned, and I would suggest it can be proved that Boxhall was mistaken and considerably out by his directions as to where he thought Titanic ended up heading and where his lifeboat ended up.

We know from the Carpathia evidence that Boxhall's boat was the most southward of the other lifeboats.

Cheers,

Julian
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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In 1959, 74-year-old Joseph Boxhall gave a talk at the Christchurch Red House Museum, which was attended by a William Sandrey who wrote it up into an article entitled "A Talk by the Fourth Officer of the Titanic" that appeared in the May 1959 edition of the Nautical Magazine on pages 262-264.

Now a full transcript of his account is available, courtesy of Brown, Son and Ferguson Ltd, with many thanks to Nigel Brown (director) and Richard Brown (www.skipper.co.uk).

You can read it in full here: Titanic's Officers - Boxhall's 1959 Talk in Christchurch, England

There are some interesting points:
-Boxhall's emphasis on the failure of the Californian elicited a "correction" and "unreserved apologies" a month later in the June 1959 edition of the Nautical Magazine (also reprinted at the above link)

-The article mentions that he "had just looked into his cabin when he heard the lookout sound three bells" confirming his later confession in 1962 that he "was sitting in my cabin having a cup of tea" whilst still on duty. (1962 BBC Radio broadcast)

-It also mentions that Boxhall "steered around to the starboard side of the sinking liner, but was afraid of getting too near in case he got swamped" which is a precursor to his later admission that he "found that there was such a mob standing in the gangway doors" that he aborted any attempt to take on further passengers. (1962 BBC Radio broadcast)
Thanks for posting. Enjoyed reading it.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Hi Dan,

Your website is of considerable importance.

I believe you omitted to observe or comment upon Boxhall stating Titanic ended up heading westwards, and you mention Boxhall thought his lifeboat ended up being 'northwards'.

In fact, Boxhall's boat was the most southward, and closest to the wreckage, and there ought to be some comment on Boxhall getting things 'mucked up'.

The clear inference is that Boxhall's 'mystery ship' showing it's lights to Titanic (he implicated The Californian at various times directly or indirectly) would have had to have been in the icefield, or perhaps just on the other side of it westwards of Titanic.

None of this makes any sense so far as The Californian is concerned, and I would suggest it can be proved that Boxhall was mistaken and considerably out by his directions as to where he thought Titanic ended up heading and where his lifeboat ended up.

We know from the Carpathia evidence that Boxhall's boat was the most southward of the other lifeboats.

Cheers,

Julian
Yes. What also doesn't makes sense is that if the ship he saw was moving how could it be the Californian if she was stopped for the night at the time of his sighting?
 

Georges Guay

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Commander Boxhall; an all time Titanic hero!

- When the bell stroke, he was about to finish a cup a tea lime in his cabin whilst on duty!
- Heard from Murdoch that the EOT were ordered to full astern,
- Made the iceberg as a capsized type,
- Went all the way down but found no sign of water coming in,
- Saw a nearby moving vessel clearly visible with portholes brightly shining,
- Fired socket distress signals at economic short intervals,
- Morse the close by mystery ship X or Z,
- Had a free pass for lifeboat 2,
- Made signals to gather together the scattered rowboats,
- Made signals to Carpethia rescue vessel,
- Helped put with the rescue,

I might be wrong, but I would have kept the Chief Officer to assist on the bridge and pass along the orders and sending Murdoch with the Log Books in lifeboat 2 to explain the world what happened!

He said there had never been any idea of a record-breaking run; When the Titanic struck, they were doing about 22 1/2 knots.
- They nevertheless made a record-breaking by only doing 22½ knots in the middle of a pitch dark night toward known icefield!

When the ship struck, he felt no more than a «slight» tremor.

He had never known ice so far south, and the fatal piece was 40 miles further south than any reported position that had reached the bridge.

- What about Baltic message that showed ice almost on the direct path of Titanic?

And the lookout's job was made doubly difficult by there being no moon and the night pitch-black.
- I would tend to say that their job was made «triply difficult» as they were not supply with glasses.

The berg itself was quite a small one (it did not reach above the ship's rail), and was of the capsized type, hence it was of the blue underwater ice that is free of any of the crystallization that normally reflects even starlight.
- The Gibraltar iceberg shape did not look too much of blue capsized type golf ball cavities! (see picture)

Went down into the steerage section beneath the fo'c'sle head to find out if any damage had been done. Pushing through the steerage passengers who were now streaming upwards, he went down several decks, but could find no signs of water coming in.
- He could find no signs of water coming in but steerage passengers were streaming upwards!

As he completed his section, he heard the look-out bell sound again, and went back on to the bridge.
- As he was about to finish a cup a tea lime in his cabin whilst on duty!

Through his telescope he verified the report as being another ship, and informed the captain. He was told to keep an eye on it; and when he asked if he should send up some rockets, was told to do so. He ascertained that this ship was under way and coming towards them.
- He solicited authorization from frosted Smith to fire socket distress signals at short intervals of about 8 minutes, or 7 rockets in one full hour out of a capacity of 36 as these sockets were rather expensive and in the meantime, Morsing the nearby moving vessel clearly visible with portholes brightly shining.

The captain then told him that the position that had been sent out was the 8 p.m. dead reckoning one, and .asked how it compared with the 7.30 p.m. star position, and was told that this showed the ship to be ahead of the D.R. position.
- A CQD position 20 nautical miles off rectified by an accurate 13 nautical miles off out of a 04h10m run at 22½ knots!

To the charge that some of the boats were not full when lowered, he explained they were «eighty» feet up, and when swung out-board, many passengers would not get in them. No doubt some, being quite unaccustomed to life afloat, were too nervous, and also could not bring themselves to believe the Titanic would sink. Also, he had only one sailor in the boat with him; one woman pulled an oar, whilst another steered.
- He found reasons for the lifeboats not being filled to capacity but then complained that he had only one sailor in the boat with him! What about husbands and fathers of the women and children first!

Third-class passengers clamoring to get through a closed sliding gate aft, he said it may or may not have been true.

After the ship sank, he burnt a flare to attract the attention of the other boats in the hope of getting them all together,

- No order ever given to keep the lifeboats together?

The failure of the Californian to answer their distress signals; the night was so calm that they could have come alongside and put a gangway aboard while heartfelt emotion on the captain of the ill-fated leviathan, forced to stand there on his bridge watching hundreds of his passengers drown in icy blackness, whilst just across the water blinking at him were the lights of a ship which in less than half-an-hour could have saved them all.
- No comment!
 

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I believe you omitted to observe or comment upon Boxhall stating Titanic ended up heading westwards, and you mention Boxhall thought his lifeboat ended up being 'northwards'.

In fact, Boxhall's boat was the most southward, and closest to the wreckage, and there ought to be some comment on Boxhall getting things 'mucked up'.
Hi Julian. Thanks for the feedback on the website, it is very much appreciated. The website is a work-in-progress and will be constantly updated. As for Boxhall stating that Titanic ended up 'heading westwards' - and his lifeboat being the most southward - I am happy to include it but would want to reference the quote. Do you have the source(s)?
 
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Dan, the location of Boxhall's boat relative to where Titanic sank is taken from two eyewitness who survived, Gracie, on overturned boat B, and Woolner in collapsible boat D. Gracie saw Boxhall's green fares directly ahead in the direction he was facing while standing on the overturned boat, and then saw Carpathia come up right on his port side. We know Carpathia came up from the SE, therefore Boxhall's boat had be to the southward of the overturned boat that Gracie was standing on.
Woolner stated directly that the green flares he saw came from a boat "down to the south."
As far as Boxhall saying Titanic was facing westward, that comes from being questioned by Sen. Flecture during the Senate inquiry. I'll have to dig through my sources to give you specific references to these if you need them.
 
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Thanks Sam. That is most interesting regarding Gracie and Woolner's observations about Boxhall's lifeboat no.2 being to the south. I would very much appreciate the sources so I can update this detail. It makes sense considering lifeboat 2 was the first to be picked up. I had a quick look to see if I could find Boxhall referencing Titanic facing westward during the Senate Inquiry but could not find it, so any pointers would be great.

Thanks again for your help with this.
 
Here ya go:
Archibald Gracie, American inquiry p. 996.
Hugh Woolner, American inquiry p.890.
Boxhall, American inquiry p. 914.
Thanks Sam! I've just read page 914 and cannot find Boxhall specifically saying Titanic was facing in a westerly direction, but I guess it could be inferred by this?:

Mr. BOXHALL. Yes; I saw it [light from steamer] for a little while and then lost it. When I pulled around the ship I could not see it any more, and did not see it any more.
Senator FLETCHER. Apparently that ship came within 4 or 5 miles of the Titanic, and then turned and went away in what direction, westward or southward?
Mr. BOXHALL. I do not know whether it was southwestward. I should say it was westerly.
Senator FLETCHER. In westerly direction; almost in the direction which she had come?
Mr. BOXHALL. Yes, sir.
In other words the mystery light disappeared in a westerly direction, and since Boxhall was bringing lifeboat no.2 around Titanic's stern when the light disappeared, Titanic was hence facing in a westerly direction....? Is that the correct deduction?
 
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Thanks Sam! I've just read page 914 and cannot find Boxhall specifically saying Titanic was facing in a westerly direction, but I guess it could be inferred by this?:
Actually Dan, it can be inferred by what Boxhall said earlier about the vessel being seen 1/2 point on Titanic's port bow.

Page 910

Senator FLETCHER. In which direction?
Mr. BOXHALL. She was headed toward us, meeting us.
Senator FLETCHER. Was she a little toward your port bow?
Mr. BOXHALL. Just about half a point off our port bow.

Fletcher led the witness when he assumed this steamer was in the west:

Page 914

Mr. BOXHALL. Yes; I saw it for a little while and then lost it. When I pulled around the ship I could not see it any more, and did not see it any more.
Senator FLETCHER. Apparently that ship came within 4 or 5 miles of the Titanic, and then turned and went away in what direction, westward or southward?
Mr. BOXHALL. I do not know whether it was southwestward. I should say it was westerly.
Senator FLETCHER. In westerly direction; almost in the direction which she had come?
Mr. BOXHALL. Yes, sir.
Senator FLETCHER. That is all.
 
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Aly Jones

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Dear George c,

In regards to your post #7.

Boxhall is one of my favourites, I'm not sure how to take your post. Are you being sarcastic? I see you making good points on boxhall and bad ones too (like as in tounge in cheek) So I'm confused. Was he a hero or not in you opinion?

When boxhall was having a cup of tea in his cabin whilst on duty, I do feel he wasn't doing the right thing. But then again, I do not know the wsl policies of those times. However over all, I think he had good intentions that night.
 

Doug Criner

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Mr. Boxhall was In his cabin at the time of the collision - either just looking inside or having a cup of tea, right? Was he on watch at the time of the collision? If so, what watch station was he standing? Would it have been unusual for an officer, while on watch, to be in his cabin?
 
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I can't say about the cabin. Don't know about the protocals for that on their ship. As for getting a cup of tea that would seem perfectley normal. Of all the watches I stood while in the navy getting a cup of coffee was a pretty normal thing. In fact I remember at one my duty stations there was a coffee pot setup for the night security/firewatch guys. You passed it when you made your rounds.
 

Jim Currie

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Define hero.
Do you want the modern version or the original one, Sam?
If we mean "a person who is admired for having done something very brave or having achieved something great…. ". then Boxhall was most certainly so, since his firing of the green flares assured the rescue of all of those saved.
Perhaps I missed it, but did not Boxhall row around the stern of the sinking Titanic then instruct those in his boat No.2 to steer North East and to keep a star in sight to achieve this? If he did, is anyone out there seriously suggesting that a navigator under a canopy of stars...stars which he had just recently been using as part of his nightly duties, was unable to determine the names of most of those stars and the direction in which they would have been seen at that time in question?
In fact, the star Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus and perhaps even Vega would be standing out to the north east at that time would have been very visible in that direction. In addition, those in boat 2 heard the water lapping on the berg. If Titanic was heading west as claimed by Boxhall, and he rowed NE, then they would stop just to the northward of the offending ice berg and it would have been between them and the approaching Carpathia and the latter would have to dodge it to get to them
 

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