Charles Burgess was born in Kensington, London, England on 26 August 1893.
He was the son of Francis Burgess (b. 1857), a plasterer's labourer, and Sarah Phippard (b. 1857), both natives of Swanage, Dorset who had married in St Peter's Church, Oldham, Lancashire on 31 October 1875.
Charles had seven known siblings: Eliza (b. 1878), Elizabeth (b. 1880), Mabel (b. 1882), Benjamin Edmund (b. 1884), Kate (b. 1887), Jane (b. 1889) and Ethel (b. 1891).
The family initially lived in Swanage before resettling in London around 1885, eventually returning to Swanage. Charles first appears on the 1901 census living with his family at 32 Edge Street, Kensington, London. He would be absent from the 1911 census, perhaps at sea, but his parents and sibling Mabel are listed as living at 5 Osborne Cottages, Court Hill, Swanage.
Charles had joined the White Star Line in March 1910 and made his first voyage on the Oceanic, serving aboard that ship for eighteen months before transferring to the Olympic.
When he signed-on to the Titanic, on 4 April 1912, he gave his address as 65 Bridge Road, Southampton. His last ship was the Olympic and as extra third baker he received monthly wages of £4, 10s.
Burgess said of the voyage prior to the sinking that in the two dozen Atlantic voyages he had made that he'd never seen a calmer crossing with on board conditions running very smoothly. On the night of the collision he was on the night watch with several other bakers when they felt a slight shock, to which they exclaimed "Hallo! there goes a blade!" but took no further notice and continued working for some time before they were ordered up topside. He did as instructed but later returned to the bakehouse, remembering he had left butter on a stove to melt to make corn bread. Whilst waiting at his stationed lifeboat, number 13, he was instructed to go and call other bakers up who had been off watch at the time which he did but received abuse from them for waking them. He returned to the boat deck and got into his lifeboat (number 15) which was then lowered to A-Deck to receive more passengers. When the boat began its final descent it contained close to 70 people and Charles described boat 15 coming close to landing on top of them:
"As we dropped we pushed away from the ship's side with our oars, and the rush of water miraculously caught the bow and forced us away just in time as the other boat dropped alongside. We pulled away from the ship for about ten minutes and then laid on our ours waiting, as we expected to get orders to return to the ship again. We had no idea that she would sink or that the damage done was so great. It was then we noticed that she was sinking by the head. Slowly the lights from the portholes became extinguished as the water rose up deck after deck."
He later recalled the ship playing Nearer my God to Thee and how the ship broke in two as she plunged.
" Never shall I forget the feeling of all on board our boat when the Carpathia hove in sight. We who were at the oars pulled with renewed spirits, and one by one the boats took up the hymn "Pull for the Shore, Sailor," as we put our backs to the work. The officers and crew of the Carpathia were kind and attentive beyond all praise, as were the American people on our arrival in New York. They fitted us all out with a double suit of everything. On our homeward journey by the Lapland we were treated most kindly..."
Upon Charles' return home to Swanage he was received by a large crowd of well-wishers and the bells of the local church peeled.
Charles continued working at sea into the 1920s. What became of him is unknown 1 although there is indication that he died in the 1950s.
- Burgess was long believed to have died in Southampton on 7 April 1972. The Mr Burgess who died on this date was in fact an imposter named Reginald Douglas Burgess who was born in Natal, South Africa on 28 June 1892.
Craig Stringer (2003) Titanic People CDROM
Photo: National Archives (Courtesy of Gavin Bell)
Articles and Stories
Bournemouth Echo (1912)
The Daily Banner (1912)
The Daily Banner (1912)