Mr Joseph Groves Boxhall was born in Hull, Yorkshire, on March 23,1884. He was the second child of Joseph and Miriam Boxhall, and had two sisters who survived into adulthood (a third sister died in infancy). The Boxhall family had a strong seafaring tradition; his grandfather had been a mariner, his uncle was a Trinity House buoymaster and Board of Trade official, and his father, Captain Joseph Boxhall, was a well known and respected master with the Wilson Line of Hull.
On 2 June 1899 Joseph Groves Boxhall joined his first ship, a steel hulled barque sailing from Liverpool and belonging to the William Thomas Line. During the course of his apprenticeship he sailed to Russia, the Mediterraenan, North and South America and Australia. In July 1903 he obtained his Second Mate's Certificate, and very soon afterwards joined the same shipping company has his father, the Wilson Line of Hull. In January 1905 he passed the examination for his First Mate's certificate in Hull. After further sea time, he studied for his Master's and Extra-Master's certification at Trinity House in Hull, and passed these examinations in September 1907, and in November joined the White Star Line.
Among his earliest berths with the White Star Line was the crack liner Oceanic . He joined her in July 1908 as Sixth Officer, and it was while serving aboard her that he met Charles Lightoller, the only Titanic officer he knew prior to joining the Titanic in Belfast. After spending time on the Australian run in 1911, by the end of the year he was back on the North Atlantic run with the Arabic. He signed off her articles in January 1912, and his next ship was RMS Titanic .
At 9 a.m. on the 26th of March 1912 Boxhall and the other junior officers of the Titanic : Third Officer Herbert Pitman , Fifth Officer Harold Lowe and Sixth Officer James Moody collected tickets from the White Star Line marine superintendent in Liverpool for their journey to Belfast. They departed from Liverpool at around 10 p.m. that night and were aboard the new ship by noon the following day.
During the following few days Boxhall assisted with preparations for the vessel's trials and once these had been completed he accompanied her on the short voyage to Southampton arriving there just after midnight on April 4. On the day of departure Boxhall was on the navigating bridge, working the engine room and docking bridge telegraphs on orders from Captain Smith and the Trinity House Harbour Pilot George Bowyer . Once at sea Boxhall settled into his role of regular watches, navigation and assisting both passengers and crew.
At 11.40 p.m. on the night of April 14, Boxhall, who had been in his cabin, was walking to the bridge. He heard three bells from the crows nest signalling the sighting of an iceberg ahead, he then heard First Officer William Murdoch call out orders to quartermaster Robert Hichens to put the wheel hard over, and the noise of the engine room telegraphs ordering the reversal of the engines. As Boxhall reached the bridge he saw Murdoch organizing the closure of watertight doors just as a long grinding jar shook the ship. Moments later Captain Smith was at his side asking what had happened. Murdoch explained and Boxhall was told to go down and inspect the forward part of the ship. Boxhall went down but saw no damage but as he continued his tour a steerage passenger handed him a large piece of ice which had been fallen to the deck.
Boxhall returned to the bridge after a fifteen minute inspection and reported back to the Captain that he, at least, could find nothing awry. Smith then sent Boxhall to get the Carpenter to sound the ship but as Boxhall left the bridge joiner John H. Hutchinson (it may have been carpenter J. Maxwell ) rushed past him, he exclaimed that the forward compartments were filling up fast. The joiner was soon followed by Postal Clerk John Richard Jago Smith who informed the Captain that the lower mail sorting room on the orlop deck was also filling up with water.
Boxhall was then sent to fetch Second Officer Charles Lightoller and Third Officer Herbert Pitman . The two officers had already been out to see what had happened but had returned to their cabins to await orders.
Boxhall's next task was to work out the ship's position. After he had done so Captain Smith went to the wireless room and ordered First Marconi Operator Jack Phillips to send out a call for assistance.
At 12.45 a.m. Boxhall and quartermaster George Arthur Rowe began to fire rockets from an angled rail attached to the bridge. Rowe continued to do so until the rockets ran out around 1.25. Whilst Rowe was thus engaged Boxhall scanned the horizon, he spotted a steamer in the distance, he and Rowe attempted to contact the vessel with a morse lamp but they were unsuccessful. At one point Boxhall sought reassurance from the Captain and asked if he felt the situation was really serious, Smith replied that the ship would sink within an hour to an hour and a half.
Boxhall was put in charge of Lifeboat 2 which was lowered at 1.45am. After the Titanic had gone down he asked the ladies in the boat whether they should go back to help swimmers out of the water, but they said no. The boat was less than two thirds full. During the night Boxhall periodically set off green flares and also rowed. Around 4.00 a.m. the Carpathia was sighted and Boxhall let off a final flare to guide the ship to them. When he finally clambered aboard the Carpathia he was ordered to the bridge and there informed Captain Rostron that the Titanic had gone down at about 2.30 a.m.
At both of the subsequent inquiries, Boxhall would be called on to testifyto the details of navigation and the evacuation of passengers and crewinto the boats. It was Boxhall who first mentioned the presence of anothervessel in close proximity that did not respond to the distress signals sent up by the Titanic.
Boxhall suffered from Pleurisy in the wake of the disaster, caused (or exacerbated) by exposure in the lifeboats. Following his return to England, he joined the Adriatic as her Fourth Officer. In the pre-war years he joined the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) as a Sub-Lieutenant and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1915. He served on cruisers, a torpedo boat and a shore base. In the post-war years he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
After his return from the war, Boxhall married Marjory Beddells, daughter of a Yorkshire industrialist, on 25 March 1919 in St Andrew's Church near her home in Sharrow, Sheffield. The marriage was a happy one, although the couple were childless.
In May 1919 Boxhall returned to the merchant service, and throughout the early 1920s served with White Star and other International Mercantile Marine ships, sailing to the United States, Canada and Australia. Following the White Star Line-Cunard merger, he served in a senior capacity as first and later chief officer of ships such as the Berengaria, Aquitania, Ausonia, Scythia, Antonia and Franconia. He never received his own command in the merchant service, and retired in 1940 .
Although a rather quiet, taciturn man, Boxhall enjoyed the respect and friendship of many senior figures in the merchant service, among them Commander Grattige who had commanded the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. When Boxhall was asked to act as a technical advisor to the 1958 film A Night to Remember , he asked his friend Grattidge to work with him on the project as he was experiencing some health problems. Members of his family were surprised when Boxhall agreed to assist in the making of the film, as he had been rather reluctant to speak on the subject of the disaster. He was involved in the promotion of the film and attended the premiere at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square. In the years after A Night to Remember Commander Boxhall spoke to some researchers and gave a BBC Interview on the subject in 1962.
Boxhall's health deteriorated sharply in the 1960s, leading to his eventual hospitalisation. He died 25 April 1967, age 83 - the last of the Titanic's surviving deck officers to pass away. His remains were cremated and his ashes, according to his wishes, were scattered over the position he had calculated that the Titanic had gone down.
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