Encyclopedia Titanica

Joseph Thomas Wheat

Joseph Thomas Wheat

Mr Joseph Thomas Wheat (Assistant Second Steward) was born in Rock Ferry, Cheshire, England on 13 April 1882. 

He was the son of William Wheat (1849-1908), a seaman, and Mary Jane Oldham (1850-1942). His parents were from Gainsborough, Lincolnshire and Runcorn, Cheshire, respectively and they married in Birkenhead in 1872. His father served as the mate of a tug boat in the harbour service. 

One of eight children, his siblings were: Marion (b. 1874), Alice (b. 1877), William John (b. 1876), James Henry (b. 1879), Florence Jane (b. 1884), Charles Edwin (b. 1887) and Elizabeth Ellen (b. 1890). 

In the year prior to Joseph's birth his family were recorded on the 1881 census living at 5 Wellington Street in Tranmere, Cheshire. When Joseph appears on the 1891 census the family were living at 9 Medway Road, Tranmere. The 1901 census shows Wheat's mother and younger siblings living at 22 Mulberry Road, Tranmere but Joseph was not present, presumably having already commenced his career at sea. By March 1904 he was serving as a steward aboard the Cedric and gave his local address as 28 Grove Road, Rock Ferry.

Wheat was married on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire in late 1911 to Ellen Gertrude Whiteley (b. 17 May 1884), a laundress originally from Halifax, Yorkshire. The two had lived together as boarders and show up at 12 Queens Park Terrace, Southampton on the 1911 census.

Wheat was on board the Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton. When he signed-on again in Southampton, on 4 April 1912 he gave his address as 14 Cobden Gardens, Southampton. His previous ship had been the Olympic and as Assistant Second Steward he received monthly wages of £8. His cabin was situated amidships on F-deck portside, close to the Turkish Baths, and he shared a cabin with another steward.

On the night of 14 April Wheat was just about to turn in for the night when he heard a noise which he believed was the ship dropping a propeller blade, having been aboard another vessel when that same anomaly occurred. It is not clear where Wheat was situated at the time but he reportedly roused his bunkmate who had seemingly slept through the impact. The two went one deck above to E-deck where they met steward James Johnston who informed Wheat that the ship was taking in water forward. Wheat and his colleague went forward to investigate for themselves and went to the post office on G-Deck where he witnessed the mail workers dragging the mailbags up from below, water already rising up the companionway between the mailroom on the orlop deck to G-deck by that point. 

Joseph Wheat

After observing this Wheat ascended back up to Scotland Road and headed amidships where he then returned to F-deck. On his own volition and without orders he began manually closing the two watertight doors in that section of the ship that housed the Turkish Baths and his own cabin. Second steward George Dodd and Turkish Bath attendant John Crosbie helped him with this task. 

Task completed Wheat began an ascent to the upper decks; at C-deck he encountered purser Herbert McElroy who was hanging over the banister to address him, ordering him to "get the men up and get all lifebelts and all passengers." Wheat complied and descended back to the stewards' but found most of the stewards were already prepared. He then returned to his own cabin and took time to ensure everyone in that F-Deck compartment were out of their rooms; the area was abandoned. Making his way back to the staircase that could lead him up to E-deck, Wheat noticed that water was already trickling down the companionway from the deck above; he ascended to E-deck and noticed water beginning to inundate the starboard portion of that deck, the first class cabin areas. He went out the emergency door to Scotland Road which he noted was "quite dry" and saw only a handful of male steerage passengers making their way aft, several carrying or dragging luggage and boxes. Wheat then made for a service staircase and ascended to B-Deck where he encountered chief steward Andrew Latimer who was dressed in his great coat and with a life preserver over the top. Wheat offered up the advice to his superior to put the lifebelt on under his coat, but offered no explanation as to whether Latimer followed his advice. 

Wheat then pressed on and made his way to the aft-starboard boat deck where he observed that lifeboat 9 was being prepared to loading and with women and children being herded by stewards across from the portside. Wheat then received orders from first officer William Murdoch to take a contingent of stewards (around 70 in total) down to A-deck, the officer hoping that the aft starboard boats could be filled from there. Wheat took his stewards down and lined them up two-deep along the A-deck railing, fearing a rush but found the evacuation in that section of the ship to have been quite orderly. He shouted out orders for someone to check that the plug of boat 11 was in place and ordered five or six stewards to man the boat; with one foot on the railing and another in the lifeboat he helped fill that boat with women and children until it reached capacity. Murdoch peered over the side from the boat deck and barked "You have got enough there." Wheat testified that there were fifty-one women, three men, nine children, seven stewards, two sailors, one fireman and himself, making a total of 74 occupants. Lifeboat 11 was one of the most crowded to be launched. 

Following launch Wheat discovered that lifeboat 11 was bereft of certain items such as lamps or compasses but did have a supply of water.

Joseph Wheat survived the sinking and he and his lifeboat were later rescued by the Carpathia. He was not required to give evidence to the American Inquiry into the sinking but gave evidence to the British Inquiry over two days and was recompensed with £16, 2s, 6d. 

His wife had been pregnant at the time of the sinking and she gave birth to a son on 29 November 1912, John Joseph William who was to be their only child.

Wheat continued to work at sea for the duration of World War I and in the 1920s later served aboard a number of ships, including aboard the Belgenland in the early part of that decade. He later left the sea to take up land-based catering work. 

The Wheat family later resettled in Kent and appear on the 1939 register as residents of 70 Tower Coast Crescent in Orpington; Joseph was described as a catering superintendent and also living with them was his mother-in-law Betty Whitely. He would live at that address for the rest of his life. 

Joseph Wheat died on 18 June 1961 aged 79 in Orpington Hospital, Kent. His estate, worth £3379, 1s, 10d was left to his widow. 

He was cremated at Honor Oak Crematorium on 21 June 1961 his ashes were scattered on the right-hand side in the pergola at the crematorium.

His widow Ellen Gertrude Wheat passed away in Worthing, Sussex in 1979 aged 95. 

Their son John later worked as a bank clerk before going on to serve in the Royal Navy during WWII. He married Doris Townley in Southampton in 1938 and died in Lewes, East Sussex in 1976.

References and Sources

Daily Sketch 18 April 1912

Documents and Certificates

Agreement and Account of Crew, National Archives, London; BT100/259
Central Register of Merchant Seamen (including CR10 Identity Cards), Southampton City Archives / National Archives, (BT348, BT349, BT350)


England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
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Titanic Crew Summary

Name: Mr Joseph Thomas Wheat
Age: 30 years and 2 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Married to Ellen Gertrude Whiteley
Last Residence: at 14 Cobden GardensSouthampton, Hampshire, England
Last Ship: Olympic
Embarked: Belfast on Monday 1st April 1912
Rescued (boat 11)  
Disembarked Carpathia: New York City on Thursday 18th April 1912
Died: Sunday 18th June 1961 aged 79 years
Cremated Honor Oak Crematorium, Honor Oak, Southwark, London on Wednesday 21st June 1961

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