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Titanic Tales : The last to leave the liner

Updated: Apr 4, 2021

The chief baker on the Titanic who found an extraordinary way to survive the frigid waters of the North Atlantic when the White Star Liner sank in April 1912.

Charles John Joughin (3 August 1878 Birkenhead, Wirral, England - 9 December 1956 Paterson, New Jersey, US)

Early life

Charles Joughin (pronounced "Jockin") was born in Birkenhead on the south bank of the Mersey. Like so many people in the area surrounding Liverpool he found work on the seas, first taking to the waves in 1889 aged 11 after his father died in 1886. He became a baker at sea and appeared on numerous crew lists in 1900 and 1901 aboard the Majestic as a second baker and then on board the Teutonic. Charles was a diminutive man, standing just 5'3.5" (1m61cm)

On 17th November 1906 he married Louise Woodward in Liverpool and they had a daughter, Agnes Lillian in 1907 and a son, Roland Ernest in 1909. The 1911 census confirms that his wife and children were resident in Southampton while his mother and his spinster sister had relocated to Gillingham in Kent.

Charles was working as the chief baker on Olympic, the sister ship of the Titanic. He transferred to the ill fated ship and was on board from Belfast to Southampton for delivery of the vessel before signing back onto the ship at Southampton on 4th April 1912. His monthly wages were £12 (About £1,500 adjusted for inflation in 2021).

On the Titanic

At the time of the collision with the iceberg Joughin was off duty and on his bunk, which was alongside the engine casing on the portside on the long crew and third class passageway on E deck named Scotland Road. It startled him and he rose immediately. He heard no official instructions but rumours and ·general orders" from "up top" and he began to make preparations to provision the lifeboats with bread around 12.15am. After mustering thirteen staff they gathered four loaves each and took them to the boat deck. After this was completed he returned to his cabin. On the way, passing along E and D deck he noticed third class passengers attempting to make their way to the lifeboats. He also observed the interpreter steward Ludwig Müller, with the help of other stewards, assisting non-English speaking passengers at the aft end of Scotland Road. Joughin confesses he drank when back in his cabin.

Loading the life boats

Joughin returned to the boat deck a short time later and went to his assigned boat, number 10. He described a considerable number of passengers gathered while Chief officer Wilde was shouting at stewards to keep the men back. Joughin noted there was no need for such instructions as the men stayed back calmly and there was no panic or rushing. He assisted other crew in getting women and children on board. The lifeboat was only half full when they could find no more women and children prepared to board the lifeboat. Many women ran away insisting they would prefer to stay on the liner. Joughin reported that crew rounded up more women and children, some marched forcibly to the lifeboat.

When Joughin had returned to the lifeboat the list to port was already enough to leave the lifeboat about a yard and a half from the ship side. Women and children had to be thrown into the lifeboat. One woman tried to board the lifeboat alone and misjudged the gap, falling toward the sea only to be miraculously caught by steward William Burke. She was suspended upside down before being pulled back on board. Joughin did not recall seeing her again, William Burke confirmed that he did not see her on the boat deck again either.

Joughin was supposed to be in command of boat 10 but William Burke and two seamen were instructed to board the boat and Joughin received no such orders. It was Edward Buley and Frank Evans who took command of lifeboat 10.

Stuck onboard

The baker returned to his cabin to once more take a drink of liqour and a small amount of water had already reached the floor of his quarters, enough to cover his feet. He observed crew manually closing the watertight doors. He briefly talked with Dr. William O'Loughlin before returning to the boat deck, by which point it seemed all lifeboats had been cast off. He descended to B deck and the second class promenade where people were gathering. The list to port had increased and Joughin began to throw deckchairs overboard, he estimated about fifty or so, in the hope of providing something to cling to in the water when he would eventually have to jump into the ocean.

The final moments

At this point Joughin then went up one deck to A deck and the pantry (just aft of the first class lounge) to get a glass of water when he heard a loud booming crash and then the sound of wrenching metal and rumbling. He saw a mass of people rushing toward the poop deck. As he approached the back of the ship it lurched heavily to port and the mass of people were thrown into a pile. Joughin climbed out onto the starboard hull and edged his way to the poop deck on the railings. He insisted later that the ship had not reached a perpendicular position before it started to sink.

He reported that he saw no one else up there, unlike the events as depicted in the James Cameron film, and as he wondered what to do next he reported that he transferred items between his pockets and tightened his belt as he felt the ship begin to sink. He described riding the ship like an elevator and explained that his head was not submerged. This meant he was the last survivor to leave the forlorn ship.

"Once there was no one else I could help I grabbed my flask and took a swig. My hand was secure on the railing. When the ship was on its way down, I rode it down like an elevator. My feet touched the frigid water, but I did not really feel anything. My hair was dry since my head never actually touched the water. Everyone around me was breathing heavily and freezing to death, but I was fine. Bodies were floating face down and I tried not to touch them. Their faces were pure white like snow with a blue tinge."

In the water

Joughin estimated he was treading water and paddling for around two hours and day was breaking before he found a collapsible boat. The partially submerged boat had an estimated 20 to 25 men standing atop with officer Lightoller. Joughin attempted to pull himself up but was pushed off by the other men, insisting there was no room. He was then recognised by a cook, Isaac Maynard, who offered to keep a hold of his hand before a lifeboat came nearby exclaiming they could take ten men. Joughin climbed aboard and later recounted that he felt more cold on the lifeboat than he did in the water. When they reached the Carpathia he felt well, apart from swollen feet and he needed to mount the ladder up the side of the ship on his knees.

Some have questioned Joughin's estimation on the amount of time he spent in the water and although Joughin himself insists that whilst he had had some liqour he was not intoxicated on the night but it is widely believed that he survived his time on the frigid water because the one of the effects alcohol consumption is to reduce the effects of hypothermia.

Water of life

Alcohol causes vasodilation, the widening of the blood vessels which gives someone a fake sense of warmth, when in reality, it takes warmth from the body core and speeds up hypothermia.

However, at low to moderate levels of consumption the cold Atlantic would cancel the vasodilation effect, but the alcohol would give Joughin more of a sense of calm. The panic of many people entering the water would increase the onset of death. The shock of the cold would last about 90 seconds, ten minutes to go numb and 60 minutes until death. It could be argued that he spent less time in the water compared to the others that perished as he was on the stricken ship until the last possible moment.

Whisky was Joughin's tipple of choice, translated from Gaelic as "Water of life", literally gave Joughin the calm and courage to survive against all the odds. It also demonstrates that Joughin was probably telling the truth in that he was not inebriated but had taken a moderate amount of alcohol.

After the disaster

He recuperated in New York before returning to England to testify to the British Inquiry into the sinking on May 10 1912. He moved back to Liverpool with his family and returned to work on the Olympic. On the outbreak of World War One he served with the marine fleet and was onboard the S.S Congress which caught fire when enroute between San Fransisco and Seattle on September 14 1916. The captain was able to beach the ship and not a single life was lost in evacuating the vessel. In fact the report confirmed only one mishap occurred during the evacuation, when Joughin fell into the water whilst trying to board a lifeboat.

The war came to an end and Charles returned to his family in Liverpool but tragedy struck when his wife died in childbirth.

A new life in America

Joughin resettled in Paterson, New Jersey shortly after this loss, leaving his surviving children in Liverpool. He worked on mainly American ships. He remarried n 10 September 1925. his second bride, Annie Eleanor "Nellie" Howarth was a native of Leeds, Yorkshire and had lived at 574 East 23rd Street in Paterson for some considerable time. Joughin was to spend the rest of his life resident at that address.

He declared his intention to become an American citizen in June 1927 and concluded the process in June 1930. He completed his US seaman's passport in 1931.

Joughin served as a baker aboard a number of ships, appearing on crew lists for: Fort Victoria (1920-1921, Kroonland (1923-1924), Mongolia (1925-1926), Belgenland (1927), American Banker (1928-1929), American Trader (1928-1939), Manila (1940), City of Los Angeles (1940), Jamaica (1941), Deer Lodge (1941) and Pan Rhode Island (1943). Towards the tail-end of his career, Joughin would face further disaster; on 10 December 1941 the US freighter SS Oregon, just south of Nantucket Lightship, was accidentally rammed by USS New Mexico and sank. There were seventeen fatalities but Charles Joughin was named as a survivor. His obituary stated he was on another ship named S.S Oregon that sank in 1886 but it seems to have been an error.

Charles was then to be widowed a second time on 22 April 1944, a loss that would devastate him. Joughlin communicated with Walter Lord in the 1950s when Lord was writing A Night to Remember but Joughlin died on 9 December 1956 before the book was published. He was buried alongside his wife in Paterson and his estate was divided between his daughter Agnes and his step daughter Rose. His son Roland had died in Liverpool in 1955. Agnes was married in 1936 and passed away in Liverpool, in November 1973.

Joughin had managed to survive three maritime disasters over the course of his career and not only survived the icy Atlantic but will also be forever known as the last person to depart the RMS TItanic.

Portrayal in film

Joughin was played by George Rose in A Night to Remember (1958) and Irish actor Liam Tuohy in Titanic (1997). He was shown as being inebriated at the time of the sinking in both productions although the scenes in the latter film were largely cut.


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