The world continues to be fascinated by the story of the Titanic. The huge liner had been built by the Belfast shipyard of Harland and Wolff for the White Star line and was on its maiden voyage when it sank in the North Atlantic in the early morning of 14th April 1912, a few hours after hitting an iceberg. The ship, of course, was packed with passengers of all classes and ranks and at least 1500 people lost their lives.
There were a number of people with Hull connections who were caught up in one way or another with the Titanic tragedy. This is the story of two survivors, Joseph Boxhall and Algernon Barkworth.
Joseph Groves Boxhall – Fourth Officer
Joseph Groves Boxhall was the Fourth Officer of the Titanic on its maiden voyage. He had been born into a Hull seafaring family on the 23rd March 1884. His father, also called Joseph (1857-1928), was a well respected captain in the Wilson Line of Hull and his grandfather, Charles Frederick Boxhall, who had come to Hull from Embleton in Northumberland, had been a pilot.
Joseph Boxhall junior continued the family seafaring tradition and became an apprentice on a barque operated by the William Thomas Line of Liverpool in 1899. Over the next four years he travelled extensively as he learned his trade before moving on to work with his father in the Wilson Line, moving up the ranks as he obtained his masters and extra-masters certification. Later, he joined the White Star Line and served on the liners Oceanic and Arabic. In early 1912, at the age of twenty eight, he was assigned to the newly built Titanic and joined the ship at Liverpool for a voyage back to Belfast.
Boxhall had been appointed fourth officer on the Titanic and was on board when she embarked on her maiden voyage from Southampton on the 10th April 1912. The first few days of the voyage seem to have been relatively straightforward but it was the night of the 14th/15th April which gave the ship its indelible place in maritime history. Joseph was off duty when the Titanic struck the iceberg at 11.40pm but went straight to the bridge after hearing the lookout bell. Captain Smith sent him to inspect the forward part of the ship and although he found no damage there he was soon told by the ship’s carpenter that the liner was taking in water. Joseph played a key role in the events that followed. It was he who calculated the Titanic’s position so that the first ever wireless distress signal could be sent out. Within ten minutes of the collision he was alerted that a ship had been spotted nearby. When he scanned the horizon with his binoculars he picked out the masthead light of a steamship some ten or twelve miles away, this vessel is now generally thought to have been the SS Californian. Boxhall tried to attract its attention with a morse signal flare and ordered the firing of flares but his attempts proved in vain.
Shortly after midnight, Boxhall roused the other officers as the passengers were mustered and during the time that followed before the Titanic went down, Boxhall was put in charge of lifeboat no 2 when it was lowered down the port side at 1.45am. After reaching the water the lifeboat was rowed clear of the ship to prevent it being pulled down by the suction when the ship slipped below the waves about 2.20am. Lifeboat No 2 had moved about three quarters of a mile from the Titanic when it foundered and Boxhall and the others did not see her slip beneath the waves as by then the liner’s lights had gone out.
Twenty five people including eight first class and ten third class passengers and two other crew, were in Boxhall’s little craft when he spotted the Carpathia in the distance and he guided her towards the lifeboats with the help of green flares. Boxhall ‘s group were the first Titanic survivors that the Carpathia had come across and he was taken straight to see the captain to tell him the unbelievable news that the great liner had sunk. Although Boxhall was normally regarded as taciturn man he was overwhelmed by recounting the events, becoming distraught when asked how many were left on board when she sank. ‘Hundreds and hundreds! Perhaps a thousand! Perhaps more! My God Sir, they’ve gone down with her. They couldn’t live in this icy water.’ He was sent below for coffee and to warm up; by 8am the Carpathia had picked up more than 700 passengers and crew, most stunned into a state of deep shock.
Boxhall and the other survivors on the Carpathia were landed at New York’s Pier 54 on the 18th April and he and the other surviving officers gave evidence to the American enquiry into the sinking. He travelled back to England on the Adriatic on the 2nd May and was a witness once more, this time at the British enquiry.
Afterwards, Boxhall resumed his seagoing career. He held the position of Fourth Officer on the Adriatic for a short time and joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a sub-lieutenant and was promoted to lieutenant in 1915. During the Great War he served on the battleship Commonwealth for a spell before being given command of a torpedo boat at Gibraltar. A few months after the war finished he married Marjorie Beddells in Sheffield and returned to the White Star line. In 1933 Cunard and White Star merged and Boxhall continued to serve as a senior officer on the fleet’s liners, eventually becoming first officer, though he was never a captain in the merchant service.
He retired from the sea in 1940 and although, regarded as a quiet man who was reluctant to talk much about the Titanic disaster for many years, he did act as technical adviser for the film A Night to Remember, starring Kenneth More, in 1958 and was interviewed for the radio in 1962. He died in Hampshire in1967 at the age of 83. After cremation, his ashes were scattered, as he had wished, on the Atlantic over the position calculated as the Titanic’s final resting place.
Algernon Barkworth – First class passenger
The Barkworth family had been an important Hull shipbuilding family since the eighteenth century and played a major part in the affairs of the city. Algernon was the
great grandson of John Barkworth of the shipbuilding firm of Barkworth and Hawkes, based at Hessle Cliff. In 1815 the firm had built the naval vessels, Hecla and Infernal (see chapter ), the latter of which was used by Parry in his quest for the North-West Passage. In 1805 John Barkworth had built himself a substantial residence in the Georgian Style at Hessle which became known as Tranby House. The house subsequently passed on through the family, and for much of the first half of the twentieth century Algernon Barkworth lived there with his sister Evelyn.
Algernon had been born in Hessle in 1864 and, being a wealthy man, he had the time and means to pursue his varied interests. He had trained in the law but doesn’t seem to have practised although was he was a Justice of the Peace for many years. He had a keen interest in all things mechanical but might have lived a rather obscure life had he not boarded Titanic for its maiden voyage at Southampton, paying £30 for the crossing and occupying Cabin A-23. The first few days of the voyage out seem to have been largely uneventful and Algernon struck up a friendship with Arthur Gee, an English businessman from Lancashire and Charles C Jones, an American salesman.
On the fateful evening of the sinking, the three men played cards, smoked and were engrossed in conversation about good road building, a subject that deeply interested Algernon. It grew late and the other two decided to turn in. However, Algernon decided to stay up a little longer. He knew that the clocks on the liner were being turned back one hour at midnight and thought he would wait and adjust his watch at that point. He was thus wide awake when the iceberg was struck. Later, when he realised the seriousness of the incident he went down to his cabin to retrieve some items including coat and case and recalled that the band were still playing. He put his fur coat on over his lifebelt and as the vessel slipped further and further into the water he jumped into the sea. Algernon later considered that his fur coat and case helped to keep him from both sinking and freezing. Struggling in the dark, cold water, he first managed to grasp a plank of wood which also helped him keep afloat for some time, and then eventually he paddled and swam across to an upturned lifeboat. His fight for life in the chilling Atlantic waters lasted for some hours before he eventually managed to haul himself on board lifeboat B. This lifeboat already had thirteen people on board and they were worried about the stability of their frail craft. At first they hesitated to pull him on board so he floated alongside for a time before eventually dragging himself out of the water. He was half frozen but a French woman gave him a steamer rug which offered some protection from the bitterly cold night. p.
Algernon Barkworth had survived against the odds for virtually all those left in the water succumbed to the cold. Indeed, the bodies of his two companions, Arthur Gee and Charles C.Jones were later found floating in the sea. Both were returned to their home towns for burial. Algernon spent much of the rest of his life back at Tranby House where he died in 1945 at the age of eighty. He bequeathed the Barkworth’s old house and estate to the local education authority and today the elegant structure forms the focal point of the Hessle High School, Heads Lane campus.
Stephanie Barczewski, A Night Remembered (UK: Continuum, 2006)
Daniel Allen Butler, Unsinkable:The Full Story of the RMS Titanic (USA: Stackpole Books, 1998)
L. Marmaduke Collins, The Sinking of the Titanic: An Ice Pilot’s Perspective (Canada: Breakwater Books 2002)
Archibald Gracie, The Truth about the Titanic (USA:1913 repr. USA: Kessinger Publishing, 2004)
Walter Lord, A Night to Remember (London, 1957)
Logan Marshall, Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters (USA, 1912 repr. Kessinger Publishing 2004)
Jeffrey H. Richards, A Night to remember: the definitive Titanic film (UK: I.B. Tauris, 2003)
BBC Archive:Commander Joseph Boxhall: An eye witness account from the bridge of the Titanic. Archive recording
Joseph Groves Boxhall. Fourth Officer