Charles Joughin, Hero of the Titanic


Here is a re-telling of the story of my favorite survivor of the Titanic (the sinking of which was my first historical obsession, way back in grade 2 and well before that movie came out). I am well aware that Drunk History did a segment on him. You should be aware that I squealed in delight when I saw it.

This is probably not entirely accurate.

People generally have a puffed-up idea of how they would react in an emergency, particularly if the emergency took place in olden times and there’s no possibility of a survivor telling them how full of shit they are. If they were present at the (insert historical disaster here), they certainly would have (knew what was up right away/survived/not panicked at all/saved everyone through a convoluted means that no one actually there would have thought of and wouldn’t have actually worked anyway) because (they are so smart/everyone in the past was dumb/’murica).

Now, me, I’m 90% certain that if I was some random passenger or crew member on the Titanic on the night of April 14th and 15th, 1912, I would have lost my shit. But if I’m wrong on that, I’d like to have not lost my shit the same way Charles Joughin didn’t.

The Titanic had lots of bakers, on account of all the passengers eating bread and what have you, and Charles Joughin was the chief. When the ship hit the iceberg, he was off-duty by most accounts, although I distinctly remember a description in Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember of him watching as some freshly-baked first class rolls clattered onto the floor. Regardless of where he was, he was soon out and about, directing his underlings to take bread to the lifeboats, and having a drink or two or three along the way. Stray women who didn’t seem the logic in abandoning a giant, seemingly-sturdy ship for a dinky little lifeboat who had the fortune of crossing Joughin’s path were chucked into lifeboats themselves.

At a certain point, he did remember that he himself has an assigned lifeboat, #10, but he found out that there were already some crew in his spot. Well, whatever. No need to raise a fuss, so he didn’t.

His assigned lifeboat was now gone. And soon, pretty much all of the boats were gone. What did he do? Have a drink. And throw deck chairs into the sea, on the grounds that the inevitable swimmers would have something to cling to.

Then the ship, which had been listing towards the bow, took a bit of a nosedive. Joughin soon realized that the time for chucking things overboard had passed and made his way to the very tip of the stern, which was evidently going to be the last bit to stay dry. Remember that bit in the Titanic movie when Jack and Rose are on the stern, with the ship about to go down within seconds? And they look over and see this other dude up there with them? Yep, that’s our buddy Joughin. Unlike in the movie, though, there was reportedly no suction worth speaking of to suck him under when the stern did race down, and thus his head remained bone dry. And he paddled, paddled away.

And paddled.

And paddled.

The sun rose.

And he kept paddling. Until he saw the overturned ‘B’ lifeboat (it had not been properly launched, having washed off the boat deck before it could be loaded) and paddled over. A whole mess of men, being directed by Second Officer Charles Lightoller, were crowded on top, leaning this way and that to prevent the lifeboat from tipping and sinking. Joughin thought he might be allowed to clamber aboard, but this was nixed as even this would probably mean everyone being chucked into the sea. Thus he was forced to cling to the side, after a full two hours of paddling. That was doubtless irritating.

What luck for them that another, actually functioning, lifeboat arrived to pick them up before ferrying them to the rescue ship, the Carpathia. Regardless, Joughin spent the night from 2:20 AM onwards swimming in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic and survived, whereas everyone else forced to endure the same died. Why?

It is not so much the physiological effects of the booze that saved Joughin’s life. Cold is cold is cold, and no matter how much you’ve had to imbibe, it will kill you if you’re in it for too long – perhaps even faster, given that alcohol thins the blood. However, he did drink enough to take away that terror most of us would have probably felt in that situation, but not so much that he made incredibly stupid decisions. A lovely, happy medium.

What can we learn from this, as surely we can learn something from every story? The importance of moderation and keeping your head dry.

I might write more historical pieces in the future because it’s fun. If you yourself had fun, please consider tipping me via PayPal or Patreon. Thanks!

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