Thanks to a strong constitution and some liquid courage, Charles Joughin survived nearly three hours in the frigid North Atlantic.
Born in Birkenhead, England in 1878, Charles Joughin heard the siren call of the ocean at an early age. He went to sea at the tender age of 11, following in the footsteps of two of his brothers, who had both joined the Royal Navy. His maritime career eventually led to a position on the RMS Titanic, where he was working as the head baker the fateful night the ship hit an iceberg on the evening of April 14, 1912.
Having been roused by the collision, Joughlin awoke to find the ship’s staff lacking orders and in disarray. With impressive foresight under pressure, Joughin ordered the bakers under his supervision to bring over 50 loaves of bread above deck to ensure everyone in the lifeboats would have food to tide them over until rescue. As icy water was streaming into the ship and panicked passengers were creating general chaos, Charles Joughin calmly returned to his room and had a drink. Having fortified his spirits, he then made his way to his assigned lifeboat.
Once in his designated position, Joughin did not immediately get into the boat, but instead made sure several women and children were loaded up safely. Having given up his seat (and therefore his chances of survival), in another tremendous display of stoicism the baker returned to his room once again for one last dose of liquid courage.
By the time Joughin had finished his final drink, the Titanic had begun to tilt dangerously and all of the lifeboats had already cast off. Still refusing to succumb to panic even though by this point the ship was swiftly sinking below the water, he began to throw deck chairs overboard, hoping that the unfortunates who had not made it into the lifeboats would be able to cling to them and stay afloat.
After one final return below deck to the pantry in search of one last drink, Joughin heard a mighty “crash as if something had buckled,” which was actually the sound of the Titanic breaking in two as the tremendous pressure the ship was under (the huge vessel had reached an almost vertical position as she went down) separated her bow from her stern.
Even after the ship had cracked in half, Charles Joughin remain on board, clinging to a rail until the last possible moment. During the official inquiry he stated in the final moments as the ship went down, he tightened his belt, shifted some items from his pockets, and stood “wondering what next to do when she went.” The last man aboard the Titanic had that decision made for him when he suddenly found himself in the icy water, as the ship slipped below the surface for good.
A life at sea had made Joughin a strong swimmer. He managed to keep his head above water while staying afloat in the frigid ocean for a remarkable two and a half hours. Joughin testified that he managed to tread water all night, it was only after the sun rose that he was pulled into a lifeboat that had room to take him on. Survivors of the Titanic were at last rescued by the RMS Carpathia and the baker somehow showed no signs of damage from his time in the water, other than swollen feet.
For many people, surviving a traumatic shipwreck that cost over a thousand lives would have been enough to ensure they never so much as got in a rowboat again. Not for Charles Joughin; when the first world war broke out he joined the Merchant Navy and went right back to baking on the high seas. After enough aquatic adventures to last a lifetime, he died in 1956, at the ripe old age of 78.