Thanks to a strong constitution and some liquid courage, Charles Joughin survived nearly three hours in the frigid North Atlantic.
Charles Joughin was arguably the last person aboard the Titanic when it sank into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic ocean on April 15, 1912. Yet somehow, the ship’s chief baker survived for hours in the subzero temperatures until he found a lifeboat.
What allowed him to stay so calm and live through one of history’s biggest disasters? To answer that, we have to go into the detail of what Joughin experienced on that fateful day.
Born in Birkenhead, England in 1878, Charles Joughin heard the call of the ocean at an early age. Following in the footsteps of two of his brothers, who had both joined the Royal Navy, Joughin began working aboard ships at age 11.
His maritime career eventually led to a position on the RMS Titanic, where he was working as the head baker when the legendary ship hit an iceberg on the evening of April 14, 1912.
Woken up by the collision, Joughlin found the ship’s staff in disarray and lacking leadership. Instead of panicking, he immediately realized what had happened and set out to take control of the situation.
His first order of business was to tell the bakers under his supervision to bring over 50 loaves of bread above deck to ensure everyone in the lifeboats would have food to last until they were rescued.
As icy water was streaming into the ship and most people were in a state of panic, Charles Joughin calmly returned to his room and had a drink of liquor. Having fortified his spirits, he then made his way to his assigned lifeboat.
But instead of getting in, he helped a group of men force women and children into the boats, likely saving their lives. By this point, the sinking ship was mostly empty of lifeboats.
Having given up his seat, the baker returned to his room once again for a dose of liquid courage, seemingly unfazed by water filling the cabin.
Then, he made his way topside and 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 alive.
The Titanic Sinks
After one final return below deck to the pantry for a glass of water, Joughin heard a “crash as if something had buckled,” which was actually the sound of the Titanic breaking in two from the tremendous pressure.
Despite how terrifying this moment must’ve seemed to all who remained on the ship, Joughin later explained that for him “There was no great shock or anything.”
Joughin immediately made his way to the stern of the ship and clung to the railing. In the final moments, as the ship went down, he tightened his lifebelt, shifted some items from his pockets, and calmly stood “wondering what next to do when she went.”
At around 2:20, the remaining half of the Titanic went vertical and plunged into the depths, with Joughin being one of, if not the last person to enter the cold Atlantic water.
Surviving The Frigid Waters
For the vast majority of people, entering the -2°C (28°F) water caused immediate cold shock. As Titanic’s second officer Charles Lightoller recalled, “Striking the water was like a thousand knives being driven into one’s body.”
In fact, this immediate shock and ensuing panic were enough to cause many people to drown within minutes, or lose so much body heat that they would not survive for long.
But, this was not the case for Joughin. The strong swimmer entered the water with his characteristically calm demeanor. “I was just paddling and treading water,” he later testified.
Joughin proceeded to stay afloat for a remarkable two and a half hours in the freezing darkness. Finally, as the first rays of sunlight appeared, he was able to spot an overturned lifeboat and made his way towards it.
Unfortunately, the boat had some 25 people standing on it and there was no room for Joughin. However, some moments later he spotted another lifeboat with room and was finally pulled out of the frigid water.
Not long after, the survivors of the Titanic were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. Other than swollen feet, the baker showed no signs of injury from his time in the water.
Charles Joughin’s Life After Titanic
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. His character was later portrayed in the 1958 film A Night to Remember, the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and the TV show Drunk History.
To this day, we don’t exactly know how to explain the ease with which Joughin survived. But the most likely explanation is simple: the fact that he didn’t panic and made smart decisions like staying out of the water until the last possible moment was the key to his survival.
The alcohol that likely boosted his courage helped too, inspiring the popular tale of the drunk baker who lived through one of the scariest disasters of the 20th century.
After learning about the baker on the Titanic, Charles Joughin, and his miraculous survival story, see 28 rare Titanic photos from before and after the sinking. Then, check out these five sunken ships that are even more interesting than Titanic.