Charles Herbert Lightoller was born on May 30, 1874 in Chorley, Lancashire. He began his career at sea young, taking on an apprenticeship at 13 aboard the Primrose Hill. He next served aboard the Holt Hill. The ship was destroyed in the South Atlantic and was forced to dock in Rio de Janeiro while Brazil was struggling through a military coup and a smallpox epidemic. After makeshift repairs, she was faced a similar fate in the Indian Ocean, and on November 13, 1889 ran aground on St. Paul, a tiny, uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean. The Chief Mate was killed in the shipwreck, and the survivors were rescued eight days later and taken to Adelaide, Australia.
Lightoller’s time at sea was fairly eventful, as he survived a cyclone, cargo room fire, and malaria. In 1898, he took a brief hiatus from the ocean and attempted to make his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. The adventure was unsuccessful, and Lightoller made his passage back to England as a cattle wrangler.
In 1900, Lightoller joined White Star Line, first serving as Fourth Officer of the Medic. The ship ran between Britain, South Africa, and Australia. On one of these journeys, he met Sylvia Hawley-Wilson, a Sydney native who was returning home after spending some time in England. They were married on the return trip.
Lightoller served as First Officer during Titanic’s sea trials, but Captain Edward J. Smith eventually made Henry T. Wilde his Chief Officer. As a result of this shift, Lightoller was moved down to Second Officer, the position he would hold throughout his voyage on Titanic.
On April 14, 1912, Second Officer Lightoller began his four-hour shift at 6:00 pm. Unfortunately, even though the Captain had received a number of ice warnings that afternoon, the Marconi operators had overlooked most of them. As a result, the officers were unaware of the predicted danger ahead.
At 10:00pm, Lightoller was relieved by First Officer Murdoch, and informed him that the lookout had been instructed to keep his eyes pealed for ice. He returned to his cabin, and at 11:40pm, was beginning to fall asleep when he felt a vibration. He went on deck where he met Third Officer Herbert Pitman who was also concerned by the unexplained vibration. They concluded that the vessel had hit something, but could see no sign of immediate danger. Ten minutes later, Lightoller was informed that the water was up to the F deck in the Mail Room.
Lightoller proceeded to take charge of the even number boats on the port side, but he soon determined that he had to use hand signals compensate for the overwhelming noise. As soon as Lightoller received the orders, he started loading women and children into lifeboat 4. When he tried loading them, he found that windows on A-Deck were locked, so he switched to loading lifeboat 6. For the next couple hours, Lightoller worked diligently to load as many people as possible into lifeboats.
After all other boats had been loaded, thirty men had climbed onto the overturned Collapsible B. The survivors included two First Class passengers, Lightoller, Colonel Gracie, and the two Marconi Operators. The rest were all crew members, who embraced their last opportunity to escape death. One of the Marconi operators told Lightoller that the Baltic, Olympic and Carpathia were on the way to rescue the survivors. Three men aboard Collapsible B passed away as the survivors waited for rescue.
The Carpathia arrived at dawn and just in time. At this point, Collapsible B was slowly sinking. Lightoller found himself in lifeboat 12, designed for 65-capacity; the small boat now contained 75 survivors. Lifeboat 12 was the last boat to be rescued by the Carpathia. Lightoller had helped all the survivors out before he climbed aboard before struggling aboard the rescue ship himself. He was the last Titanic survivor taken aboard theCarpathia.