Charles Cullen, Survivor of the April 14, 1912 Sinking of the RMS Titanic Jim Cullen - April 16, 2006
This is the story of one survivor of RMS Titanic, a Bedroom Steward named Charles Cullen. His family has yet to be identified but it is hoped that the information presented here will generate enough interest to possibly complete the story by finding and honoring the family of the brave Steward who came to the aid of those caught up in the horrible events of April 14, 1912.
Charles Cullen was not the only person by the name of Cullen on board Titanic. Two other Cullens, John Cullen and Patrick Cullen, both natives of Belfast in Northern Ireland, boarded Titanic on Friday March 29, 1912 in Belfast. Titanic had just completed outfitting in preparation for her maiden voyage. John Cullen, age 43, was a Fireman who last served onboard Titanic's sister ship, Olympic. Patrick Cullen, age 36, was also a Fireman/Stoker and he is said to have previously served onboard Kelpic. Three days later, Charles Cullen, a Bedroom Steward who had previously served onboard Celtic ( and also possibly Olympic ), boarded RMS Titanic. All three were onboard when Titanic departed Belfast at 8pm on Tuesday April 2, 1912. Titanic set sail for Southampton, arriving the next day. John Cullen and Patrick Cullen disembarked at Southampton probably sometime between between 9:30 and 11:30am, thus avoiding the disastrous encounter now just over a week away.
According to the records, Charles Cullen was born about 1867 in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. This date is figured from his stated age of 45 years when he signed onto Titanic. His last known address was given as 21 Warburton Rd, Southampton. By coincidence, 1867 is also the year that the distressed White Star Line was purchased by Thomas Henry Ismay and Sir Edward Harland.
By the close of Good Friday on April 5, 1912, Titanic was fully 'dressed' and nearly ready to set sail. On Wednesday April 10, Titanic raised anchor on her maiden voyage. She made two stops; Cherbourgh, France on April 10, and Queenstown, Ireland on April 11. It was while anchored off Roche's Point, Queenstown, Ireland, that the last known photograph of Titanic was taken by a passenger who had just disembarked.
At 1:30pm on Thursday April 11, 1912, Titanic raises anchor for the last time. Her destination was New York. For two days Titanic sailed through calm seas. Additional boilers were brought online and Titanic's speed was brought up to just over 20 knots. The skies were clear and cold, with the temperature dropping gradually to just below 32 degrees. Several ice warnings were received from other ships during the day on Sunday April 14. Titanic took heed of the warnings but did not become alarmed as ice warnings were common enough. At 10pm, during watch turnover, the warnings were passed between shifts to be on the lookout for icebergs. At 10:50pm the ship Californian signalled Titanic by wireless that they were stopped and surrounded by ice. Undeterred but watchful as men at sea always are, Titanic sailed on, unaware that their own encounter with ice at sea was less than an hour away.
It could be easily believed that Charles Cullen had been kept very busy throughout the voyage. Those in the Victualing Department usually are, as they are expected to attend to the many needs of their guests onboard. Colonel Archibald Gracie, of the wealthy New York Gracie family, had boarded Titanic First Class in Southampton and resided during Titanic's maiden voyage in Cabin C-51. Charles Cullen was Col Gracie's room steward and, among the many items Cullen attended to, was the request by Gracie to be woken up early in the mornings for swimming, exercise, and racquetball before a long day of comfort, entertainment, and socializing. Sunday night Col Gracie retired early and by 11:30pm had been sleeping soundly for some time.
Up on deck the time is 11:40pm. The cold starlit night was moonless and so was exceptionally dark. A lookout in the crow's nest suddenly spotted something ahead of the ship. At just 500 yards distance an iceberg, towering nearly sixty feet out of the water, was dead ahead and closing fast onTitanic. At 20 knots and fully loaded, Titanic's stopping distance was nearly twice that which separated her from the deadly obstacle. Three bells rang out and a frantic call was placed to the bridge. The Captain called for hard to starboard and all engines stop. Then came the order for all engines full astern. It took several seconds for Titanic to begin to veer to port but by then it was too late.
Below decks, Col Gracie awoke to a dull thump, and noted the time was 11:45pm. Not knowing that Titanic was already filling with water through several open wounds in the starboard bow, Gracie still sensed something wrong by the sound of escaping steam and the lack of engine noise in the ship. He dressed himself and went out to investigate. Many passengers had not even noticed the collision and there was not yet any panic aboard. Col Gracie soon learned from the few others he met on deck that Titanic had struck an iceberg and was taking on water. By then there was better than fifteen feet of water taken on and there was a detectable tilt to the deck of the ship.
At these signs of a possibly worsening situation, many decided it was time to prepare for the worst. Gracie returned to his stateroom to pack personal belongings and then returned to deck only to find that many people had gathered there and had been putting on their lifejackets. According to the account, Steward Charles Cullen had assisted the passengers after the collision. Gracie was met on deck by Cullen and Cullen insisted that Gracie needed to return to his stateroom immediately and retrieve his lifejacket. Cullen persisted in his duties and attended to the needs of those he was charged with and likely others as well. Gracie stated that Cullen had even assisted him in putting on the lifevest he had retrieved.
By midnight it was determined that the stricken Titanic was doomed, able to remain afloat for no more than a couple hours even with the watertight doors closed and pumps working to empty the ship of water. Cullen would have likely used his time in locating passengers and directing them to the decks where they would put on lifejackets and wait to be transferred either onto rescue ships or onto Titanic's own lifeboats. Minutes later the decision was made to uncover and ready the lifeboats to be loaded with passengers. Distress signals were being sent out and several ships received the signals but were too far away to be of immediate assistance. Cullen and Gracie were among those making preparations to abandon ship. Together they collected extra blankets and likely other necessities for use in the lifeboats.
The ship Carpathia, having received Titanic's distress signals, was now coming to the rescue at full steam but was still nearly sixty miles distant. At twenty-five minutes after midnight, the order was given to begin loading the lifeboats with passengers, women and children first. Organizing the loading must have been a huge undertaking - the first boat was not lowered away until twenty minutes later at 12:45am. For the next half hour, the forward lifeboats were lowered away only partially loaded with passengers. Even if loaded to capacity, there were only enough lifeboats for half the people onboard. By the time another half hour transpired, the tilt of the deck was alarming and those still onboard moved to the stern. By that time all the forward lifeboats had been deployed.
At about this time, Charles Cullen boarded Lifeboat 11 and was lowered away at about 1:35am. By 2:05am the last of the lifeboats was in the water, leaving 1500 souls still onboard the sinking Titanic. Just ten minutes later, the ship was in the throes of death and began to disintegrate. The sounds of the dying ship were described as horrific. Loose objects inside Titanic tumbled and crashed through bulkheads as the tilt of the ship brought the stern completely out of the water. The ship itself groaned as she came apart under her own weight. Distress signals were still being sent out by the radioman. Five minutes after that, at 2:20am, the ships lights blinked and then were extinguished forever as Titanic broke in two and slipped beneath the waves.
Charles Cullen was in Lifeboat 11 for just over an hour when Carpathia's rockets were sighted at about 3:30am. By ten after four, lifeboats were being retrieved onto Carpathia's decks. By 9am Carpathia was steaming for New York with 705 survivors of the Titanic disaster onboard, Charles Cullen and Colonel Archibald Gracie among them. Three days later, on April 18, Carpathia arrived in New York as a crowd of thousands were on hand to greet the ship. At 9pm the survivors disembarked at Cunard Pier.
From April 19 to May 25, an inquiry into the Titanic disaster was conducted by the United States Senate, headed by Senator William A. Smith. It isn't known if Charles Cullen was called as a witness but in the US Senate Inquiry alphabetical list of the crew we find #35 in the Victualing Department is Cullen, C., whose address was given as: 21 Warberton Road, Seaford, Liverpool. The British Board of Trade Inquiry was held from May 2 to June 3 of 1912, calling some 96 witnesses, some of them members of the crew. In Expenses of Inquiry Paid by the Board of Trade we find under Witnesses (allowances for travelling and subsistence) from the Crew of Titanic, one C. Cullen incurring an expense of 11pounds 15s 0d. If statements were taken as we are sure they were, the copies have not been located. The whereabouts of Charles Cullen, Bedroom Steward onboard RMS Titanic, after the inquiries, is unknown.