Joseph Henry Charles was born in Perth, Ontario, Canada, on the 25th March 1867, the son of John L. and Sarah Charles. Nothing is known of his early life, except that as a young man, he left Canada and went to South Africa for a time.
After leaving Canada, he met and married Annie Louisa Beavis, who it is believed was born in England, although no record of her birth or their marriage can be found. The first of the couple’s eleven children, Robert, was born in South Africa in 1891, and around 1893, the family returned to Canada and settled in Lanark, Ontario, which was close to where Joseph was believed to have been born. Joseph was working as a clerk at this time, but the nature of business he was working in is not known.
Joseph Charles changed occupations a number of time during his lifetime, being a clerk and a general merchant, and then a secretary at a publishing company. By 1915, the family had moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where Joseph was the secretary and treasurer of The Musson Book Company.
In the spring of 1915, he had business to conduct in England on behalf of his company and as a consequence booked saloon passage with agents A. F. Webster & Son, of Toronto, on the
Lusitania from New York to Liverpool, on her sailing leaving on 1st May 1915. Sometime after booking his passage, he decided to bring his 21-year-old daughter, Doris, with him. It is believed that Joseph and his wife were unhappy that Doris had become engaged to Elliott Rowe Lawler, an electrical engineer, who was six years older than Doris, and by bringing her on the voyage to England, Joseph would have time to talk her into changing her mind about marrying him.
At the end of April the couple left home by rail and travelled to New York, where they boarded the liner at Pier 54 - the Cunard berth. John Charles’ ticket was numbered 10858 and he was allocated saloon room B66, which was under the personal supervision of First Class Waiter John Roach who came from Liverpool and who was serving as a first class bedroom steward on the liner’s final voyage.
During the voyage, Joseph and Doris Charles spent a lot of their time in the company of the Loney family, who were also travelling as saloon class passengers, and who had a 15-year-old daughter, Virginia.
Six days out of New York, the liner was torpedoed and sunk, by the German submarine
U-20, off the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her home port. Both Joseph Charles and his daughter survived this action, floating in the sea for three hours before being rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, from where they eventually got to England. Virginia Loney was the only survivor from her family, her parents having perished.
First Class Waiter Roach who had looked after the Joseph Charles in room B66 on the crossing, also survived the sinking.
Cunard records erroneous record Mr. Charles forename as John.
Joseph Charles and his daughter returned to Canada on board the St. Paul on the 14th June 1915.
Joseph Charles submitted a claim for compensation for personal injuries and the loss of his personal effects which was dealt with by the Canadian Commission established to deal with all such claims. The Commission awarded him the sum of $1,541.85, with interest at a rate of 5% per annum from the 10th January 1920 to the date of the settlement.
Joseph Charles died of a cerebral haemorrhage in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on the 6th January 1930, aged 62 years. His funeral took place on the 9th January and his remains interred in Park Lane Cemetery, Toronto.
1901 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of Canada, 1921 Census of Canada, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Ontario Canada Deaths and Deaths Overseas 1869 – 1946, Canadian Claims Case No. 760, Cunard Records, Edmonton Journal, PRO BT 100/345, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.