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Second Officer Lightoller

Lightoller family in New Zealand

  • With the loss of his first two wives, Sarah (Charles Herbert's mother, aged 30) in 1874 and then Margaret (aged 28) in 1881, only seven years later, Frederick was subsequently involved in a scandle by falling in love with the Lightoller's maid (or possibly nanny) Joyce Gladwin, having a baby, Janet, out of wedlock in 1883. He then moved (or was possibly banished by family) to New Zealand taking his 19 year old daughter Jane with him, but abandoning three children in England: Gertrude (15), Ethel (12) and Herbert (10).

    Frederick and Jane travelled on the steamship the Doric and arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on the 32rd of February 1885, settling first in Northern Wairoa. Frederick and Joyce Gladwin were married in Auckland on the 11th of September 1885. Later, in 1904, they moved to Petone, where Frederick worked as an accountant and Joyce as a laundress. In 1907 Joyce became ill with tuberculosis and died at home at the age of 44 on Saturday 23 November, and was buried at the Taita Cemetery.

    From 1911 Frederick James Lightoller had a bad heart and associated depression. Towards the end of 1913 Frederick moved from Petone to Waipawa. In early December he cut his throat and died of the resulting shock on Friday 12th December 1913. He was 72 years old and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Waipawa Cemetery, as was the custom at the time.

    Frederick Lightoller's unmarked grave plot in Waipawa Cemetery.

Second Officer C.H.Lightoller
- Early Life and First Ship

A copy of Lightoller's birth certificate.
(Click image to enlarge)

Charles Herbert Lightoller was born on March 30th, 1874 in Highfield House, Chorley, Lancashire, England. He often went by his middle name of Herbert; the Lightoller family it seems had a long-standing tradition of using the middle name of the men. He was christened at St. Laurences's church and attended Chorley Grammar school. The family worked in the cotton-spinning mills, having done so since the late 18th century. His great-great-grandfather Robert Lightoller had established the family’s first cotton mill in Chorley, in Water Street and subsequent mills were established in the Standish Street or Lyons Lane area, and the family went on to own no less than five mills.

Herbert's father - Frederick Lightoller with
daughter Janet and third wife Joyce.

His father, Frederick James Lightoller, had been a solider, rising in rank to Captain, stationed in Scotland soon after his marriage to Sarah Jane Widdows in Blackpool in 1863.

Herbert's mother, Sarah Lightoller, died of scarlet fever a month after his birth, as did also two of his older siblings, 7 year old daughter Caroline, and 10 year old son Richard. His mother was aged only 30 (born in 1844).

Herbert Lightoller and his remaining sisters continued to live with their father, Frederick, who remarried in 1876 when he took Margaret Barton as his second wife in Chorley. On the 19th of September 1881, after five years of marriage, Frederick's wife Margaret died. She was 28. They had no children.

Frederick and the family maid (or possibly nanny), Joyce Gladwin, allegedly had an affair which led to the birth of another daughter, Janet, in 1883. By 1885 Lightoller’s father Frederick had abandoned young Charles, then aged 10, and moved to New Zealand (or was possibly banished there by family), along with his 19 year old daughter, Jane, where he married Joyce in Auckland on the 11th of September 1885 (see the box to the left on the Lightoller family in New Zealand).

The Lightoller family home in Chorley: "Yarrow House" circa 1900 (Source: David Horsfield - Chorley Heritage Centre)

The young Charles Herbert Lightoller grew up in Yarrow House, Chorley, Lancashire on a site now occupied by Albany Science College. In a collaboration between Chorley Civic Society and the Chorley Heritage Support group, a plaque commemorating Herbert is on the school front gate, as the Yarrow House building no longer exists, having been demolished in the 1950s.

The Lightoller family grand piano, now situated
in the Drawing Room at Astley Hall.
(Click image to enlarge)

In April 2018, Chorley Council staff discovered a grand piano in Astley Hall made by Broadwood and Sons and which once belonged to the Lightoller family. The grand piano, which takes centre stage in the Drawing Room at Astley Hall, was originally delivered to the Lightoller family of Yarrow House in 1865. The piano was later gifted to Astley Hall in the 1970s by Chorley Parish Church and until recently its history has been unknown.

Herbert should have been destined to work in cotton like his father, however the business was in decline - possibly one factor in his decision to change careers. Although according to his autobiography Titanic and other Ships (1935) he chose the sea as a “bluff” writing:

“I had long since made up my mind (or what, at the mature age of thirteen, I was pleased to call my mind) that I would go to sea. And to sea I went, knowing little and caring less about those prospective first few years of hellish servitude, during which experience must be gained-- experience that, like a corn, had to grow, become hardened, and most damnably hurt.”(47.)

First ship: Primrose Hill

Lightoller's first ship: the Primrose Hill. (Click image to enlarge)

In 1888, at the age of 13, a very young Charles Herbert Lightoller moved to Liverpool and began a four-year sea-going apprenticeship with the William Price Line aged 14, making his first trip aboard the company's Primrose Hill a steel hulled, four-masted barque of 2,500 tons that was built in 1886. Her dimensions were length 301ft, breadth 42ft and a depth in the hold of 24ft. The captain was a Mr Joseph Wilson.

In his book he describes his first voyage:

“Fourteen years of age found me beating down the channel in the teeth of a Westerly gale. My first voyage, horribly seasick-- and sick of the sea. That seemingly objectless and eternal beat from side to side of the Channel, driving along with every stitch she would stand, trying to make to the westward.” He also writes of rats and cockroaches nibbling at his feet, of almost colliding with the ‘father of all icebergs,’ rounding Cape Horn, springing a leak on the starboard side.(47.)