On 10 April 1912, the R.M.S Titanic, the largest Ocean Liner in the world set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage.
Five days later having earlier struck an iceberg she slipped beneath the cold, still waters of the North Atlantic taking a great many souls with her.
By no means the greatest maritime disaster in terms of loss of life its legend remains the most famous and the most enduring for it was more than just a human tragedy, it marked the end of an era, a Gilded Age when advances in technology could resolve all humanity’s problems and it seemed that man had at last conquered nature:
To read more visit our Site Index for Titanic I: Struck an Iceberg, Shook the World and Titanic II: Finding the Dead.
The idea for both the Titanic and her sister ship the Olympic, and indeed a third ship that was to be named Gigantic, came during after-dinner drinks between J Bruce Ismay, the Managing-Director of the White Star Line (his family had previously owned the company before selling it to the American tycoon J.P Morgan) and Lord Pirie the owner of the Belfast ship builders Harland and Wolfe.
Unlike their rivals, in particular the Cunard Line, these new ships would not be built for speed but would instead be the largest in the world, be able to carry the greatest number of passengers, and no expense would be spared to make them the height of luxury.
Length: 882’9” (269.1 metres)
Width: 92’ (28 metres)
Height: 175’ (53.34 metres)
Displacement: 52, 310 tons
Coal Burning Furnaces: 159
Funnels: 4 (the fourth funnel. was non-functioning instead designed to make her look even more impressive. It stood 81.5 feet above the deck and its collapse as the ship sank was to result in a great many deaths).
Top Speed: 23 knots
Wireless Range: 1,200 miles
Decks: 9 lettered A to G
Staterooms: 840 (416 First Class Cabins, 162 Standard Class, 262 Third Class).
Light Bulbs: 10,000
Capacity: 892 Crew, 2,435 Passengers = 3,327
Second Officer Charles Lightoller who survived the sinking recalled:
“You could walk miles along the decks and passages covering different ground all the time. I was thoroughly familiar with pretty much every ship afloat but it took me fourteen days before I could with confidence find my way from one part of the ship to another”.
The Shipyard at Harland and Wolfe employed 14,000 workers almost all of whom in divided Northern Ireland were Protestant. They worked an average 49 hour week and the pay for unskilled labour minus overtime was £2 a week.
The Titanic was built in Construction Yard No 401 and took three years to complete at the cost of $7,500,000 and during its construction 8 workers were killed in accidents.
Many of the more than 3 million rivets that were used in the building of the hull were to prove inadequate on the night of the sinking.
The White Star Line never claimed that the Titanic was unsinkable but Shipbuilder Magazine described it as “practically unsinkable”.
After all, its state of the art safety measures surely made it so. She was designed to stay afloat with any two of her adjoining flooded at the same time. If she had a head on collision she could remain afloat with any three of the first five compartments flooded. Each compartment was also fitted with an electronically controlled steel water-tight door that could be closed at the flick of a switch. How could she possibly sink?
The water-tight doors did not reach to the top and were only effective as long as the power remained on.
Nonetheless, the idea that she was unsinkable soon became common currency.
Another Titanic survivor Eva Hart recalled her mother having a premonition of foreboding. She remembered her remarking no one should say a ship couldn’t sink, to do so, flew in the face of God.
Eva Hart’s mother refused to go to bed at night remaining on deck dressed in mufflers and coat to ward off the bitter cold. She only slept during the day.
Titanic had 14 standard lifeboats with enough room in each for 65 people and two cutters that could carry 40 people.
The Company was to add a further 4 canvass collapsible that could accommodate 47 people each, a total of 1,178 people if full or one-third of the ship’s capacity.
This was more than the law required but even so Alexander Carlile, the Managing-Director at Harland and Wolfe thought this was inadequate and ordered 46 lifeboats and for extra davits to be built on ship to launch them.
J Bruce Ismay overruled him saying that too many lifeboats were aesthetically displeasing and would give the wrong impression. Carlile did not protest, after all the need to accommodate the client remained paramount.
So the davits remained but the lifeboats never materialised.
As the lifeboats pulled away from the stricken Titanic on that bitterly cold morning of 15 April they had on average 23 people aboard.
The Titanic required 650 tons of coal to fire its many furnaces but a miners’ strike had created a shortage and so the White Star Line had been forced to cancel the sailings of the Oceanic and Adriatic and commandeer their coal.
Some of the crew were also reassigned to the Titanic but notoriously superstitious many had reservations about this sudden change in their plans whilst the sheer size of the Titanic frightened some of those passengers who could make up the extra cost and had agreed to be transferred to the ship.
This growing sense of unease was only compounded when the Titanic almost collided with the Liner New York as it left Southampton Harbour.
On the day that the Titanic sailed the three Slade brothers who had been hired to serve as deckhands were drinking in The Grapes Public House but remained a little too long. When they arrived at the dockside late they were refused permission to board.
Their mother was later to claim they’d had a premonition that had led them to delay their arrival, but the likelihood is they were drunk.
The Captain of the Titanic would be Edward Smith, a Commodore of the White Star Line.
His appointment was considered reward for his many years of outstanding service and people felt reassured to know that the Company’s most experienced Master Mariner was in charge.
It was to be his final voyage before retiring to spend more time with his young family.
The White Star Line had boasted that the Titanic would herald a new age in luxurious trans-Atlantic travel and this was reflected in the ticket prices.
The cost of a First Class ticket one way on the Titanic was $4,350, or £875. Standard Class was $1,750, though Third Class remained relatively cheap starting at just $30.
The White Star Line had boasted that the Titanic would herald in a new age in luxurious trans-Atlantic travel, and in this she was as good as her word.
She had ballrooms, numerous dining areas, 4 restaurants, 2 libraries, smoking rooms, barber’s shops, squash courts, swimming pools, promenade decks, and a fully-equipped gymnasium.
Even Third Class passengers had cabins and many experienced hot and cold running water for the first time.
She also carried $6,000,000 in cash, bonds, and jewels.
Sunday, 14 April
There were Church services throughout the ship and in Second Class the Reverend Carter led his congregation in hymn singing before giving a sermon on the subject of those in peril on the sea.
Despite the bitterly cold weather many passengers then decided to go on deck to witness the most spectacular sunset. They were unaware that earlier a message had been received informing the Titanic that an 80 mile long rectangular ice-floe lay in their path, in fact they were already within it but the message was not relayed to the Bridge and she did not slow her speed.
Six further warnings were received but the merely went on the bulletin board, but then the ship’s Officers were aware of the threat of ice.
At 10.21 pm the Californian enters the ice-floe and its Captain Stanley Lord decides to stop the ship and wait out the night.
In the meantime at 11.00 pm its wireless operator Cyril Evans contacts the Titanic:
“I say old man we’re stopped and surrounded by ice”.
On board the Titanic an inundated and exhausted Jack Phillips replies:
“Shut up! Shut up! I am busy”.
Evans taken aback by the response retires to his bed.
In the Titanic’s crow’s nest the lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee had not been able to find their binoculars and were peering out into the moonless darkness with the naked eye.
The iceberg approaching them was probably a blue-berg, not one covered in snow and more clearly visible but instead an almost entirely invisible sheer wall of ice.
At 11.40 pm Frederick Fleet spots a shape in the distance, he rings the bell three times and contacts the Bridge:
“Iceberg , right ahead!”
On the Bridge First Officer William Murdoch attempted turned to port? In an attempt to avoid the iceberg whilst ordering the engines put into reverse. It was to prove a fatal error.
The Titanic was travelling at 22.5 knots through an ice-floe.
It was 400 miles (640 km) from land.
The gash below the water-line was 245 feet long and 12 feet wide.
The ship was taking on 400 tons of water a minute.
She took 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink.
The Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith asked its designer Thomas Andrews to survey the damage. He reported back that the ship was doomed and could only remain afloat for an hour, possibly two.
Captain Smith unable to comprehend what he had just been told asked Andrew’s to repeat it.
Having had it confirmed he ordered abandon ship – women and children first.
In First Class all remained calm as the passengers were awoken from their slumbers by a light rapping on their door and a polite request to dress, put on their lifejackets, and report to their pre-determined stations on the boat deck.
Many of the passengers were disgruntled to be forced from their beds in the middle of a freezing night for what could surely be no more than a drill.
As they reluctantly dressed the airwaves of the North Atlantic began to crackle with unbelievable news.
Fifty three miles away aboard the liner Carpathia its wireless operator Harold Cottam contacted the Titanic with the message:
“I say do you know there is a batch of messages coming through too you from Cape Cod?”
Jack Phillips reply was unequivocal:
“We are sinking”.
Cottam asked that the message be repeated before he rushed to inform the Carpathia’s Captain Arthur H Rostrum who despite having to consider the safety of the 700 passengers he had aboard immediately ordered full-steam ahead through the same ice-floe.
It was both a risky and brave thing to do.
On Monday 16 April, the Vice-President of the White Star Line Philip Franklin arrived at his office in New York to be greeted by frantic relatives, crowds of reporters, and conflicting news. He told them:
“There is no danger that the Titanic will sink. She is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience shall be suffered by the passengers”.
Later that afternoon the Wall Street Journal reported that:
“Though the gravity of the damage to the Titanic is apparent the important thing remains that she did not sink”.
At 4.30 pm the news was received from the Olympic that the Titanic had indeed sunk with great loss of life.
There were 3,560 lifejackets and 48 lifebuoys aboard the Titanic.
1,517 people lost their lives or 68% of those on board.
32% survived but this would have risen to 53.4% if the lifeboats had been filled to capacity.
832 passengers died and 685 crewmembers.
724 of the crew were recruited from Southampton of whom 549 died.
1st Class deaths 39%
2nd Class deaths 58%
3rd Class deaths 76%
1 First Class child died
49 Third Class children died
The youngest victim was 19 months old.
80% of male passengers died
25% of female passengers died.
3 people died in the lifeboats
7 rescued from the sea the same day also died.
Most of the victims did not drown but died of hypothermia.
First Officer Lightoller later described the experience of plunging into the icy cold water:
“Striking the water was like a thousand knives being driven into one’s body. The temperature was 28 degrees or 4 degrees below freezing”.
In total 706 passengers and crew survived.
20% Male passengers
75% Female passengers
Of the 214 crew who survived
0% of Engineering Officers, all 25 died.
Only two lifeboats returned to the scene to try and help those still in the water but managed to rescue just 9 people, only 2 survived.
One of those who survived was Eva Hart’s mother, Esther. They had been lowered into a lifeboat by Eva’s father who they never saw again.
In the previous ten years 2,179,594 passengers had travelled on the White Star Line and there had been only 2 fatalities.
Inquiries into the Titanic disaster were held on both sides of the Atlantic but neither found the White Star Line culpable sparing them the prospect of enormous payments in compensation.
Instead those surviving members of the crew were billed for damaged White Star property and sullied uniforms.