April 15th marks the 96th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
On April 15th it will be 96 years since the Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean.
The ship’s origins can be dated back to 1907 and the occasion of a dinner party in a
London mansion. It was during this party that J. Bruce Ismay, managing officer of
the White Star Line, a major ship-operating company, and Lord James Pirrie devised
a plan to build three magnificent ships that would set a new standard for opulence and
The first two were to be named Olympic and Titanic whilst the third would be called
Production on the Olympic began in December 1908 with work on the Titanic starting
four months later.
The White Star Line certainly delivered on its promise to provide the utmost in luxury
with the Titanic including facilities and services that many of its passengers had never
enjoyed in their own homes.
For example, every room was to have electric light and heat. And with the vessel
establishing itself as the biggest ever ship, the Titanic quickly became a legend, even
before its first voyage.
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic left Southampton on her maiden voyage - a trip to New
York City. Lapping up the luxury were some of the wealthiest and most famous
people in the world.
Touted as the safest ship ever built, she carried only 20 lifeboats which was enough to
accommodate just half of the 2,200 passengers in the case of an emergency. This
ultimately tragic shortfall rested on the belief that the ship's construction made her
"unsinkable." The unsinkable ship was actually the name bestowed to Titanic before
In fact, the only reason that Titanic carried life boats at all was to rescue survivors of
other sinking ships. On top of this, lifeboats took up valuable deck space and this was
another reason that the ship was so under-equipped.
For the first four days, passengers in first and second class accommodation must
surely have felt like the most privileged people on earth as they enjoyed all the
luxuries that the ship had to offer.
At 11:40 pm on April 14, however, all that was to change when the ship struck an
Although the Titanic had received five ice warnings throughout the day, Captain
Edward Smith decided not to slow down and continued on at 21 knots (25 mph). At
11:40 pm, lookout Fred Fleet spotted an iceberg and notified the bridge. First Officer
William Murdoch then ordered the ship to turn hard to port and the engine room was
signalled to reverse direction. The ship did move slightly, but could not avoid the
iceberg, which tore a 300 feet- long hole in the ship, causing compartments to begin
filling with water.
The fireman compared the sound of the impact to "the tearing of calico, nothing
more." However, icy water soon poured through the ship with the result that it would
soon be doomed.
It soon became obvious that many would not find safety in the small number of
lifeboats. With the water at four degrees below freezing, life jackets alone would not
be enough. As the forward portion of the ship started to sink, passengers scrambled to
One witness, John Thayer, described the sinking of the ship from the safety of a
"We could see groups of almost fifteen hundred people still aboard, clinging in
clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the
great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it
reached a sixty- five or seventy degree angle."
The great ship slowly slid beneath the waters just two hours and forty minutes after
This dramatic account was one of many that came from the survivors and it paints a
vivid picture of how the disaster concluded.
The next morning, the liner Carpathia rescued 705 survivors. One thousand five
hundred and twenty-two passengers and crew were lost – more than 2 thirds of those
on board. The British newspapers had been informed of the disaster but somehow
they thought that everyone had survived.
However, the full horror soon came through. Inquiries conducted into the tragedy
attributed the high number of casualties to an insufficient number of lifeboats and
inadequate training in their use.
Some 73 years later in 1985 more stories of the Titanic emerged – this time from the
ship itself. An expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the legendary lost
vessel resting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, two and a half miles beneath the
Ballard and his team returned to Titanic in the summer of 1986 in a tiny three-man
submarine, diving down to the depths where it lay. With a tiny, swimming robot they
explored and photographed the entire ship in detail even managing to get shots of the
Grand Staircase to get a closer look at chandeliers still hanging from the ceiling.
No human remains were ever found at the wreck site. Perhaps the reason for this is
that the mud on the sea floor has an acidic level of PH 4 which is around the same
strength as the acid in the human stomach.
Many objects were found in the debris field lying between the separated stern and
bow section. These objects remind us that this is a grave site, and should not be
disturbed. One of the strangest objects found was a doll's head, resembling a human
skull which was found looking up from the silt. This may well ha ve belonged to
Loraine Allison of Montreal - the only first class child not saved in the sinking.
The story of the Titanic reminds us how we strive, as human beings, to create and
achieve great things. It is also indicative of our desire to provide and experience the
very best that life has to offer.
If there is a metaphor for the disaster then perhaps it is that sometimes, when we feel
at our most invincible, we are perhaps at our most vulnerable and must pay attention
to any warning signs that make themselves apparent. Why the ship’s captain did not
adhere to the warnings that were imparted to him is a question that we will never truly
Unfortunately, the title Captain of the Titanic has become a joke tag to describe a
person of comedic inability, somewhat misrepresenting the true cost of the decisions
made by he and others* that fateful night.
If time has allowed us to become a little offhand about the disaster this is not an
attitude that Dr Robert Ballard and his colleagues adopted during their search
missions in the 1980s. During his last mission Dr Ballard left a plaque in memory of
those who lost their lives during that fateful night and did not disturb anything in the
wreckage. It was a touching gesture.
Despite learning about historical facts connected to the disaster, we can only imagine
(thankfully) what it must have been like to have been on the ship itself. There are
several ways in which we can try to find out about things of which we have no
experience and in this case, on top of all the reading material available, there are
documentaries and films that we can source for more information.
In the case of Titanic, most people would look to the 1997 James Cameron film
bearing the name of the ship. However, we should be careful about putting too much
faith in certain aspects of the film.
For example, in the movie, a kind of class war is created to engage the audience, with
much being made of the disparity in passenger status. The wealthy first class
passengers are portrayed in a less than favourable light whereas the poor steerage
passengers are depicted as the most jolly band of all- singing, all-dancing bunch of
good time guys you’d be likely to encounter anywhere on earth.
What the second class passengers were like is anyone’s guess as none of them seems
to get a line in the whole movie.
What we have to remember here is that this film, despite its fine attention to the
physical detail of the ship, was made for an audience to enjoy some 90 years after the
actual event - and therefore cannot be taken totally at face value.
Another film about the disaster, A Night To Remember, which was made in 1957, was
different in tone for exactly the same reason – this one drawing on the spirit of
camaraderie of the 2nd World War. These lingering sentiments would have appealed,
and made sense, to audiences of the time.
The most important thing to take from this disaster is that all human life is precious
and that all innocent casualties of any disaster or accident are victims. Their loss
should be treated without prejudice and shown the kind of respect as that shown by Dr
Ballard and his team.
A final point that we would do well to remember is that as the small number of
lifeboats were lowered to the sea, every single passenger, from the richest to the
poorest, would have swapped everything they owned for the greatest gift of all - that
of life itself.
Start here. This is the account of the disaster from 40 year-old passenger Elizabeth
Shutes, governess to the nineteen-year-old Margaret Graham who was travelling with
her parents. As Elizabeth and her charge sat in their First Class cabin they feel a
shudder travel through the ship. At first comforted by the ship’s reputation for safety,
Elizabeth's composure was soon shattered by the realisation of the imminent tragedy:
These are her words.
"Suddenly a strange quivering ran under me (and) apparently the whole length of the
ship. Startled by the very strangeness of the shivering motion I sprang to the floor.
With too perfect a trust in that mighty vessel I again lay down. Some one knocked at
my door, and the voice of a friend said: 'Come quickly to my cab in; an iceberg has
just passed our window; I know we have just struck one.'
“No confusion, no noise of any kind, one could believe no danger imminent. Our
stewardess came and said she could learn nothing. Looking out into the
companionway I saw heads appearing asking questions from half-closed doors. All
sepulchrally (gloomily) still, no excitement.
“I sat down again. My friend was by this time dressed; still her daughter and I talked
on, Margaret pretending to eat a sandwich. Her hand shook so that the bread kept
parting company from the chicken. Then I saw she was frightened, and for the first
time I was too, but why get dressed, as no one had given the slightest hint of any
“An officer's cap passed the door. I asked: 'Is there an accident or danger of any kind?
'None, so far as I know', was his courteous answer, spoken quietly and most kindly.
This same officer then entered a cabin a little distance down the companionway and,
by this time distrustful of everything, I listened intently, and distinctly heard, 'We can
keep the water out for a while.'
“Then, and not until then, did I realize the horror of an accident at sea. Now it was
too late to dress; a coat and skirt were soon on; slippers were quicker than shoes; the
stewardess put on our life-preservers, and we were just ready when Mr Roebling came
to tell us he would take us to our friend's mother, who was waiting above ...
“No laughing throng, but on either side [of the staircases] stand quietly, bravely, the
stewards, all equipped with the white, ghostly life-preservers. Always the thing one
tries not to see even crossing a ferry. Now only pale faces, each form strapped about
with those white bars.
“So gruesome a scene. We passed on. The awful good-byes. The quiet look of hope
in the brave men's eyes as the wives were put into the lifeboats. Nothing escaped one
at this fearful moment. We left from the sun deck, seventy- five feet above the water.
Mr Case and Mr Roebling, brave American men, saw us to the lifeboat, made no
effort to save themselves, but stepped back on deck. Later they went to an honoured
“Our lifeboat, with thirty-six in it, began lowering to the sea. As only one side of the
ropes worked, the lifeboat at one time was in such a position tha t it seemed we must
capsize in mid-air. At last the ropes worked together, and we drew nearer and nearer
to the black, oily water. The first touch of our lifeboat on that black sea came to me
as a last good-bye to life, and so we put off - a tiny boat on a great sea - rowed away
from what had been a safe home for five days.
“After many hours drifting the stars slowly disappeared, and in their place came the
faint pink glow of another day. Then I heard, 'A light, a ship.' I could not, would not,
look while there was a bit of doubt, but kept my eyes away. All night long I had
heard, 'A light!' Each time it proved to be one of our other lifeboats, someone lighting
a piece of paper, anything they could find to burn, and now I could not believe.
“Someone found a newspaper; it was lighted and held up. Then I looked and saw a
ship. A ship bright with lights; strong and steady she waited, and we were to be saved.
A straw hat was offered it would burn longer. That same ship that had come to save us
might run us down. But no; thankfully she is still. The ship and the dawn, came
together like a living painting and I knew we were now safe.”
Return to "Titanic" by Robert D. Ballard and Michael Sweeney. First hand account of
Dr Ballard’s return to Titanic nearly 20 years after his first voyage. With stunning
The Story of the "Titanic" as Told by Its Survivors by J. Winocour
Story of the "Titanic" by Steve Noon
Voyage on the Great "Titanic" (My Story) by Ellen Emerson White
“Titanic" by Martin Jenkins and Brian Sanders (Pop-Up - 1 Oct 2007) Good for
“Titanic" (Eyewitness Guide) by Simon Adams
"Titanic" Survivor: The Memoirs of Violet Jessop Stewardess by Violet Jessop
All of these books have excellent reviews.
Here’s quite a nice film made on Movie Maker showing some good shots of the ship’s
interior, along with some of Ballard’s pictures and some stills from the 1997 film. At
4.12 you’ll see a big mistake: they didn’t have laptops in those days!
You’ll see something similar on
And here you’ll find a good reconstruction on how the ship sank.
This music-accompanied animation is quite haunting
This is a wonderful site that is easy to follow, has great images and some newsreel,