Note to Nancy: You will need three boxes!
For several months now, we in Northern Ireland have had an unending menu of ‘Titanic’. Breakfast, dinner, tea and if you could stomach it, a fish supper as well! Mind you not all of it was that tasty. In fact some of the information coming to the fore is actually mind bogglingly nauseating.
The Shipbuilders, Harland & Wolff of Belfast, was founded in 1861, when the original yard first opened there was one dry dock and 48 employees. The dry dock was known locally as the grave. It makes one wonder how many of the workforce gave their all in that dry dock over the years?
Belfast was to become renowned for shipbuilding and by the 1907 the workforce had grown to 16,000 – all locals, paid in cash on a Friday so efficiently that it only took ten minutes! Working a sixty hour week was normal, with one weeks summer holiday, two days at Christmas and another two at Easter. Apprenticeships began at age 14 and lasted for five years.
There were two shipping lines vying for pride of place on the high seas. Cunard and the White Star Line. Thousands of people worked in the ship yards and demand for ocean liners was huge.
Harland & Wolff, had a long-standing connection with the White Star Line and in 1906 completed the last of the four huge liners that the company commissioned – The Celtic, Cedric, Baltic and Adriatic. The four ships were each over 20,000 tonnes. They were built in accordance with the White Star Line’s policy of providing comfort and reliability to the passengers who travelled on them. However, speed was an important factor for any sea going vessel. A high proportion of the space onboard ships was taken by large quantities of coal needed to power the ship.
Competition was already beginning with the rival company Cunard Line. They launched two ships, the Mauretania and the Lusitania. On her second crossing of the Atlantic, the Lusitania took the Atlantic Speed Record for Britain averaging a speed of 23.99 knots, nearly seven knots quicker than the Adriatic.
What is it with men and their obsession with speed and size?
The story of the Titanic began over a dinner early in 1907. The Owner of the White Star Line, Mr. J P Morgan and the Chairman J. Bruce Ismay, arrived for dinner at the home of Lord Pirrie, the Chairman of Harland and Wolff. The topics of conversation at dinner were the two remarkable new liners Lusitania and Mauritania, both from the rival company Cunard lines. Ismay’s long-term goal for the company was to attain the “Blue Riband” this would require expensive and often uncomfortable vessels to achieve the high speed needed.
That night, plans were drawn up for a new class of transatlantic liner, far larger and more luxurious than any vessel in service at the time. There were three ships planned, the Olympic (1910), the Titanic (1911) and the third was to be the Gigantic, but following the tragedy it was renamed the Britannic (1914). Whilst Ismay and Pirrie had conceived the idea of the three giants, the general responsibility of the design was delegated to Alexander Montgomery Carlisle, General Manager at Harland & Wolff and Lord Pirrie’s brother-in-law.
Work began on the Olympic with 4,000 men working on her and the ship was launched in 1910. Construction of the Titanic started after the Olympic, again with 4,000 men involved. Millions of rivets and bolts, thousands of girders and plates of steel, some of them took more than twenty men to lift. There was no welding a hundred years ago the hull plates measuring 30 ft by 6 ft were hung and overlapped like slates on the roof of a house, then riveted into place. Low-grade iron rivets were used instead of tougher ones. The bulkhead (the height of the watertight lower compartments above the water line) was reduced by four feet to allow for a grander central staircase.
Titanic was so large it would not be able to dock in new York, so Pier 59 was built to accommodate the ship.
Once finished, it took only 62 seconds for Titanic to glide into the water. It required 22 tons of tallow and soap to be able to stand the huge tonnage of the ship. Once launched she would be ready to be fitted out for her maiden voyage. Six months before completion of the work, the Titanic was delayed because The Olympic with Captain Smith at the helm– remember that name – was in collision with HMS Hawke and at another stage the Olympic also lost a propeller. The Titanic’s fittings were delayed because of the repairs needed by Olympic, the owners wanted her back in service as soon as possible.
Finally the day came to leave Belfast, the workers lining the dock sang their hearts out. All the while even as she sailed, the painting of the interior was ongoing. One of the coal bunkers took fire and burned for six days in Southampton.
A coal strike further delayed sailing and that was only solved when coal stocks were taken from other ships in the Port waiting to sail. The daily diet of 600 tonnes of coal would be manually shovelled by teams of men working round the clock. The cost of the coal needed to fuel the ship from Southampton to new York would be covered by the fares of the third class passengers.
Eventually the engines were running and the ship ready to set sail, with Captain Smith at the helm, he was due to retire after the maiden voyage. Titanic almost rammed into ‘New York’ another ship as it rounded the bulkhead at Southampton. The ship was behind schedule when it set out, there were many empty births, especially in Second Class, so passengers had been taken from other ships and put on board.
The lifeboat drill was cancelled so the captain could attend a religious service.
The two Promenade suites each at a cost of £870 one way, included a free cabin for a servant – equivalent to £35,000 in today’s money. At that price I would want cabins for all my toyboys. 😉 One was reserved for White Star owner J P Morgan who was due to join the ship at Cherbourg, but he cancelled at the last moment and his place was taken by Chairman J. Bruce Ismay. In the second suite, also joining at Cherbourg was Charlotte Cardeza and her son Thomas. Her baggage included 14 trunks that contained 70 dresses, 10 fur coats and 38 feather Boas! She managed to board a Lifeboat and later she made a claim against White Star Shipping for lost property to the value of $177,000. I don’t fancy trying that with Ryanair!!
Despite all that glamour up top, down in third class they had only one bath for 540 male passengers.
Warnings of icebergs were buzzing over the Marconi wireless – A new venture on board a ship. The radio operator employed by Marconi and not White Star, told the nearest ship, the Californian, not to send any more iceberg warning messages as he was too busy sending out messages for passengers. Iceberg warnings from other ships were either ignored or not seen by senior crew.
The lookouts in the crow’s nest had no binoculars.
Despite the iceberg warnings, on a poor-visibility, moonless night, the ship didn’t stop but continued at its top speed of 22 knots. This was because the captain was determined to reach New York in 6 days.
When the iceberg was spotted, the ship steered away from it and hit it side-on. If the collision had been head-on, the reinforced bow would have kept it afloat.
The sound of the impact was described as sounding like “the tearing of calico, nothing more.”
Each passenger was issued a life jacket but life expectancy would be short when exposed to water four degrees below freezing. Remember the clothing was cumbersome and heavy and probably held the water.
Titanic was touted as the safest ship ever built, so safe that she carried only 20 lifeboats – enough to provide accommodation for only half her 2,200 passengers and crew. This discrepancy rested on the belief that since the ship’s construction made her “unsinkable,” her lifeboats were necessary only to rescue survivors of other sinking ships. Additionally, lifeboats took up valuable deck space.
There were 19 dogs on board with their own ‘dog walking service’! You needed deck space for that. 😉
Some passengers were picking up pieces of ice from the deck like children collecting shells on the shore, while others sat to have drinks and play cards. None of them realised the full state of the situation.
One survivor described the escape as follows:
“Our lifeboat, with thirty-six in it, began lowering to the sea. This was done amid the greatest confusion. Rough seamen all giving different orders. No officer aboard. As only one side of the ropes worked, the lifeboat at one time was in such a position that it seemed we must capsize in mid-air. At last the ropes worked together, and we drew nearer and nearer the black, oily water.”
Another survivor told how:
The lifeboats were being used to comply with regulations, passengers were told there was no actual danger and they would be back for breakfast.
Only 700 survived.
Can you imaging saying goodbye to your loved one as you climb on board a lifeboat…. Or as you stand on deck and watch the lifeboat being lowered below the side of the boat.
Can you imagine being in a lifeboat and hearing the sound of people drowning?
Two hours is all it took for the ship to upend and slide two miles to the ocean floor. It did not take long for the sea to calm and soon there was no sign of where the unsinkable ship had been.
Never say Never!
The topic of Travel troubles was chosen this week for our Loose blogging Consortium by Padmini. Unfortunately Padmini had her own sea difficulties on Wednesday with a Tsunami warning at the coast not too far from her home and three earth tremors that shook her home on Wednesday. Thankfully all is well once more.
Inspiration for my post came from an excellent BBC Radio 4 programme over five days this week. Ship of Dreams presented by Janet Winterton, each episode lasted for just fifteen minutes and it sent me off on a wonderful journey of research.