“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” – Captain Edward Smith
“You could actually walk miles along the decks and passages covering different ground all the time. I was thoroughly familiar with pretty well every type of ship afloat but it took me 14 days before I could, with confidence, find my way from one part of that ship to another.” – Charles Lightoller, Titanic Officer.
Everyone knows the story of the RMS Titanic. When it was launched in 1912 it was the largest ship ever built. It was the biggest thing ever built that moved. It weighed sixty thousand tonnes (modern passenger liners are about three times bigger) and its two thousand one inch thick steel hull plates were held together with three million rivets. It was proudly proclaimed as the safest ship ever built.
It might have been considered unsinkable but on its maiden voyage the unthinkable happened and it sunk after colliding with an unyielding iceberg in the North Atlantic and one thing that became absolutely clear was that Captain Edward Smith was completely hopeless at making maritime predictions.
As it turns out, he may not have been much of a sailor either. In January 1889 approaching New York on her final White Star sailing, he managed to run RMS Republic aground. In 1890 he ran the White Star RMS Coptic aground in Rio De Janeiro and in 1909 he ran another White Star liner, the RMS Adriatic, aground also in New York.
In 1911 as Captain of the White Star ship RMS Olympic he nearly crushed a tug in New York harbour and on the only voyage of the Titanic there was a near collision in Southampton with a steamer which by strange coincidence just happened to be called the New York.
To be fair collisions in the Atlantic Ocean and in the sea ports were quite common because as the cruise author John Maxtone-Graham wrote, “There were many more close calls on the western ocean than passengers ever heard about”. This was the case because the Atlantic Ocean was significantly busier than it is today.
Cruise fans today well might tell you that it is the only way to travel, but in the first half of the twentieth century if you were travelling to the United States, it was.
Given his unfortunate record of running into things and damaging company property it might seem odd therefore that White Star Line trusted Captain Smith with the biggest and most expensive ship ever to take to the seas. It may also not have escaped reader’s notice that most of these incidents involve New York in one way or another and that was exactly where the Titanic was heading. Even a raging sceptic would have to admit that these were bad omens.
There are many theories about the reason for the sinking. The Captain has been blamed for being reckless for sailing too close to the ice field, the White Star Board for trying to set a speed record despite the danger of sailing at high speed through an ocean full of icebergs but currently the most popular is the rivets. Apparently those used at the bow and the stern were made of iron rather than steel and contained high levels of impurities. They only had a 5 mm tolerance and as a consequence of the collision they shattered and popped their heads and the steel plates of the hull undid like a giant zipper.
“From the very day that she was designed she was almost doomed…this (the use of iron rivets) was the Achilles heel of the Titanic.” – Paul Louden-Brown, White Star Line Archivist.
So, everyone knows that the Titanic sank but as we came to the end of the visit I began to think about what if it hadn’t? To begin with the three millionaire U.S. businessmen who died that night, John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Strauss might have gone on to be even more successful and who knows what they might have achieved. Thomas Andrews, the designer of the ship might have built something even bigger and better and Captain Edward Smith could have carried on crashing into other ships for many more nautical years.
Just maybe someone on board emigrating to the New World might have gone on to be the U.S. President and this isn’t as unlikely as it sounds because twenty-two of forty four Presidents claim ancestral heritage from Ireland (Andrew Jackson, James Knox Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S Grant, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G Harding, Harry S Truman, John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barak Obama). Whoever comes next there will still be Celtic roots, Hillary Clinton claims Welsh ancestry and Donald Trump Scottish.
We certainly wouldn’t have had that awful film ‘Titanic’ with Leonardo DiCaprio and we would never have had to endure Celine Dion singing ‘My heart will go on’. As a point of interest there have been twenty-two films that are directly or indirectly based on the story of the Titanic and if you want my opinion (you are going to get it anyway) the best of all was ‘A Night to Remember’ made in 1958 and starring Kenneth More playing Second Officer Charles Lightoller (see quote above).
Does anyone else have a favourite Titanic film?