RMS Titanic: Things you didn’t know
by Mike Watkins
Thursday 25th February 2016
In 1959, Mike Watkins’s great-grandmother was still in receipt of money from the fund set up to help families of those who perished in the Titanic disaster. That was the year the fund was finally wound up! This was just one of the fascinating items conveyed to an enthralled audience at Mike’s talk “Titanic – the things you didn’t know” which was given to members of the Society on the evening of Thursday 25th February.
(Mike’s great-uncle Charlie, a 2nd class steward, had perished in the disaster, along with more than 1,500 other souls.)
Construction of the ship began at the end of March 1909, at the yard of Belfast ship-builders, Harland and Wolff. Ironically, the safety record of the builders was excellent for the period: only two men were killed – one of these during the launch on 31 May 1911. (According to a rule of thumb of the time, 15 deaths would not have been regarded as excessive!) At the launch, it took 22 tons of soap and tallow to ease her passage down the slipway into the river Lagan.
When the Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage, she was carrying 1324 passengers and 899 crew, 2,223 people out of a possible total of 3,547. This was in addition to stores such as some 40,000 eggs, 40 tons of potatoes, about 35,000 kg of fresh meat and 12,000 kg of poultry. Not to mention the five grand pianos that formed part of her cargo, and the Renault Coupé de Ville which was the property of William Carter of Pennsylvania, travelling with his family (they survived).
It is well-known that the Titanic was carrying more lifeboats than was legally required at the time – 20 in all; she was fitted to take 64 boats, but most of these were removed so as not to incommode the first class passengers on their promenade deck. What is not so well known is that she was carrying life jackets for everyone on board, and that these were a major contributor to fatalities (along with falling debris and the cold of the North Atlantic!). These lifejackets were constructed from blocks of cork, in a construction that tended to break the neck of the wearer when he or she leapt from a great height into the sea.
The talk followed the fortunes of the ship from the planning stage, through construction, launch, fitting out and maiden voyage, to the various inquiries held on both sides of the Atlantic. It was followed by an extensive discussion, covering such topics as the culpability or otherwise of Captain Stanley Lord (of the Californian, which came late to the scene of the disaster), and whether the conduct of Bruce Ismay (Chairman of the White Star Line) was altogether gentlemanly when he got into the last lifeboat to leave. It was a most interesting evening from start to finish!