RMS Titanic: A Recollection, Resurrected

Author: Mel Brownlee /

For this week, I want to share with you something that has been of high interest to me for many years. It has played on my mind, taken over my thoughts and impacted my heart in many, many ways. Since I was young and watched the film for the first time, I have been hooked. But this obsession was enhanced when I visited an exhibition in America - an experience that enriched me with knowledge and broke my heart.

The Titanic is heading towards its centenary anniversary this week and on Sunday 15th April the world will remember this great ship and the brave souls that lost their lives on the most famous - and most tragic - cruise liner in maritime history. 100 years ago, the worlds most luxurious ship sunk in the middle of the Atlantic on its maiden voyage to New York. For years, the story of the Titanic has gripped and captivated generations and its seems that her tale will never cease to be told.

When James Cameron epic blockbuster "Titanic" hit our screens in 1997, I was only young. I still remember my mother and sister heading off to the cinemas to watch it (my sister was completely besotted with Leonardo DiCaprio) but, as a child, I was not phased by it. It wasn't until some years later when I watched the movie for myself that my fascination with the Titanic began to evolve. At first, I cried for the dogs who drowned on board the ship, and then my tears were for the young children who lost their fathers due to the "women and children only" protocol enforced by Titanic’s crew. After a few times of watching it/growing up a bit and experiencing my first love, it was the love story between Jack and Rose that made me sob like a baby - and who can blame me? I cannot imagine a single heart that did not break as a result of getting wrapped up and lost in such a tragic love story. But, after a trip to a Titanic exhibition in America, it was the tragedy itself and the massive loss of life that broke my heart the most.

RMS Titanic was to be, along with her sister ships Olympic and Britannic, the biggest and supposedly fastest ocean liner the world had ever seen. No one had ever deemed the ship "unsinkable" as legend often states. It was, however, suggested that because of her watertight compartments, she was virtually unsinkable. The press, of course, blew this out of proportion and it was widely believed that sailing on Titanic was safer than dry land. This would render her fate an ironic and cruel twist. Her construction began in 1909 and from that time until 1911 Titanic would already claim 8 lives. The workers who slaved away on her for years in appalling conditions and on a miserable salary risked their own lives to create a ship that would rule the waves for years to come. It is sad to think now that all of that work, sweat and death would all be in vain and would only pave the way for more disaster and loss of life.

As I understand, Titanic’s grand maiden voyage was to launch in March of 1912, but troubles with Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, delayed plans and her launch was rescheduled for April 10th 1912. Had such delays not occurred, history might well read a very different story and the Titanic would not rest at the bottom of the Atlantic, a tortured and tormented shell of her former self. A ghost ship in every way.

But nevertheless, Titanic set sail from Southampton, New York bound on April 10th 1912 and the world celebrated her glory. She was the ships of dreams, a chance for the rich to flaunt their extravagant lifestyles in the most luxurious and expensive way possible, an opportunity for the poor and underprivileged to sail on the world’s grandest liner and to make a new life for themselves overseas. I can only imagine what it must have been like to sail aboard the Titanic, to walk her decks in the fresh sea air and then in the evenings to gaze upon the endless night sky, to set foot on her grand staircase, to experience the luxury of her first class menu or to even "do a Jack" and stand at the end of her ostentatious bow. In truth, I have many times dreamt that I am walking through the Titanic, her promenade, her sumptuous rooms, through steerage and into the boiler rooms. I can smell the ocean, the sweat of men hard at work, the new bed linen and the rich food emanating from the first class restaurant. I can hear men laughing, women gossiping, china clinking and the band playing the songs that they played until the very end. All of these things made up the Titanic - but it was not to last.

On the night of April 14th 1912, Titanic had received a handful of ice warnings, plenty to forewarn them of the dangers that lay ahead of them. But this did not deter the great ship. She continued at full speed ahead. Despite these warnings, Captain Smith was quoted saying that he could not "imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that." Years of captaincy had done him no service. Titanic did not slow down - it is largely speculated that J. Bruce Ismay wanted to show the world Titanic’s magnificence, and even under words of warnings and icebergs from the Captain, Ismay could not be swayed. He wanted his ship to arrive before she was expected, to make the morning papers and for the world to marvel at her brilliance and her speed. This order would prove to be fatal. As much as we all think that Captain Edward Smith should have known better than the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, it would seem that pressure to impress was far greater than pressure to avoid a mass loss of life. He gave no orders to slow down and at approximately 11.40pm on the ill-fated night of April 14th, an iceberg was spotted by a lookout by the name of Frederick Fleet and soon, after an unsuccessful attempt to steer the ship away from the massive berg, Titanic was struck and dealt a massive blow to her starboard side.

We all the know the events of that night, the stories of bravery by many men who sacrificed their own lives so that strangers could live, the cowardice of others who perhaps should have gone down with the ship, the devastation of those who were carted off safely in lifeboats and had no choice but to sit and watch the mighty Titanic flounder and the screams and cries of those unfortunate plenty who were left on her, and most of all the tragedy of the souls whose lives were cut short.

20 lifeboats were on the Titanic, 4 of which were collapsible boats. Amazingly - but sadly - enough, she had the capacity for 64 lifeboats - enough for 4,000 people. The White Star Line opted for the required amount of 16 which, as we well know, was only enough to take one-third of Titanic’s passengers - 1,178 people. As a result, 1,517 people out of the 2,224 on board lost their lives in the epic clash between a highly technological man-made wonder and a weapon of nature. As the great and now ghostly bow of the Titanic flooded and slipped under the surface, her stern rose higher and higher into the air, causing thousands of people to make a quick panic decision. Would they stay on with the ship and risk being suctioned down with her or would they jump? Ultimately, both outcomes resulted in death only. Those who did not go down with the ship froze to death in the freezing ocean and many of those who jumped died before they even hit the water. The life jackets were made of cork and when a passenger jumped from the sinking ship, their life jacket would rise up and break their necks. Even now, it is hard to see a way out. There she was, the Titanic, the greatest ship sailing the seas, and she was going down rapidly and there was no one coming to her rescue in a hurry. The situation was dire and many resigned themselves to the fact that there was no hope. Imagine all of the countless number of untold stories of bravery. We already know of the richest man on board, J.J. Astor, who was a gentlemen to the very end and died with dignity, of the remarkable Isidor and Ida Straus who could not bare to be parted in life and died together on the sinking ship, of the Marconi operators who stayed at their posts until the very last minute, desperately calling out for help. As more time goes on from the death of the Titanic, more stories of survival, courage and heroism surface and we continue to be touched by the people that lost their lives on the ship of dreams.

Drawings by Ken Marschall

At 2.20am on April 15th, the stern of the Titanic dramatically and famously detached from the bow under massive amounts of pressure. The bow sunk first, the stern stayed afloat upright for a couple of minutes before it corkscrewed 2.5 miles down to the ocean floor. Titanic, once the ship of dreams is now a ghost ship. But despite the shocking amounts of lives she claimed, there is still so much life within her wreckage. So much remains in tact, the heart and soul of the Titanic and the dreams of her passengers still survive in the darkest depths of the Atlantic. Whilst her mangled and battered stern is almost unrecognizable, her bow still holds onto her majesty and reminds us all of her grandeur. She is now more of a legend than she ever would have been and the lives of those who died with her have touched and moved generations of people. Her legacy means that even 100 years later, the Titanic still lives in the memories and hearts of all those that she has impacted since the time she was constructed until the present day. She was a beautiful disaster, a legendary tale of both brilliance, opulence and ultimate tragedy.

Titanic, will always have a story to tell.


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