105 years ago today, the ill-fated Titanic sank. I don’t know if you’ve been seeing those articles all over Facebook and Buzzfeed about “things you didn’t know about the Titanic”, but I, for one, am sick of them. Okay, some people might not actually know that the last song the band played as the ship sank was “Nearer My God To Thee”, or that this was supposed to be Captain Smith’s last voyage before his retirement, but for those of us who obsess over the pursuit of knowledge that serves no purpose other than to win our table points at pub trivia night, these articles offer us nothing but empty promises. So, I present to you, 12 things you ACTUALLY didn’t know about the Titanic.
1. She was a British ship, built in Ireland, and owned by an American.
Titanic is known to be a British ship, having left on her first and only voyage from Southampton, England, so it is often assumed that she was built in Great Britain. Titanic was, in fact, built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Harland & Wolff, a dominating ship-building company which still exists today, built the Titanic for the White Star Line, which was a British company. However, in 1902, The White Star Line’s Chairman, Bruce Ismay, decided to sell the line to American Banker, J.P. Morgan. Morgan had created the International Mercantile Marine Company (IMM) in an attempt to monopolize all travel across the Atlantic. Along with the White Star Line, he purchased the Red Star Line, the American Line, the Leyland Line, the Atlantic Transport Line, and the Dominion Line. His attempt ultimately failed due to his inability to purchase some of the major lines, including the Cunard Line which launched the famous Lusitania.
2. There was a fire in one of her coal bunkers during the entire voyage
There was a fire ablaze inside Titanic from the moment she left Southampton. But could this have contributed to her sinking? Author Senan Molony thinks so, and his theory was presented in the documentary, Titanic: The New Evidence, which first aired in early 2017. I’m not convinced, but it’s not an absurd theory.
3. Titanic had two sister ships
People are often surprised to learn that there were two other ships built which were nearly identical to Titanic. Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic were introduced as the White Star Line’s “Olympic-Class ships”, which were designed with the intention of rivaling the Cunard Line’s Lusitania and Mauritania. Of the three, Britannic was the largest, though she was only a few feet longer than Titanic. Beginning in 1909, Titanic and Olympic were built side-by-side, while Britannic wasn’t constructed until several years later. They were designed to be luxurious passenger ships, but only the Olympic lead a successful career as such. After Titanic sank in 1912, necessary changes were made to ensure passenger safety on her sister ships. Shortly after the Britannic was launched in 1914, World War I broke out. Britannic was converted into a hospital ship, and served as such until she was sank by an underwater mine in the Agean Sea in 1916. Luckily, 1,035 passengers were saved thanks to the lifeboats, and only 30 passengers died. The Olympic remained a luxurious means of transatlantic travel until 1935, when she was retired and scrapped.
4. Violet Jessop Defied Death On All Three Ships
Violet Jessop was working as a stewardess on the Olympic when it collided with the HMS Hawke. There were no fatalities, but the Olympic was out of service for two weeks while her hull was repaired. When the White Star Line launched Titanic the next year, Violet was onboard as a stewardess once again, and she ultimately survived the sinking. When the Great War began, Jessop served on Britannic as a nurse. After surviving its sinking in 1916, Jessop continued working for the White Star Line, and went on to work for the Red Star Line and the Royal Mail Line later in life.
5. We have a photograph of the iceberg that (probably) sank Titanic
Shortly after Titanic sank, several ships were sent to recover whatever corpses/debris they could find. That’s when Captain De Carteret of the Minia spotted this iceberg with a stripe of red paint on it; a sign that it had recently been hit by a ship. If you’re wondering what happened to the frozen bodies that were recovered, they were buried in Nova Scotia at Fairview Cemetery.
6. 500 – 1500 Additional Lives Could Have Been Saved
When Captain Smith gave the order of “women and children first”, he meant that they should be given priority over men. However, this command was misinterpreted by the crew to mean “women and children only”. The first lifeboat that was launched held only 28 women and children, though it was capable of holding 65. Men were separated from their wives and children, and the spots that could have held them weren’t even utilized. This pattern continued, and again and again lifeboats were launched before reaching their capacity. Despite the fact that there were so many empty spaces available, only one of the 20 lifeboats returned to rescue people from the icy water after the ship had slipped beneath the surface. In the end, Titanic‘s lifeboats could have held 1178 people, but only 705 survivors were rescued. Titanic originally held more than enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone onboard, but they were removed shortly before her maiden voyage because good ol’ Bruce Ismay decided that they took up too much space on the deck; what good were lifeboats on an “unsinkable” ship? Ismay was one of the few men who managed to sneak onto a lifeboat, and while he dodged a terrible fate, he lived the rest of his life in shame as he was ridiculed by the public for his cowardice.
7. Morgan Robertson “predicted” the disaster
In 1898, 14 years before Titanic‘s maiden voyage, author Morgan Robertson published a novel titled Futility. The novel was about the largest ship made by man, described as “unsinkable” and “equal to that of a first class hotel.” This steel ship was about 800 feet long, and sank after hitting an iceberg 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland on a cold April night. The ship did not have enough lifeboats to accommodate all her passengers, and in fact had only “as few as the law allowed”. The ship was called… the Titan. The only difference in the story is that the Titan struck an iceberg while sailing at 25 knots, whereas the Titanic struck her while going 22.5 knots.
8. There was footage taken onboard Titanic, which may be lost forever
Daniel Marvin was an aspiring filmmaker. He and his new wife, Mary, boarded Titanic shortly after their wedding, which is believed to be the first wedding ever “cinematographed”. When it was realized that the ship was sinking on that cold April night, Mary refused to leave Daniel, but in the chaos she was thrown into a lifeboat, subsequently breaking the base of her spine. Daniel blew her a kiss, and she never saw him again. Mary gave birth to their child several months later, and eventually remarried Horace S. de Camp, who had been the best man at her first wedding. They had two children of their own, and their grandson, Stuart, was one of the few people with whom she ever discussed the memories of her experience on the Titanic. According to Stuart, Mary had him take her to New York’s Moose River a few years before her death. They rowed out into the water, and Mary revealed two rolls of film and told Stuart that one was the footage taken at her first wedding, and the other was footage that Daniel had shot while on Titanic. Mary had kept this footage a secret for over 60 years. And what did she do with it? She threw it into the river. There is no other known footage in existence taken aboard Titanic after leaving Southampton. Rumor has it that the trauma Mary experienced during the sinking haunted her for the rest of her life, understandably. She was invited every year to the reunion held by Titanic survivors, and she never once attended. In all likelihood, Mary spent the rest of her life running from her painful past, and ultimately decided to let go by getting rid of that which tied her to it.
9. The wireless telegraphist failed to inform Captain Smith of the nearby icebergs
John George Phillips, the man responsible for receiving and sending telegraphs for both the crew and passengers, was warned by the telegraphist aboard the nearby Californian that they were headed straight for a field of icebergs. Phillips responded, “Shut up. Shut up. I am busy”. Telegraphists were paid more money to send personal messages to the passengers’ loved ones back on land than they were to send messages to other ships. Phillips was attempting to catch up on all the backlogged messages that he had been requested to send, and the signal from the Californian was interfering with his ability to do so. After being told to “shut up”, the Californian’s telegraphist turned off his wireless and went to bed. As far as we know, Captain Smith never received the warning and continued sailing into the night at full speed. The captain of the Californian decided that it was too dangerous to continue sailing that night, so he ordered a halt. They were 5 miles away from Titanic, and were sent frantic requests for rescue after the ship began to sink, but did not receive them because no one was awake to operate the wireless. The only ship that responded to Titanic’s destress calls was the Carpathia, but they were several hours away and didn’t arrive until it was too late to save anyone who hadn’t found their way into a lifeboat. The captain of the Californian has been highly scrutinized for not coming to save Titanic’s passengers, but perhaps they would have actually received the distress calls if Phillips hadn’t made it clear that their help was not wanted.
10. There were several animals on Titanic
12 dogs were onboard the ship when she sank, and only three of them made it into a lifeboat. John Jacob Astor, the richest man on board, was spotted releasing dogs from their cages in the ship’s kennel during the sinking so they would have a chance at surviving (Astor ultimately perished). Legend has it that one passenger, Anne Elizabeth Isham, was later found frozen in the icy water, still clinging to her beloved Great Dane whom she refused to board a lifeboat without. Titanic, like all ships, also had her own cat, Jenny. For hundreds of years, superstitious sailors have believed that cats bring good luck (and also take care of pesky rodents that manage to sneak on board). Jenny’s caretaker, Jim, supposedly witnessed Jenny leading her kittens off the ship the day she was to set sail, which he believed to be a bad omen, and it is said that he immediately walked off the ship and never got back on. There are no known sightings of Jenny onboard after the ship left Southampton.
11. No human remains have ever been found in the wreck
…Well, at least not for certain. No bones have ever been discovered, but when this picture was published in 2004 in a book by Dr. Robert Ballard (who discovered the wreck in 1985), it was theorized by some that this is actually evidence of human remains. Archaeologist James Delgado backs this theory up, stating that, “buried in that sediment are very likely forensic remains of that person.”
12. The ship is slowly disappearing
If you’ve seen pictures of the wreck, you’ve probably seen the “rusticles” that have formed all over it. In 2010, a new bacteria, which scientists have named “halomonas titanicae”, were discovered on the rusticles. These hungry organisms have been slowly eating away at the ship’s remains. Experts disagree on how much longer the ship will remain on the ocean floor; some say she’ll be gone by 2030, some say she’s got a good 100+ years left. However, one thing that is known for certain is that many treasure hunters and tourists have compromised the integrity of the ship by digging around where they don’t belong. Not only have they disrespected the memory of the lost souls by searching for the cargo belonging to first-class passengers (and often selling their finds), but their submersibles have damaged the ship itself. In 2007, a bill was proposed to the U.S. Congress to protect the wreckage from visitors, but this bill never passed. Much to my dismay, a tour company called Blue Marvel Private has announced that they will begin taking tourists down to the wreckage in spring of 2018. This will likely speed up the process of the ship’s decomposition, as there have already been reported caved-in roofs and weakening decks. Both the bow and the stern are in danger of collapsing, and this is the reason tourists are willing to pay shameful amounts of money to visit her before she’s gone for good. Ironically, they are also contributing to the reason why she’s disappearing in the first place.
So, did you learn something you didn’t know before? Leave me a comment telling me what you found most interesting!