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The story of the R.M.S."Titanic"

Painting by Ken Marshall

Captain Edward Smith was, in 1912, the senior master of the White Star Line. At 59 years of age he had served with company for almost 40 years and twelve months earlier had commanded the first of the three sisters, the Olympic. On 2nd April 1912 he stood on the bridge of the newer and larger Titanic as it slipped its mooring at the Belfast shipyard of Harland & Wolff and steamed towards Southampton at her maximum speed of 25 knots. With a gross registered tonnage of 46,328 tons and measuring 882 feet in length R.M.S. Titanic was the largest vessel afloat anywhere in the world.

The White Star Lines policy was directed towards passenger comfort and in this respect the Titanic was a magnificent ship, one which Captain Smith could well be proud to command. She was far more elaborately fitted out and luxuriously furnished than the Olympic. To quote an example, the Olympic was uncarpeted in the dining saloon whereas the Titanic was fitted with a deep pile carpet. The design of the Titanic incorporated the latest developments in ship construction. She had a double bottom and was sub-divided by 15 transverse bulkheads creating a series of watertight compartments which would enable the ship to stay afloat even if two adjacent compartments were holed in an accident. Bearing in mind the size of the Titanic no one could envisage a maritime accident large enough to inflict a greater degree of damage. In the minds, of the public and the Master, she was unsinkable.

At noon on Wednesday, 10th April 1912 Captain Smith gave the order to the crew stationed at the bow and stern of the ship to 'let go fore and aft' and R.M.S Titanic, with the aid of tugs, moved away from her berth in Southampton to begin her maiden voyage. Even at this very early stage in the voyage the Titanic had a close shave involving the steamship New York. As the Titanic was moving through the dock the New York's mooring lines parted causing the ship to swing away from the quay to within a few feet of the White Star liner. However, a collision was averted and the Titanic steamed down Southampton Water passing Spithead en route for Cherbourg where French passengers were embarked. From Cherbourg she proceeded to Queenstown (Cobh) in Eire where more passengers boarded and about 3,444 bags of mail loaded. When she finally set sail for New York the Titanic carried 1316 passengers and 891 crew members, a total of 2207.

Based on the palace at Versailles

RMS "Titanic" departing

The after Grand Staircase

Capt. Edward Smith

Thomas Andrews

Of the 1316 passengers Britains and Americans predominated with Who's Who and the Social Register being well represented. The first class passenger list included Colonel and Mrs Astor, Lord Ashburton, The Countess of Rothes and Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon,Bt. Also travelling in the first class saloon, representing the owners and shipbuilders, were Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line and Thomas Andrews, managing director of Harland & Wolff. The third class consisted of mainly Irish emigrants. The Titanic also carried cargo which, while not sizeable, was extremely valuable and included a priceless copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

For three days the Titanic steamed westward at full speed and by midnight on 14th/15th April she was about 300 miles south-east of Newfoundland. Captain Smith was not attempting to break any records. Bruce Ismay had agreed that a morning arrival on the 17th would be more convenient for the passengers than a late arrival on the previous evening. Back home in Britain people were eagerly awaiting the news of the safe arrival of the Titanic in New York; an arrival which would be greeted with the customary firefloat and siren welcome.

The weather on Sunday,14th April was cold but calm. During the morning the ship's radio officer intercepted messages from the Caronia, the Baltic, the Amerika and the Californian warning of icebergs in the area through which the Titanic would pass. No evidence of ice was seen from the bridge and Captain Smith refused to believe that icebergs would be present farther south than normal at that time of the year. Although the air temperature fell from 43 deg F at 19.00 hours to 33 deg F in the space of two hours Captain Smith did not reduce speed when darkness fell. The Titanic continued on her course at her service speed of 22 knots.

Lord Ashburton

Countess of Rothes

Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon Bt.

Mrs JJ Astor

Col. JJ Astor

By 23.30 most of the passengers had retired to their cabins leaving a handful in the first class smoking room and the third class saloon. Just before 23.40 the lookout in the crow's-nest high up on the foremast was shocked to see an iceberg looming out of the blackness ahead and immediately .reported "iceberg right ahead" to the officer on watch, First Officer William Murdoch. Murdoch peered into the darkness and saw the glistening white shape ahead and immediately gave the order "hard-a-starboard" and telegraphed "full astern" to the engine room. The bow of the ship fell away to port and Murdoch thought that he had successfully brought the Titanic around in time to clear the iceberg. However, there was a grinding noise as an underwater spur of ice ripped a gash in the ship's starboard side which extended for some 300 feet, over a third of her length, and opened the six forward compartments to the sea.

Captain Smith arrived on the bridge as Murdoch rang the telegraph to "stop engines" but in the first instance saw nothing amiss but immediately gave the order to "close emergency doors". Fourth Officer Boxall was immediately dispatched to arrange for soundings to taken of the forward hold but before he could do so carpenter Hutchinson arrived with the breathless report "Sir, she's making water fast'.

Most of the passengers below deck were unaware that anything had happened. Some felt a slight shudder and ventured on deck where they glimpsed the iceberg but the Titanic was unsinkable, solid and safe; they thought they had nothing to fear. But deep down in the bowels of the ship it was a different story. In the forward boiler room the firemen heard a deafening crash and only had seconds to escape into the adjacent boiler room before they were engulfed by the inrushing sea. That boiler room was also flooding but fortunately the next one, No.4, was dry the only problem having been the avalanche of coal brought down from the bunkers by the collision.

By now the ship had come to a complete stop and the passengers were still not aware of the emergency situation that they were in. Captain Smith had not made any announcements to avoid the risk of panic but, although questioning stewards were given assurances that the ship would proceed in a few hours, below decks the situation was desperate. Water was now pouring into the six exposed compartments. Captain Smith soon realised that his ship was seriously damaged and told Bruce Ismay so when he arrived on the bridge. Thomas Andrews was summoned and immediately went below to inspect the damage. The ship was now listing and from a quick inspection of the damage returned to the bridge to inform Captain Smith that the Titanic must sink. As the compartments continued to flood the ship settled down by the bow with the consequence that the water then flooded over the transverse bulkheads which only extended upwards to D or E decks.

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