“We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there too."

This blog post is linked with my book review of, A Night to Remember so please check it out too!

On this day (April 15th) in 1912 (112 years ago), the RMS Titanic sank beneath the ocean and wouldn’t be seen again for another 73 years when Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel located her final resting place on September 1, 1985.

the Titanic

Construction for the Titanic started on 31 March 1909 in Belfast, Ireland. Why Ireland? Belfast was home to the world’s largest shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff and the Belfast shipyard was one of the biggest in the world at the time. spanning 80 acres  and employing up to 10,000 people. It was also only one of few which could house such a huge ship (Titanic would be the world’s largest ship at the time).

On April 10 1912, Titanic left Southampton and embarked on her maiden voyage, on April 11 1912, she made her final European stop in Queenstown Ireland, her final destination – New York City, USA. On 14 April 1912, at 11:35pm she hit an iceberg and at 2.20am on 15 April 1912 she sank 12,500 feet (3,800 meters) to her final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

In February 2024, I went to Belfast with my fiancé, his sister and her husband. One of our day outings took us to the Titanic Museum in Titanic Quarter, the ship building yard where she was built. Here we learned about the Titanic from start to finish – from the initial ideas and building in the dockyard to completion and setting off on her maiden voyage, a look at the cabins interiors for the different classes.

The Titanic Museum Belfast | Titanic Bus Tour
A replica interior of the First Class Cabin on the Titanic.

After this we learned about her sinking step by step – the calls made to the Titanic warning them about icebergs in their vicinity, them hitting the iceberg and the subsequent distress calls made to alert nearby ships to help her. The most moving section was the wall of names. The wall had the names and ages of every single passenger who died on the ship including a system where you could search to see if any of your ancestors were on the Titanic and what their fate was. There were also excerpts and snippets of certain famed individuals. The wall also had other facts and figures which just bring to reality the extent of this disaster. Finally we went into a dimmed room where we could see artefacts such as a deckchair from the Titanic and a violin of one of the musicians which was recovered. The Titanic museum is a  must see for anyone visiting Belfast!

Titanic Belfast Museum Experience - A Review
The Violin in the Titanic Museum, Belfast. It once belonged to Wallace Hartley a musician on the Titanic.

On board the Titanic at the time of her sinking was 2,240 passengers and crew members. Only 706 survived. This is the worst maritime disaster in history and this death toll is the reason why and it’s going to serve as the basis of this fact-file going forwards now. Who played God and decided who lived and who died?

Let’s start with the lifeboats. The Titanic was equipped to carry 64 lifeboats, a number which was in the original plans but was later quashed. If the Titanic had carried those 64, they would have been capable of carrying 3,547 people, a total well over the 2240 passengers and crew already on there. Alexander Carlisle, chief designer of the Titanic suggested 48 lifeboats and originally planned for this number in his designs – this would have carried around 3,000 passengers at full capacity, still more than the total passengers on board. However, this number was reduced further to 20 lifeboats, more than the legal amount of 16 lifeboats for cosmetic reasons – the powers that be wanted her decks to look less cluttered. On the Titanic there were: 2 x wooden cutters (capacity 40 people each); 14 x 30 foot wooden lifeboats (capacity 65 people each); 4 x folding or ‘collapsible’ lifeboats (capacity 47 people each). The Titanic was only required by law to carry 16 lifeboats, but it actually carried 20, which could accommodate roughly half of the ship’s 2,240 passengers and crew when it sank. This was far too few for the number of people aboard, and yet remarkably, this was technically legal; the law at that time based the number of lifeboats required on the gross register tonnage of a ship, not her passenger capacity. The lifeboats had a total capacity of 9,625 cubic feet (272.5 m3), which is enough for 960 people. So how come 472 people didn’t survive considering they could save 960 people? Well, not all of them were filled to capacity. In actual fact, the first lifeboat to be launched which had a capacity of 65 people only had 28 people on board. 31.6%  is the total percentage of passengers and crew who survived. Given the spaces available on the lifeboats, the percentage that could have survived was 53.4%. Only 706 survived the sinking but 1178 people could have been saved, a difference of 472 additional deaths.

Titanic collapsible lifeboat D approaching the rescue ship Carpathia.
Titanic collapsible lifeboat D approaching the rescue ship Carpathia.

But it wasn’t just lifeboats that were an issue in affecting the survival rates of passengers. We all know the saying ‘ladies first’ – right? Well that’s essentially what happened here. The stunning difference in survival rates between men versus women surprised me the first time I looked at the figures. The surprise wasn’t because of differences in overall survival rates because we know that women were allowed first access to the lifeboats – No, it was about just how much that gender difference completely overruled even the widest class distinctions.

To the point that even some of the most fabulously wealthy and powerful men on the face of the planet were still secondary in consideration compared to even poor women. A higher proportion of women in 3rd class survived than that of men even in 1st class. It was ‘women and children first.’ J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line and survivor of the Titanic’s sinking became known as the “coward of the Titanic” after boarding the last lifeboat to be lowered from the ship. US newspapers labeled Ismay the “coward of the Titanic”, with some claiming that his company’s name should be changed from White Star to Yellow. 

J. Bruce Ismay

Now there most certainly was a difference in survival rates by class, but a far greater one by gender.

  • Women – Three out of every four survived.
  • Men – Only one out of every five survived.

I mean, think about it.

In today’s terms, it would be the equivalent of Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates giving up not merely their seat on a bus but their very life for a housemaid or a supermarket cashier.

When gender and class were combined (there were three classes of passengers) –

  • The highest survival rate was for women in first class (virtually every one of them survived). Women in second class were a close second.
  • The lowest survival rate was for men in second class (less than one in ten, it’s interesting that men in third class had a higher survival rate than those in second, while there was a significantly higher survival rate for women in second class over those of their gender in third class).

What is also interesting is that even among the crew, virtually all women survived (nine out of ten, but among the male crew, only one in five did). I say that is interesting because today, it is a given that the crew – both men and women – are supposed in professional terms to be the last ones to leave and put the lives of passengers first. Not in that time though.

Here are the detailed statistics of the survival rates –

Women

  1. First class – 97%
  2. Second class – 86%
  3. Third Class – 46%
  4. Crew – 87%

Men

  1. First class – 32%
  2. Second Class – 8%
  3. Third Class -16%
  4. Crew – 21%

Children

  1. First Class – 100%
  2. Second Class – 100%
  3. Third Class – 34%
Shoes found at the wreck of the Titanic

Most of the Titanic’s 1,517 victims died of hypothermia at the surface of the icy water. -2°C – the temperature of the sea water in the area where Titanic sank. Hundreds of people may also have died inside the ship as it sank, most of them immigrant families in steerage class, looking forward to a new life in America. Along with the lives lost, something else went down with the Titanic: An illusion of orderliness, a faith in technological progress, a yearning for the future that, as Europe drifted toward full-scale war, was soon replaced by fears and dreads all too familiar to our modern world.

Of the 1517 people of perished in the sinking of the Titanic, only 306 bodies were recovered.

In another note, a note of extreme bravery in the face of death which isn’t heralded enough – it took Titanic 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink. For the entirety, the band kept playing. They all died.

 

They have no grave but the cruel sea,

No flowers lay at their head,

A rusting hulk is their tombstone,

Afast on the ocean bed.

 

I recently watched a tv series by Julian Fellowes (who wrote the foreword in A Night to Remember) on ITVX. I would highly recommend it. Over the 4 episodes it tells the story from different points of views – those in first class, second class, third class and the crew. It is beautifully done and captures the tragedy perfectly.

Until next time,

Keep reading,

D x

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