The Titanic: 100 years after the event that shocked the world
One hundred years after vanishing below the icy waters of the
North Atlantic, the Titanic remains
a subject of interest for many across the globe and particularly
for Canadians because of the many fascinating connections which
exist between our country and the fate of this renowned ocean
The Titanic was a marvel of her time and immediately
captured public imagination. Although she remained afloat for only
a brief time, she made an indelible impact on history. The
Olympic-class Royal Mail Ship (R.M.S.) Titanic was owned
by the White Star Line and constructed at the Harland and Wolff
shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, United Kingdom. She was to join
her sister ship R.M.S. Olympic on the trans-Atlantic route
to compete with Cunard Line's R.M.S. Lusitania and R.M.S.
Mauretania and with the smaller Canadian Pacific Line
vessel, S.S. Empress of
On 10 April 1912, the Titanic embarked on her maiden
voyage sailing from Southampton, England to New York City.
After stopping at two ports to pick up additional passengers,
Titanic headed into the Atlantic with 2,200 people on
board. As she steamed ahead, passengers and crew settled into
the comfortable routine of life at sea.
Younger sister of the Olympic (1911), and followed by
the Britannic (1914), the Titanic was the second
of three great ships constructed to accommodate passenger trade on
the North Atlantic route. Titanic took three years to
construct and was said, by some, to be "unsinkable." This story may
have originated from her many safety features, promoted, along with
her size and luxury, by her proud owner, the White Star Line.
Passenger accommodation ranged from luxurious first class suites in
the Georgian and Louis XVI styles to rather more functional
emigrant steerage. Captain Edward J. Smith commanded the
Titanic and her large crew of 860, which included
officers, able seamen, quartermasters, firemen coal trimmers,
stewards, restaurant staff, postal clerks, cooks, engineers, and
barbers, to name a few. As a Royal Mail ship, Titanic even
had her own onboard post office and boasted her own telephone
system, restaurants, reception rooms, libraries, swimming pool, and
barber shops! She truly was a floating city.
Although it was known
that icebergs were in the area, Titanic was doing over 20
knots (about 37 kilometres per hour) as she approached the coast of
Newfoundland. April 14 was a clear, calm night. At 11:40 PM,
the lookouts spotted an iceberg and, despite evasive action, the
floating mass of ice struck Titanic's starboard (right)
side scraping and rupturing the hull for 300 feet. Despite
watertight doors, the volume of water overwhelmed the ship's pumps
within 20 minutes. The watertight bulkheads were not sealed to the
deck above and, as each filled, water flowed over the top into the
next compartment. The ship's fate was sealed. Stewards led
people to the boat decks and at 12:20 AM lifeboats began to swing
out over the ship's sides. Some refused to leave the ship, others
expected help. As a result, the first lifeboats pulled away
partly empty. Distress signals sent by Marconi wireless operators Jack Phillips and
Harold Bride, continued from 12:15 AM until 2:17 AM, three minutes
before the Titanic slipped beneath the waves.
The tragic fates of many on board are well-known. Survivors
relate that throughout the ordeal the band played music to comfort
the passengers, including ragtime tunes and the hymn "Nearer my
God, to thee" as the Titanic went down. Many employees on
board were lost, including Thomas Andrews, the ship's designer
whose bravery and exemplary behaviour continued throughout that
evening. Captain Smith also went down with his ship, while J. Bruce
Ismay, a director of the White Star Line, secured a place in one of
the lifeboats; he was later heavily criticized for this act and for
the lack of lifeboats on board. Below decks, the ship's 35
engineers, led by Joseph Bell, all heroically remained at their
posts in the pump-room, dynamo room, and stokehold sacrificing
themselves to keep the pumps and electric lights going much longer
than expected - until just minutes before the ship's final plunge.
One of the many famous individuals who lost his life that night
was Charles Melville Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Railway,
who was bringing back dining room furniture for his newly built Château Laurier Hotel in Ottawa. Another
passenger was wealthy Halifax businessman George Wright. In 1912,
Wright travelled to England and booked return passage on the
Titanic, drowning when the luxury liner sank. While in
England, Wright had revised his will, leaving $226,000 to worthy
causes and his house on Young Avenue in Halifax to the Council of
Women. The George Wright House is a well-known landmark in
Halifax and is, architecturally speaking, one of the more important
houses in Nova Scotia dating from this era.
The high casualty rate resulting from the sinking was largely
due to the fact that, although complying with the regulations of
the time, the ship carried only 20 lifeboats - enough for
1,178 people. A disproportionate number of men died due to the
"women and children first" protocol enforced by the ship's crew.
The Titanic's survivors were eventually rescued by the
Cunard liner Carpathia, which steamed to the area at high
speed on hearing Titanic's calls for assistance at 12:25
PM; she arrived on scene at about 4:00 AM. Ships were dispatched
from Halifax, the closest major port to the disaster, with the grim
task of retrieving victims; they later returned with 209
Canon Kenneth Hinds of
All Saints Cathedral and local undertaker John Snow both travelled
on the S.S. MacKay-Bennett, one of the ships that assisted
in the recovery operation. Amongst the many bodies recovered were
those of businessman John Jacob Astor, the richest man aboard
Titanic, and band leader Wallace Hartley, who was
recovered with his music case. As the victims' remains returned to
Halifax, they were brought to the Mayflower Curling Rink
(established 1905) which was used as a temporary morgue; it was
destroyed five years later in the Halifax explosion.
Religious services were held at St. Mary's Basilica, Brunswick Street United
Church, St. George's Round Church, All Saints'
Cathedral and St. Paul's Church. Fifty nine victims were
returned to their families. Another 150 were buried in three
Halifax cemeteries between May and June 1912: 19 in the Mount
Olivet Catholic Cemetery, 10 in the Baron de Hirsch Jewish
Cemetery, and 121 in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery. Although some were
given larger and more elaborate gravestones, most of the markers
are simple granite blocks paid for by the White Star Line in 1912.
St. Paul's continues holding special services, including services
for Titanic victims.
In 1985, the Titanic's location was finally pinpointed
by a joint French-American expedition led by Dr Robert Ballard.
Revisiting the site in 2004, Ballard noted how many items had been
removed since the initial discovery. Unprotected by law, the wreck
faces both natural decay and damage by visitors and salvage
operations. Several countries have developed an agreement to
protect the undersea wreckage. The Titanic will be
regarded as an international maritime memorial with regulated site
visits, and a system will be established to document items removed
from the site, making them available to the public. The
agreement is an important step in protecting this historic ship
from further harm and in recognizing the vessel
as a memorial.
This terrible event is recognized as one of the worst peacetime
marine disasters recorded. The subsequent enquiry following the
sinking led to the re-examination of maritime safety procedures,
which had not kept pace with the rapid growth in the size of ships.
It would seem that a series of events including design flaws, human
errors and bad luck all combined to produce a catastrophe that will
continue to grip public imagination for the next hundred