100 years ago today of one of the world’s worst peace-time maritime diaster occurred. At 11:40pm the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the middle of the in the north Atlantic Ocean four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. At 2:20am on Monday 15 April, two hours and forty minutes after she had hit the iceberg, the world’s largest liner of its time slide beneath the black icey waters to the bottom of the ocean. There were 2,223 people on board and the sinking resulting in the deaths of over 1,500 people. .
I know everyone knows the story … or at the myths and legends. I have been interested in the Titanic from long before James Cameron brought it back into the world’s attention in 1997. It helps when your mother is a history teacher. For me my interest in the Titanic was it being a microcosm of British, European and American societies during the last years of the Edwardian period … a world that was about to change dramatically both during and after the first world war. This was a period of rapid innovation and technological change (sound familiar) that preceded a period of great economic, political and social change. IMHO it is impossible to accurately examine and understand it outside of its historical context but it is through the examination of Titanic we can get a better understanding of society at the time. We can get to understand what was important, what it meant to be a person from different backgrounds, what their hopes and expectations were for both life were both in the day-to-day and long term, what they ate, how they dressed and the social customs. But we can also look at what went wrong with a historical context to get a better understanding of the wider world … looking from design and building through through to the proceses, systems and actions on the fateful night. I think sometimes in history a major diaster is needed to bring about significant change … and this was one. So many lessons were learnt from the disaster and changes to maritime safety were implemented … many still in use today.
But yes .. after all of that I can’t help … I guess it is just being human .. what with that knowledge I can’t help but think about the people on a individual level … with understanding what may have been their outlook for future. Some looking for a new life, having spent maybe everything they had on tickets for their family to the new world. Leaving everything they knew … Leaving maybe everyone they knew … to go to somewhere that for people for us would be like going to Mars. And some may have been returning from their ‘Grand Tour’. A practice very common during the period for wealth young people. A hiatus between adolescence and adulthood, between schooling and working for men (not that most of these people worked in the sense that we think of as work.) and marriage for women. At the beginning of their lives and returning to their future after absorbing the culture and experiences of the ‘Old World’. All people filled with hopes and dreams for the future … that were dashed within a few short hours.
And so many lost their lives. Less than a third of those aboard Titanic survived the disaster. Some survivors died shortly afterwards; injuries and the effects of exposure caused the deaths of several of those brought aboard Carpathia. But in death as in life, it tells us alot about the life and attitudes of the time. Although only 3 per cent of first-class women were lost, 54 per cent of those in third class died. Similarly, five of six first-class and all second-class children survived, but 52 of the 79 in third class perished. Proportionately, the heaviest losses were suffered by the second-class men (92 per cent died ), third-class men (84 per cent) and the male crew (78 per cent). James Cameron, the director of the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic, notes: “A third-class male stood about a one-in-eight chance … If you were a first-class male … it was about 50–50. If you were a first-class female, it was 98 per cent in your favour. If you were a third-class female, it was about 50–50.” It was for this reason that he chose to centre his film on a love affair between a female in first-class and a male in third-class, individuals representing one group that had a good chance of survival and another that had a poor chance.
And of course the other remaining thought .. could this happen again.
Titanic Footage & Survivors Interviews
New CGI of How Titanic Sank
And for those of you who want to take your knowledge of Titanic beyond the story of Jack and Rose … while it may seem impossible. While you may think most of it is at the bottom of the Atlantic there is alot that can be read and investigated to cut through the myth and legends. The first place I would recommend is to read the Official Transcript of the 1912 Senate Investigation. This enquiry started only days after the surivers arrived in New York allow historians to get the first hand accounts. It is from these testimonies that all narrative sand dramatisations of the disaster have been formed – from A Night to Remember to James Cameron’s Titanic. Worth the read ..