103 years ago, in the early morning on 15th April 1912, the RMS Titanic – the biggest passenger liner in the world, and on its maiden voyage – sank in the North Atlantic after colliding with an iceberg, killing over 1500 people, largely due to carrying too few lifeboats for everyone on board. To mark this anniversary, here are ten things you may not have known about one of history’s most famous ships.
The Titanic was indeed the biggest ship in the world at the time of its maiden voyage, but only in terms of weight. Its older sister ship, the Olympic, was exactly the same length – just shy of 270 metres – but Titanic was over a thousand tons heavier due to having some additional cabins and other internal differences.
2. Travelling in style
If you were fortunate enough to be travelling first class on the Titanic, you had plenty of options for food and drink besides the main dining saloon. If you wanted a simple cafe experience, there were two different choices: a Palm Court and a Cafe Parisien. There was even a completely separate a la Carte restaurant, although passengers had to pay extra to enjoy those meals, since it was run under different management from the Titanic‘s owners, the White Star Line.
3. Understated comfort
Third-class accommodation may not have quite as luxurious as First Class, but put in context, was still very impressive. The Titanic gave third-class passengers private multi-person cabins and their own dining saloon; by comparison, on many other ships at the time, these passengers would have slept in large dormitories and had to bring their own food for the whole trip.
4. No greyhound
In hindsight, powering into iceberg-filled waters at around 21 knots clearly wasn’t a good idea – but contrary to what some stories suggest, the Titanic wasn’t trying to win the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing. In 1912, the record was held by the Cunard Line’s Mauretania, who regularly steamed at 24 knots or more, and had set a westbound record of less than four-and-a-half days three years earlier – a record that would stand until 1929. The Titanic simply couldn’t go as fast as the Mauretania; it was designed to attract customers through superior comfort, not speed.
5. Was it the weather?
In 2012, historian Tim Maltin proposed that mirage conditions, created as the Titanic sailed from the Gulf Stream into the colder Labrador Current, played a role in the disaster. According to the theory, these conditions raised the horizon from the lookouts’ perspective, so they didn’t see the fatal iceberg until it was too late. Maltin also used his theory to suggest why the Californian, a ship stopped in ice about ten miles away at the time of the sinking, saw the Titanic without recognising it; the mirage conditions distorted the crew’s view of the Titanic, making it both look closer than it actually was and not resemble a large passenger liner. This could also be why, even though the Titanic and the Californian repeatedly signalled to each other via Morse lamp, neither ship could perceive the other’s signals.
6. Two little boys
One interesting story among the Titanic‘s passengers concerns the second-class passenger Michel Navratil, travelling with his two-and-three-year-old sons Edmond and Michel Jr under the name “Louis Hoffman”. The reason for the alias was that Michel was stealing the boys away to America after kidnapping them from his estranged wife. When the sinking began, Navratil placed his sons in a lifeboat, but could not find one for himself. The apparently orphaned boys received quite a bit of publicity upon arriving in New York, which was just as well; their mother recognised them in a newspaper and was able to come and bring them home. Michel Jr, who died in 2001, was the last living male survivor of the Titanic.
7. A cold bath
Most of the Titanic‘s victims died of hypothermia in the freezing Atlantic water, which was cold enough to kill in minutes. One man who didn’t, however, was Charles Joughin, the chief baker; he stepped off the ship during the final plunge and reckoned he was in the water for about two hours before being picked up by a lifeboat. Exactly how he managed it is not clear; he confessed to drinking a bit of liqueur beforehand, but then, alcohol is supposed to actually increase heat loss.
8. Mistaken identity
Of the 338 bodies recovered from the Titanic wrecksite, 150 were buried in a cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One grave that gets a lot of attention from visitors is that of “J Dawson”. Contrary to what they presumably think, the grave is not that of Jack Dawson, the hero of James Cameron’s film, who was a completely fictional character; it actually belongs to Joseph Dawson, a crew member. The name similarity is apparently a complete coincidence.
9. Magnets for trouble
Violet Jessop, Archie Jewell and John Priest were all crewmembers aboard the Titanic: Jessop worked as a stewardess, Jewell as a lookout and Priest as a fireman. All three survived the sinking – and some time later, all three were onboard the Titanic‘s younger sister ship Britannic in November 1916, when it was sunk by a mine in the Mediterranean. Again, all three survived, though Jessop was injured after almost being pulled into the Britannic‘s still-running propellers upon reaching the water. As if that wasn’t enough, Jewell and Priest were both onboard the Donegal in April 1917 when it was torpedoed; this time Jewell lost his life, but Priest lived yet again. Priest, who also survived another shipwreck earlier in the First World War, claimed that he couldn’t find any work at sea later in life because other sailors thought he was a jinx!
10. A lesser-known movie
Needless to say, the Titanic disaster has inspired a great many films – including one that was commissioned by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda. The film writes in an honourable German officer as its hero, while the villains are money-grabbing British businessmen who push the Titanic to break the speed record so they can make a fortune on the stock market. Production was troubled: the original director, Herbert Selpin, was even imprisoned and killed after making frustrated derogatory comments about his military consultants. By the time the film was finished in 1943, the tide of the war had turned, and Goebbels feared that the chaos and panic of the sinking scenes was too analogous to the Allied bombings that Germany was experiencing – as a result, he did not allow the film to be released in Germany during the war.
Maltin, Tim (2011), 101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic But Didn’t!