Why Did the Titanic Sink?

Why Did the Titanic Sink?

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An estimated 100,000 people gathered at the dock in Belfast, Ireland on March 31, 1911, to watch the launch of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic. Considered to be an “unsinkable” ship, Titanic was the largest and most luxurious cruise liner of its day, measuring more than 882 feet long from prow to stern—the length of four-city blocks—and 175 feet high, and weighing more than 46,000 tons. It boasted state-of-the-art technology, including a sophisticated electrical control panel, four elevators and an advanced wireless communications system that could transmit Morse Code.

Titanic: Before and After

Yet on the night of April 14, 1912, just four days after leaving Southampton, England on its maiden voyage to New York, the Titanic struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank. Now, more than a century after the Titanic went down, experts are still debating possible causes of this historic disaster that took the lives of more than 1,500 passengers and crew. Most of them agree that only a combination of circumstances can fully explain what doomed the supposedly unsinkable ship.

It was traveling too fast.
From the beginning, some blamed the Titanic’s skipper, Captain E.J. Smith, for sailing the massive ship at such a high speed (22 knots) through the iceberg-heavy waters of the North Atlantic. Some believed Smith was trying to better the crossing time of Titanic’s White Star sister ship, the Olympic. But in a 2004 paper, engineer Robert Essenhigh speculated that efforts to control a fire in one of the ship’s coal bunkers could have explained why the Titanic was sailing at full speed.

The wireless radio operator dismissed a key iceberg warning.
Less than an hour before the Titanic hit the iceberg, another nearby ship, the Californian, radioed to say it had been stopped by dense field ice. But as the warning didn’t begin with the prefix “MSG” (Master’s Service Gram), which would have required the captain to directly acknowledge receiving the message, the Titanic’s radio operator Jack Phillips considered the other ship’s warning non-urgent, and didn’t pass it along.

It may have taken a fatal wrong turn.
According to a claim made in 2010 by Louise Patten (the granddaughter of the most senior Titanic officer to survive, Charles Lightoller), one of the ship’s crewmembers panicked after hearing the order to turn “hard-a-starboard” in order to avoid the approaching iceberg. Because ships at the time operated on two different steering order systems, he became confused and turned the wrong way—directly toward the ice. Patten included this version of events, which she said she heard from her grandmother after Lightoller’s death, in her fictionalized account of the Titanic disaster, Good as Gold.

WATCH: The two-part series Titanic in HISTORY Vault

The Titanic’s builders tried to cut costs.
In 1985, when an American-French expedition finally located the historic wreck, investigators discovered that, contrary to earlier findings, the Titanic had not sunk intact after hitting the iceberg but had broken apart on the ocean’s surface. Materials scientists Tim Foecke and Jennifer Hooper McCarty have cast blame on the more than 3 million rivets that held the hull’s steel plates together. They examined rivets brought up from the wreck and found them to contain a high concentration of “slag,” a smelting residue that can make metal split apart. This may have weakened the part of the Titanic’s hull that hit the iceberg, causing it to break apart upon impact.

Mirages and hazy horizons were created by weather conditions.
Two studies done around the time of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster in 2012 suggested that nature played a key role in the ship’s fate. The first argued that the Earth came unusually close to both the moon and the sun that year, increasing their gravitational pull on the ocean and producing record tides, which caused increased amounts of floating ice in the North Atlantic around the time of the sinking.

The second study, by British historian Tim Maltin, claimed that atmospheric conditions on the night of the disaster might have caused a phenomenon called super refraction. This bending of light could have created mirages, or optical illusions, that prevented the Titanic’s lookouts from seeing the iceberg clearly. It also would have made the Titanic appear closer, and smaller, to the nearby ship the Californian, causing its crew to assume it was a different ship without a radio, preventing them from attempting to communicate. From their vantage point, and with these hazy conditions, when the Titanic started to sink, the Californian’s crew would have thought it was merely sailing away.

VIDEO: Titanic Everyone knows the Titanic was big, and we have the hard numbers to prove it. Discover what made it a supersized ship.

The lookouts had no binoculars.
Second officer David Blair, who held the key to the Titanic’s store of binoculars in his pocket, was transferred off the ship before it left for its maiden voyage from Southampton, and forgot to hand over the key to the officer who replaced him. At a later inquiry into the sinking, a lookout on the Titanic said binoculars might have helped them spot and dodge the iceberg in time. Blair kept the key as a memento of his near-miss; it was auctioned off in 2007 and fetched some £90,000.

There weren’t enough lifeboats.
No matter what caused the Titanic to sink, such a massive loss of life could probably have been avoided if the ship had carried sufficient lifeboats for its passengers and crew. But the White Star liner left Southampton with only 20 lifeboats, the legal minimum, with a total capacity of 1,178 people. Though Maurice Clarke, the civil servant who inspected the Titanic in Southampton, recommended it carry 50 percent more lifeboats, his handwritten notes at the time later revealed that he felt his job would be threatened if he did not give the famous ship the go-ahead to sail. Due to the chaos that ensued after the Titanic struck an iceberg, the 20 lifeboats departed the ship with some 400 empty seats, leaving more than 1,500 people to perish in the frigid ocean waters.

Why Did the Titanic Sink? A Simple Question with a Complicated Answer

Almost 102 years ago, on April 10 th , 1912, a ship that was almost 900 feet long, left Southampton, England, and headed for New York City. The name of this ship was the RMS Titanic, and she was already going down in history just by her design and “unsinkable” reputation. However, within four days, the Titanic would became famous not for her luxurious fittings, her impressive passenger list, or her speed, but for a reason that no one could ever imagine…the fact she would hit an iceberg, sank in less than three hours, and took over 1500 people with her.

10 causes of the Titanic tragedy

The "unsinkable" Titanic was sunk by an iceberg, but there are other reasons why the tragedy that occurred 100 years ago this month was as tragic as it was. Even a century later, the case of the Titanic illustrates how technological failures often result from a succession of omissions, missteps and bad luck rather than one big mess-up.

"No one thing sent the Titanic to the bottom of the North Atlantic," Richard Corfield writes in a Physics World retrospective on the disaster that caused 1,514 deaths on April 14-15, 1912. "Rather, the ship was ensnared by a perfect storm of circumstances that conspired her to her doom. Such a chain is familiar to those who study disasters — it is called an 'event cascade.'"

The iceberg that the Titanic struck on its way from Southampton to New York is No. 1 on a top-10 list of circumstances. Here are nine other suggested circumstances from Corfield's article and other sources:

Climate caused more icebergs: Weather conditions in the North Atlantic were particularly conducive for corralling icebergs at the intersection of the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream, due to warmer-than-usual waters in the Gulf Stream, Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography told Physics World. "Oceanographically, the upshot of that was that icebergs, sea ice and growlers were concentrated in the very position where the collision happened," Norris said.

Tides sent icebergs southward: Last month, astronomers at Texas State University at San Marcos noted that the sun, the moon and Earth were aligned in such a way that could have led to unusually high tides in January 1912. They speculated that the tides could have dislodged icebergs that were stuck in the Labrador Sea, sending more of them toward the waters traversed by the Titanic a couple of months later.

The ship was going too fast: Many Titanicologists have said that the ship's captain, Edward J. Smith, was aiming to better the crossing time of the Olympic, the Titanic's older sibling in the White Star fleet. For some, the fact that the Titanic was sailing full speed ahead despite concerns about icebergs was Smith's biggest misstep. "Simply put, Titanic was traveling way too fast in an area known to contain ice that's the bottom line," says Mark Nichol, webmaster for the Titanic and Other White Star Ships website.

Iceberg warnings went unheeded: The Titanic received multiple warnings about icefields in the North Atlantic over the wireless, but Corfield notes that the last and most specific warning was not passed along by senior radio operator Jack Phillips to Captain Smith, apparently because it didn't carry the prefix "MSG" (Masters' Service Gram). That would have required a personal acknowledgment from the captain. "Phillips interpreted it as non-urgent and returned to sending passenger messages to the receiver on shore at Cape Race, Newfoundland, before it went out of range," Corfield writes.

The binoculars were locked up: Corfield also says binoculars that could have been used by lookouts on the night of the collision were locked up aboard the ship — and the key was held by David Blair, an officer who was bumped from the crew before the ship's departure from Southampton. Some historians have speculated that the fatal iceberg might have been spotted earlier if the binoculars were in use, but others say it wouldn't have made a difference.

The steersman took a wrong turn: Did the Titanic's steersman turn the ship toward the iceberg, dooming the ship? That's the claim made in 2010 by Louise Patten, who said the story was passed down from her grandfather, the most senior ship officer to survive the disaster. After the iceberg was spotted, the command was issued to turn "hard a starboard," but as the command was passed down the line, it was misinterpreted as meaning "make the ship turn right" rather than "push the tiller right to make the ship head left," Patten said. She said the error was quickly discovered, but not quickly enough to avert the collision. She also speculated that if the ship had stopped where it was hit, seawater would not have pushed into one interior compartment after another as it did, and the ship might not have sunk as quickly.

Reverse thrust reduced the ship's maneuverability: Just before impact, first officer William McMaster Murdoch is said to have telegraphed the engine room to put the ship's engines into reverse. That would cause the left and right propeller to turn backward, but because of the configuration of the stern, the central propeller could only be halted, not reversed. Corfield said "the fact that the steering propeller was not rotating severely diminished the turning ability of the ship. It is one of the many bitter ironies of the Titanic tragedy that the ship might well have avoided the iceberg if Murdoch had not told the engine room to reduce and then reverse thrust."

The iron rivets were too weak: Metallurgists Tim Foecke and Jennifer Hooper McCarty looked into the materials used for the building of the Titanic at its Belfast shipyard and found that the steel plates toward the bow and the stern were held together with low-grade iron rivets. Those rivets may have been used because higher-grade rivets were in short supply, or because the better rivets couldn't be inserted in those areas using the shipyard's crane-mounted hydraulic equipment. The metallurgists said those low-grade rivets would have ripped apart more easily during the collision, causing the ship to sink more quickly that it would have if stronger rivets had been used. Other researchers have contested that claim, however.

There were too few lifeboats: Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that there were not enough lifeboats to accommodate all of the Titanic's more than 2,200 passengers and crew members. The lifeboats could accommodate only about 1,200 people — which was still in excess of the 1,060-person capacity that was the legal requirement for that time. "It seems that in 1912, in a way not dissimilar to our own box-ticking, responsibility-avoiding culture today, lack of effective oversight on the part of the authorities caused the consequences of the disaster to be much worse than they might have been," Corfield wrote.

Do these 10 causes cover everything, or are there still more factors I'm forgetting? Are there some lessons still unlearned from the Titanic tragedy? Feel free to weigh in with your reflections on the Titanic centennial in the comment space below.

Why Did the Titanic Sink? - HISTORY

It was Captain Smith’s fault
This was Captain E.J. Smith's retirement trip. All he had to do was get to New York in record time. Captain E.J. Smith said years before the Titanic's voyage, "I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Captain Smith ignored seven iceberg warnings from his crew and other ships. If he had called for the ship to slow down then maybe the Titanic disaster would not have happened.

It was the shipbuilder’s fault
About three million rivets were used to hold the sections of the Titanic together. Some rivets have been recovered from the wreck and analysed. The findings show that they were made of sub-standard iron. When the ship hit the iceberg, the force of the impact caused the heads of the rivets to break and the sections of the Titanic to come apart. If good quality iron rivets had been used the sections may have stayed together and the ship may not have sunk.

Why did the Titanic sink?

One hundred years ago, the ship that had been called ‘virtually unsinkable’ struck an iceberg and sank within three hours, taking many of her passengers and crew with her. History is clear enough on this point, but a mystery follows- how did the Titanic strike the iceberg in the first place?

Another question is how did the ship sink so quickly? The water-tight containers meant that the Titanic should have acted as her own lifeboat, floating until help arrived.

Some of the answers, according to scientists, lie in the physics of her construction, the climatic conditions thousands of kilometres away and the iceberg itself.

Cutting costs

Science writer Richard Corfield believes the placing of the rivets may have contributed to the disaster. In an article published in Physics World, he highlights the findings of metallurgists Tim Foecke and Jennifer Hooper McCarty, who suggest the rivets that held the ship’s hull together were not uniform in composition or quality and not been inserted in a uniform fashion.

This may have been the result of a cost-cutting exercise and meant that the part of the hull that hit the iceberg was substantially weaker than the main body of the ship.

The rivets at the bow and the stern were not hydraulically inserted, so they would have been as firmly installed as those in the middle three-fifths of the ship, according to Corfield. “Since the impact was at the starboard bow and the impact was near a seam of rivets, the rivets, rather than the placing of them, contributed to the sinking of the Titanic.”

Unseasonable weather

Climatic conditions also played an important role, as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico were experiencing an unusually hot summer thousands of kilometres away. This would have created a more intense Gulf Stream, according to Corfield.

This intensified the boundary between the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream near Newfoundland, creating a barrier of icebergs along the interface. The iceberg that sank the Titanic was located right at the intersection of the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current.

“Another way of saying this is that there were more icebergs in a smaller area than usual,” Corfield says. “The Titanic steamed at almost full speed directly into this ‘minefield of ice’.”

Optical illusions
The icy Labrador current may have also played a further role in the disaster, according to British historian Tim Maltin. The air column was cooling from the bottom up, creating layers of cold air below layers of warmer air.

This phenomenon, known as thermal inversion, causes light to refract in unusual ways, making objects appear higher (and nearer) than they actually are, on a false horizon. The mirage between the false horizon and the real one prevented the lookout from seeing the iceberg until it was only a mile away.

The distorted air also disrupted the Morse lamp signals between the Titanic and the nearby Californian, so neither ship could see the other’s signals. The distress rockets fired by the Titanic to appear lower relative to the ship, so the Californian believed that she was sailing away.

The final breakup
In 2000 David Concannon spotted some ‘ribbons of steel’ some distance from the main debris field. This suggested that, instead of just causing gashes to the Titanic’s side, the iceberg may have ripped open the bottom of the hull.

Another expedition in 2005 revealed these to be a large portion of the hull, which had been torn away from the ship as it sank. The dive team also observed that the compression to the ship appeared to have occurred at the top of the hull, rather than the bottom, indicating that it sank at a much shallower angle than previously believed.

The final breakup would have come as a surprise — the shallower angle would have led the passengers and the crew to assume it would float for a few hours more.

Reasons for the sinking of the Titanic:

Scientists regularly try to unravel the mystery on the cause of the Titanic. In the course of scientific work, a variety of hypotheses are put forward.

Fire in the bunker

Ray Boston, who had studied the sinking of “Titanic” for more than two decades, believed that the fire on board was the cause of the tragedy. According to him, a fire broke out in the bunker even before the ship sailed. The fire was not put off because the management believed that it would not cause much damage to the vessel.

However, due to the high possibility of a powerful explosion, the captain could hardly slow down. Therefore, even after discovering an iceberg, it is difficult for the captain to turn in another direction. As a result, the ship crashed into the iceberg at high speed. Unfortunately, Ray Boston has no convincing evidence, despite his theory sounds reasonable.

Compass error

Lawrence Beesley, a writer who survived the shipwreck, said that the northern lights could be seen in the sky that night. This is the name of the atmospheric phenomenon that occurs when the electrons ejected by the Sun interact with the magnetic field of our planet.

According to him, the Northern Lights were also seen by at least three surviving passengers on the Titanic. The aurora borealis could have been triggered by a strong solar flare that caused a strong burst of electromagnetic radiation that made the compass fluctuate and alter. The ship could well turn in the wrong direction and eventually collide with the iceberg.

What makes this theory relatively plausible is the fact that the technical equipment was really working very badly that night. The sinking Titanic sent SOS signals using Morse code to nearby ships, however, none of them captured them, except for the Carpathia ship.

Conspiracy theory

According to the conspiracy theory, it was not the Titanic that actually sank in 1912, but the ship Olympic, a ship that looked similar to it. On September 20, 1911, historical documents showed that she collided with one of the cruisers of the British Navy. Both ships were seriously damaged, but the insurance company did not consider the damage to the Olympic as significant. The ship’s owners decided to deliberately send it to an area with a lot of ice blocks to make the damage more serious. The Olympic was moving very quickly and the collision resulted in the death of thousands of people.

This theory at first seemed very plausible but later on it was proven wrong. The fact is that after the discovery of the remains of the sunken ship, there was no mention of the name “Titanic” on it. However, later on the shipwreck was found building number “Titanic” – 401. And “Olympic” had number 400.

Did a Fire Sink the Titanic? These 7 Other Factors Could Have Also Played a Role

M ore than a century after the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, a journalist has a new theory about how the famous accident happened.

After having studied photos in a newly discovered album for the recent TV documentary Titanic: The New Evidence, journalist Senan Molony claims that it wasn’t simply a crash into an iceberg that caused the largest cruise liner of its time to sink on April 14, 1912. Rather, he posits, a smoldering fire broke out in the ship’s coal bunker boiler rooms before it left the English port at Southampton, and weakened the ship’s structure, so that the iceberg crash was more devastating than it would have otherwise been. Molony points as evidence to one particular photo, which shows a black mark on the side of the ship where the fire took place. The images were taken at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by John Westbeech Kempster at the beginning of April 1912, just a week before the cruise ship set sail for New York City, and the album was put up for auction at the centenary of the accident in 2012.

But, while the discussion of the photos as supporting evidence that a fire made the ship vulnerable to the iceberg’s impact is new, this is not the first time that Titanic experts have argued that more attention should be paid to the role that a coal bunker fire may have played in the accident.

At the 2004 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA), Robert Essenhigh, an engineer at Ohio State University, presented what even he described as a “very speculative” paper about how a possible bunker fire may have explained why the Titanic was sailing at full speed across the North Atlantic Ocean, even though it was designed for comfort not speed. “If there was a reason for the speed, it had to be something important &mdash like a fire in the coal bunker that needed to be kept under control and then put out as soon as the ship reached port,” a GSA news release noted. “The standard technique for controlling and eliminating such fires on steamships was to increase the rate at which the coal was being removed from the bunker and put into the steam engine boiler in order to increase the rate of draw-down of the coal pile, Essenhigh explains…Of course, all that shoveling makes for a lot of steam, resulting in the need to increase the steaming rate and quicker cruising.”

And, while a coal bunker fire may have played a role in the sinking of the ship, experts tend to agree that a combination of different factors led to the Titanic‘s voyage becoming the disaster it was, including the idea mentioned above that the ship was moving faster than it should have been traveling in ice-blocked waters. So in addition to the issue of the ship’s speed, here are other factors said to have doomed the liner:

A critical iceberg warning missed: It has been said that senior radio operator Jack Phillips did not pass along the last, clearest warning about the iceberg to the ship’s captain, Edward Smith. Supposedly, the reason for the oversight was that the message did not have the prefix “MSG” (Masters’ Service Gram), which required a captain to personally acknowledge that he had received the message. Thus, Phillips deemed it non-urgent, according to a 2012 PhysicsWorld retrospective.

A possible wrong turn: Louise Patten, the granddaughter of the ship’s most senior surviving officer, Charles Lightoller, claims that Lightoller told his wife that a crew member turned the ship “the wrong way” and into the course of the iceberg after First Officer William Murdoch first spotted the iceberg and gave a ‘hard a-starboard’ order. The cruise liner was operating under two communications systems that were in direct conflict with one another, she told The Guardian in 2010, so that “a command to turn ‘hard a-starboard’ meant turn the wheel right under one system and left under the other.” By the time the move had been corrected, it was too late.

The climate in 1912: Newspapers like the New York Times remarked that the North Atlantic was particularly icy that year. More recently, in 2012, researchers from Texas State University-San Marcos and Sky & Telescope magazine argued that a rare lunar event could have put the iceberg in the ship’s path. The Earth was unusually close to the Sun and Moon, which could have caused record tides that may have refloated icebergs that had been stuck off the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.

Weak shipbuilding materials: Materials scientists Tim Foecke and Jennifer Hooper McCarty have claimed the pieces holding together the steel plates toward the bow and the stern of the ship were made of low-quality iron rivets that could have broken more easily upon collision.

A possible shortage of binoculars: Some say binoculars could have spotted the iceberg, but the ship’s collection was inaccessible because the officer who had the key to the supply was bumped from the crew at the last minute.

A lifeboat shortage: Even if the ship were going to sink anyway, some believe that the extreme loss of life involved could have been avoided if there had been more lifeboats available. There were 20, which could only hold 1,718 passengers though the ship could transport nearly twice that many, according to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. About 700 passengers survived the disaster.

10. Engraving

Both Olympic and Titanic had their names engraved four-foot hight onto the ship. However, the examined wreck forced two of the Titanic engraving to fall from the ship’s scrap, revealing the letters ‘M’ and ‘P’ – ‘Olympic’.

So, what do you think? Was the sinking of RMS Titanic real or a deliberate act by the White Star Line? Did the government cover up the scandal? As 20,000 jobs at Harland and Wolff would have been lost, they’d lose Irish investment and lose their next election. We’d love to hear your thoughts.


19th century Edit

A well-known appearance of the phrase "women and children first" occurred in the 1860 novel Harrington: A Story of True Love, during the recounting of the death of Captain Harrington, the father of the eponymous character John Harrington. [ citation needed ] Captain Harrington's fictional death illustrates not only the concept of "women and children first" but also that of "the captain goes down with his ship".

"Back from the boats," [Captain Harrington] shouts, catchin' up the hand-spike. "The first man that touches a boat I'll brain. Women and children first, men.".

"Timbs," says he, "give my love to my wife and boy, if I never see 'em again. God bless ye, men.".

[Captain Eldad] paused, wiping away with his sleeve the salt tears which the simple epic of a brave man's death brought to his eyes. "That was the story, and them was the last words Timbs brought home to your mother . An' that's the way he died. Women and children saved. That's a comfort. But he died.

"It was a manly way to leave the world," [John Harrington] said. "Life is sweet to me with the memory of such a father."

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ships typically did not carry enough lifeboats to save all the passengers and crew in the event of disaster. In 1870, answering a question at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom about the sinking of the paddle steamer Normandy, George Shaw-Lefevre said that, [9]

In the opinion of the Board of Trade, it will not be possible to compel the passenger steamers running between England and France to have boats sufficient for the very numerous passengers they often carry. They would encumber the decks, and rather add to the danger than detract from it.

The practice of women and children first arose from the actions of soldiers during the sinking of the Royal Navy troopship HMS Birkenhead in 1852 after it struck rocks. [7] Captain Robert Salmond RN ordered Colonel Seton to send men to the chain pumps sixty were directed to this task, sixty more were assigned to the tackles of the lifeboats, and the rest were assembled on the poop deck in order to raise the forward part of the ship. [10] The women and children were placed in the ship's cutter, which lay alongside. [11] The sinking was memorialized in newspapers and paintings of the time, and in poems such as Rudyard Kipling's 1893 "Soldier an' Sailor Too".

20th century Edit

By the turn of the 20th century, larger ships meant more people could travel, but regulations were generally still insufficient to provide for all passengers: for example British legislation concerning the number of lifeboats was based on the tonnage of a vessel and only encompassed vessels of "10,000 gross tons and over". The result was that a sinking usually involved a moral dilemma for passengers and crew as to whose lives should be saved with the limited available lifeboats.

The phrase was popularised by its usage on the RMS Titanic. [12] The Second Officer suggested to Captain Smith, "Hadn't we better get the women and children into the boats, sir?", to which the captain responded: "put the women and children in and lower away". [13] The First and Second officers (William McMaster Murdoch and Charles Lightoller) interpreted the evacuation order differently Murdoch took it to mean women and children first, while Lightoller took it to mean women and children only. Second Officer Lightoller lowered lifeboats with empty seats if there were no women and children waiting to board, while First Officer Murdoch allowed a limited number of men to board if all the nearby women and children had embarked. [14] As a consequence, 74% of the women and 52% of the children on board were saved, but only 20% of the men. [15] Some officers on the Titanic misinterpreted the order from Captain Smith, and tried to prevent men from boarding the lifeboats. [16] [17] It was intended that women and children would board first, with any remaining free spaces for men. Because not all women and children were saved on the Titanic, the few men who survived, like White Star official J. Bruce Ismay, were initially branded as cowards. [18]

21st century Edit

There is no legal basis for the protocol of women and children first in international maritime law.

A more recent application of "women and children first" occurred in March 2011, when a floating restaurant in Covington, Kentucky tore from its moorings and stranded 83 people on the Ohio River. Women were rescued first, but there were no casualties. [19]

How the Titanic Changed the World

The repercussions of the infamous shipwreck of the Titanic on 15 April 1912, still resonate today. The National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, Titanic Stories, proves that we are still captivated by the personal testimonies from the event, generations after the survivors have told their stories.

Dr Eric Kentley, the guest curator of the Titanic Stories exhibition, explains that the sinking of the Titanic had both a practical and emotional impact on the world.

‘After the tragedy of the loss of 1,496 people, ships were required to carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board, radios were required to be kept on for 24 hours a day and an international ice patrol was established. But it also had a huge social impact’, he said.

‘This was the first major international disaster. It impacted the lives of people all over the Northern hemisphere. Southampton, where a great many of the crew lived, was hit the hardest, but even people from Cornwall, where the exhibition is being held, lost their lives. All around the world, even as far as Australia, monuments were erected and huge sums of money were raised for the dependents of those that had been lost.’

The tragedy of the Titanic has remained prominent and well known, even 100 years after the event. Dr Kentley suggests that our fascination with the Titanic ‘may be partly because we imagine—erroneously—that Titanic represented a golden age that was symbolically lost when the ship went down (and the world was indeed turned upside down two years later when the First World War began). It’s possible also because it’s a story of, as Walter Lord, the author of A Night to Remember put it, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Every type of human behaviour imaginable seems to have been there—including cowardice, bravery, incompetence, dutifulness, self-sacrifice, selfishness and genuine heroism. I also think that, because it is only just over the horizon of human memory, it is very easy to imagine oneself on that ship on that night and wonder how we might behave ourselves.’

The Titanic Stories exhibition, currently being held at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall from March 2018 until January 2019, presents never-before-seen objects of survivors, victims and descendants of the disaster. Dr Kentley’s favourite relic, he explains, would be ‘a life jacket worn by one of the survivors, a love poem taken from the pocket of a victim… but actually [he’d] choose the 30-foot lifeboat that the National Maritime Museum Cornwall has constructed. It’s a very well researched reconstruction, and it brings home how terrifying it must have been to have been lowered from the deck of the Titanic to the sea, and how vulnerable the survivors must have felt in the Atlantic.’

Many people become familiar with the Titanic tragedy through depictions of the event in the blockbuster movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, or other documentaries. Dr Kentley suggests that the many media representations of the tragedy have led to a false perception of what actually happened on board the ship.

‘What we know about what happened that night is based almost entirely on survivors’ accounts, [who] often disagree. Take for example the idea that “Nearer My God to Thee” was the last tune played. Almost every film ever made plays this, but the evidence is from a single person who had left the ship long ago. Similarly, there is no evidence for locked gates keeping the Third Class passengers in, or the shipbuilders claiming the ship was unsinkable. Yet the shock of the loss of this ship seems to be so great that we can’t accept the simple explanation that she was going too fast and struck an iceberg—documentaries are always looking for another theory.’

The story of the Titanic has united us all to this day. Over 1,000 victims of different races, classes and religions were lost in the shipwreck, leaving countless loved ones behind. It has been over a century since the tragedy, yet we still imagine ourselves onboard the ship and wonder how we might have acted in the circumstances. Dr Kentley claims that ‘We will never really know what happened that night, so perhaps we should think of the Titanic not as a history lesson but as a modern morality play.’

This article was written in association with Wessex Scene, a student publication based at the University of Southampton.

Watch the video: 10 Mistakes That Sank The Titanic. The History of The Titanic. Channel 5 #History (May 2022).