Tag Archives: Titanic lifeboats

Sunday Titanic Newswrap

1. The Belfast Telegraph reports that the former headquarters of Harland & Wolff has secured funding from Heritage Lottery Fund. The former drawing offices will made open for public use while the majority of the structure will become a Titanic-themed hotel. According to Telegraph: “In the old Harland and Wolff building the most historically important rooms such as the drawing offices, board room, telephony room and entrance lobby will be developed as spaces for public use, telling the story of Belfast’s industrial heritage. Nicky Dunn, chairwoman of Titanic Foundation Limited, which is behind the project, welcomed the investment in what she described as a national icon.”
Source: Titanic Offices To Be Re-Opened(11 Oct 2013,Belfast Telegraph)

2. CBC News reports that Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia is going to refurbish the monuments and headstones and pathway of the historic cemetery where many Titanic victims were laid to rest. Work is scheduled to begin in Spring 2014.
Source: Titanic Graves To Get Needed Facelift In Halifax Cemetery(11 Oct 2013,CBC News)

3. Possible Titanic Lifeboat? Turley McShane recently acquired an old lifeboat that had been resting in a hedgerow for years and thinks it might be from Titanic. “When he travelled across the Irish Sea to have a look at it, he found the boat had been languishing in a hedgerow. It had been bought in Liverpool where effects off all the White Star Line ships were disposed of” reports Belfast Telegraph. [Editors note-If I recall correctly, the lifeboats were all repainted with new names so and no one knows the final disposition of them. It will be easier to prove it was a White Star lifeboat but harder to prove it was aboard Titanic.]
Source: White Star Lifeboat Rescued From Hedge(11 Oct 2013,Belfast Telegraph)


The Clarke Papers-More Grist For Conspiracy Theories

Ever so often there is a new Titanic controversy to stir things up. There have been a lot of them over the years from brittle steel to allegations the salvagers damaged Titanic. One fact about Titanic has never been in doubt–there were not enough lifeboats. The reason was (then) regulations that determined the number not on passenger capacity but on ship size. Government set those rules for the shipbuilders to follow and the British enquiry absolved it of responsibility. Titanic met all the legal requirements (and a bit more). And it was still inadequate for the catastrophe that occurred that cold night in April 1912.

Recent documents up for auction add more fuel to the lifeboat controversy.  Captain Maurice Clarke, a trade safety and emigration official with British Board of Trade, was assigned the task of inspecting Titanic as Safety Officer. He inspected the ship prior to its maiden voyage. He wrote Titanic did not have enough lifeboats but noted “….it was not possible to double the number of lifeboats from 20 to 40 to cover ‘all hands’ due to cost and extra manning.” He did think increasing the lifeboat number by fifty percent was advisable. His notes cover inspections on Thursday 4th, Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th April. And they detail lifeboat drills, tests and inventory checks along with the sad fact Titanic only had six life buoys. His advice for more lifeboats was ignored by White Star (they did the same, it ought to be noted, when Harland & Wolfe also suggested more lifeboats). White Star, he believes, put pressure on Board of Trade to prevent anything done on this matter.

Clarke testified at the British enquiry on 17 June 1912 and said nothing about this on the official record. Henry Aldrige, who is auctioning off these notes and no doubt wants to increase their value states:

“These documents effectively rewrite an important element of the Titanic story proving that even after 100 years, new facts are coming to light about the sinking.”

It does raise certain questions as to why the issue was never brought up. However the simplest answer is circle the wagons mentality at play. No doubt the Board of Trade, under fire for poor lifeboat regulations, wanted nothing of this to come out. Government lawyers probably looked at it carefully concluding saying nothing was the better posture. Putting it on the record that Clarke had recommended more lifeboats means more questions asked of Board of Trade and possibly of White Star itself. Clarke was likely told to keep quiet unless specifically asked. And he was likely told he would be fired if he said anything or anything got out to the press about his recommendation. Also the lawyers pointed out Titanic met all regulations when it launched. If White Star did not want more lifeboats, that was their problem and not the Board of Trade’s.

The Clarke notes add some interesting information but Aldridge is off. It does not rewrite the story. The fact that White Star did not want more lifeboats is already well known. We also know Board of Trade regulations were inadequate and many ship owners also concurred with not putting more lifeboats on ships. Of course after Titanic they quickly did so. Did White Star pressure Board of Trade? The real question is whether they needed to. Was anyone other than Clarke raising concerns within this regulatory body? I rather doubt it but one would have to look at the internal records to see what was going on (assuming such records exist). It would be easy to run off and wave the notes as proof White Star controlled the Board of Trade. More likely a very cozy relationship at times between government and private sector. Which is why White Star did not have to lift a finger to stop Clarke. And no one from the Board of Trade was held accountable for those inadequate regulations.

I can guess, with great certainty, that in due course opinions and books will be written proving this or that conspiracy theory about Titanic’s sinking. Most of it will be gibberish based upon shreds of some truth to sell their point of view. Heck it might even generate a miniseries. However there is less here than it seems, so be very careful in hanging your hat on proving a White Star-Titanic-Board of Trade corruption case unless you plan to write fiction.

Sources:
1. The Independent, Man Responsible For Making Titanic Seaworthy Had Request For 50% More Lifeboats Knocked Back, New Documents Reveal, 2 Nov 2012

2. The Telegraph, Titanic Safety Officer Warned Ship Needed ’50 Per Cent More Lifeboats’, 31 Oct 2012


Sunday Mercury: Author Says Captain Smith Could Do Nothing To Avoid Sinking

According to Ben Golby in the Sunday Mercury, a new book by Tim Maltin dispels many myths and reveals new truths about Titanic. Some myths dismissed include the infamous mummy or conspiracy theories that argue Captain Smith was drunk. On item written by Golby drew my attention:

“But Tim’s research shows the Captain – who famously went down with the ship – could do nothing to avoid the sinking which made headlines across the world.”

Really? That is not the impression one gets from reading the testimony of both inquiries into the catastrophe. It was avoidable. There was nothing predestined about Titanic going down that night. Complacency was a major factor in what happened. No one seriously considered Titanic could suffer a catastrophic event that would sink her. Lifeboats for all was considered a foolish notion by nearly every ship line as unnecessary, cumbersome and expensive. No lifeboat drills were done on Titanic so the crew was unfamiliar on how to properly lower them (which was done all by hand). Nor was it commonly known that each lifeboat had been tested by Harland & Wolff to hold 65 fully grown men. This was never mentioned to Captain Smith because Harland & Wolff assumed Smith and his officers knew this. Also a factor is that neither the officers or crew really knew the ship.

And it gets worse when you add Titanic was traveling fast through an ice field in the dark of night. No one paid close attention to those ice warnings. Had they done so, they would have known they were in the middle of a large ice field. They ought to have slowed down or stopped for the night. Smith thought it was not a problem and went off to his stateroom. Meanwhile the lookouts had no binoculars to see a looming shape ahead until it was nearly upon them. And Murdoch’s maneuver likely would have worked on a smaller ship but not on Titanic.

Smith was considered one of the most respected sea captains of his day. But the new class of ships handled very differently and Smith had reasons to be concerned after his experience on Olympic. To argue though that nothing could have been done to avoid the sinking is totally wrong. There are many things, large and small, that could have averted the catastrophe. It was neither predestined nor fate that Titanic would sink that night. Which is why its sinking is tragic.

Titanic 2010

Titanic still draws people to her long after she sank in 1912. There are the usual memorials in Belfast, Southampton, Halifax and other places. Each year the U.S. Coast Guard flies over the area Titanic sank to drop a wreath. Other less noticed things occur as well. Titanic themed meals are in vogue. People dress up in period outfits, attend a dinner that approximates meals served aboard ship, and learn some Titanic lore from enthusiasts. Titanic documentaries are often shown around this time along with showings of A Night To Remember (1958), a fondly remembered movie based on Walter Lord’s book. The more recent Titanic is not history but does recreate the ship wonderfully along with rich period look and feel.?

Titanic is not unlike a Greek tragedy. Such tragedies always depict the outcome as avoidable. Not so far off in Titanic’s case. Her demise was avoidable and arguably predictable. Walter Lord summarizes it as complacency on all levels: government, the ship owners, and those commanded them. No one seemed overly concerned with the lack of lifeboats. Ship owners, for reasons of economy and aesthetics, did not want too many. They knew their presence comforted passengers. The Board of Trade considered passengers cargo and cargo equals space. So lifeboats were tagged to the amount of space one took, not on the total number of passengers and crew aboard ship. Fine in small vessels but inadequate when the numbers exceeded the total capacity of lifeboats available.

Major shipwrecks were rare but not uncommon. Most ship owners believed the risk was minimal. They also believed passengers carried the risk as well. It was always a possibility, however remote, that something would go wrong resulting in injury or death. Strict liability laws made it difficult (but not impossible) to obtain judgments against them. Many became complacent about the danger of a major catastrophe. They believed in all the wondrous new technologies that made ships stronger and safer. A ship might be wounded, scraped, and battered but would remain afloat. Titanic was designed with that in mind.

Even with lifeboats, it required a trained crew to work them. And on Titanic, that was a problem. Too few were experienced in this task. Smith never had a boat drill. Boat assignments were posted after leaving Queenstown. Manning was inconsistent. Lifeboat 6 was assigned two while Lifeboat 3 had 15. Worse neither he or the senior officers had any idea how many people each lifeboat would carry. They did not know they had been throughly tested by Harland & Wolff to carry 65 persons without any sign of strain. Harland & Wolff never mentioned it, according to Walter Lord, because they assumed Smith and his officers knew this “as a matter of general knowledge.”

Captain Smith was experienced officer. He was widely respected amongst his peers and passengers who sailed on his ships. Yet like many others he was complacent. Until he commanded Olympic, he never had any major problems at sea. However the incident in New York with a tug and the Olympic’s collision with the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke were warnings about how differently these new large ships operated. And suction from the propellers caused the liner New York to break moorings in Southampton. Independently these events proved nothing but together form a pattern. All of them occurred while he was in command.

So his lack of action on lifeboat organization is not the work of a lazy or incompetent ship master. It is of someone who believed they would never be needed except in very rare circumstances. Unlike the depiction in A Night To Remember, Smith was not decisive and barking out orders when the crisis hit. Instead he had to be asked by his officers about lowering lifeboats and other orders like firing distress rockets. Which is why things were confusing on that night. Passengers did not know where to go and had to wait for instructions on deck. Lightoller and Murdoch operated inconsistent policies in their respective lifeboat operations. Lightoller was strict about women and children first while Murdoch allowed men on lifeboats. Smith was likely in shock about Titanic sinking and the terrible loss of life about to happen.

It was not long after Titanic’s sinking that every passenger liner put lifeboats for all and pronounced it in advertisements. No longer was it an issue of money but one of safety. The shocking numbers of those saved to those lost were the new mathematics. And ship owners complied and later maritime laws would make it mandatory along with boat drills for crew. Today most cruise passengers have to practice putting on life jackets and assemble at designated points not long after sailing. While no one crashes into icebergs these days, very rough seas can tumble ships as recent stories indicate. Complacency was certainly major element to the Titanic disaster, which is why one must never become too comfortable for the unexpected happens more often than we like to admit.