On this day: Disaster of Titanic

When Titanic set sail for New York on 10th April 1912 she was sailed as one of the greatest feats of engineering ever to grace the waters. Four days later, Titanic struck an iceberg and the events that unfolded have made it one of the most famous disasters in maritime history.

Carrying more than 2,200 passengers and crew – from the supremely wealthy to poor emigrants – Titanic did not encounter problems until its first ice warning at 9am on 14th April. At 11.40  pm that same day, travelling at over 20 knots, Titanic struck a colossal iceberg.


The damage caused to Titanic was not immediately clear and many passengers later reported nothing more than a shudder at the point of contact. The reality, however, was that the ship’s hull had been pierced below the waterline for a length of 91 meters, allowing water to flood six of the ship’s 16 watertight compartments.

At 12.20 am on 15th April, orders were given to load lifeboats with women and children, but few knew that the 20 lifeboats onboard could only accommodate 1,178 of the ship’s circa 2,200 passengers and crew.

The ticket for the voyage

The closest ship to respond to Titanic’s distress calls was the Cunard liner Carpathia, which was travelling from New York to the Mediterranean and was 58 miles from Titanic. It would take four hours for Carpathia to reach the sinking ship, too late to rescue all of its passengers.

Titanic sinking underwater

Yes, at first, most people onboard didn’t appreciate the severity of the situation, and many were reluctant to leave. But as the ship began to list, their attempts to secure berths on lifeboats became more frantic. At approximately 2.10 am Titanic’s stern and propellers rose out of the water, and at around 2.20 am the ship sank.

News of disaster

Those who had been lucky enough to reach a lifeboat could only watch in horror as passengers floundred in the icy waters, but just two lifeboats returned to look for survivors. At around 4.10 am, Carpathia arrived at the scene and began rescuing passengers, eventually landing in New York on 18th April.

First class passenger, and Titanic survivor,  Margaret Brown.  She took charge of her lifeboat and went back to the sinking ship to rescue more passengers from the freezing water.

The lap of luxury

Promenade suite B-51/53/55 was occupied by first-class passenger Charlotte Wardle Cardeza who was travelling on Titanic with her son and maid. The suite was one of the most luxurious onboard, boasting two bedrooms, a private bath, sitting roomand an enclosed private promenade deck. All first -class accommodation benefited from electric lights and an internal telephone system, and room were decorated in a range of period styles.

First-class bedroom b-58

A grand entrance

Titanic’s grand staircase – like that of her sister ship Olympic, pictured below – was one of the ship’s principal features, reffered to by the white Star Line as “the finest piece of workmanship of its kind afloat”. Decorated with oak panelling, allowing first-class passengers to make a grand entrance into the dinning room below. A huge dome of ornate wrought ironwork and glass crowned the staircase itself. The clock on the landing depicts the figures of Honour and Glory crowning Time. No known pictures of Titanic’s staircase exist today.

Olympic staircase

Time for a workout

Titanic’s gymnasium provided first-class passengers with an opportunity to “obtain beneficial exercise, besides endless amusement” for the price of one shilling. Under the watchful eye of the gymnasium steward TW McCawley (pictured in white), men and women could try some of the innovative exercise equipment of the day, including an electric camel that promised to keep passengers statuesque while they exercised. Also featured was an electric horse that provided an elegant motion for cantering, trotting or galloping. As the ship sank, McCawley, who was later described by a passenger as “a spry little man in white flannels”, refused a lifebelt, fearing it would hinder his swimming ability. he died in the disaster.

McCawley in the gymnasium

Canvas and cork

There were some 3,560 lifebelts onboard, but it seems that in the ship’s final moments, there weren’t enough to go round; wireless operator Jack Phillips’s lifebelt was almost stolen while he was manning the wireless room. Lifebelts were made of canvas and cork, which would have remained buoyant for a while but would have eventually become saturated.

One of the very few lifebelts found

His final voyage

Edward J Smith was White Star Line’s most respected captain. “But”, says John Graves of the National Maritime Museum, “he was beginning to make mistakes and Titanic’s maiden voyage was to be his last.” Little is known about Smith’s final hours onboard Titanic; he was last seen in the bridge area after giving orders to abandon ship. His body was never recovered.

Edward J Smith, the captain of Titanic

Taking a stroll

On the second-class promenade deck passengers could stroll or play deck games. To the right of the picture below are four of Titanic’s 20 lifeboats. The ship was fitted with four more than the 16 boat she was legally required to carry under the Board of Trade rules, but only enough to accommodate 1,178 of her circa 2,200 passengers and crew. Prior to the ship’s launch a suggestion was made to triple the number of lifeboats onboard. Yet J Bruce Ismay, White Star Line’s managing director, allegedly dismissed the suggestion as he believed that the ship was unsinkable. There were also concerns that extra lifeboats would “unnecessarily clutter the boat deck”.

Second-class deck