Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Titanic Sets Sail

Introduction to our series The Sinking of the Titanic:
While there greater nautical tragedies before and since, the sinking of the Titanic is special in humanity's shared memory. The voyage of the Titanic was one of hubris. It was thought to be unsinkable. Therefore the builders did not provide for enough lifeboats. Therefore the captain steamed on at top speeds heedless of dangers. Therefore the passengers carried on as normal even after the iceberg collided. The sinking of the Titanic reminded civilization of the imperfections of even the most modern technologies.

An early author of this event was William Inglis. This is from his story.

Time: April 15, 1912
Place: Atlantic Ocean, 41.46 N., 50.14 W

The Voyage of the Titanic
GNU image from Wikipedia.
No other disaster at sea has ever resulted in such loss of human life as did the sinking of the Titanic on the night of April 15, 1912. Moreover, no other disaster has ever included among its victims so many people of high position and repute and real value to the world. The Titanic was on her first voyage, and this voyage had served to draw together many notables. She was advertised as the largest steamer in the world and as the safest; she was called "unsinkable." The ocean thus struck its blow at no mean victim, but at the ship supposedly the queen of all ships.

Through the might of the great tragedy, man was taught two lessons. One was against boastfulness. He has not yet conquered nature; his "unsinkable" masterpiece was torn apart like cardboard and plunged to the bottom. The other and more solemn teaching was against the speed mania, which seems more and more to have possessed mankind. His autos, his railroads, even his fragile flying-machines, have been keyed up for record speed. The Titanic was racing for a record when she perished.

Her loss has created almost a revolution in ocean traffic. "Let us go more slowly!" was the cry. Safety became the chief advertisement of the big ship lines; and speed, Speed the adored, shriveled into the dishonored god of a moment's madness.

The wreck of the steamship Titanic, of the White Star Line, the newest and biggest and presumably the safest ship in the world, is the greatest marine disaster known in the history of ocean traffic. She ran into an iceberg off the Banks of Newfoundland at 11.40 Sunday night, April 14th, and at twenty minutes past two sank in two miles of ocean depth. More than fifteen hundred lives were lost and a few more than seven hundred saved.

The Titanic was a marvel of size and luxury. Her length was 882-1/2 feet--far exceeding the height of the tallest buildings in the world--her breadth of beam was 92 feet, and her depth from topmost deck to keel was 94 feet. She was of 45,000 tons register and 66,000 tons displacement. Her structure was the last word in size, speed, and luxury at sea. Her interior was like that of some huge hotel, with wide stairways and heavy balustrades, with elevators running up and down the height of nine decks out of her twelve; with swimming-pools, Turkish baths, saloons, and music-rooms, and a little golf-course on the highest deck. Her master was Capt. E. J. Smith, a veteran of more than thirty years' able and faithful service in the company's ships, whose only mishap had occurred when the giant Olympic, under his command, collided with the British cruiser Hawke in the Solent last September. He was exonerated because the great suction exerted by the Olympic in a narrow channel inevitably drew the two vessels together.

There were over 2,200 people aboard the Titanic when she left Southampton on Wednesday for her maiden voyage--325 first-cabin passengers, 285 second-cabin, 710 steerage, and a crew of 899. Among that ship's company were many men and women of prominence in the arts, the professions, and in business. Colonel John Jacob Astor and his bride, who was Miss Madeleine Force, were among them; also Major Archibald Butt, military aide to President Taft; Charles M. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad, with his family; William T. Stead, of the London Review of Reviews; Benjamin Guggenheim, of the celebrated mining family; G. D. Widener, of Philadelphia; F. D. Millet, the noted artist; Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus; J. Thayer, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad; J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line's board of directors; Henry B. Harris, theatrical manager; Colonel Washington Roebling, the engineer; Jacques Futrelle, the novelist; and Henry Sleeper Harper, a grandson of Joseph Wesley Harper, one of the founders of the house of Harper & Brothers.

As the Titanic was leaving her pier at Southampton there came a sound like the booming of artillery. The passengers thronging to the rail saw the steamship New York slowly drawing near. The movement of the Titanic's gigantic body had sucked the water away from the quay so violently that the seven stout hawsers mooring the New York to her pier snapped like rotten twine, and she bore down on the giant ship stern first and helpless. The Titanic reversed her engines, and tugs plucked the New York away barely in time to avoid a bad smash. If any old sailors regarded this accident as an evil omen, there is little reason to think the thing affected the spirits of the passengers on the great floating hotel. As the ship passed the time of day by wireless with her distant neighbors out of sight beyond the horizon of the ocean lanes, she reported good weather, machinery working smoothly, all going well.

For some reason the great fleet of icebergs which drifts south of Cape Race every summer moved down unusually early this year. The Carmania, three days in advance of the Titanic, ran into the ice-field on Thursday. The ship at reduced speed dodged about, avoiding enormous bergs along her course, while far away on every hand glinted the shining high white sides of many more of the menacing ice mountains. Passengers photographed the brilliant monsters. The steamship Niagara, many leagues astern, reported a slight collision, with no great harm done. That was enough. Captain Dow retraced his course to the northeast and, after an hour's steaming, laid a new course for Fire Island buoy. The presence of the great bergs and accompanying masses of field-ice so very early in the season was most unusual.

Into this desolate waste of sea came the Titanic on Sunday evening. She encountered fog, for the region is almost continuously swathed in the mists raised by the contact of the Arctic current with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Scattered far and wide in every direction were many icebergs, shrouded in gray, invisible to the eyes of the sharpest lookouts, lying in wait for their prey.

Continued on Wednesday, May 27th.

More information here.

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