The Titanic carried 2207 people. People all ages, people of great wealth and of bitter poverty. Unsuspecting witnesses to an event they could never have envisaged.
If you could walk the decks of the Titanic you would hear a dozen or more languages being spoken with every imaginable dialect. Not surprisingly the Titanic is often described as a microcosm of society.
The route to understanding the Titanic story is to learn about and understand the people that built her, the people that sailed on her, those that died and those that survived when she met her end.
Nationalities on Board
In Southampton, Andrews had stayed in the South-Western hotel, like many passengers who had converged on the port of departure in boat trains. Passengers and crew streamed up the gangplank while the ship’s siren issued warnings that soon anchors would be raised. On board was what has been called “all the world in little”. Most of the three hundred-odd passengers in first-class cabins were American, whilst many of those in second class were British.
But the thousand or so steerage passengers, especially after the brief moorings in Cherbourg and Queenstown, were a medley of nationalities, and most of those embarking had one-way tickets to the New World. They included Germans, Italians, Greeks, Armenians, Scandinavians, English, Poles and Irish. But it is the names of the American rich and powerful in first class we remember – Astor, Guggenheim, Straus, Widener, Butt, Dodge, Ryerson. For these people, first class was a kind of reunion. Travel on the maiden voyage of a great liner was one of life’s bonus pleasures.
This was a local, national and international event. Lord and Lady Pirrie were there, as were the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Belfast. J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line was also in attendance. It was only appropriate that the celebrated American millionaire, J. Pierpont Morgan should be there. He was the owner of the International Mercantile Marine Company, the parent company of Oceanic Steam Navigation Company that in turn owned the ships of the White Star Line.
The author, Filson Young remarked that “there was no christening ceremony such as celebrates the launching of lesser ships”.
Instead, a red flag was hoisted at the ship’s stern and ten minutes later, at a quarter-past noon, three rockets were fired and the great ship began to move, courtesy of twenty tons of animal fat spread on the launching ways. Titanic entered the water gracefully and quickly.
Pride in engineering as well as safety precautions required engineers from Titanic’s makers to accompany the ship on her maiden voyage. It was Andrews’ job to remedy any mechanical flaws and passenger discomforts, to iron out any snags. All eight Harland & Wolff engineers perished with the ship and if they went un-noticed in the wake of the disaster, it may have been in part because they were neither passengers nor crew (even if their names appeared in the passenger list). But at the time, some distinguished writers such as Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and H.G. Wells, champions of efficiency and practicality, extolled their bravery as well as expertise. A memorial to the engineers of Titanic stands in Southampton’s East Park.
What is amazing about Titanic is the array of passengers who travelled on her. She was a floating town, carrying passenger representatives from each strictly divided class along with valets, maids, nannies, kitchen staff, stewards, engine crew and officers.
It is hard for us to imagine these rigid barriers between the classes which existed in late Edwardian times and the early reign of George V and Queen Mary. Society has changed and blended so much within the past hundred years. Two world wars, the Great Depression and a more humanitarian attitude to life have wiped out the belief that people stayed within the limits of the life into which they were born. The standard of travel today is based on the ability to pay rather than the socio-economic background which affected the Titanic passengers.
The Titanic passenger list ranged from the richest people in the world to the poorest, setting out to make a new life in America. It is perhaps the range of people on board with a wide range of reasons for travel which makes the ship’s story so fascinating. The class system which existed at the time ensured that these different social classes never met nor mixed while on board, except perhaps during the very last minutes of Titanic’s life.
Today it is hard for us to imagine the clear distinctions between the classes of people travelling on Titanic.
What is most notable is the fact that the class structure was not based on ability to pay as we would know today, but upon the social strata into which you were born.
Titanic first class was the aristocracy such as the Countess of Rothes, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and wealthy established families such as the Wideners, the Speddens, the Astors and Benjamin Guggenheim. What they paid for their passage depended on the size of suite or cabin in which they travelled. Some chose to book suites which contained private dining and living areas as well as bedrooms for themselves and their maids and valets. Prices range from about £260 to £60. For example, the Ryerson family from Pennsylvannia were all travelling on one ticket at a price of £262. The party included Arthur Ryerson, his wife Emily and three children along with Mrs Ryerson’s maid. The women and children were rescued by lifeboat number 4. Mr Ryerson did not survive.
In second class were those who had achieved success and money through work, people in trades such a miners, teachers and clerks. Fares ranged from £13 to £79. Edwy and Ada West from the West Country in England were travelling to America to start a new life as fruit farmers in Florida. Their two daughters Constance aged 4 and Barbara, 10 months were with them. Ada was also pregnant and later gave birth to a son. Edwy was lost in the Titanic disaster and the rest of the family returned to England on board the White Star ship, Celtic. Ada lived in Cornwall until her death aged 74.
Third class tended to be families emigrating to the United States from Sweden, Ireland, Belgium and England. In many cases they had sold all they had to afford the passage on Titanic and to allow them a little savings to get started in America. Initially, many were going to stay with relatives who had already gone out and established themselves in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago. Within third class there were different standards of accommodation. The average price for a ticket was around £7 although many were travelling on family tickets costing from £25 to £40. A typical example would be the Skoog family from Vastergotlan in Sweden. William and Anna Skoog and their four children had been living in Michigan but returned home to Sweden. They regretted the decision and decided to go back. The children were 11, 9, 5 and 2. The Skoogs had persuaded two relatives to join them. They had journeyed from Sweden to Hull in the North of England and travelled south to board Titanic at Cherbourg. All were lost in the disaster.
Titanic Survivor Stories
Just over 700 people survived from the Titanic. The ship was designed to take over two thousand three hundred passengers and nearly nine hundred crew. The lifeboats could have taken over a thousand, but many left without filling all the places available. The most senior crew member to survive the Titanic was second officer, Charles Lightoller. His testimonies to the enquiries into Titanic’s sinking provided the most accurate record of the ship’s last hours.
Women and Children First
The custom of the day was for men to stand back and let women and children board the lifeboats first. Many first class gentlemen resigned themselves to their fate. If we break down the Titanic survivors in order of class, 60% of first class passengers survived, a total of around 200. In second class, 120 people were saved which amounts to 42% of all second class passengers. In steerage there were 174 survivors which is equivalent to a quarter of all those on board and within the crew, 214 were rescued, amounting to 24% of the total number.
The last survivor of Titanic was a lady called Milvina Dean. Milvina was just nine weeks old when she was rescued from Titanic and was 97 when she died. Coincidentally she died on the 98th anniversary of Titanic’s launch. The last Titanic survivor was travelling to America with her mother, father and brother. They were emigrating to Kansas City where her father was going to run a tobacconist’s shop. Milvina’s father, Bertram who was just 25 years old, was lost in Titanic’s sinking. He had felt the impact of the iceberg and had told his wife to go up on deck with the children. After being brought to New York on Carpathia, the remaining Dean family returned to England. Her mother did not talk about the Titanic disaster until Milvina was 8 years old. Milvina lived in and around Southampton for most of her life and in her later years, she spent much of her time answering letters from Titanic fans around the world, signing autographs and receiving visitors.
Titanic Survivor Story: Addergoole Fourteen
It is unlikely that you will have heard of the remote parish of Addergoole, near Ballina in County Mayo but the small rural community has as much right to Titanic’s story. It lost eleven inhabitants in the Titanic disaster and a further three were saved.
Starting a New Life in America
The Addergoole Fourteen as they have come to be known were all known to each other and some were related. They were all travelling from Queenstown in Ireland to start new lives in America. Many were going to join relatives who had already established their homes in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and St Louis.
Of those who survived, Annie McGowan, was 17 in 1912. She lived to the age of 95.
Delia McDermott aged 31 was saved in Lifeboat 13 which was lowered at 1.40am. She had to jump some fifteen feet from a rope into the boat. The story goes that before she left the village for Cobh, she was approached by a strange man who told her she would be involved in a disaster but would survive. The final member of the fortunate trio was Annie Kate Kelly. A steward guided her into lifeboat 16. Annie Kate became a nun when she was 29 and died at the age of 77.
The names of all who left the parish are commemorated on a plaque in St Patrick’s Church. There are plans also to install two stained glass windows in the church. It is believed that the losses suffered by the parish in the Titanic disaster were the largest proportionate loss of life from any locality. Many relatives of those who died still live locally. As such, the village wants to brand itself “Ireland’s Titanic Village” and who could argue with that sentiment?
Addergoole’s society has been in existence since 2002, but has only recently launched a very comprehensive website, www.mayo-titanic.com.
Every year, at 2.20am on the date of Titanic’s sinking, a bell is tolled in the grounds of St Patrick’s Church, Lahardane for one hour. Slow knells are tolled first on the Timoney Bell, followed by joyous rings for the three women who were saved. Despite the fact that it is held in the middle of the night, this event is well attended year after year.
The Addergoole Titanic Society is now reaching out to Titanic Associations worldwide to assist with fundraising to implement the society’s centenary plans April 2012
Survivor Story: David Wilson
Most people with an interest in the story of Titanic will be aware of the Guarantee Group, a group of men selected by the ship’s builders, Harland and Wolff, to travel on the maiden voyage in order to iron out any snags in Titanic’s operation. The group included the chief naval architect, Thomas Andrews, chief draughtsman, Roderick Chisholm, senior fitters such as Artie Frost and Bob Knight and a number of apprentices. None of them survived the ship’s sinking. However, travelling with them as a representative of Harland and Wolff was a young naval architect, William David Wilson, who was spared the fate of his colleagues on board Titanic because he was called away from the ship on urgent business.
David Wilson was born in Ballymena, County Antrim in 1887. He studied naval architecture at the Belfast College of Technology where he won the Lord Pirrie prize for cross-channel steamer design. He started his apprenticeship at the age of 17 at Belfast’s other famous shipyard, Workman Clark. He left in 1910 and within a year was appointed a leading draughtsman at Harland and Wolff. At this time, construction on Titanic was well underway. One of David Wilson’s tasks was to draw up a 10 foot long technical blueprint of the water and plumbing system for Titanic. He also took part in Titanic’s sea trials on Belfast Lough before she departed for Southampton.
Picking Up PassengersMr Wilson was to be among Harland and Wolff’s senior representatives when the ship docked in New York. His niece, Gladys McClelland says,
“I often wonder and try to imagine what my uncle’s thoughts and feelings must have been at this time of his life. He was a young, single man of 25 and must have been so honoured, thrilled and excited at the prospect of being on the maiden voyage of this unique liner.”
Titanic left Southampton on 10th April 1912 and sailed across the English Channel to Cherbourg in France. Here, hundreds more passengers got on board. Many were wealthy Americans travelling home after visiting the great cities of Europe. It was here in Cherbourg where David Wilson’s Titanic adventure ended. A message came through asking him to disembark from Titanic and go directly to Rotterdam in Holland to supervise urgent repairs on another ship. Gladys says,
“It must have been a very disappointed uncle who waved goodbye to the Titanic and his dream voyage of a lifetime in order to fulfil the call of duty. Naturally he took his luggage with him and possibly on account of the last minute change of plan, the blueprint of Titanic’s plumbing was still in his leather case.”
The urgent business at Rotterdam undoubtedly saved David Wilson’s life. It is hard to imagine how he must have felt when he received the news that all of his Harland and Wolff colleagues had perished in Titanic’s sinking. The loss of RMS Titanic wiped out so many of the top tier of design personnel at the shipyard. In 1913, David Wilson was appointed assistant manager and in 1918 senior manager of the design office. He remained at Harland and Wolff in Belfast until 1920, after which he relocated to Southampton to manage Harland and Wolff’s shipyard in that city. However his association with Titanic does not end there.