Monthly Archives: April 2012

Birdsong: Part I

Written in 1993 by Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong is considered a classic of modern English literature.  It tells the story of Stephen Wraysford, a troubled young man who falls deeply in love with a married Frenchwoman named Isabelle Azaire in 1910.  The book follows Wraysford into the trenches during World War I, and through his eyes the reader experiences some of the major battles fought on the Western Front.  Millions of copies of Birdsong have been sold worldwide and it is regularly voted one of Britain’s favorite novels.  It is considered so significant, in fact, that it is required reading in British schools.

All that being said, I’ve tried picking the book up twice, and have twice failed to finish it.  It’s a tough read.  I breezed through Part I, the portion focusing on the love/lust relationship that develops between Stephen and Isabelle.  But at the beginning of Part II I was suddenly plunged 45 feet below No Man’s Land into a claustrophobic earthen tunnel with Jack Firebrace, a completely new character that had nothing to do with Part I.  The stark contrast between a forbidden love affair  in the lush Amiens countryside and the gritty, depressing conditions of the Great War was a very jarring adjustment.  I put the book down again, time passed, and it went back on the shelf.

Jack Firebrace listening for enemy tunnelers

Then last night the first of the two-part miniseries based on the book aired on PBS.  I tuned in because I was curious how Birdsong would adapt to the screen.  After all, it’s taken Working Title 13 years to get it there since buying the film rights to the book.  And I have to say, I was very impressed.  Unlike the novel, which progresses in chronological order, this adaptation chose to intersperse the pre-war love story scenes as flashbacks Stephen Wraysford has during the war.  The film weaves between the light and the dark, contrasting the young Wraysford and the hardened soldier he turns out to be, leaving the viewer wondering what caused such a transformation in his character.  In the book we already know by the end of Part I, but the series lets the two stories play out simultaneously, so the viewer is left guessing what happens both in the past and present.

Stephen and Isabelle steal a moment alone together.

The cinematography is beautiful, the actors’ performances solid (Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Wraysford while Clemence Poesy plays Isabelle Azaire), and the war scenes bring the bitter reality of the First World War home (a much grittier portrayal than what you’ll find on Downton Abbey).  I look forward to seeing how it wraps up next week.  This adaptation inspired me to take the book off the shelf.  Maybe the third try’s the charm.

Wraysford at the Front

Be sure to check out this interesting article about the filming (and why it took 13 years to get it on the screen).

See my thoughts on Part II here.

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Titanic tragedy: 100 years later

Today we mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.  I could take this time to discuss why the sinking has continued to captivate us, even a hundred years later, or talk about the cultural ramifications of the sinking, or the much-needed changes made to outdated safety regulations.  But I think that the best way to remember this tragedy is to hear from those who lived through it.

Stewardess Violet Jessop

Stewardess Violet Jessop on the impact with the iceberg:

Crash!  Then a low rending, crunching sound, as Titanic shivered a trifle and the sound of her engines gently ceased.

Second class passenger Lawrence Beesley

Second class passenger Lawrence Beesley:

As I dressed, I heard the order shouted, “All the passengers on deck with life belts on.”  We all walked up slowly with the life belts tied on over our clothing, but even then we presumed that this was merely a wise precaution the captain was taking.  The ship was absolutely still, and except for the gentle, almost unnoticeable, tilt downwards, there were no visible signs of the approaching disaster.

Alfred White, a greaser in the engine room:

I was on the whale deck in the bow calling the watch that was to relieve me when the ice first came aboard.  The collision opened the seams below the water-line but did not even scratch the paint above the line.  I know that because I was one of those who helped to make an examination over the side with a lantern. I went down into the engine-room at 12:40 AM.  We even made coffee, so there was not much thought of danger.  An hour later I was still working at the light engines.  I heard the chief engineer tell one of his subordinates that number six bulkhead had given way.  At that time things began to look bad…I was told to go up and see how things were, and made my way up a dummy funnel to the bridge deck.  By that time all the boats had left the ship, yet everyone in the engine-room was at his post.  I was near the captain and heard him say, “Well boys, it’s every man for himself now.”

Wireless operator Harold Bride

Harold Bride, wireless operator:

I went out on deck and looked around.  The water was pretty close up to the boat deck.  There was a great scramble aft, and how poor [Jack] Phillips worked through it I don’t know know.  He was a brave man.  I learned to love him that night, and I suddenly felt for him a great reverence to see him standing there sticking to his work while everybody else was raging about.  I will never live to forget the work of Phillips for the last awful fifteen minutes.  I thought it was about time to look about and see if there was anything detached that would float.  I remembered that every member of the crew had a special lifebelt and ought to know where it was. I remembered mine under my bunk.  I went and got it.  Then I thought how cold the water was.

Eighteen year old first class passenger Mary Marvin, who was on her honeymoon:

As I was put into the boat, [my husband] cried to me, “It’s all right, little girl.  You go.  I will stay.”  As our boat shoved off he threw me a kiss, and that was the last I saw of him.

First class passenger Robert W. Daniel, a banker from Philadelphia:

Not until the last five minutes did the awful realization come that the end was at hand.  The lights became dim and went out, but we could see.  Slowly, ever so slowly, the surface of the water seemed to come up towards us.  So gradual was it that even after I had adjusted the life jacket about my body it seemed a dream.  Deck after deck was submerged.  There was no lurching or grinding or crunching.  The Titanic simply settled.  I was far up  on one of the top decks when I jumped.  About me were many others in the water.  My bathrobe floated away, and it was icily cold.  I struck out at once.  I turned my head, and my first glance took in the people swarming on the Titanic’s deck.  Hundreds were stranded there helpless to ward off approaching death.  I saw Captain Smith on the bridge.  My eyes seemingly clung to him.  The deck from which I had leapt was immersed.  The water had risen slowly, and now tho the floor of the bridge.  Then it was to Captain Smith’s waist.  I saw him no more.

Second class passenger Lawrence Beesley, from his viewpoint on board Boat 13:

And then, as we gazed awe-struck, she tilted slowly up, revolving apparently about a center of gravity just astern of amidships, until she attained a vertically upright position; and there she remained–motionless!  As she swung up, her lights, which had shone without a flicker all night, went out suddenly, came on again for a single flash, then went out altogether.  And as they did so, there came a noise…it was as if all the heavy things one could think of had been thrown downstairs from the top of a house, smashing each other and the stairs and everything in the way…When the noise was over the Titanic was still upright like a column: we could see her now only as the stern and some 150 feet of her stood outlined against the star-specked sky, looming black in the darkness, and in this position she continued for some minutes [before she sank]…the sea closed over her and we had seen the last of the beautiful ship on which we had embarked four days before at Southampton.  And in place of the ship on which all our interest had been concentrated for so long and towards which we looked most of the time because it was still the only object on the sea which was a fixed point to us–in place of the Titanic, we had the level sea now stretching in an unbroken expanse to the horizon: heaving gently just as before, with no indication on the surface that the waves had just closed over the most wonderful vessel ever built by man’s hand; the stars looked down just the same and the air was just as bitterly cold.

The cries of the drowning floating across the quiet sea filled us with stupefaction: we longed to return and rescue at least some of the drowning, but we knew it was impossible.  The boat was filled to standing-room, and to return would mean the swamping of us all, and so the captain-stoker told his crew to row away from the cries.  We tried to sing to keep all from thinking of them; but there was no heart for singing in the boat at that time.  The cries, which were loud and numerous at first, died away gradually one by one, but the night was clear, frosty and still, the water smooth, and the sounds must have carried on its level surface free from any obstruction for miles, certainly much farther from the ship than we were situated.  I think the last of them must have been heard nearly forty minutes after the Titanic sank.  Lifebelts would keep the survivors afloat for hours; but the cold water was what stopped the cries.

Sources: The Loss of the S.S. Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons by Lawrence Beesley, Thrilling Tale by Titanic’s Surviving Wireless Man as told in New York Times, April 28, 1912 by Harold Bride, The Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable” Ship by Geoff Tibballs,  Titanic: Fortune & Fate by Beverly McMillan and Stanley Lehrer

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Iceberg, right ahead!

On Sunday, April 14, Titanic wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride received six ice warnings from surrounding vessels.  Five of these were received by Captain Smith, who did not seem overly concerned.  As night fell, he ordered an iceberg watch, and, after attending a dinner held in his honor by the Wideners, he retired to his cabin at 9:30 PM, after checking in with 2nd Officer Lightoller.  Both men remarked on how calm the sea was, and Lightoller pointed out that if the earlier breeze had persisted icebergs would be easier to see, as the water would be lapping against their bases.

Jack Phillips was busy transmitting messages from first class passengers when the sixth ice warning came in.  It never made it to the bridge, but even if it had, it is doubtful that the officers would have changed their course or speed.  Smith had ordered that the ship’s speed be maintained unless visibility grew worse.  He felt confident that because of the clear conditions, an iceberg would be spotted in plenty of time.  Because the coordinates from the ice warnings had not been properly plotted, the crew was unaware that an ice belt stretched 78 miles across Titanic’s path.

At 11:40 PM lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee, who had been keeping watch in the crow’s nest since 10:00 PM,  spotted an iceberg directly in Titanic’s path, approximately 500 yards away.  They immediately signaled with three rings on the crow’s nest bell, then Fleet picked up the telephone to communicate with the bridge.  Sixth Officer James Moody answered and received the message: “Iceberg right ahead.”  First Officer Murdoch ordered the ship turned “hard-a-starboard” and the engines full astern.  While the massive ship began to turn, it was too late.  The iceberg brushed along the starboard side of the ship, leaving chunks of ice on the deck.  Within ten minutes of the impact, water had already risen 14 feet above the keel in the forward compartments of the ship.  By midnight, it was up 24 feet and flooding the mail room.  After completing his own inspection, Captain Smith asked ship designer Thomas Andrews to assess the situation.  The conclusion he drew was dire: the iceberg had done damage too substantial for the Titanic’s safety features to keep the ship from foundering.  While any two watertight compartments could flood and the ship stay afloat, five compartments were filling with water.  And as they filled, they would spill over into the next compartment, continuing on as the ship went down by the head.  Andrews estimated that the ship had one to two hours before it sank.

Timeline of the sinking:

April 15, 12:05 AM: Captain Smith orders the crew to uncover the lifeboats and prepare them for launching.

12:15: Jack Phillips and Harold Bride send out distress calls, which are picked up by Titanic’s sister ship Olympic, as well as the Cunard Line ship Carpathia.  Titanic’s orchestra is assembled in the first class lounge to play lively tunes and keep passengers from becoming alarmed.

12:25: Orders are given to begin loading lifeboats with women and children.  Several of the first lifeboats are lowered less than half full, as many passengers do not believe the ship is in real danger, and feel staying on board is safer than being out in the freezing Atlantic in a lifeboat.

12:45: The first distress rockets are fired as the first lifeboat, number 7, is lowered to the water.  There are only 28 aboard, although the capacity for the boat is 65.  Dorothy Gibson and her mother are on this boat.

12:55: Boat 6 is lowered, again with 28 on board rather than the full capacity of 65.  Mrs. Molly Brown is aboard this boat.

1:15: The bow has now sunk so far that water is lapping against the Titanic’s name, and the ship has taken on a distinct list to port.  At this time passengers begin to grow alarmed, and the boats begin to leave the ship closer to capacity (though by now 6 of the ship’s 16 lifeboats have already left, including Boat 8 which the Countess of Rothes and her cousin boarded, and Boat 3 carrying Mrs. Charlotte Cardeza and her son).

1:20-1:30: Boats 10, 12, 14, and 16 are lowered as panic begins to set in.  When Boat 14 is lowered Fifth Officer Lowe fires his gun into the air to keep people from jumping into the boat.

1:30: Titanic’s distress calls become more urgent: “We are sinking fast,” and “Women and children in boats.  Cannot last much longer.”

1:40: Boat 13 is launched with 64 passengers, mostly second and third class women and children.  At this point 13 of the ship’s 16 lifeboats are in the water.  The bow is almost underwater and passengers have moved toward the stern where the remaining lifeboats are located.

1:50: John Jacob Astor puts his wife in Boat 4, then asks Officer Lightoller if he might join her due to her delicate condition.  Lightoller refuses, sticking to the “women and children only” policy, and Astor stays on board the ship.  Mrs. John Thayer and Mrs. George Widener are also on this boat, leaving their sons and husbands behind.

2:00: Collapsible C is lowered with J. Bruce Ismay on board.

2:05: The last boat successfully launched, Collapsible D, descends only a few feet before reaching the ocean.  By now the water has reached the Promenade Deck and the forecastle is underwater, which quickens the pace of the sinking.

2:10: Harold Bride and Jack Phillips are released from their wireless duties by Captain Smith.

2:17: Jack Phillips, who refused to leave his station, sends his last distress call as the water floods into the wireless room.  Titanic’s bridge goes under, which sends Collapsibles A and B afloat.  The forward-most funnel falls into the ocean, creating a wave that washes Collapsible B (which is upside down) away from the ship.  John Thayer’s son manages to find a spot on this overturned boat.

2:18: Titanic reaches a disturbing 50 degree angle, which causes anything not bolted down to slide towards the bow.  The lights go out, and then the ship breaks in half.  The bow section sinks, but the stern rights itself temporarily.

2:20: The stern goes vertical and then it too sinks, 2 hours and 20 minutes after Titanic first struck the iceberg.  1,500 people are left stranded in the frigid Atlantic, while 700 people float nearby in lifeboats.  They have to wait two hours before the Carpathia arrives at the scene to pick up the first survivors.

The next post will feature first hand accounts of the Titanic tragedy.


Sources:
 The Titanic Collection Guide by Eric Sauder and Hugh Brewster, Encyclopedia TitanicaThe Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable” Ship by Geoff Tibballs

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First Class Passengers Aboard Titanic

Cover of List of First Class Passengers

After first class passengers were settled into their staterooms and the ship set sail, a small booklet entitled List of First Class Passengers was delivered to each room.  This comprehensive list included the names not only of all first class passengers and their children, but also whether or not those passengers had their maids or manservants with them.  It allowed passengers to know who they’d be rubbing elbows with in the dining saloon or on the promenade deck.  This list could also be used by ambitious mothers hoping to put their daughters in the way of an eligible, wealthy bachelor, perhaps by persuading an understanding steward to arrange for their daughters to be seated next to said bachelor at dinner.  Some of these passengers were so well-known that they were listed under alias names on the passenger list, including Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon.  Mistresses of certain wealthy passengers, such as Benjamin Guggenheim’s Parisian mistress Madame Aubart, would also be listed under an alias.

J.J. Astor and wife Madeleine

Perhaps one of the most famous passengers on board was 47 year old Colonel John Jacob Astor, whose personal wealth was estimated to be $87 million.  He traveled with his second wife Madeleine Astor, who was five months pregnant.  After a scandalous divorce and marriage to a woman a year younger than his son, Astor and his new wife had gone to Europe over the winter to honeymoon and wait for the gossip to die down.  In the spring of 1912 they decided to return home, and booked passage aboard the Titanic, in a parlor suite on C deck.

Isidor & Ida Straus

Another C deck parlor suite was occupied by Isidor and Ida Straus.  Straus had arrived to America right before the Civil War, and got his start selling Confederate bonds.  After the war he sold china with his brother, and asked if they might sell it in a start up store in New York called Macy’s.  Within ten years, the two brothers owned the entire store.  Mr. and Mrs. Straus had traveled to Europe with their daughter Beatrice.  She stayed behind when her parents decided to return to home on board the Titanic.

Mrs. Charlotte Cardeza

Occupying one of the pricey promenade suites (J. Bruce Ismay stayed in the other) was Philadelphian Mrs. Charlotte Cardeza and her son Thomas.  They brought 14 trunks, 4 suitcases, 3 crates, and a medicine chest along with them.  Their contents included 70 dresses, 10 fur coats, 38 feather boas, 22 hatpins, and 91 pairs of gloves (Mrs. Cardeza and her son survived the sinking, and later filed the largest claim against the White Star Line for loss of property, at 36,567 pounds).

Countess of Rothes

Also staying on B deck was the Countess of Rothes, who married the 19th Earl of Rothes in 1900, and was on her way to join him in Canada.  She traveled with her cousin, Gladys Cherry.

Dorothy Winifred Gibson

Another famous first class passenger was 22 year old actress Dorothy Winifred Gibson, who traveled with her mother back to America after being wired by the producer (who was also her lover) of the film company she worked for explaining that new films were ready for her to make.

Many other notable figures of the time graced the List of First Class Passengers, including George Widener, president of the Philadelphia streetcar system (traveling with his wife and son), John B. Thayer, second vice president of the Pennsylvania railroad (traveling with his wife and son), and Mrs. Molly Brown, wife of Denver millionaire J.J. Brown.

These prominent members of society enjoyed all of the glamour and luxury that the White Star Line offered.   Meanwhile, Titanic steamed towards New York, unaware that the “practically unsinkable” ship’s safety features would soon be put to the test.

Sources: Encyclopedia TitanicaThe Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable” Ship by Geoff Tibballs, Titanic: The Exhibition by John P. Eaton and Charles A. Haas, The Titanic Collection Guide by Eric Sauder and Hugh Brewster, Titanic: Fortune & Fate by Beverly McMillan and Stanley Lehrer

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Dining on the Titanic

First Class Luncheon Menu, April 14

The White Star Line aimed not only to impress Titanic’s passengers with luxurious accommodations and amenities, but also with its dining selection.  After Captain E. J. Smith, head chef Charles Proctor was the highest-paid crew member on board the ship.

First class dining saloon

First class passengers had the largest number of dining options.  Bugles sounding “The Roast Beef of Old England” (the traditional call to meals aboard White Star ships) signaled the serving of lunch and dinner (though a dress call was sounded a half hour prior to dinner as well).  At this time passengers would perhaps go to the dining saloon located on D deck.  Stretching the entire width of the ship (114 feet), it could seat up to 500 people.  Seating was assigned and passengers generally had the same dining companions throughout the trip.  The large saloon had some recesses as well as portable screens that would allow privacy for those parties that wanted it.  But if first class passengers were looking for a more intimate space to take their meals, they might choose the a la carte restaurant located on the Bridge deck, or perhaps the Cafe Parisien, which was a favorite spot for the younger first class passengers.

Cafe Parisien, a favorite spot for the younger set of first class passengers

A la carte restaurant

The second class dining saloon was also located on D deck and stretched the width of the ship, but was smaller at 71 feet and a capacity of 394 people, which meant diners had to come at different “sittings.”  The room was nicely appointed with mahogany furniture and oak paneling.

The kitchens for both the first and second class dining saloons were located on D deck to expedite service, as were the serving rooms, pantries, and bakeries.  Each kitchen was equipped with two ranges (each with 19 ovens), as well as electrical slicing, potato-peeling, mincing, whisking, and freezing machines.

The third class dining saloon was located on F deck, and once again stretched the entire width of the ship.  At 100 feet long, it could accommodate 470 passengers, which meant that third class passengers ate at three different “sittings.”  The room was well lit with portholes and side lights, and was finished in enamel white.  The third class kitchen and pantry were located just aft of the dining saloon.

Before leaving Southampton, Titanic took into its inventory 127,000 pieces of tableware, including bone china dinner plates, cut-glass tumblers, and fine crystal.  75,000 lbs. of fresh meat and 11,000 lbs. of fresh fish were brought on board, along with 40,000 fresh eggs and 1,500 gallons of milk.  Ingredients to prepare meals to rival those of the finest restaurants in Europe stocked the ship’s pantries.

Front of first class dinner menu

On the evening of April 14, first class passengers in the dining saloon were served a seven-course meal.  Hors d’oeuvres or oysters came first, then a choice of two soups.  Next was a salmon dish followed by a choice of chicken Lyonnaise or stuffed marrow.  This was followed by the main course, which was a choice of lamb, duckling or sirloin of beef along with vegetables.  After the main dish passengers chose from four light savory dishes such as cold asparagus vinaigrette, and then finally were served one of four desserts: Waldorf pudding, peaches in Chartreuse jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs, or French ice cream.  If one wanted wine or other spirits they were required to fill out a card at the table.  This order would be charged to their account, which passengers would settle at the end of the voyage.

Inside of first class dinner menu for April 14

On the same evening in the second class dining saloon, passengers were served a four-course meal.  This included a clear soup, a fish course of baked haddock, a choice of curried chicken with rice, spring lamb, or roast turkey with vegetables or rice, and a choice of dessert, which included plum pudding, wine jelly, coconut sandwich or American ice cream.

While the first and second class midday meal was called “lunch,” and the evening course called “dinner,” the main meals in third class were labeled “dinner” and “tea.”  “Dinner” in this case was served midday, and consisted of soup, a meat dish such as roast pork, a dessert, and fruit.  Tea included a cooked course, bread, a light dessert, and, of course, tea.  Besides these two meals, breakfast and a late supper were also served.  Breakfast included cereal, kippers or boiled eggs, bread, marmalade, and tea or coffee.  The supper meal consisted of cheese and biscuits or gruel and coffee.

Meals were a time for camaraderie among the ship’s passengers.  And for first class, it was a time to see and be seen.  The next post will focus on some of the famous faces aboard the Titanic.

Sources: Anatomy of the Titanic by Tom McCLuskie, Titanic: Fortune & Fate by Beverly McMillan and Stanley Lehrer, The Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable Ship” by Geoff Tibballs, The Titanic Collection Guide by Eric Sauder and Hugh Brewster, Notes for First Class Passengers On Board the Steamers of the White Star Line

Interior photos from Anatomy of the Titanic, menus from The Titanic Collection

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Passenger Life Aboard the Titanic

Titanic leaving Queenstown, Ireland

On the afternoon of April 11, Titanic steamed away from Queenstown, Ireland, and out into the open waters of the Atlantic, bound for New York.  The ship would be the home of 322 first class passengers, 275 second class passengers, and 712 third class passengers for the next six days.

Turkish bath

As a reflection of the period, Titanic was divided into separate classes, with separate areas of the ship available to each class.  As one might imagine, a great deal of attention went into the amenities offered to first class passengers.  Facilities unique to first class included a gymnasium, squash court, Turkish and electric baths, swimming pool, and a dark room for photographers.  It is important to note that while these facilities were available, they came at a price.  It cost 4s to use the Turkish bath, 1s for the gymnasium, and 4s for a session on the squash court.  Three elevator lifts were available to first class passengers to conveniently travel between decks.

Saltwater swimming pool (likely on the Olympic)

First class sleeping quarters rivaled those of the finest hotels in Europe.  You had to pay for that luxury though: the most expensive first class ticket cost 870 pounds (compared to 7 pounds 10s for a third class ticket).  A variety of decorative styles were used to outfit the various state rooms, including Louis XVI, Italian Renaissance, Georgian, Regency, and Adams.  The most luxurious accommodations were the promenade suites located on B deck, which had their own private decks.  These suites also included two bedrooms, a sitting room, two wardrobe rooms, a private bath, and a room for the occupant’s personal servant.  Ship stewards and stewardesses were also available around the clock to meet any request made by first class passengers.  Their quarters were located along the first class corridors, so that they could come quickly when a bell was rung to summon them.   Over half of the ship’s 900 crew members were assigned to look after Titanic’s passengers.

Cabin B60 opening onto a private drawing room

Sitting room of a parlor suite in the Adams style

Sitting room of a parlor suite in Regency style

First class cabin B38

Second class cabins were equivalent to first class accommodations on most other ships.  Each room held between two and four berths and had mahogany furniture and white walls.  Like first class, second class passengers had their own library and smoking room.  They also had promenade space located on the aft portion of the boat deck, which could be reached through the second class stairway or through a lift that ran from G deck to the boat deck.

Wallace Hartley

One amenity shared by both first and second class was the ship’s orchestra, which was comprised of 8 members led by violinist Wallace Hartley, who had been recruited from the Mauretania.  Pianist Theodore Brailey and cellist Roger Bricoux had previously played on the Carpathia.  The band had a repertoire of 352 songs, and each member was expected to know each tune by its number when Hartley called it out to be played.  The orchestra was divided into two sections: a violin, piano, and cello trio played in the second class lounge and dining saloon as well as in the first class reception room.  The remaining five members played during teatime and Sunday service, and gave after-dinner concerts.

Third class passengers were mostly immigrants.  Shipping lines like the White Star Line made the majority of their profits from the transport of immigrants to the New World, but because their passage was almost always one way, it was not thought necessary to impress them with the ship’s amenities.  However, on Titanic, third class passengers found their accommodations to be much better than what they would have had on other ships.  Sleeping arrangements were somewhat cramped, with four or six-berth cabins, along with dormitories that had up to 8 bunks.  But the White Star Line provided third class passengers with a general room, which served as a meeting room where passengers could converse.  It was panelled and framed in pine, and finished with enamel white.  Teak tables, chairs, and benches were also provided, along with a piano for entertainment.  There was also a smoking room, and third class passengers could take the air on the Well deck, which was located near the stern of the ship.

One of the most important social functions that took place on the ship was dining, which will be covered in the next post.

A few photos to compare accommodations:

First class smoking room

Second class smoking room (on the Olympic, but similar to what would have been on the Titanic)

First class corridor (all pipes are hidden behind paneling)

Third class passageway

The first class grand staircase

Second class staircase (on the Olympic)

Third class staircase

Sources: The Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable” Ship by Geoff Tibballs, Anatomy of the Titanic by Tom McCluskie

All interior photos (except Turkish bath) from Tom McCluskie’s Anatomy of the Titanic

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Leaving Southampton: The Voyage Begins

Titanic, just before departing on its maiden voyage

On April 10, 1912, the first passengers boarded Titanic in Southampton, England, for her maiden voyage.  Many came out to see off the largest ship afloat, which had received a great deal of publicity for her grandeur, as well as her safety features.  Shipbuilder magazine had gone so far as to call the Titanic “practically unsinkable,” due to the ship’s watertight compartments and automatic closing watertight doors.  The term “unsinkable” became synonymous with Titanic, though the ship’s builders never made such guarantees.

Titanic had the capacity to carry 3,547 passengers and crew, though for her maiden voyage, only 2,207 passengers and crew were on board.

J. Bruce Ismay

The ship was the brainchild of J. Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line.  His desire was to find a way to compete with the Cunard Line, whose ships were breaking speed records in their transatlantic crossings.  But rather than focusing on speed, Ismay wished to build ships that would be more spacious and luxurious than what the Cunard Line offered.  The latest safety features would also be installed, something the White Star Line prided itself on.  Between 1902 and 1912 the line had carried over two million passengers, and had only lost two.  With these concepts in mind, Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast began work on the Olympic and the Titanic in 1908.

Olympic & Titanic side by side

Titanic’s sea trials began just two days after her fitting out was completed, on April 2, 1912.  The British Board of Trade signed off on the safety of the vessel, stating it was seaworthy and ready for its maiden voyage.

Titanic was outfitted with 16 lifeboats and 4 collapsibles, which all together could carry approximately 1,100 people.  And while this number was roughly 30% of the ship’s total capacity, it still exceeded the British Board of Trade’s requirements, which had not been updated since 1894.  Under these regulations, any ship over 10,000 tons was required to carry 16 lifeboats.  Titanic weighed in at 46,000 tons.  Her deck had room for 64 lifeboats, which would sufficiently hold the maximum capacity of people on board, and while 64 boats were originally proposed by the builders, the owners were concerned they would crowd the boat deck, which would be used by First Class.  Besides, the White Star Line felt that the Titanic would be able to stay afloat long enough for assistance to arrive, and the lifeboats would simply be used to shuttle people to the other ship and then return for more passengers.  And the four collapsibles meant they were taking extra precautions by adding an additional 196 seats.

Lifeboats loaded in davits on the Titanic

Lifeboats and watertight compartments were likely the last things on passengers’ minds as they boarded this veritable floating hotel on April 10.  They were likely occupied with taking in the impressive accommodations offered to all three classes.  The next post will explore the ship’s interior as passengers settled in for their voyage to America.

Source: The Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable” Ship by Geoff Tibballs

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