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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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Leaving Southampton: The Voyage Begins

  1. Jenny

    I didn’t realize it wasn’t even full to capacity! And still look at the lives that were lost unnecessarily.
    Last night I watched an interesting show on PBS last night with Len Goodman and they interviewed family members of survivors and deceased passengers and crew members of the Titanic. It was fascinating! And it focused a lot on Southampton and the huge number of lives that were lost in that town since much of the crew came from right there. It was really sad to see how it devastated that town.

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