On 31st May it is the 100th anniversary of the launch of the RMS Titanic hull. There have been various commemorations here over the last 2 months to mark milestones in the building of the ship.
Now you have to ask the question about celebrating next year the 100th anniversary of the sinking, an event were over 1500 people died. Thats just under half the number of people killed here during the troubles in one night. I hope the events scheduled for next year will be more memorial than a celebration.
Which is why it has been interesting to see the events scheduled for the various milestones in the Titanic launch 100 years on. As the t-shirts say ‘Titanic – it was fine when it left here’.
Titanic Memorial Belfast City Hall
The Titanic has held a fascination for people and in particular local people, long before Winslett and DeCaprio stood on the fake deck doing the king of the world thing. Belfast has always taken a pride in building the Titanic which again is odd for something that deficiences in the design and construction played a part in the downfall. The shipyard itself also has a checkered past with a part of the community. At the time the titanic was built it was predominantly made from workers of one religion. This isnt surprising given the demographics of the area. It did lead of course to the bias, discrimination and intolerance that vast majority always seems to bring. My own grandfather worked their briefly. That was until they found out he was a Catholic. One day he went to put his work coat on, found the end of his sleeves stiched up as he put it on, his ‘colleagues’ grabbed him, tied him up and threw him into the Lagan. Luckily he was a strong swimmer and they hadnt tied him as tight as he thought. He managed to get free and get to shore. His last working day in the shipyard and if he hadnt been as lucky I wouldnt be writing this blog post today.
Of course along with obvious bias (500 Catholic workers out of 9-10,000) there were also some untrue myths. I remember being told the ‘No Pope Here’ story by my Grannie when I was a kid. The story went that the hull registration number of the titanic was 3909 04 which is no pope backwards (ok you have to squint). Now this rumour was believed yet there is absolutely no evidence for it whatsoever. Thats not to say it wasnt chalked up somewhere and the rumour grew up from that, but it was an idea that was prevalent here for years, wrongly.
The RMS Titanic was christened ‘unsinkable’ by many and of course rumours grew up about comments about God not being able to sink it, and well he did. I dont think God works like that. 1500 odd people killed to prove a point, no, I dont think so. There was also rumoured to be a mummy being carried and it was the result of a mummies curse, or something to do with gold being carried aboard.
The Titanic didnt really sink for any of these reasons, just the usual, corporate greed, arrogance, human failing, laziness and stupidity. All entirely human reactions.
Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices
The sinking was a result of a chain of events, which unfortunately like any catastrophe any one of which would have prevented the sinking or at the very least prevented the huge loss of life.
The White Star line were under pressure to provide the fastest Atlantic crossing so they put pressure on the captain to go as quickly as they could. If they had heeded the iceberg warnings and slowed down they might have had more time. Common practice at the time however was to continue at speed as they thought any iceberg would be seen in time, not taking account of ship speed and turning circle etc.
It was a moonless night which mean visibility was low. They did see the iceberg before it hit but were going too fast to change direction and current thinking was that the helm crew turned the ship the wrong way in a panic steering the boat into the iceberg instead of away from it. The deck watch were hindered by the binoculars being locked away by a sleeping crewman so they couldnt see far enough. The crew did see a ‘haze’ before the collision but that could have been pack ice instead of an iceberg which they hit.
Former headquarters of the White Star Line in Liverpool
The design and construction were flawed, a lot of the rivets were substandard (poor workmanship or cost cutting) which caused the hull to buckle rather than tear so it was the plates coming apart that. The rudder wasnt large enough although it was large enough for contemporary design but that design didnt take account of increases in ship speed, design and size. It was a fraction of the size it would have needed to be to avoid the ice at the late stage it was seen. (about 30-40 secs in advance) The Titanic would probably have survived if it had hit the iceberg head on, it would have been disabled but wouldnt have necessarily sank.
St Marys Church Comber, home of the titanic designer Thomas Andrews
After hitting the iceberg the titanic did continue forward for a while which helped flood the ship, if it had stopped it would have survived long enough before help arrived and perhaps the ship would have been saved or at the very least everyone would have survived. The design was compromised because increasing the bulkheads would have impacted first class accommodation and it wasnt thought that the ship would flood as much, so as the water flooded in and the ship moved forward the floodwater progressed through the ship.
The Titanic was criticised for not having enough lifeboats when in fact it had a few more than it was legally required to do, there was no legal requirement to have enough spaces on lifeboats for everyone on board. Even so if the lifeboats had been filled then perhaps another 500 would have been saved.
Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices
The nearest ship had its radio off and saw the distress flares going up but the captain assumed it was just a party. They could have got there before it sank and saved a lot of people.
There are many other points and coincidences which added to the sinking but all bad decisions or good decisions based on bad knowledge or experience at the time. A lot of small decisions linked together contributing to a catastrophe. Then add to this the whole insurance, where theres a blame theres a claim, attitude which was about at the time which has muddied the waters and hid truths for almost a century. Which also includes the many conspiracy theories including the ones I mentioned above.
There is no doubt still a fascination with the ship and a recent Channel 4/National Geographic programme went through stages of reconstructing parts of the Titanic or the processes used at the time. Part of the hull was reconstructed and remains as a sculpture down at the Thompsons Graving Dock where the titanic was built in Belfast.
Replica Titanic Hull Sculpture
The Harland and Wolff shipyard is now a tiny fraction of what it used to be, specialising now in ship repair and assembly of wind turbines. The area it once dominated is now rechristened “Titanic Quarter” and was to be a showpiece development in Belfast. New apartments, offices, open spaces, the Titanic Signature Project museum building, the regeneration of the area. This was all scheduled to be built or underway by the 100th anniversary of the sinking.
Harland and Wolff Shipyard Cranes
The property crash killed a lot of the development, lots of overpriced empty apartments which are the result of legal battles. Apartments were built to current specifications at time of design with the current prices, greed took over and people bought as investments and there were rumours of apartments being bought and sold before they were even built. Lots of the apartments were bought as investments and when the crash happened the prices sank and so mortgages couldnt be obtained for apartments ‘worth’ a fraction of what the legal sale price was agreed at. There was a lot of greed involved from the developers through to people trying to make a fast buck and for a lot of them that idea has sunk without trace – sound familiar? I remember being in conversation with people who thought their investment in two or three apartment deposits was a license to print money. An Unsinkable investment as it where?
Titanic Quarter Apartments and Titanic model kit sculpture
It is all a bit of a disaster really but no lives have been lost, its probably going to be at least 10 years behind if it ever gets completed at all. The Signature project is ongoing and the tourism aspect is growing.
Titanic Signature Project
It all reminds me of the time the names were being put forward for what is now the Belfast Giants ice hockey team. One of the names put forward was the Belfast Titans to tie in with the Titanic theme (they play in an Arena built in the Titanic Quarter). It was then pointed out that having something which associates the Titanic with ice, in Belfast, may not be such a good idea after all.
Tourists at Titanic Graving Dock
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Tags: 100, 100th, anniversary, apartments, arc, belfast, commemoration, construction, development, harland, memorial, northern ireland, quarter, rms titanic, rumour, rumours, ship, shipyard, sinking, titanic, white star, white star line, wolff