seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Hull of the RMS Titanic is Launched

titanic-launch-at-belfast-1911The hull of the RMS Titanic, is launched at 12:15 PM on May 31, 1911 at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the presence of Lord William Pirrie, J. Pierpoint Morgan, J. Bruce Ismay and 100,000 onlookers. Twenty-two tons of soap and tallow are spread on the slipway to lubricate the ship’s passage into the River Lagan. In keeping with the White Star Line‘s traditional policy, the ship is not formally named or christened with champagne. The ship is towed to a fitting-out berth where, over the course of the next year, her engines, funnels and superstructure are installed and her interior is fitted out.

The construction of RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic take place virtually in parallel. The sheer size of the RMS Titanic and her sister ships pose a major engineering challenge for Harland and Wolff. No shipbuilder has ever before attempted to construct vessels this size. RMS Titanic‘s keel is laid down on March 31, 1909. The 2,000 hull plates are single pieces of rolled steel plate, mostly up to 6 feet wide and 30 feet long and weigh between 2.5 and 3 tons.

Some of the last items to be fitted on RMS Titanic before the ship’s launch are her two side anchors and one centre anchor. The anchors themselves are a challenge to make with the centre anchor being the largest ever forged by hand and weighing nearly 16 tons. Twenty Clydesdale draught horses are needed to haul the centre anchor by wagon from the N. Hingley & Sons Ltd. forge shop in Netherton, near Dudley, United Kingdom to the Dudley railway station two miles away. From there it is shipped by rail to Fleetwood in Lancashire before being loaded aboard a ship and sent to Belfast.

The work of constructing the ships is difficult and dangerous. For the 15,000 men who work at Harland and Wolff at the time, safety precautions are rudimentary at best. Much of the work is dangerous and is carried out without any safety equipment like hard hats or hand guards on machinery. As a result, deaths and injuries are to be expected. During RMS Titanic‘s construction, 246 injuries are recorded, 28 of them “severe,” such as arms severed by machines or legs crushed under falling pieces of steel. Six people die on the ship herself while she is being constructed and fitted out, and another two die in the shipyard workshops and sheds. Just before the launch a worker is killed when a piece of wood falls on him.

(Pictured: Launch of the hull of the RMS Titanic with an unfinished superstructure in 1911) 

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RMS Titanic Departs Southampton, England

titanic-departing-southampton-dockThe RMS Titanic leaves port in Southampton, England for her first and only voyage on April 10, 1912. Built by the Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, the RMS Titanic is the second of the three Olympic-class ocean liners — the first being the RMS Olympic and the third being the HMHS Britannic.

Following the embarkation of the crew the passengers begin arriving at 9:30 AM, when the London and South Western Railway‘s boat train from London Waterloo station reaches Southampton Terminus railway station on the quayside, alongside RMS Titanic‘s berth. In all, 923 passengers board RMS Titanic at Southampton, 179 First Class, 247 Second Class and 494 Third Class. The large number of Third Class passengers means they are the first to board, with First and Second Class passengers following up to an hour before departure. Stewards show them to their cabins, and First Class passengers are personally greeted by Captain Edward Smith upon boarding. Third Class passengers are inspected for ailments and physical impairments that might lead to their being refused entry to the United States, a prospect the White Star Line wishes to avoid, as it would have to carry anyone who fails the examination back across the Atlantic. A total of 922 passengers are recorded as embarking on RMS Titanic at Southampton. Additional passengers are to be picked up at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown.

The maiden voyage begins on time, at noon. An accident is narrowly averted only a few minutes later as RMS Titanic passes the moored liners SS City of New York of the American Line and what would have been her running mate on the service from Southampton, White Star’s RMS Oceanic. Her huge displacement causes both of the smaller ships to be lifted by a bulge of water and then dropped into a trough. SS City of New York‘s mooring cables cannot take the sudden strain and snap, swinging her around stern-first towards RMS Titanic. A nearby tugboat, Vulcan, comes to the rescue by taking SS City of New York under tow, and Captain Smith orders RMS Titanic‘s engines to be put “full astern.” The two ships avoid a collision by a matter of about 4 feet. The incident delays RMS Titanic‘s departure for about an hour, while the drifting SS City of New York is brought under control.

After making it safely through the complex tides and channels of Southampton Water and the Solent, RMS Titanic heads out into the English Channel. She heads for the French port of Cherbourg, a journey of 77 nautical miles. The weather is windy, very fine but cold and overcast. Four hours after RMS Titanic leaves Southampton, she arrives at Cherbourg and is met by the tenders SS Traffic and the SS Nomadic which have to be used to transfer passengers from shore to ship because Cherbourg lacks docking facilities for a ship the size of RMS Titanic. An additional 274 passengers are taken aboard. Twenty-four passengers who have booked passage only cross-channel from Southampton leave aboard the tenders to be conveyed to shore. The process is completed in about 90 minutes. At 8:00 PM RMS Titanic weighs anchor and departs for Queenstown on the south coast of Ireland with arrival scheduled late the following morning.

(Pictured: RMS Titanic departing the Southampton docks on April 10, 1912)


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Birth of Edward J. Smith, Captain of the RMS Titanic

edward-john-smithEdward John Smith, English naval reserve officer best known as the captain of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, is born on Well Street, Hanley, Staffordshire, England, on January 27, 1850.

Smith attends the Etruria British School until the age of 13, when he leaves school for a job at the Etruria Forge. In 1867, at the age of 17, he goes to Liverpool in the footsteps of his half-brother Joseph Hancock, a captain on a sailing ship. He begins his apprenticeship on Senator Weber, owned by A. Gibson & Co. of Liverpool.

Smith joins the White Star Line in March 1880 as Fourth Officer on the SS Celtic. He serves aboard the company’s liners to Australia and New York City, where he quickly rises in status. In 1887, shortly after his marriage to Sarah Eleanor Pennington, he receives his first White Star command on the SS Republic.

Beginning in 1895, Smith serves as captain of the SS Majestic for nine years. When the Second Boer War starts in 1899, Majestic is called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony. Smith makes two trips to South Africa, both without incident. From 1904 on, Smith commands the White Star Line’s newest ships on their maiden voyages, including RMS Baltic, RMS Adriatic, RMS Olympic, and RMS Titanic.

The RMS Titanic is built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. On April 10, 1912, Smith boards RMS Titanic at 7:00 AM to prepare for a noon departure. It’s final point of departure on the Atlantic crossing is Queenstown (now Cobh), County Cork, on April 11, 1912.

The first four days of the voyage pass without incident, but shortly after 11:40 PM on April 14, Smith is informed by First Officer William McMaster Murdoch that the ship has just collided with an iceberg. It is soon apparent that the ship is seriously damaged with all of the first five watertight compartments having been breached. Smith, aware that there are not enough lifeboats for all of the passengers and crew, does everything in his power to prevent panic and assist in the evacuation. Just minutes before the ship sinks, Smith is still busy releasing Titanic‘s crew from their duties.edward-john-smith-statue

At 2:10 AM, Steward Edward Brown sees the captain approach with a megaphone in his hand. He is heard to say “Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves.” He then watches as Captain Smith walks onto the bridge alone. This is the last reliable sighting of Smith. Ten minutes later the ship disappears beneath the waves. His body is never recovered.

A statue, sculpted by Kathleen Scott, wife of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, is unveiled in July 1914 at the western end of the Museum Gardens in Beacon Park, Lichfield. The pedestal is made from Cornish granite and the figure is bronze. Lichfield is chosen as the location for the monument because Smith was a Staffordshire man and Lichfield is the centre of the diocese.