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


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U.S. Senate Inquiry into the RMS Titanic Sinking

william-alden-smithThe April 15, 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, the trans-Atlantic passenger liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, results in an inquiry by the United States Senate, which begins at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City  on April 19, 1912. Chaired by Senator William Alden Smith (R-Michigan), the inquiry is a subcommittee of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce. The hearings later move to the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. and conclude on May 25, 1912 with a return visit to New York.

Seven senators serve on the subcommittee, with three Republicans and three Democrats in addition to Smith as chair. The other six senators are Jonathan Bourne (R-Oregon), Theodore E. Burton (R-Ohio), Duncan U. Fletcher (D-Florida), Francis G. Newlands (D-Nevada), George Clement Perkins (R-California), and Furnifold McLendel Simmons (D-North Carolina). The composition of the subcommittee is carefully chosen to represent the conservative, moderate and liberal wings of the two parties.

During 18 days of official investigations, punctuated by recesses, testimony is recorded from over 80 witnesses. These include surviving passengers and crew members, as well as captains and crew members of other ships in the vicinity, expert witnesses, and various officials and others involved in receiving and transmitting the news of the disaster. The evidence submitted varies from spoken testimony and questioning, to the deposition of correspondence and affidavits. Subjects covered include the ice warnings received, the inadequate (but legal) number of lifeboats, the handling of the ship and its speed, RMS Titanic‘s distress calls, and the handling of the evacuation of the ship.

The final report is presented to the United States Senate on May 28, 1912. It is nineteen pages long and includes 44 pages of exhibits, and summarises 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits. Its recommendations, along with those of the British inquiry that concludes on July 3, 1912, lead to many changes in safety practices following the disaster.

The report is strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that RMS Titanic‘s builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlights the arrogance and complacency that had been prevalent aboard the ship and more generally in the shipping industry and the British Board of Trade. However, it does not find the International Mercantile Marine Company, an American consortium, or the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could thus only be categorised as an “act of God.”

The inquiry is heavily criticised in Britain, both for its conduct and for Smith’s style of questioning. Many newspapers publish scathing editorial cartoons depicting Smith in unflattering terms. The British government is also hostile towards the inquiry. The British Ambassador to the United States, James Bryce, demands that President William Howard Taft dissolve the committee and refuses to recognise its jurisdiction.

Some British writers, however, applaud the inquiry. G. K. Chesterton contrasts the American objective of maximum openness with what he calls Britain’s “national evil,” which he describes as being to “hush everything up; it is to damp everything down; it is to leave the great affair unfinished, to leave every enormous question unanswered.” The American reaction is also generally positive. The American press welcomes Smith’s findings and accepts his recommendations, commending the senator for establishing the key facts of the disaster.

(Pictured: U.S. Senator William Alden Smith, chairman of the Senate inquiry into the RMS Titanic disaster)

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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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Sinking of the RMS Titanic

The RMS Titanic, four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, sinks in the north Atlantic Ocean at 2:20 AM on the morning of April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg just before midnight on April 14.

Titanic, the largest ship afloat at the time it enters service on April 2, 1912, is the second of three Olympic class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line, and is built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Titanic‘s maiden voyage, commanded by 62-year-old Captain Edward John Smith, begins shortly after noon on April 10, 1912 when she leaves Southampton on the first leg of her journey to New York City. A few hours later she reaches Cherbourg in France, where she takes on passengers. Her next port of call is Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, which she reaches around midday on April 11. After taking on more passengers and stores, Titanic departs in the afternoon with an estimated 2,224 people on board.

Titanic receives six warnings of sea ice on April 14 but is traveling near her maximum speed when her lookouts sight the iceberg. Unable to turn quickly enough, the ship suffers a glancing blow that buckles her starboard side and opens five of her sixteen compartments to the sea. Titanic has been designed to stay afloat with four of her forward compartments flooded but not more, and the crew soon realises that the ship is going to sink. They use distress flares and wireless radio messages to attract help as the passengers are put into lifeboats. However, in accordance with existing practice, Titanic‘s lifeboat system is designed to ferry passengers to nearby rescue vessels, not to hold everyone on board simultaneously. With the ship sinking quickly and help still hours away, there is no safe refuge for many of the passengers and crew. Compounding this, poor management of the evacuation means many boats are launched before they are totally full.

At about 2:15 AM, Titanic‘s angle in the water begins to increase rapidly as water pours into previously unflooded parts of the ship through deck hatches. Her suddenly increasing angle causes a giant wave to wash along the ship from the forward end of the boat deck, sweeping many people into the sea. Titanic‘s stern lifts high into the air as the ship tilts down in the water, reaching an angle of 30–45 degrees. After another minute, the ship’s lights flicker once and then permanently go out, plunging Titanic into darkness. Shortly after the lights go out, the ship splits apart at one of the weakest points in the structure, the area of the engine room hatch. The submerged bow likely remains attached to the stern by the keel for a short time, pulling the stern to a high angle before separating and leaving the stern to float for a few minutes longer. The forward part of the stern floods very rapidly, causing it to tilt and then settle briefly before sinking.

Titanic sinks with over a thousand passengers and crew still on board. Almost all those who jump or fall into the water die from hypothermia within minutes. RMS Carpathia arrives on the scene about 90 minutes after the sinking and has rescued the last of the survivors by 9:15 AM on April 15, some nine and a half hours after the collision with the iceberg.

The death toll has been put at 1,513, including many Irish, although the number of casualties remains somewhat unclear due to a number of factors, including confusion over the passenger list, which includes some names of people who cancelled their trip at the last minute, and the fact that several passengers traveled under aliases for various reasons and were double-counted on the casualty lists.

The disaster causes widespread outrage over the lack of lifeboats, lax regulations, and the unequal treatment of the three passenger classes during the evacuation. Subsequent inquiries recommend sweeping changes to maritime regulations, leading to the establishment in 1914 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which still governs maritime safety today.


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RMS Titanic Arrives At Queenstown

The RMS Titanic arrives at Queenstown, known today as Cobh, in County Cork on April 11, 1912, at 11:30 AM. The ship, on her maiden and only voyage, anchors two miles offshore at Roches Point as the port can not accommodate a ship of its size. Queenstown is the last port of call for RMS Titanic prior to her trans-Atlantic crossing.

Tenders are necessary to ferry goods and passengers from ship to shore and vice versa. One hundred twenty-three passengers are waiting on the White Star Line pier to board the tenders Ireland and America. Of the 123 passengers, three are traveling 1st class, seven are traveling 2nd class, and the remainder are traveling 3rd class (steerage). Seven passengers disembark at Queenstown.

After the passengers board, the tenders proceed to the deep water quay to load 1,395 sacks of mail as well as many emigrants. The two tenders travel out to the anchored RMS Titanic to offload the mail.

At 1:30 PM, with all passengers and mail now on board, RMS Titanic gives three mighty blasts of her whistles signaling she is now ready to depart. The anchors are raised and the engines slowly turn over. The ship makes a graceful turn to starboard and heads back out into the Irish Sea destined for her next port of call, New York City, where she is scheduled to arrive early the following Wednesday morning.

Of the 123 passengers who embark at Queenstown, only 44 survive the disaster of the horrible night of April 15, 1912.

The photograph is of the RMS Titanic as she departs Queenstown, quite possibly the last photograph ever taken of the liner.


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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.