RMS Titanic was a transatlantic liner which was considered luxurious and unsinkable, but sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912. Some 1514 people died and 710 survived. This page describes the sites associated with the ship, which has sailed into legend. It was at the time the world's worst maritime disaster, but in terms of lives lost, it now ranks about 80th - yes, eightieth - below more recent tragedies that have largely been forgotten. Yet over a century later, it's the story of Titanic that still resonates.
Titanic was built in Belfast. Her voyage was from Southampton across the Channel to Cherbourg, then to Queenstown (nowadays Cobh, the port for Cork), then out into the Atlantic towards New York. She struck an iceberg off Newfoundland and sank two hours later. After another two hours, survivors in lifeboats were picked up by Carpathia and brought to New York. But only a privileged minority found room in the lifeboats and the rest either went down with the ship or quickly perished in an icy sea. 333 bodies were subsequently recovered and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, but most were never found. 119 were buried at sea. The wreck lies in two pieces 12,500 ft deep, and 370 miles from Newfoundland.
|We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe the boat is unsinkable.
—Philip A.S. Franklin, vice-president of the White Star Line in New York
Nowadays, most people cross the Atlantic by air. But the first transatlantic flight was not until 1919, and commercial flights only began in the late 1930s, only to be interrupted by wartime shortly thereafter. These early flights combined the expense of first-class liners with the comfort of third-class, and right up into the 1960s, most people crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner. Then jet aircraft range, reliability and capacity made them the preferred method, and shipping companies withered until re-inventing themselves for the cruise business.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, European shipping lines competed for the lucrative transatlantic trade. There was urgent mail and freight, and there were passengers in all price brackets, especially the thousands upon thousands of westbound emigrants. These were driven both by the push of harsh homeland conditions, and the pull of the dynamic North American economies. The Irish were a major part of this story, but there were so many others: Carpathia was on its way back east for its next consignment of Hungarian emigrants when it diverted to rescue the Titanic survivors.
White Star Line by 1900 was losing ground to competitors. They couldn't regain the advantage with speed, but could do so with a frequent service in comfort for the high-spenders and capacity for the emigrants. And of course by safety: their ships had already suffered tragedy. They therefore commissioned three very large liners: Olympic, Titanic and Britannic, all built in Belfast by Harland & Wolff, although registered to Liverpool. Olympic and Titanic were built side by side, then as soon as they were launched, work started on Britannic. All three were designated "RMS" - Royal Mail Ships, entrusted to carry the postbag.
Titanic was at the time the largest ship ever built, costing £1,564,000. She was nearly 900 feet long and 25 stories high, with a capacity of 46,000 tons and berths for 2435 passengers. She had 16 watertight compartments reaching 11 ft above the waterline, so in the unlikely event of being holed, she would remain afloat. Regulations required her to carry 16 lifeboats but she took four extra, with space for 1200 occupants: she was designed for 64 boats but those were hardly necessary. There was also state-of-the-art Marconi wireless telegraphs, though these were more of a passenger amenity than a safety feature.
The transatlantic fare was £870 for a First Class parlour suite, £30 for a First Class berth, £12 for Second Class and £3 to £8 for Third Class. Even Third had excellent facilities compared to rival liners (and vastly better than their occupants' homes), and Second matched any rival's First. Titanic's First Class could enjoy squash courts, a gymnasium, Turkish bath, heated swimming pool, a well-stocked library, a variety of cafés and lounges, opulent dining, and of course the company of other rich and famous people. What none of this bought when it came to the crunch was survival.
31 passengers booked just the short crossings from Southampton to Cherbourg and Queenstown. The transatlantic crossing from Cobh carried 892 crew and 1320 passengers - about half her intended capacity, but it was low season. What shocked the world in the days ahead were the loss of such an advanced "unsinkable" ship, the scale of loss, the inadequacy of and failure to fill lifeboats, and the huge survival difference by class of passenger. 97% of women and 33% of men in First Class survived, versus 46% of women and 16% of men in Third, and 22% of the crew. And Titanic had ignored several warnings of icebergs, while another nearby ship ignored their cries for help. There was heroism, fortitude, incompetence, rigidity and cravenness. It was the stuff of saga: so many individual stories illustrated great themes that even today we look in awe.
Get in edit
Belfast has the main collection of sites, with its Titanic Quarter, so you need eligibility to enter the UK, also home to Liverpool and Southampton - see United Kingdom#Get in and embassy websites. For all but a few visitors, UK entry is valid for the Republic of Ireland and vice versa, so you could also visit Cobh the former Queenstown. But check the small print - the rules altered in 2021. Likewise check if you intend to visit France for Cherbourg, Canada for Halifax or the United States for New York. In 2021 and 2022 this also means checking their covid health requirements, which are fast-changing.
All the cities involved are major modern places with lots of amenities. See individual city pages for how to get there, what to see and do, and accommodation - even for Belfast, Titanic is only a small part of why you visit.
1 Belfast, the chief city of Northern Ireland, is where the story begins. In the early 20th century it was a confident Edwardian boomtown with busy shipyards. Foremost of those were Harland & Wolff, who built Titanic and other luxury ocean liners of the White Star Line. She was launched and fitted out here, and many of her crew were from Ulster. But for a century after her loss, "Titanic" was the T-word in Belfast, an unwelcome reminder of a great project gone wrong. In the late 20th century the city was deeply scarred by "The Troubles". But in 2012 Belfast was revitalised, and re-launched as a tourist destination, with the new Titanic Quarter in dockland and the museum as its anchor site. Titanic became a story that Belfast could tell with pride.
See Belfast for transport, accommodation and other amenities. It's a welcoming city, the logical base for a visit to Northern Ireland - top sights on the coast such as Giant's Causeway are within a 90-minute drive.
- Titanic Belfast is the centrepiece museum, in a striking modern building. The exhibition takes you through the background of industrial Belfast, the ship's design and construction by Harland & Wolff, fitting out and test sailings, to events of the first and final voyage. It concludes with submersible images of the wreck.
- SS Nomadic is one of the tenders that brought passengers aboard at Cherbourg. Also next to the main museum are the massive dry-docks and pumphouse that drained them.
- Titanic Hotel next to the museum is in the former Harland & Wolff offices.
- City Hall in Donegall Square is emblematic of confident Edwardian Belfast, a 1906 baroque confection of white Portland limestone. Join the guided tour to see its gilded chambers, and august potraits of its merchants and shipwrights. Outside in the square is a memorial garden, with a cod-classical statue of Fate holding a laurel wreath above a drowned sailor, though he's more cheered up by the two mermaids. It was unveiled in 1920 and its pedestal named 22 victims from Belfast - nine were "snagging crew" aboard to fix any problems identified during the maiden voyage. The garden was opened for the centenary in 2012, with bronze plaques naming all 1,514 victims.
- Ulster Folk and Transport Museums are side-by-side at Cultra in Holywood 8 miles east of city centre: both are wide-ranging and need a couple of hours each. The Transport Museum has a permanent exhibition TITANICa, the story of the ship's construction and of those who sailed in her. The Folk Museum depicts the background of Ulster life in the early 20th century. They also run the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh, though that's mostly about the 18th and 19th century emigrant experience.
- Titanic Studios are a group of film and TV studios in the former shipyard. Much of Game of Thrones was shot here.
2 Liverpool is the principal port for the northwest of England. It grew from the 18th century when nearby Chester became silted up, and it was one of the nodes of the slave triangle. Metal goods including chains and manacles were exported to West Africa, whence slaves were transported to the Caribbean and Americas, and sugar and cotton returned to Liverpool, which reaped the profits of all three trips. That trade ended in the 19th century but the port still boomed from commerce and colonialism. It also had strong links with Ireland, as that population emigrated via the short sea crossing. It was an obvious base for shipping companies such as White Star Line. Meanwhile Southampton became preferred as a port, and in 1907 White Star transferred sailings there; but they retained their headquarters in Liverpool and it was the registered home port of Titanic even though she never visited.
Liverpool today is a lively interesting city, though it lost its UNESCO Heritage designation in 2021 because of modern development on its historic docks. It's full of visitor attractions and amenities, and is close to other centres such as Manchester, Chester and North Wales. Long-distance liners no longer call, but there are ferries to Dublin, Belfast and the Isle of Man; and of course the authors of "Yellow Submarine" launched their careers here.
- Merseyside Maritime Museum on Albert Dock has galleries devoted to the Titanic, Lusitania and Forgotten Empress.
- Titanic Memorial is next to the Royal Liver Building, and dedicated to the ship's engineers lost aboard.
- Titanic Hotel is in a converted brick warehouse, and 30 James St Hotel is in the former headquarters of White Star Line.
3 Southampton is England's chief commercial port on the Channel. It has a broad deep estuary sheltered by the Isle of Wight and suitable for sea-anchorage, and the tide dividing round the island creates a double high tide so ships have more opportunities to get in and out. It was already important in medieval times for ship-building, trade and as a navy base, though the navy later concentrated at nearby Portsmouth. In Victorian times it gained rail links to London, so freight and passenger shipping increasingly sailed from here rather from the congested Thames ports or more distant Liverpool. It also enabled transatlantic liners to cross the Channel and take on passengers in France, cocking a snook at rival French liner companies. White Star Line nevertheless continued to sail from Liverpool until 1906, then followed the trend and began operating from Southampton. Titanic set out on its maiden voyage at noon on 10 April 1912, heading for Cherbourg then Cobh then New York. Many of the crew were recruited locally, and 497 Sotonians died in the disaster.
Southampton is not pretty: it was heavily bombed in World War II then rebuilt in ticky-tacky style. Nevertheless it has many visitor amenities and attractions, with more nearby such as ancient Winchester and the historic dockyards of Portsmouth. It has good transport links and is still a major port on cruise itineraries. Its only short-haul ferries are to the Isle of Wight, so head to Portsmouth to cross the channel to Cherbourg.
- SeaCity Museum opened in 2012 has two permanent displays: the history of the city, and the voyage of Titanic.
- Memorials in East Park are to the ship's engineers and to the musicians of the band who stoically played on. The latter was unveiled in 1990 to replace the original bombed in the war.
4 Cherbourg is a large port on the coast of Normandy; a series of municipal mergers has engulfed it within the commune of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. It's long been a harbour but its defensive limitations were cruelly exposed by fire ship attack in 1692. Louis XVI was determined to prevent any repetition so from 1783 great fortifications and breakwaters were built, continued under Napoleon. Cherbourg became France's main Channel port for both merchant and navy shipping, eclipsing others such as Le Havre. From 1858 it was connected by rail to Paris and developed as a ferry port, although Calais and Boulogne always had the edge with a shorter crossing and faster onward journey to London. However French shipping didn't keep pace with new travel markets, and Cunard and White Star were among the foreign companies that grabbed their transatlantic market. A luxurious liner SS France only entered service the week after Titanic was lost. And the harbour itself was too small for the new breed of four-funnel liners, so transfers had to be by tender.
Four hours after leaving Southampton on 10 April 1912, Titanic reached Cherbourg. 24 passengers left, having booked only the cross-Channel passage, and 274 joined. This took 90 min and at 8 pm the liner was back under way for the overnight crossing to Queenstown.
Afterwards, the two White Star tenders remained in service for other liners. Traffic conveyed Third Class passengers and mail; she was scuttled, refloated then torpedoed in 1941. Nomadic conveyed First and Second Class passengers, retiring in 1934 when the harbour was extended. But Cherbourg's facilities were pulverised in the war and Nomadic had to return to service until 1968. She then looked destined for scrap, but was eventually taken to Belfast for restoration and display.
Cherbourg was heavily damaged during World War II, see D-Day_beaches#Cotentin_Peninsula, and rebuilt after the war. Its waterfront Place Napoléon is pleasant enough but is mostly reconstruction. Most visitors are just passing through for the ferries to Portsmouth; there are plenty of hotels and similar amenities.
- Cité de la Mer is a maritime museum in the art-deco transatlantic terminal building, with exhibits on Titanic and other local history.
Queenstown / Cobh edit
5 Cobh is pronounced "cove" and that's what it means: the sheltered deep-water harbour for the city of Cork. It grew as a naval and commercial port in the 19th century when shipping became too large for traditional small ports such as Youghal and Kinsale. In 1849 Queen Victoria visited and was suitably impressed, and the port was renamed "Queenstown". It became Ireland's main port of emigration, with some 1.5 million departing as the country was hollowed out by famine and other hardships. To paraphrase that notable Dubliner Oscar Wilde, "If this is how Queen Victoria treats her Irish, she doesn't deserve to have any." The royal name rankled so after Irish independence in 1921 it reverted to Cobh.
So it was at Queenstown that the White Star service called on 11 April 1912. As at Cherbourg, the ship didn't dock, but lay out in harbour while passengers transferred by tender: 123 joined here, seven passengers left, and a stoker deserted. (Among the lucky seven was Father Francis Browne, whose shipboard photographs soon became famous.) Two hours later at 1.30 pm Titanic was back under way into the Atlantic. Far fewer people were heading from America towards Ireland, so the ship was not scheduled to call on the eastbound return voyage. And sure enough, she didn't.
Cobh today is an attractive small town with accommodation and other facilities, but most visitors stay in Cork and day-trip on the frequent commuter trains. Cork has summer ferries from Europe (though not from Cherbourg), which dock at Ringaskiddy far side of the estuary. There are no scheduled transatlantic services but cruise liners often call, bussing their passengers to nearby Blarney Castle - these are round-trip package itineraries but a point-to-point ticket to Cork or Cobh may be possible.
- Cobh Museum displays the town's maritime history. Centrepiece of the Titanic section is the pilots' Log Book, clocking her arrival and departure on 11 April 1912.
- Cobh Heritage Centre depicts Irish history, the Great Famine and mass emigration, transportation of criminals to Australia and the visit of Titanic.
- Titanic Experience is in the original White Star offices on the waterfront. The tour recreates the steps of the final 123 passengers boarding here.
- Titanic Memorial is on Pearse Square in town centre. 50 m west is the Lusitania memorial: this Cunard liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Kinsale in 1915, with the loss of 1195 lives. Rescue was organised from Queenstown and many bodies were brought here.
Useful to know
The snow that fell on Greenland in 1000 BCE became compacted into ice and very, very slowly over 3,000 years edged its way as a glacier towards the west coast. It sped up as it approached and the weight of ice lessened ahead of it. At some point it broke off into the sea, to become one of the thousands of icebergs thronging Baffin Bay - perhaps even on 31 May 1911, the day the Titanic was launched. Over the following months, the current shepherded the icebergs south into the Davis Strait and Labrador Sea, then the warmer waters of the Atlantic. Icebergs still calve here today, casting a chill over the coastal villages they pass, and creating a shipping hazard in the area dubbed "Iceberg Alley". Most melt quickly, but a few persist and are nowadays tracked by the Coast Guard. In April 1912, some quirk of weather and current brought an unusual concentration of ice into the shipping lanes.
6 Cape Race is the southwest tip of Newfoundland, the large island in the mouth of the Gulf of St Lawrence. St John's 100 miles north is a port, and ships heading up to Quebec and the Great Lakes pass this way. But because it's an island and a long way from the big cities, Newfoundland has been more important as a communications and staging post than as a destination. By 1866 a telegraph cable connected the North American mainland, Newfoundland and the west of Ireland, thence Britain and Europe, but there were no ship-to-shore communications beyond lights and flags. In 1901 Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message in St John's, sent from Cornwall, and established a permanent station at Cape Race. Mid-Atlantic ships were out of land contact for a few days, but could trade messages with other vessels, and on 14 April Titanic received six warnings about ice in the vicinity. Ships began messaging ashore once they came within range of Cape Race about 800 miles out - but Titanic’s radio had been broken at that point and the operators were busy trying to clear a backlog of passenger messages, laboriously tapped out in Morse code. It was another glitch for the "snagging crew" to look into before the return voyage.
- Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre is a replica of Marconi's 1904 Cape Race station. It's a museum of communications and navigation history including the signals from Titanic.
- "Hello Boy. Dining with you tonight in spirit, heart with you always. Best love, Girl"
- "No sickness. All well. Notify all interested in poker."
The final warning came from Californian at 10:30 pm - because of the ice, she'd stopped engines for the night. This loud nearby message walked all over the Titanic transmissions, who signalled back to get out of their face. We know already! Much was later made of failure to pass warnings to the ship's command, but those officers saw as little threat in ice as a trucker sees in a pile of dead leaves. Let puny lesser vessels stop if they will, but Titanic would maintain speed and post lookouts; they'd rather not dent their shiny new ship but too bad for any iceberg that obstructed their unsinkable progress.
It was at 11:39 pm by the ship's local time (adjusted for longitude) on 14 April that the lookout spotted an iceberg dead ahead, and alerted the bridge. The night was moonless, very cold and still, so there had been no glimmer or breaking waves to give earlier warning. The ship was swung to port and engines stopped, but all of that took 30 seconds, and at 22.5 knots (42 kph) it only took 26 seconds to hit. Titanic had turned about 13 degrees and took a glancing blow below the waterline on the forward starboard side. This proved more serious than a head-on collision, as an underwater spur of ice chiselled open the hull. It was later described as a single gash, but is now thought to be a series of breaches as the plates were buckled, popping the rivets so the hull sprang open.
Many felt the jolt but were not alarmed, but Captain Edward Smith immediately saw its gravity. Within minutes the bows began to dip as water rushed in. The pumps could clear half a ton of water per second, but it was entering at 7 tons / sec. Five forward watertight compartments were breached of the total 16. The dividing bulkheads reached at least to Deck E 11 ft above the waterline, but above that were open spaces or simple partitions that water pressure would smash through. When the five were flooded, the bow would be dragged down so much that water would overspill to flood the unbroached sixth compartment. Then the seventh . . . do the maths. The ship was doomed to sink in two hours time.
- CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD DE MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY Position 41.44N 50.24W.
- Come at once we have struck a BERG.
- We are putting passengers off in small boats.
It was 5 min past midnight into 15 April that the Captain ordered the lifeboats prepared and the passengers mustered in lifevests. CQD was the distress signal - SOS wasn't yet in common use - and MGY identified the sender as Titanic. Its telegrapher Jack Phillips dutifully tapped away as the waters rose around his cabin: his last intelligible message invoked the new distress code SOS.
The ship was designed for 68 lifeboats yet only carried 20 - it was only foreseen that they would shuttle people to nearby vessels, never hold all aboard. Titanic only had 2224 aboard, half its capacity. Each lifeboat could carry 66 but most were launched half full, in scenes of chaos and din as the boilers were vented. The passenger mood darkened from disbelief and hilarity to sombre then horror. Staffing ratios meant that First and Second Class were helped to lifeboats, women and children first, and those who got into boats mostly survived. But Third Class got little more than a holler, and by the time they were up on deck all the boats had gone. Anyone plunging into the freezing sea had about 15 minutes to live . . . do the maths, 1500 people were doomed. The tilt of the ship didn't deepen much until 2 am, but then her two hours were up and the remaining compartments flooded. She sank by the bows at a steep angle, the first funnel came crashing down, and the stern was lifted clear out of the water until it broke with the strain. By 2:20 am Titanic was gone.
7 Halifax is the chief city of Nova Scotia. As the closest large port to the scene, it was the obvious receiving centre for the bodies of victims; the survivors were taken to New York. The city registrar of births, marriages and deaths was John Henry Barnstead, and he had the wits to realise that standard methods wouldn't do. He devised procedures for tagging, identifying and cataloguing bodies and their effects, and safeguarding them and the chain of evidence, that remain the basis of disaster responses to this day. A temporary morgue was set up at the ice rink on Agricola St: this rink and entire street were destroyed in 1917 when Titanic turned out to be only the second-worst maritime disaster in the history of Halifax.
Carpathia picked up all the survivors and didn't have room or time to retrieve the bodies. But when the magnitude of the loss became apparent, White Star commissioned the cable-laying ship CS Mackay-Bennett from Halifax to retrieve these. Three more Canadian ships joined the search, and all sailed with undertakers, clergy and embalming fluid, and of the 333 eventually brought ashore, 328 were found in this way. But Edwardian social hierarchy asserted itself at the outset when the Mackay-Bennett harvested so many bodies, they ran out of embalming fluid. Health regulations were that only embalmed bodies could be landed, so they prioritised recovery of first-class passengers, who would have wealthy estates to be wound up. Third-class and crew, pretty obvious by their clothing, were buried at sea. Over the following weeks further bodies were found in penny numbers, some over 200 miles away, and the search was called off in June when it was seen that the life-jackets were breaking apart and releasing bodies to sink.
Halifax has a great natural harbour, known to the Mi'kmaq First Nation as K'jipuktuk and fortified by the British in their quest to hold Canada against the French. It evolved into a merchant port, vying with St John New Brunswick for transatlantic trade, and had a strategic role in wartime. On 6 Dec 1917 during the First World War, a munitions ship exploded in the harbour: the blast killed 2000, injured 9000 and flattened large tracts of the city. So what you see now is a rebuilt Halifax, dominated by its citadel. It has many visitor amenities, good transport including transatlantic flights, and is the obvious springboard for exploring Nova Scotia.
- Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the waterfront has large permanent exhibits relating to Titanic and the munitions disaster. On the water are Acadia a 100-year old survey vessel, and Sackville a corvette that escorted the wartime convoys.
- Fairview Lawn Cemetery holds 121 of the victims of the sinking. As it was new and large, victims could receive individual burial plots instead of a mass grave. These form three lines with low grey-granite markers, following the contour so it resembles the curved structure of a ship. About a third of the bodies were never identified, though one - the "Unknown Child" - turned out to be 19 month old Sidney Goodwin. As all his family were lost aboard, no-one had come to identify him. They'd actually booked an earlier ship's sailing, but it was cancelled so they were transferred to Titanic. And a curious form of recognition came to Joseph Dawson, one of the coal trimmers who laboured in dust and heat to supply coal to the ship's boilers. After the 1997 film, tourists flocked to the grave because they thought this was Jack Dawson, the lead character played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
- Mount Olivet Cemetery (RC) holds another 19 of the bodies, and Baron de Hirsch Cemetery (Jewish) holds ten. Some fifty others were taken for burial elsewhere in America and Europe.
New York edit
8 Manhattan Island Lower West Side was New York's port for ocean-going shipping. Quays lined the Hudson River, which is a sheltered fjord even deeper than the sea it drains into; across the river is New Jersey. District names such as Chinatown and Little Italy show that it was long settled by immigrants. But by 1912 labor and housing opportunities lay further west and the immigrants looked to take the train out to the factories and lumber camps and construction sites that stretched from sea to shining sea.
All 710 survivors were taken aboard Carpathia and brought to New York. She struggled through ice and heavy weather but was able to pass word ashore, where the story broke on 15 April. Huge crowds of relatives, relief workers and onlookers gathered by the quays.
Manhattan is now the bustling heart of must-see New York City, with its raucous polyglot skyscraper-lined canyons, racing taxis, dozens of top sights, and attitude-laden citizens. It swiftly forgot the survivors as it does all other transients, and has more recent tragedies to reflect upon. Only a prosperous minority aboard Titanic were headed for New York itself and have memorials here.
- The Statue of Liberty, completed in 1886, stands on an islet and greets entrants to New York Harbor today as it did the survivors then. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me." Boat trips visit and you pass nearby on the ferry to Staten Island.
- Ellis Island a mile upstream from the statue was the US immigration "holding pen" from 1892: Annie Moore from Cork and her two young brothers were the first to be processed. It remained a primary centre until 1924: thereafter immigration checks were aboard ship, with the island only holding those detained or awaiting deportation. So had Titanic arrived safely, the first and second-class passengers would have been processed by the pier. Third Class would be toted away to Ellis Island in a barge, a sort-of disembarkation tender. Given the few survivors from Third and the outpouring of public sympathy, all had dockside procedures. Many had lost their documentation in the disaster but none were rejected, though some were now bereft of prospects in the New World and chose to return to Europe. The island has been preserved as a museum: you get there by ferry, as the bridge is closed to the public.
- Chelsea Piers is nowadays the name for the Lower West Side dockland of the liner companies. It's been vigorously developed over the intervening century and little remains of 1912. Carpathia arrived on a dismal wet evening on 18 April; she came first into Pier 59, the scheduled terminus for Titanic, and handed over 13 lifeboats as salvage. She then moved to Pier 54 where everyone disembarked. Only a memorial arch remains by Pier 54, which is derelict, and Pier 59 is now a sports and entertainment complex. The injured were taken to St Vincent's Hospital, which closed in 2010. The American Seamen's Friend Society, a hostel for seamen at 113 Jane St, became the Jane Hotel. The former New York headquarters of White Star Line at 9 Broadway, mobbed by crowds of people desperate for news of survivors, is now retail stores. The crew of Carpathia were briefly accommodated on another liner then their ship resumed her abandoned run to Rijeka, with a bounty from survivors and Cunard, and the heartfelt thanks of thousands.
- Titanic Memorial Park is on South Street next to the Seaport Museum, with the 60-foot gray lighthouse and memorial plaque relocated here in the 1970s.
- Battery Park at the south tip of Manhattan has several cenotaphs and memorials. One commemorates ship's wireless operators lost at sea, and among the nine names is Jack Phillips of Titanic.
- Isidor and Ida Straus exemplify the prosperous Americans lost. Isidor was born in 1845 in Bavaria, and aged 9 when the family emigrated. After the Civil War he persuaded the founder of Macy's stores to let him open a crockery department in the basement; by 1894 he and his brother Nathan owned the whole show. He married Ida Blun also from Germany and they had seven children; he also had a 14 month stint as US Congressman. In 1911 / 12 Isidor and Ida wintered in the South of France and returned on Titanic. Ida refused to get into a lifeboat without Isidor, while Isidor refused preferential treatment to accompany her. His body now lies in Straus Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, while Ida's was never found. A memorial stands in Straus Park, corner of Broadway and West End Ave with West 106th Street. There's also a plaque at Macy's.
- Trinity Church Cemetery is between 153rd and 155th streets in Harlem. It's the resting place of John Jacob Astor IV, one of the richest men in the world through real estate. He divorced to marry a far younger woman, and they beat it to Europe until the scandal died down. The new Mrs Madeleine Astor got pregnant and they wanted the child to be born in the US, so they joined Titanic at Cherbourg with a grand entourage of servants and pets. Madeleine got aboard a lifeboat and survived to give birth to his posthumous son. His sumptuous Waldorf-Astoria hotel later housed the US inquiry into the sinking; the site is now the Empire State Building.
From the quay, the survivors dispersed to their 700 various lives, so memorabilia, plaques and burial plots are found in many places. Here are just a selection.
- Indian Orchard is a northern district of Springfield Massachusetts that's home to the Titanic Historical Society. Their museum has a collection of survivor artefacts, models and ephemera.
- Washington DC National Mall is the fabulous two mile strip between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial that's lined with museums, all of them part of the Smithsonian and all of them unmissable. The National Museum of American History midway along the Mall has great exhibits of the things that forged this nation and people, including Titanic, the African experience, and Kermit the Frog.
- Titanic Memorial in Washington is at the tip of Southwest Waterfront Park, at Fourth and P Sts SW, two miles south of the National Mall. The couple linked to this site are Major Archibald Butt, military adviser to President Taft, and Frank Millet his partner (but don't ask, don't tell), the artist who'd helped design the Mall. Butt was never found, Millet's body was recovered by the MacKay-Bennett and buried in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
- Las Vegas Nevada is obviously where you go for highbrow culture and stuff to do with ocean liners, especially along its garish Strip. Luxor Hotel, the one shaped like a pyramid, has a large exhibit around Titanic. Never mock Vegas, its entrepreneurs have put the comfort and entertainment of transatlantic First Class within the reach of millions.
- Atlanta Georgia is the base of a submarine company that recovered many artefacts, which you can buy from their online store. Authentic toothpaste tube, we goddit. Authentic ship's coal, yes, for that special gift. Better still for carbon neutrality, replica authentic coal. By 1912 the economy of the US had eclipsed Britain and Germany to be the world's largest, and these can-do guys show the reason why.
- Pigeon Forge Tennessee has a large museum within a half-scale replica of Titanic. You're allocated a passenger ID and get to learn your fate.
- Rijeka in Croatia was the destination of Carpathia. One of its waiters donated a Titanic lifejacket to the city's Maritime and History Museum.
- Alnwick in Northumberland, England, is a charming village with a castle, near Lindisfarne and Hadrian's Wall. The Olympic Restaurant at the White Swan Hotel has been fitted out as the First Class lounge of Titanic's sister ship Olympic - they bought the original fittings when that ship was scrapped in Jarrow in 1936. They serve breakfast, lunch, Sunday afternoon tea and dinner to residents and non-residents.
- Branscombe in Devon, England is best known for the stricken freighter Napoli, which in 2007 beached to try save its 2400 containers. These were enthusiastically looted: folk drove away in brand new sports cars, posted internet pictures of their trophies, then were astonished when the police came a-calling. But Branscombe was for many years the home of Millvina Dean (1912-2009), a two month old babe in arms on Titanic and its last living survivor. Her family had booked onto a different sailing that was cancelled; they were heading for Wichita Kansas, but with the loss of their breadwinner opted to return. The history industry only re-discovered Dean in the late 1990s, and her memorabilia became valuable, but she had to sell them to meet the spiralling cost of her care. Her body was cremated and the ashes scattered at sea off Southampton pier, the ship's departure point.
- Ramsgate in Kent, England is the home of Sundowner, the launch of Captain Charles Lightoller (1874-1952), the most serially shipwrecked fellow in maritime history. "Lights" had already survived two maritime calamities when he was appointed Second Officer to Titanic - unfortunately ousting the officer with the keys to the binocular case, so the lookouts were hampered. After the collision he was in charge of lowering lifeboats to port, rigidly hewing to "women and children only" so they left half-empty. He was washed away by rising waters but struggled into a boat, to become the most senior officer to survive. He came out of the inquiry smelling of roses and commanded other ships, two of which were wrecked, and thereafter he was shunned as a Jonah. He retired and bought Sundowner, and in 1940 joined the flotilla of small vessels at the evacuation of Dunkirk, where he brought off 127 servicemen. Bombs and bullets all around them, but "Lights" that day did not sink.
The ships edit
SS Californian was a British Leyland freighter on the way to Boston, and had come within 5 miles of Titanic. But after being rebuffed, they shut up shop for the night, and took no notice of the sinking ship's flares. Some of the lifeboats had even tried to row to them. Next morning they learned of the sinking, briefly joined the search and found only bodies and debris, then continued to Boston. When called in evidence, their accounts were shifty and self-contradictory, and Captain Lord's inaction was condemned as reprehensible, but that was the only sanction. Californian stayed in commercial service until requisitioned for the war, transporting troops to Gallipoli, but was torpedoed in Nov 1915. She sank in deep water 60 miles off Cape Matapan in Greece and her wreck has not been found.
SS Frankfurt was a Norddeutscher Lloyd liner on a triangular run from Bremenhaven to Baltimore Maryland then Galveston then back east. She was eastbound and only 20 miles away when she received the distress call, but there was confusion over the messages and positions so only around 1:30AM did she make for the area. By the time she reached it there was nothing to do, so she resumed her voyage. After the First World War Frankfurt was seized by Britain and awarded to White Star Line. In 1922 she was sold to a Hong Kong company, and scrapped in Japan in 1931.
1 RMS Carpathia was a Cunard liner plying from New York to Rijeka, then known as Fiume in Austria-Hungary. She was 67 miles away when the distress signal was received shortly after midnight. Captain Rostron turned her around, made all speed dodging icebergs, and Carpathia was on scene by 4AM, 90 min after the sinking and with dawn breaking. She spent the next four hours taking on all the survivors and 13 of the lifeboats then brought them to New York, arriving on the evening of 18 April. A few days later she resumed the abandoned trip to Rijeka. Come the war she was a troop carrier, and in July 1918 Carpathia was in a convoy from Liverpool to Boston when she was torpedoed. Only in 2000 was the wreck found, in 500 ft of water 120 miles west of Fastnet.
CS Mackay-Bennett which recovered the bodies was retired in 1922 and used as a storage hulk in Plymouth, England. She was sunk during the Blitz, refloated then scrapped in 1965.
SS Birma was a Russian American liner sailing from New York to Rotterdam and picked up the distress signal when 110 mi (180 km) away, arriving at the position given by 6:30AM - but Titanic gave out a wrong position 13 miles away. By the time Birma picked her way through the ice to the scene, Carpathia had rescued all the survivors and curtly declined assistance, so Birma resumed her journey. She had a series of owners and names on the transatlantic run and was scrapped in Genoa in 1924.
SS Mount Temple was a Canadian Pacific freighter-passenger plying from Antwerp to St. John, New Brunswick, with 1466 steerage-class emigrants. She picked up the distress call when 70 miles away and began steaming towards the positions given: but both the initial and subsequent broadcast marks were well wrong. Like Birma she found herself wrong side of a dense ice field, so it was towards 9AM before she could reach the scene; Carpathia then called off the search. Later Mount Temple continued her routine Canada runs, then served as a troopship in the First World War. In Dec 1916 she was captured by a German gunship 700 miles west of Fastnet; passengers and crew were taken off then the ship was scuttled, taking down 700 horses and 22 crates of dinosaur eggs. The wreck has not been found.
The lifeboats were 14 primary lifeboats, two cutters for quick response to "man overboard", and four collapsible rafts. All 20 were launched, though for Collapsible B this was by being washed overboard, whereupon those in the water struggled onto it, including Second Officer "Lights" Lightoller. Carpathia took aboard 13 of the boats and returned them to New York, where they were pillaged by souvenir hunters. Their later fate is unknown but their artefacts and photos exist, some of these genuine.
2 RMS Titanic lies 370 miles southeast of Newfoundland at a depth of 3800 m (12,500 ft). There were numerous proposals to salvage her, many of them dingbat, all of them absurdly expensive, drawing the jibe that it would be cheaper to drain the Atlantic. In any case no-one knew where she lay, since her stated position was wrong and there was a wide sea area to search. But Robert Ballard found her in 1985, using leading-edge technology and a smarter strategy: to look for the debris field rather than the wreck. The wreck has since been extensively photographed and mapped, and many items recovered. Titanic lies in two pieces a third of a mile apart: the bow section is largely intact and has become a haunting well-known image, while the stern is smashed up. A century on, the wreck is fragile and cannot be salvaged - and what would you do with it? - since paperweights and fridge magnets are so 20th century passé. It's likely that the bow will fall apart in a few years time. Tourist submarine trips to the wreck have taken place sporadically in the early 2020s, but following the widely publicized loss of one such submersible Titan and its five passengers while diving to the wreck in June 2023, it remains unclear if and how this practice can safely continue.
The iceberg was photographed and sketched as it lay in the offing, bearing a red paint scrape big enough to convince any insurance assessor. It wasn't seen again after the search vessels dispersed. Given its size and position, and warming of spring, it might have lasted another 3 weeks, dwindling to bergy-bits, growler and brash then dissolving into the Atlantic. The summer sun warmed the surface waters, sending them up as fog banks and clouds to go every which way. Some portion must have fallen back onto Greenland as snow, which a century later is compacted into ice and beginning its 3000 year progress towards the coast. Or maybe sooner? There is concern that the Greenland ice cap is not just dwindling but de-stabilising; this would cause a huge and rapid rise in sea levels to engulf the most densely populated and productive regions of the planet. So if the iceberg comes back at us in this guise, only a privileged minority will find room in the lifeboats.
Stay safe edit
- "The emergency signal is six or more short blasts on the ship's whistle, followed by one long blast . . . "
- - Safety announcement on the Belfast ferry
Many maritime safety improvements followed the loss of Titanic - some prompted by the disaster, such as extra lifeboats, others more related to technological advance, such as navigation aids and telecoms. Per passenger mile, commercial shipping is nowadays very safe, yet ships still come to grief almost daily. The most recent disaster in a well-developed country is MV Sewol off Korea in 2014; the Congo River disaster of 2021 had an official death toll of 60 but another 400 were never found.
The best estimate of lives lost on Titanic is 1,514, but it was far from the worst in the 20th century. The worst losses were in wartime, and even in peacetime a recurring theme was uncertainty over how many were aboard. They were shocking at the time but most quickly dropped from public ken. You may find artefacts and memorabilia in museums.
- RMS Empress of Ireland was a Canadian Pacific liner which collided with a collier and sank on 29 May 1914, in the mouth of the St Lawrence. She had watertight compartments like Titanic, and was fitted with extra lifeboats after that disaster, yet she sank within 14 min and 1,012 were lost. The wreck lies at 40 m and is diveable.
- RMS Lusitania was a Cunard liner torpedoed by a German U-boat on 15 May 1915, 11 miles off Kinsale in Ireland. There was a secondary explosion and she sank within 18 min, with the loss of 1,195. Many of those lost were US citizens, and the US was urged to join the First World War, but remained neutral until 1917. The wreck lies at 93 m, at the limit of technical diving.
- SS Mont-Blanc was the freighter laden with explosives that exploded in Halifax on 6 Dec 1917, as described earlier. Large tracts of town were flattened and some 2,000 died. Several of the ship's fragments are on display: some landed 3 miles away.
- MV Le Joola was a Senegalese roro ferry, overloaded and caught in a storm, that capsized off the Gambia coast on 26 Sept 2002. The rescue was very slow and some 1,863 died.
- RMS Lancastria was a Cunard liner requisitioned by the British government in World War II. On 17 June 1940, two weeks after the Dunkirk evacuations, she was evacuating troops from St Nazaire, but was bombarded from the air and sank within 20 min. Estimates of the death toll range from 3,000 to 6,500. The wreck is in 12-26 m but is a war grave and may not be dived.
- MV Doña Paz was an overcrowded ferry in the Philippines which hit an oil tanker on 20 Dec 1987. An explosion and fire engulfed both ships, killing 4,385. Both ships sank a few hours later in 545 m depth.
- Japan lost at least 65 ships, each with death tolls of 1,000 to 5,000, to US submarine attack, mostly in 1944.
- MV Goya was a Norwegian freighter seized for use as a German troop transport during World War II. In 1945 Gdańsk and other German positions along the Baltic coast were cut off by the Red Army, so they were evacuated by sea. Goya was one of many evacuation ships; on 16 April she was torpedoed and sank within four minutes, and some 7,000 died. The wreck is in 76 m, and is a war grave and may not be dived.
- MV Wilhelm Gustloff, formerly a cruise liner, was also part of the Gdańsk evacuation. On 30 Jan 1945 she was torpedoed and sank 50 min later, with the loss estimated as 9,343. (Ten days later, the same Russian submarine S-13 sank SS General von Steuben, another evacuation ship, with the loss of 4,500.) The wreck of Wilhelm Gustloff in 44 m is a war grave and may not be dived.
- "Ark wonderful! Palatial town marine, Invention's flowe, rose-peak of skill-wrought plan;
- "The jewelled crown of Art the wizard, seen, Since Noah's trade in Shinar's land began.
- - Christopher Thomas Nixon's lengthy poem is acclaimed as the worst of those inspired by the tragedy, but it had stiff competition
As with so many disasters, we may never know the true number of books, poems, ballads and "accounts" of the sinking, most of which deserve to be sunk deep in the Atlantic. There was a catchpenny outpouring immediately afterwards, a revival of interest from the 1950s, and then another resurgence from the late 1990s when the wreck was discovered, boosted by the internet and then the centenary. But for most people nowadays, film is the medium in which they first encounter Titanic, and each of these films has its own take on the legend. To date there have been 18 feature-length films, here's just a selection.
Saved from the Titanic (1912): you can sink yet make a movie. The film actress Dorothy Gibson survived through playing cards late at night, so she was among the first to head to the lifeboats. Her film premiered just 31 days later, but she was traumatised by events, never worked again, and all prints of this film are lost.
La Hantise (1912): never trust a fortune-teller. Jacques postpones his transatlantic trip because he's warned by snail mail about icebergs hunting in packs. He re-books on Titanic from Cherbourg though a palm-reader warns his wife Jeanne that she will suffer a bereavement. A few days later she sees the newspaper headlines. Aucun problème, Jacques is among those rescued and comes home safe. So now Jeanne worries that it's their son who might die.
Titanic (1943): the British Empire is sailing to disaster. This was the one personally green-lit by Hitler, with extensive military assets at the maker's disposal. The German characters are prescient and heroic while the British are greedy cowards. But by the time the film was complete the tide of war had changed, the director was disgraced and hanged, and disaster faced Germany. As for the film's subtext of overconfident authority - hell no! It had a handful of screenings then was suppressed.
A Night to Remember (1958): the British are decent, plucky and win through. This is the one where Kenneth More plays Second Officer Lightoller, swimming and rowing around with great derring-do. The Irish sink but have priestly absolution.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964): stand by your man. There had to be a musical comedy eventually. Molly schmoozes with European society, returns home on Titanic, and personally saves many aboard. She herself survives, and even more importantly realises that her rough miner husband in Denver is worth more than all these aristocrats and socialites.
Titanica (1992): lest we forget. This was the IMAX documentary about the finding of the wreck that triggered the latest round of public interest.
Titanic (1997): don't jump overboard, the rich will push you under anyway, but lerv conquers all. Here Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) wins his transatlantic passage in a poker game, wins the heart of Rose (Kate Winslet) who is affianceed to a rich creep, but the creep frames Jack for theft of a diamond. Rose, creep and diamond make it ashore, but Jack is the finer and happier albeit submerged man.
The Legend of the Titanic (1999): it was all a plot to hunt more whales, but an octopus pushes an iceberg in the way while sharks jam the ship's rudder. A resourceful mouse sacrifices himself to signal for help. Of all the versions of Titanic, this one seems to have resonated the most profoundly, as it ran to two sequels.
Holmes & Watson (2018): don't try to assassinate Queen Victoria a decade after she's died of old age. This clumsy farrago was panned by the critics and flopped at the box office. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson defeat the plot against Victoria by throwing the bomb out of the porthole of Titanic, though it lands on Mrs Hudson. The villains might have succeeded if only they'd shoved the ship over Reichenbach Falls.
The Six (2020): documentary film about the six Chinese survivors of the Titanic and their struggles with racism during a time when the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in force in the United States.
Go next edit
- You prefer to fly? No aircraft has yet been sunk by an iceberg, though several have struck ice-clad mountains, and more have been felled by ice on the wings.
- Industrial Britain was the land of steam-power and steel that made Titanic.
- The American Industry Tour illustrates what drew emigrants across the Atlantic.
- Maritime history gives a context.