On a chilly but sunny Wednesday, the unsinkable pride of the White Star Line left Southampton. The date was April 10, 1912.
She was commanded by Captain Smith – Commodore of the White Star Fleet and this was to be his last appointment before retiring. A crowd had gathered on the pier to watch her leave her moorings, the Titanic was a new breed of luxury liner.
The route for this maiden voyage took her to Cherbourg and Queenstown where she took on emigrants bound for the New World. Among her passengers were many from the wealthy and influential class. In fact, according to one calculation, the value of the combined assets that were on the ship was worth hundred and twenty million pounds.
However, the untimely demise of the RMS Titanic was bound for 14th April, 1912, when the supposedly unsinkable ship hit an iceberg and descended under the cold dark Atlantic Ocean.
Since then this tragedy has been adapted into numerous films and musicals. However, what actually happened on Titanic is subject to numerous speculations.
Here are some myths about the ship of dreams that have been incorporated in movies and musicals:
The Ship Is Unsinkable
One of the major myths surrounding the Titanic has been projected in the very first scene of the movie directed by James Cameron where Ruth – the widowed mother of the elite 17-year-old Rose DeWitt Bukater – standing on the dock in Southampton muses about the ship,
“So, this is the ship they say is unsinkable.”
According to Professor Richard Howells who is a cultural sociologist specializing in visual and popular culture,
“But this is perhaps the biggest myth surrounding the Titanic. It is not true that everyone thought this. It’s a retrospective myth, and it makes a better story. If a man in his pride builds an unsinkable ship like Prometheus stealing the fire from Gods… It makes perfect mythical sense that God would be so angry at such an affront that he would sink the ship on its maiden outing.”
Richard Howells further states,
“Contrary to the popular interpretation the White Star Line never made any substantive claims that the Titanic was unsinkable – nobody really talked about the ship’s sink-ability until after the event.”
This lack of popularity and spotlight on Titanic In 1912 was due to its sister ship the Olympic which was the hot news at that time. She had completed her trip from Southampton to New York in 1911 without any casualties.
According to John Graves who is the curator of ship history at the National Maritime Museum,
“Olympic’s hull was painted a light gray purely so that it would look fantastic in the new reel footage.”
This indicates that some of the footage in the movie was from the Olympic reel.
According to an archive curator at the FBI, Simon McCallum,
“This misrepresentation fed into the conspiracy theories and mysteries around the Titanic. Filmmakers could project their own narratives and agendas on the event from the get-go.”
Stereotype Of Ruthless Businessman
All of the negative stereotypes of the ruthless businessman that is often seconded by people are owing to the American press and, in particular, to the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful and influential men in America.
Hearst and J Bruce Ismay, the President of the company that built Titanic, had met years before when Ismay was an agent for his company working at the New York office.
One of the major allegations made against him was that he had commanded Captain Smith to make a record crossing, meaning to cross the Atlantic as fast as they could thereby making a record – thus, indirectly causing a collision with the iceberg. The entire blame befell Ismay.
Stories were invented and witnesses were coerced in order to strengthen large insurance claims for lost baggage against the company. Ismay confessed to having ordered Smith to make a record crossing but not at the cost of his passengers’ lives. All these allegations were based on the grounds of him being the first one to leave the sinking ship.
According to Paul Louden-Brown who is a renowned maritime historian,
“Every single filmmaker has found that betrayal to be too delicious not to incorporate into their film. If you go back to the genesis of where that came from, it goes back to William Randolph Hearst, the big newspaper magnate in the US. He and Ismay had fallen out years before over Ismay not cooperating with the press with regard to an accident that happened to a White Star Line ship.”
However after much research, according to the British Inquiry Report of 1912,
“Ismay had helped many other passengers before finding a place for himself on the last lifeboat to leave the starboard side. Had he not jumped in he would merely have added one more life, namely, his own, to the number of those lost.”
The Supposed Hero Of Titanic – Captain Smith
In a strange turn of events in history, the man directly responsible for the loss of Titanic is remembered as a hero, with a bronze statue erected in his honor, yet the man who tried to save lives has been labeled a coward and escapist.
The buck always stops at the top. As commander, all the responsibility fell on Captain Smith and he failed the passengers and crew of Titanic. He did not pay any heed to the warnings about ice, he kept the ship steadfast and didn’t allow it to be slowed irrespective of the ice being directly in his path and he allowed the lifeboats to be filled partially, thereby adding at least 500 names to the list of the dead.
According to John Grave,
“Smith seems to have vanished into the ether. The captain may have become traumatized when he realized there were insufficient lifeboats. His possibly unclear state of mind is illustrated by the fact that he got the design of the Olympic and Titanic mixed up. The latter’s promenade deck was enclosed in part, yet he ordered lifeboats to be boarded from that deck, rather than from the boat deck.”
According to the Titanic Historical Society,
“The British Government’s Board of Trade allowed Titanic to sail with insufficient lifeboat accommodation. The government simply had not kept up with advances in marine engineering and based all lifesaving regulations on ships up to 10,000 gross registered tons that were required to carry 16 lifeboats.
The Merchant Shipping Act of 1864 was the first comprehensive set of rules and regulations governing ships that companies were required to follow. They had been updated in 1902 and 1906 but, typical of the government even to this day, they were hopelessly always behind the curve.”
That brings us to the conclusion that what we are fed doesn’t always happen to be the truth. In fact, in the words of Richard Howells,
“History turned into myth within hours and certainly days of the sinking.”
Disclaimer: This post is fact-checked
Image Sources: Google Images
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This post is tagged under Titanic, sinking ship, debunking myths, Olympus, Atlantic Ocean, unsinkable, Professor Richard Howell, stereotypes, William Randolph Hearst, J. Bruce Ismay, British Government’s Board of Trade, The Merchant Shipping Act of 1864