25. The Titanic was an official mail ship – and the staff of its Sea Post Office did their duty to the very end.
The Titanic was an official mail ship – in fact, it was almost certainly the most famous mail ship in history. Its full name was R.M.S. Titanic (that is, Royal Mail Ship) and, as such, it had its own Sea Post Office on board. The mail room was staffed by a team of five full-time clerks. It was their job to sort through the 3,423 sacks of mail that were loaded onto the Titanic in England so that it was all ready to be delivered when they got to America. According to witness testaments, all five clerks died still trying to keep the mail safe and dry.
24. The ship made two stops before its ill-fated voyage across the Atlantic, with hundreds more passengers joining after Southampton.
The Titanic didn’t just sail from Southampton in the direction of New York City. In fact, it successfully completed the first two legs of its maiden voyage. After leaving the south of England on 10 April, the boat arrived in Cherbourg, France later that same day. Dozens of passengers boarded before it set off again to Queenstown (now known as Cobh) in Ireland. Here, 123 passengers got on, more than 100 of them booked to travel in steerage, or Third Class. It was only on 11 April that the Titanic set off on the ill-fated trans-Atlantic leg of its maiden voyage.
23. Menus for the ‘last supper’ of the Titanic’s First Class passengers have been rescued, and show just how decadent the dining was.
Two menus for dinner for the First Class passengers onboard the Titanic for the evening of 14 April – the day the ship went down – have been recovered. And they show just how decadent the travel experience was for those wealthy enough to cross the Atlantic in style. The final dinner of the doomed rich men and women was a lavish, 10-course feast, starting with oysters and ending in French foie gras and ice cream, via roast beef and roasted ducklings. Of course, the dinner would have been accompanied by fine wines and concluded with coffee, cigars and port.
22. The Titanic even had its own ‘newspaper’, keeping rich guests informed about stock prices and race results.
The Titanic was, in some ways, like a floating city. Or at least, as its designers intended, like a luxury hotel. It even had its own newspaper, albeit one for First Class passengers. The Atlantic was put out each morning, with the clerks having spent the night listening to radio bulletins and noting down the latest news from the financial markets as well as from the world of horse racing. The daily bulletin also included a copy of that day’s menu. Sadly, no copies of the Atlantic Daily Bulletin survived the sinking.
21. 12 dogs were onboard the Titanic – and 3 of them even survived the ship’s sinking.
Along with the many passengers and huge crew, 12 dogs were onboard the Titanic for its maiden voyage. All but three got on at the French port of Cherbourg, And they were treated very well indeed. The ship had its own luxury kennels for its four-legged guests – after all, only First Class passengers were permitted to bring their dogs, and they demanded the very best. Tragically, of the 12 dogs on the Titanic, only three survived, including two Pomeranians who were carried onto a lifeboat by their wealthy female owners.
20. On the day of the disaster, the Titanic received 6 separate iceberg warnings – but the crew just said “thanks” and ignored them.
Famously, the Titanic received not just one but six warnings of icebergs on the very same day it sank. All of them were acknowledged but ultimately ignored. One in particular advised the Titanic’s crew that they were heading into dangerous waters. The steam liner Mesaba sent one warning to the Titanic just three hours before it collided with the iceberg. The message read: “In Latitude 42 to 41.25 north, to longitude 45 to 45.20 west, saw much heavy pack ice and a great number of icebergs. Weather clear.” In return, the Titanic replied simply “Thanks”. It’s highly unlikely Captain Smith never saw this message.
19. Thanks to a mix-up, the Titanic’s lookout didn’t even have binoculars to look out for icebergs from the crow’s nest.
In another ‘what if’ moment, when the Titanic entered icy waters on the night of 14 April, the lookout did not have a pair of binoculars. Quite why this was the case has been the source of much debate – as well as of an in-depth investigation immediately after the tragedy. It may have been a crew reshuffle led a seaman leave the Titanic at Southampton, taking the key to the crow’s next locker – in which the binoculars were kept – with him. Or that same seaman, Second Officer David Blair, may have just taken the binoculars with him when he was bumped from the maiden voyage at the last minute.
18. The iceberg that sunk the Titanic had floated from Greenland and had been thousands of years in the making.
It’s believed that the iceberg that sunk the Titanic broke off from the Qassimuit mass of south-west Greenland in 1908, and it may have been formed by snow that fell some 100,000 years ago. It floated around that region for a few years, slowly melting, before it started heading south at the beginning of 1912. By the time it reached the Atlantic shipping lanes, it was around 400 feet in length and towered 100 feet above the ocean surface. This means it most probably weighed a massive 1.5 million tonnes. The iceberg was spotted by ships that came to the Titanic’s rescue in the following days – according to some crewmen, it had a strip of red paint down one side.
17. Just 37 seconds passed between the iceberg being spotted and it fatally scraping the side of the Titanic.
It was the lookout Frederick Fleet who spotted the iceberg first. He immediately telephoned Sixth Officer James Moody – given the hour, most senior officers had retired to bed – and famously exclaimed “Iceberg, right ahead!”. After some confusion, the Titanic’s heading was altered just in time to avoid a head-on collision. However, this meant that the iceberg struck the vast hull with a glancing blow. In all, just 37 seconds passed between Fleet spotting the danger and the Titanic suffering its fatal blow.
16. Many passengers either didn’t realize the ship had been hit, or assumed it was nothing to worry about.
When it happened, many of the passengers didn’t even realize that the ship they were on had hit an iceberg. Those in Steerage – or Third Class – were on the lowest decks and felt the force of the collision the hardest. But even most of them weren’t unduly concerned. In the First Class cabins, the collision led some passengers to remark that it felt like the great ship had, in the words of one wealthy woman, “just gone over about a thousand marbles”. Even many of the crew were unaware of the magnitude of the crash – until, of course, the water started coming in.
15. Hundreds of tonnes of water started flooding the Titanic – 45 minutes after the initial impact, it was clear the ship was doomed.
With its exterior breached, the Titanic started taking on water at a rate of around 400 tonnes per minute. This was 15 times faster than it could be pumped out. The ship began to flood right away. While it was fitted with bulkheads – essentially compartments sealed with watertight doors – these were not sealed at the top. Within 45 minutes of the collision, around 13,700 tonnes of water had been taken on and five compartments were flooded. Captain Smith was informed in no uncertain terms that the Titanic was doomed.
14. It took just over 2 hours for the Titanic to go down, even though for a while it looked like it would stay afloat.
It took 160 minutes for the Titanic to sink. Significantly, the rate at which the giant ship flooded with water wasn’t consistent. For the first hour after the collision, the ship started to list quite rapidly. After an hour, however, the rate at which the Titanic started to go down slowed markedly. This was noticeable to the passengers onboard. Many concluded that the worst was over and that the ship would stay afloat long enough for help to arrive. However, after the two-hour mark, the front section of the Titanic began sinking faster and faster. The end was near.
13. The evacuation of the Titanic was unorganized and almost certainly cost dozens, maybe hundreds of lives.
Around 40 minutes after the Titanic struck the iceberg, the first lifeboats were being loaded with passengers. This was the start of an inefficient, unorganized process, with some historians of the disaster subsequently blaming Captain Smith for his lack of leadership. According to witness accounts, there was some confusion as to whether the crew were required to let only women and children onto the lifeboats or to let them on first and then give any free spaces to male passengers. This led to many lifeboats being launched with empty seats. For instance, the first lifeboat to be launched had just 28 people in it yet it had enough room for 65.
12. Several rich passengers got changed, lit up cigars and prepared to face the end ‘like gentlemen’.
Benjamin ‘Ben’ Guggenheim was one of the wealthiest of the Titanic’s passengers and so could comfortably afford a First Class suite. Joining him was his mistress Leontine, as well as his valet, chauffeur and a maid. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, Guggenheim had to be woken up. Unlike certain other rich men, he showed courage, ensuring his mistress and maid got seats on a lifeboat. Famously, he then returned to his cabin and put on his dinner suit, as did his valet. The pair were last seen sipping brandy and smoking cigars on the deck. “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen,” Guggenheim was said to have remarked.
11. The Titanic band kept on playing right up until the end, even if their last tune remains the source of much debate.
The story of the ‘Titanic Band’ has become something of a legend. Several witnesses testified that the did indeed see Wallace Hartley assemble his band in the First Class lounge and start playing in order to keep passengers calm. It was also reported that they then moved onto the deck and kept playing even when it became obvious they were going to die. The ‘fact’ that the band was playing “Nearer, My God to Thee,” as they went under is likely apocryphal. But still, all the band members died, and when Wallace’s body was recovered, he was found to be wearing his evening dress, with his instrument case attached to his chest.
10. The water was so cold that most passengers in the water would have had a heart attack within a matter of minutes.
Those passengers or crewmen who didn’t get a seat in a lifeboat were ultimately doomed. Though the sea was eerily calm, it was lethally cold, with a temperature of 28 °F (−2 °C). Most people would have suffered a cardiac arrest within the space of a few minutes. Of those who went into the water, just 13 were picked up by survivors in the Titanic’s lifeboats. Famously, the ship’s head chef Charles Joughin tread water for an incredible two hours before being rescued. He put his survival down to the fact he took several swigs of strong liquor when it became clear the Titanic was going under.
9. Captain Smith was determined to go down with his ship – and faced the end with unquestionable stoicism.
The decisions made by Captain Smith on that fateful night continue to be the source of much debate. However, even his detractors concede that he stayed true to the ‘laws of the sea’ and stoically went down with his ship. The last confirmed sighting of Smith was on the bridge, with some survivors even claiming he was at the wheel. Before the Titanic went under, he released the crew of their duties, giving them the chance to save themselves. Smith was heralded as a true British gentleman and his last reported words – “Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves” – were widely cited as proof of this.
8. Large quantities of fine wines, champagne and even hard drugs were lost when the Titanic went down.
It wasn’t just unfortunate passengers and crew who went down with the Titanic. As we’ve seen, hundreds of bottles of vintage champagne, as well as other fine wines from the ship’s cellars went to a watery grave. What’s more, four large cases of opium were lost with the Titanic. While this had been banned under American law just a few years previously, it was still being imported into the country for medicinal use. Notably, the Titanic’s richest lost passenger, John Jacob Astor IV, came from a family that made its fortune in the opium trade, as well as from trading in fur and speculating in real estate.
7. Several literary treasures were also lost, including valuable books and paintings.
Harry Elkins Wiedner’s body was never recovered. Neither were the books the young Harvard graduate had in his luggage. In particular, these included a very rare first edition of Francis Bacon essays, a huge loss to the literary world. Also reportedly lost in the disaster was a signed picture of Giuseppe Garibaldi. An Italian man travelling in Second Class who survived against the odds claimed he had the memento of his country’s national hero in his luggage. Once he reached New York, he submitted an insurance claim for $3,000 for the painting – a huge amount of money for the time.
6. The SS California could see the Titanic’s distress flares, but its “reprehensible” captain failed to go to the ship’s rescue.
The closest ship to the doomed Titanic was the SS California. Under the control of Captain Stanley Lord, the ship was sailing from London to Boston. Just before midnight, the crew spotted a ship’s lights around 12 miles away. They tried to signal it but got no reply. When they then saw the mystery ship fire rockets into the air, some crewmen advised the captain they thought it was in distress. Both the British and American inquiries into the tragedy concluded that hundreds of lives might have been saved had Captain Lord gone to Titanic’s rescue – one even called his actions that fateful night “reprehensible”.
5. Some newspapers initially reported that the Titanic had gone down with absolutely no loss of life!
Famously, the first news reports about the loss of the Titanic reassured readers that the ship’s passengers had escaped with their lives. In Canada, as well as in Britain, the headlines read: “Titanic Sinking: No Lives Lost”. This has gone down in infamy as being the least accurate newspaper headline of all time. So how did the mix-up happen? According to historians of the disaster, wireless operators interpreted a message that all was ‘OK’ with the rescue ship with confirmation that all the Titanic’s crew and passengers were safe. The truth could not have been more different.
4. Just 330 bodies were recovered from the disaster – with 3 in 4 victims lost to the ocean forever.
Just 1 in 4 Titanic victims were found. For several days after the liner sunk, four different ships patrolled the waters around the spot where the ship went down. In all, they pulled 334 bodies from the ocean. Of these, 150 were transported to Canada and then given a proper burial in the city of Halifax. Notably, around half of the bodies remained unidentified – almost all of them of Steerage class passengers. Indeed, while the bodies of First Class passengers were placed in coffins and embalmed, Third Class victims were wrapped in cloth and placed in an icy storerooms.
3. The first disaster movie about the Titanic was released just 29 days later – and it starred a genuine survivor.
It took less than a month between the Titanic sinking and the first movie about the disaster to be released. Luckily for the producers of Saved from the Titanic, a professional actress had been aboard the doomed liner on its maiden voyage. The American Dorothy Gibson escaped on Lifeboat 7, along with her mother. The silent movie, in which Gibson wore the exact white silk evening dress as she had been wearing when the Titanic went down, was an international hit. However, the film was destroyed in a fire in 1914, one of the great losses of the silent film era.
2. The wreck of the Titanic was eventually found in 1985 but it may soon be gone for good as it rusts away.
It took many years for the wreck of the Titanic to be found – perhaps not so surprising given that when it was found in 1985, it was around 13 miles away from the last coordinates given by the doomed crew. That 1985 expedition revealed that the Titanic had indeed split in two and not gone down whole as had previously been believed. Sadly, given the depth (3,700 meters) and the immense water pressure, it’s highly unlikely that the Titanic will ever be brought to the surface. The wreck is slowly deteriorating and will one day be gone for good.
1. The last survivor of the Titanic disaster – who was just 2 months old at the time – only died in 2009.
The last survivor of the Titanic disaster died just a decade ago, in May 2019. Elizabeth Gladys Dean, sometimes known as Millvina, was just 8 weeks old when the ship went down. She was travelling with her parents in Third Class. Notably, the family weren’t even supposed to be on the doomed liner but a coal strike made them change their travel plans at the very last minute. Dean, her mother and brother all survived after being put onto Lifeboat 10. Her father, however, was lost in the tragedy and his body never recovered.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: