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: