Skip to content
The sinking of the Titanic, four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, was one of the great tragedies of human history. Over 1,500 people lost their lives in what was one of the most lethal peacetime maritime disasters ever recorded, due to the speed of the disaster and the lack of lifeboats kept on board.
The disaster left a lasting impact on culture, spawning a hugely successful blockbuster movie, countless documentaries, and creations from poets, dancers, musicians, directors and composers worldwide. Even the discovery and exploration of the ship’s wreckage garnered huge amounts of public interest, which subsequently reignited interest in the original tragedy.
The name Titanic was an appropriate one
Credit: Wikipedia Commons
When it was unveiled in 1912, the RMS Titanic was the biggest passenger vessel in the world. It was 882 feet long, 175 feet tall and weighed 46,328 tons. Its mammoth size made it the subject of endless press coverage about its safety and cutting edge technology, which made it all the more shocking when it sank.
The death toll could have been much worse Credit: Wikipedia Commons
The sinking of the Titanic is considered to be one of the greatest human tragedies in modern history. Out of the 2,224 people who were on board at the time, only 710 people survived. However, as sizeable as the loss of life actually was, the death toll could have been much greater. For her maiden voyage, the Titanic was way under capacity, since she was actually equipped to carry 3,327 passengers.
It was most deadly for third-class passengers Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Like many tragedies throughout history, the sinking of the Titanic affected working-class people the most. Many of the ship’s passengers were poor families looking to start a new life in America, and their quarters were at the very bottom of the ship, separated from the middle and upper classes by locked metal gates. When the water began to rise, the Captain couldn’t open all the gates in time, and so the majority of these working-class passengers drowned in their rooms.
The ticket prices were expensive even by today’s standards
The Titanic was a luxury sailing vessel going on its maiden voyage, so obviously, ticket prices were pretty high. First-class tickets started at $30 and went up to $4,350, which is $775 to $112,000 in today’s money. A second class ticket could have cost up to $1,500 in today’s cash, and even third-class tickets could set you back $1,100 if you bought one today. Even when adjusted for inflation, that’s a lot of money.
An author predicted the sinking of the Titanic Credit: Wikipedia Commons
As spooky as it sounds, author Morgan Robertson predicted the Titanic tragedy 14 years before it came to pass. His book, The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility, predicted that a ship with the Titanic’s dimensions would crash into an iceberg and sink, with the bare minimum of lifeboats available exacerbating the tragedy. Robertson predicted everything, from the speed the ship would be going to the area of the ocean in which it would crash, but he maintained that there was nothing supernatural or conspiracy theory-worthy about his ideas. Instead, he just had many decades’ worth of knowledge on ships and sailing.
You’ll never guess what RMS stands for Credit: Getty Images
Like all other British ships commissioned at the time, the Titanic has the letters RMS before its name. The letters actually stand for Royal Mail Ship, as back in the 1840s, only the fastest and most reliable ships were allowed to carry British mail. As a result of this, the prefix RMS became known as a sign of distinctive quality over time, which added even more prestige to the Titanic.
Aside from men boarding in second and third class, crew members died in higher numbers than any other demographic on board the Titanic. Many perished when the boiler rooms flooded immediately following the initial impact, while others died trying to help the second and third-class ticket holders get up to higher floors to escape the rising water. Not only that, but the five postmen hired to look after the mail died while still protecting it.
Even the richest man on board perished Credit: Wikipedia Commons
John Jacob Astor IV was the wealthiest man aboard the Titanic, with a net worth of $85 million, or around two billion dollars today. Despite being the most well-off person on board by a significant margin, the women and children first evacuation policy meant that he didn’t get a spot on a lifeboat, and instead perished. He was travelling with his pregnant wife, and his last words to her were: “The sea is calm. You’ll be all right. You’re in good hands. I’ll meet you in the morning.”
Many famous historical figures narrowly avoided death Credit: Wikipedia Commons
John Jacob Astor IV might have been the wealthiest person to sail on the Titanic, but he wasn’t the only rich person to buy a ticket. J.P Morgan, the American steel and banking magnate, Hershey’s Chocolate founder Milton S. Hershey, and Guglielmo Marconi, all bought tickets, but declined to sail for one reason or another. In many cases, it was this decision that saved their empires.
The engine required mammoth amounts of coal to run Credit: Getty Images
The Titanic was a huge boat, so it’s no surprise that it took a lot of fuel to run. The ship needed 600 tons of coal a day to keep the engines running, and so it set off from Southhampton with over 6,000 tons, which were shovelled into three huge furnaces day and night. The men in charge of shovelling coal, known professionally and somewhat confusingly as firemen, were amongst the first to die, as the furnace room doors were designed to automatically lock shut to prevent floodwater spreading.
Credit: Getty Images
Burning coal for energy releases a whole lot of smoke, and so it’s no surprise that the Titanic needed four funnels, also known as stacks. Three of these stacks were dedicated to venting smoke out of the boat and away from the passengers, while one was an air vent, which vented steam. When the boiler room began to flood, there was a worry that the cold water hitting the warm steam would cause the funnels to explode, so select firemen were given the task of venting as much steam as fast as possible.
One crew member survived three major maritime disasters Credit: Getty Images
Violet Jessop was one of 60 stewards working on the Titanic who managed to survive the boat’s capsizing, 48 of which were women. Jessop’s career as a ship’s waitress was long and storied but filled with brushes with death, as she had previously worked on the Titanic’s sister ship the Olympic, which collided with a British warship. She survived that, and the Titanic, and four years later found work on the RMS Britannic, which also sank. Her uncanny ability to survive led to her being nicknamed Miss Unsinkable.
The captain didn’t make the choice to turn Credit: Wikipedia Commons
One of the most famous stories of the Titanic is that of the captain nobly going down with his ship. However, it wasn’t actually Captain Edward J. Smith who responded to the threat of the iceberg. Smith had already retired for the evening, leaving First Officer William McMaster Murdoch in charge. When Murdoch was told about the iceberg, he ordered the ship to turn and the engines to be turned off, but it wasn’t enough to stop the collision.
The first officer only had seconds to react Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Rather than First Officer William McMaster Murdoch, it was actually lookout boy Frederick Fleet who spotted the iceberg. Unfortunately, the Titanic was a minute away from collision when he saw it, and by the time the message was relayed, Murdoch had just 30 seconds to decide what to do. Fleet survived the sinking but suffered from depression for years afterwards, and eventually took his own life in 1965.
The Captain was planning on retiring Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Edward J. Smith, captain of the Titanic, was one of Britain’s most skilled sailors. He had previously steered the Titanic’s sister ship the RMS Olympic, and transferred to the Titanic specifically for its maiden voyage. Smith had been planning on retiring after the voyage, but he did not survive the sinking of the ship. The last words he said to his crew were: “Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourself.”
Several other ships warned the Titanic about ice Credit: Getty Images
On the day leading up to the disaster, several ships sent messages about the amount of field and pack ice in the ocean on the Titanic’s planned route. These messages were supposed to be passed to the bridge of the Titanic, but tragically, only two of six were received by the crew. This was due to a backlog of passenger messages, which meant the radio operator had to spend more time transcribing and sending than listening and reporting.
There were no binoculars for the lookout to use Credit: Getty Images
Binoculars are a crucial piece of gear to keep in the crow’s nest, as they allow the lookout to see further and more clearly. Unfortunately, due to a mix up at Southampton port, there were no binoculars to be found on the night of the tragedy. The official line was that it would not have made any difference, as there was no moon to see by and the water was too still to see if obstacles were disrupting the waves. However, lookout Frederick Fleet later said in an investigation: “We could have seen it (the iceberg) a bit sooner. Well, enough to get out of the way.”
Tickets for the return trip were already sold Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Before the Titanic began its journey across the Atlantic ocean, she stopped off in Ireland and France in order to take on more passengers. She was supposed to stop in Manhattan to allow first and second-class passengers to disembark, before continuing to Ellis Island so third-class passengers could be processed by immigration. The Titanic’s return journey, which would leave from New York before docking in Southampton, was fully booked out over a year in advance.
The ship sank in record time Credit: Wikipedia
The tragedy of the Titanic is that a ship of that size, and an iceberg that big, were pretty much unprecedented. As a result, the disaster played out much faster and more dramatically than anyone could have predicted. In the past, other ships that had met the same fate took over 12 hours to fully sink, allowing plenty of time for help to arrive. Unfortunately, the Titanic broke this rule, as it was fully submerged just two hours and 40 minutes after the impact.
The iceberg did not sink Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Following the disaster, a steward of another ship took a picture of his view that would soon become infamous. The image showed the iceberg that the Titanic had collided with, still floating, with a large black mark along the side that clearly showed where it had come into contact with the boat. It became a chilling icon of the dangers of the sea.
The youngest survivor
A nine-month-old girl became the Titanic’s youngest survivor. She was travelling along with her parents and her brother Bertram in the hopes of starting a new life in the USA. However, when the disaster struck, her father perished while she, Bertram and her mother escaped. The grieving family decided to move back to England, and on the voyage home, the baby girl – named Elizabeth Gladys Millvina Dean – was considered “the darling of the ship”.
No more survivors
Millvina became a British civil servant and cartographer. She passed away from pneumonia in 2009, at the age of 97, at which point she was the last living survivor of the wreck. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at the same Southampton docks where the Titanic set out on its doomed voyage.
The Titanic had plenty of food choices, from dining saloons to cafes. But À la Carte was the most exclusive dining option on the Titanic. Situated on the B deck, it was reserved for first-class passengers only. The restaurant had 66 staff, including Italian owner Luigi Gatti. Only three of the staff survived, while Gatti perished in the wreck.
The Titanic imitated the Ritz
With its squash courts, swimming pool and famously majestic staircase, the Titanic was designed to cater to the wealthy passengers’ every whim. In fact, many aspects of its design were inspired by the Ritz, a luxury hotel in London. Lounges, smoking rooms and reading rooms further added to the sense of decadence onboard.
Perhaps one of the most poignant parts of the 1997 movie is the orchestra, which plays on as the ship begins to sink. Eyewitness accounts confirm that the real orchestra onboard the Titanic played a series of happy music as the ship sank, in the hopes of reassuring the passengers. Their repertoire included ragtime and dance music. It was only when the ship appeared to be beyond salvation, that the conductor switched to hymns.
Insufficient lifeboat space caused the deaths of countless Titanic passengers. The massive ship included only 20 emergency rafts, which would only be able to save around a third of the people onboard. The ship easily had space for a full contingent of 64 rafts – but the White Star Line managers felt that too many rafts would spoil the view of the ocean. They also speculated that the rafts would only be needed to transport passengers to a nearby rescue vessel. What’s more, the under-trained crew only had one drill with the rafts, meaning that they were slow to launch the emergency vehicles when the Titanic crashed.
After the tragedy, a total of eight ships were launched to recover dead bodies from the Atlantic. Only a third of the drowned victims were ever found, and many of the corpses weren’t identifiable. It took over a month to find some bodies, including those in collapsible boat A. Many received a burial at sea after identification.
The ship went down fast
Although the Titanic took around three hours in total to sink, once it disappeared under the surface, it plummeted to the sea floor in only 15 minutes. It crashed so hard at the bottom that it left a crater in the sea bed, and its decks collapsed on top of each other.
The hunt for the wreck took 73 years
The Titanic now lies at 12,500 feet below the Atlantic, around 370 nautical miles from Newfoundland. Its great depth, combined with a lack of accurate co-ordinate information at the time of the tragedy, meant that it proved particularly difficult to track down. In 1985, it was finally found by former Navy officer Robert Ballard of the Wood Holes Oceanic Institution.
You can still book a Titanic trip
Despite the immense depth of the Titanic wreck, tourists can technically visit it today. If you can afford a $59,000 ticket, a private company named Deep Ocean Expeditions will take you down to the ocean floor to view the fast-decomposing ship from a submersible.
There are plans for a Titanic II
With a scheduled launch date in 2022, the Titanic II may soon reach the ocean. The Australian millionaire and politician Clive Palmer dreamt up a perfect Titanic replica that would make its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Palmer is no stranger to extravagant schemes, having previously considered building a commercial Zeppelin company.
A Vanderbilt heir narrowly avoided the voyage
The grandson of the American business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Washington Vanderbilt narrowly avoided travelling on the Titanic. He had booked his ticket and was days away from boarding the ship, when his sister-in-law voiced her concerns about journeying on a maiden voyage. At the last moment, Vanderbilt changed his mind, and instead send his servant and his luggage on the Titanic. The servant died, while Vanderbilt went on to become a prominent art collector.
Author Theodore Dreiser also avoided the trip
The American novelist Theodore Dreiser, who is best known for writing Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, changed his mind about boarding the Titanic too. His publisher advised him to seek a cheaper route to the USA, and so he avoided the doomed voyage. He would later write, “To think of a ship as immense as the Titanic, new and bright, sinking in endless fathoms of water. And the two thousand passengers routed like rats from their berths only to float helplessly in miles of water, praying and crying!”
A steel tycoon missed the trip due to his wife’s injury
Another famous face that narrowly avoided the Titanic was Henry Clay Frick. Born in Pennsylvania, he was an American steel tycoon and founder of the H. C. Frick & Company coke manufacturer. He and his wife were booked onto the Titanic, but they had to change their plans after his wife sprained her ankle shortly before the ship set sail.
Paperwork saved a Nobel Prize winner from the voyage
Guglielmo Marconi first won fame by inventing the telegraph, which revolutionised communication in his century. This Nobel Prize winner was actually offered a free ticket on the Titanic – surely a tantalizing prospect. But the inventor turned down the opportunity because he had too much paperwork to complete. Instead, he travelled to the USA on the Lusitania.
A resilient drinker survived the tragedy
Among the struggling passengers was Charles Joughlin, the ship’s head baker. He drank copious amounts of whiskey as he realised that the ship was going down, before braving the water. He clung to the ship as it sank, and then swam through freezing waters for two hours before a lifeboat spotted him. You can see him depicted by Liam Tuohy in the 1997 movie.
The Titanic was very divided
The first class passengers on the Titanic were able to enjoy such luxuries as the Turkish Bath, which boasted steam rooms and massage tables. In contrast, down in the third class compartments, over 700 passengers were expected to share just two bathtubs during the voyage.
The engineers sacrificed their lives to help passengers
Among the greatest heroes of the Titanic tragedy were the engineers. These brave men stayed calm and remained below decks even as the ship was sinking, so that they could keep the power running and prolong the ship’s life. As others escaped, every single one of the Titanic engineers stayed and drowned. You can see a 1914 memorial to the engineers in Southampton.
The papers got it all wrong
Shockingly, the earliest newspaper accounts of the Titanic disaster reported that every single passenger had been rescued. It wasn’t until a few days later that the full scale of the tragedy – including 1,503 deaths – was reported to the general public.
Love in the air
Among the Titanic’s unfortunate passengers were 13 couples who were celebrating their honeymoons. Three of the unlucky couples were killed in the disaster, while six couples survived, and four of the newlyweds returned without their partners.