The loss of the R.M.S. Titanic: Chapter 1
  Posted on Mon 11 Oct 2004 (53514 reads)
THE LOSS OF THE S. S. TITANIC


ITS STORY AND ITS LESSONS

BY

LAWRENCE BEESLEY

B. A. (_Cantab_.)

Scholar of Gonville and Caius College

ONE OF THE SURVIVORS



PREFACE

The circumstances in which this book came to be written are as
follows. Some five weeks after the survivors from the Titanic landed
in New York, I was the guest at luncheon of Hon. Samuel J. Elder and
Hon. Charles T. Gallagher, both well-known lawyers in Boston. After
luncheon I was asked to relate to those present the experiences of the
survivors in leaving the Titanic and reaching the Carpathia.

When I had done so, Mr. Robert Lincoln O'Brien, the editor of the
_Boston Herald_, urged me as a matter of public interest to write
a correct history of the Titanic disaster, his reason being that he
knew several publications were in preparation by people who had not
been present at the disaster, but from newspaper accounts were piecing
together a description of it. He said that these publications would
probably be erroneous, full of highly coloured details, and generally
calculated to disturb public thought on the matter. He was supported
in his request by all present, and under this general pressure I
accompanied him to Messrs. Houghton Mifflin Company, where we
discussed the question of publication.

Messrs. Houghton Mifflin Company took at that time exactly the same
view that I did, that it was probably not advisable to put on record
the incidents connected with the Titanic's sinking: it seemed better
to forget details as rapidly as possible.

However, we decided to take a few days to think about it. At our next
meeting we found ourselves in agreement again,--but this time on the
common ground that it would probably be a wise thing to write a
history of the Titanic disaster as correctly as possible. I was
supported in this decision by the fact that a short account, which I
wrote at intervals on board the Carpathia, in the hope that it would
calm public opinion by stating the truth of what happened as nearly as
I could recollect it, appeared in all the American, English, and
Colonial papers and had exactly the effect it was intended to have.
This encourages me to hope that the effect of this work will be the
same.

Another matter aided me in coming to a decision,--the duty that we, as
survivors of the disaster, owe to those who went down with the ship,
to see that the reforms so urgently needed are not allowed to be
forgotten.

Whoever reads the account of the cries that came to us afloat on the
sea from those sinking in the ice-cold water must remember that they
were addressed to him just as much as to those who heard them, and
that the duty, of seeing that reforms are carried out devolves on
every one who knows that such cries were heard in utter helplessness
the night the Titanic sank.



CONTENTS

I. CONSTRUCTION AND PREPARATIONS FOR THE FIRST VOYAGE

II. FROM SOUTHAMPTON TO THE NIGHT OF THE COLLISION

III. THE COLLISION AND EMBARKATION IN LIFEBOATS

IV. THE SINKING OF THE TITANIC, SEEN FROM A LIFEBOAT

V. THE RESCUE

VI. THE SINKING OF THE TITANIC, SEEN FROM HER DECK

VII. THE CARPATHIA'S RETURN TO NEW YORK

VIII. THE LESSONS TAUGHT BY THE LOSS OF THE TITANIC

IX. SOME IMPRESSIONS



ILLUSTRATIONS

THE TITANIC From a photograph taken in Belfast Harbour. Copyrighted by
Underwood and Underwood, New York.

VIEW OF FOUR DECKS OF THE OLYMPIC, SISTER SHIP OF THE TITANIC From a
photograph published in the "Sphere," May 4,1918 TRANSVERSE (amidship)
SECTION THROUGH THE TITANIC After a drawing furnished by the White
Star Line.

LONGITUDINAL SECTIONS AND DECK PLAN OF THE TITANIC After plans
published in the "Shipbuilder."

THE CARPATHIA From a photograph furnished by the Cunard Steamship Co.




CHAPTER I

CONSTRUCTION AND PREPARATIONS FOR THE FIRST VOYAGE


The history of the R.M.S. Titanic, of the White Star Line, is one of
the most tragically short it is possible to conceive. The world had
waited expectantly for its launching and again for its sailing; had
read accounts of its tremendous size and its unexampled completeness
and luxury; had felt it a matter of the greatest satisfaction that
such a comfortable, and above all such a safe boat had been designed
and built--the "unsinkable lifeboat";--and then in a moment to hear
that it had gone to the bottom as if it had been the veriest tramp
steamer of a few hundred tons; and with it fifteen hundred passengers,
some of them known the world over! The improbability of such a thing
ever happening was what staggered humanity.

If its history had to be written in a single paragraph it would be
somewhat as follows:--

"The R.M.S. Titanic was built by Messrs. Harland & Wolff at their
well-known ship-building works at Queen's Island, Belfast, side by
side with her sister ship the Olympic. The twin vessels marked such an
increase in size that specially laid-out joiner and boiler shops were
prepared to aid in their construction, and the space usually taken up
by three building slips was given up to them. The keel of the Titanic
was laid on March 31, 1909, and she was launched on May 31, 1911; she
passed her trials before the Board of Trade officials on March 31,
1912, at Belfast, arrived at Southampton on April 4, and sailed the
following Wednesday, April 10, with 2208 passengers and crew, on her
maiden voyage to New York. She called at Cherbourg the same day,
Queenstown Thursday, and left for New York in the afternoon, expecting
to arrive the following Wednesday morning. But the voyage was never
completed. She collided with an iceberg on Sunday at 11.45 P.M. in
Lat. 41° 46' N. and Long. 50° 14' W., and sank two hours and a half
later; 815 of her passengers and 688 of her crew were drowned and 705
rescued by the Carpathia."

Such is the record of the Titanic, the largest ship the world had ever
seen--she was three inches longer than the Olympic and one thousand
tons more in gross tonnage--and her end was the greatest maritime
disaster known. The whole civilized world was stirred to its depths
when the full extent of loss of life was learned, and it has not yet
recovered from the shock. And that is without doubt a good thing. It
should not recover from it until the possibility of such a disaster
occurring again has been utterly removed from human society, whether
by separate legislation in different countries or by international
agreement. No living person should seek to dwell in thought for one
moment on such a disaster except in the endeavour to glean from it
knowledge that will be of profit to the whole world in the future.
When such knowledge is practically applied in the construction,
equipment, and navigation of passenger steamers--and not until
then--will be the time to cease to think of the Titanic disaster and
of the hundreds of men and women so needlessly sacrificed.

A few words on the ship's construction and equipment will be necessary
in order to make clear many points that arise in the course of this
book. A few figures have been added which it is hoped will help the
reader to follow events more closely than he otherwise could.

The considerations that inspired the builders to design the Titanic on
the lines on which she was constructed were those of speed, weight of
displacement, passenger and cargo accommodation. High speed is very
expensive, because the initial cost of the necessary powerful
machinery is enormous, the running expenses entailed very heavy, and
passenger and cargo accommodation have to be fined down to make the
resistance through the water as little as possible and to keep the
weight down. An increase in size brings a builder at once into
conflict with the question of dock and harbour accommodation at the
ports she will touch: if her total displacement is very great while
the lines are kept slender for speed, the draught limit may be
exceeded. The Titanic, therefore, was built on broader lines than the
ocean racers, increasing the total displacement; but because of the
broader build, she was able to keep within the draught limit at each
port she visited. At the same time she was able to accommodate more
passengers and cargo, and thereby increase largely her earning
capacity. A comparison between the Mauretania and the Titanic
illustrates the difference in these respects:--


Displacement Horse power Speed in knots
Mauretania 44,640 70,000 26
Titanic 60,000 46,000 21

The vessel when completed was 883 feet long, 92 1/2 feet broad; her
height from keel to bridge was 104 feet. She had 8 steel decks, a
cellular double bottom, 5 1/4 feet through (the inner and outer
"skins" so-called), and with bilge keels projecting 2 feet for 300
feet of her length amidships. These latter were intended to lessen the
tendency to roll in a sea; they no doubt did so very well, but, as it
happened, they proved to be a weakness, for this was the first portion
of the ship touched by the iceberg and it has been suggested that the
keels were forced inwards by the collision and made the work of
smashing in the two "skins" a more simple matter. Not that the final
result would have been any different.

Her machinery was an expression of the latest progress in marine
engineering, being a combination of reciprocating engines with
Parsons's low-pressure turbine engine,--a combination which gives
increased power with the same steam consumption, an advance on the use
of reciprocating engines alone. The reciprocating engines drove the
wing-propellers and the turbine a mid-propeller, making her a
triple-screw vessel. To drive these engines she had 29 enormous
boilers and 159 furnaces. Three elliptical funnels, 24 feet 6 inches
in the widest diameter, took away smoke and water gases; the fourth
one was a dummy for ventilation.

She was fitted with 16 lifeboats 30 feet long, swung on davits of the
Welin double-acting type. These davits are specially designed for
dealing with two, and, where necessary, three, sets of lifeboats,--i.e.,
48 altogether; more than enough to have saved every soul on board
on the night of the collision. She was divided into 16 compartments by
15 transverse watertight bulkheads reaching from the double bottom
to the upper deck in the forward end and to the saloon deck in the
after end (Fig. 2), in both cases well above the water line.
Communication between the engine rooms and boiler rooms was
through watertight doors, which could all be closed instantly from the
captain's bridge: a single switch, controlling powerful electro-magnets,
operated them. They could also be closed by hand with a lever,
and in case the floor below them was flooded by accident, a
float underneath the flooring shut them automatically. These
compartments were so designed that if the two largest were flooded
with water--a most unlikely contingency in the ordinary way--the ship
would still be quite safe. Of course, more than two were flooded the
night of the collision, but exactly how many is not yet thoroughly
established.

Her crew had a complement of 860, made up of 475 stewards, cooks,
etc., 320 engineers, and 65 engaged in her navigation. The machinery
and equipment of the Titanic was the finest obtainable and represented
the last word in marine construction. All her structure was of steel,
of a weight, size, and thickness greater than that of any ship yet
known: the girders, beams, bulkheads, and floors all of exceptional
strength. It would hardly seem necessary to mention this, were it not
that there is an impression among a portion of the general public that
the provision of Turkish baths, gymnasiums, and other so-called
luxuries involved a sacrifice of some more essential things, the
absence of which was responsible for the loss of so many lives. But
this is quite an erroneous impression. All these things were an
additional provision for the comfort and convenience of passengers,
and there is no more reason why they should not be provided on these
ships than in a large hotel. There were places on the Titanic's deck
where more boats and rafts could have been stored without sacrificing
these things. The fault lay in not providing them, not in designing
the ship without places to put them. On whom the responsibility must
rest for their not being provided is another matter and must be left
until later.

When arranging a tour round the United States, I had decided to cross
in the Titanic for several reasons--one, that it was rather a novelty
to be on board the largest ship yet launched, and another that friends
who had crossed in the Olympic described her as a most comfortable
boat in a seaway, and it was reported that the Titanic had been still
further improved in this respect by having a thousand tons more built
in to steady her. I went on board at Southampton at 10 A.M. Wednesday,
April 10, after staying the night in the town. It is pathetic to
recall that as I sat that morning in the breakfast room of an hotel,
from the windows of which could be seen the four huge funnels of the
Titanic towering over the roofs of the various shipping offices
opposite, and the procession of stokers and stewards wending their way
to the ship, there sat behind me three of the Titanic's passengers
discussing the coming voyage and estimating, among other things, the
probabilities of an accident at sea to the ship. As I rose from
breakfast, I glanced at the group and recognized them later on board,
but they were not among the number who answered to the roll-call on
the Carpathia on the following Monday morning.

Between the time of going on board and sailing, I inspected, in the
company of two friends who had come from Exeter to see me off, the
various decks, dining-saloons and libraries; and so extensive were
they that it is no exaggeration to say that it was quite easy to lose
one's way on such a ship. We wandered casually into the gymnasium on
the boatdeck, and were engaged in bicycle exercise when the instructor
came in with two photographers and insisted on our remaining there
while his friends--as we thought at the time--made a record for him of
his apparatus in use. It was only later that we discovered that they
were the photographers of one of the illustrated London papers. More
passengers came in, and the instructor ran here and there, looking the
very picture of robust, rosy-cheeked health and "fitness" in his white
flannels, placing one passenger on the electric "horse," another on
the "camel," while the laughing group of onlookers watched the
inexperienced riders vigorously shaken up and down as he controlled
the little motor which made the machines imitate so realistically
horse and camel exercise.

It is related that on the night of the disaster, right up to the time
of the Titanic's sinking, while the band grouped outside the gymnasium
doors played with such supreme courage in face of the water which rose
foot by foot before their eyes, the instructor was on duty inside,
with passengers on the bicycles and the rowing-machines, still
assisting and encouraging to the last. Along with the bandsmen it is
fitting that his name, which I do not think has yet been put on
record--it is McCawley--should have a place in the honourable list of
those who did their duty faithfully to the ship and the line they
served.


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