Over 100 years may have passed since the Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15th, 1912, but interest in the tragic event has far from waned. The $7,500,000 ($400,000,000 in today’s money) ship took over 1,500 lives with it after crashing into an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, the majority of which were actually crew members. Shockingly, things could actually have been worse; the ship wasn’t full to capacity when it set sail – if it had been there could’ve been a further 1,300 fatalities.
With such a huge loss of life resulting from a vessel that was supposedly one of the safest to ever journey through the ocean, it’s no wonder that the tragedy has become the stuff of legend (side note: despite its reputation as being ‘unsinkable’, the ship’s owners, The White Star Line, never actually made this claim). However, what may be surprising is that there are still plenty of fascinating facts and stories about the RMS Titanic that have remained little known.
15. One Black Passenger
Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche was a wealthy Paris-educated engineer who also happened to be the only passenger of African ancestry aboard the Titanic, as the son of a Haitian woman and a white French army captain. Despite his good standing in society, Joseph and his wife (a white French woman named Juliette) were subjected to racist remarks aboard the ship by those who disapproved of their interracial marriage.
As the ship went down in the early hours of April 15th, Joseph put pregnant Juliette and their two young daughters into a lifeboat, along with a coat stuffed with their money and jewels. His final words to his wife were: “Here, take this, you are going to need it. I’ll get another boat. God be with you. I’ll see you in New York.” Sadly, Joseph didn’t survive the ship’s sinking, but Juliette and the children did. She later returned to Paris where she gave birth to the couple’s son, Joseph. The company who owned RMS Titanic, the White Star Line, later apologized for the racism that the family had experienced during their time aboard the ship.
14. Dogs Onboard
A number of pet dogs were taken aboard the Titanic, but only three survived; a Pekingese and two Pomeranians, one of which belonged to Elizabeth Rothschild, who refused to board a lifeboat unless the dog was allowed to go with her. It was reported that as the ship began to sink someone let the dogs out of the kennels, resulting in the panicked animals running up and down the deck as it went down.
It was also said that one woman refused to leave her dog behind on the doomed ship, choosing instead to stay onboard. When the SS Bremen passed through the scene a few days later passengers reported seeing the body of a woman clinging onto a large shaggy dog. Another sad tale came from passenger Helen Bishop, who left her dog Frou-Frou behind as she fled the sinking ship. She later told how the little dog had tried to stop her from leaving by biting her dress, saying: “The loss of my little dog hurt me very much. I will never forget how he dragged on my clothes. He so wanted to accompany me.”
13. The Missing Key
One lesser-known fact about the Titanic’s sad fate is that it could have been avoided, if it wasn’t for a small oversight by one of the crew members. Second Officer David Blair was originally supposed to be working aboard the Titanic, but was taken off the job at the list minute. In his place was Henry Wilde, an experienced senior officer who had previously worked on Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic. However, during the switch over Blair forgot to pass on a key to Wilde – one that opened the locker that housed a pair of binoculars.
Because of this lapse in foresight, the ship’s lookouts Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee had to rely on eyesight alone to keep track of potentially deadly icebergs, and when the fateful berg was spotted it was 1,500 feet ahead of the ship – leaving just 37 seconds until the collision. During the enquiry after the disaster, lookout Fleet testified that if they had had the binoculars they would’ve seen the iceberg a lot sooner and the tragedy may have been avoided altogether.
12. Creepy Premonitions
One of the spookier aspects to the Titanic legend comes in the form of several stories of people who seemingly predicted the ship’s sinking. William Thomas Stead was a first-class passenger who died in the disaster who many people believe foresaw his own death through stories he had written years earlier. One story told of two ships colliding, causing many people to die thanks to a lack of lifeboats. Another centered around a White Star Line ship that comes to the rescue of another ship which collided with an iceberg.
Another creepy example of a claimed premonition came from a young girl named Jessie Sayre from Scotland, who, while on her deathbed, told her family about a large ship she had seen sinking. She even described a man named Wally playing a fiddle. Hours after she had died, the Titanic’s bandleader Wallace Hartley, was playing his violin on the front deck as the ship went down.
11. Last Words
Despite the terrifying and chaotic scenes that would have been taking place around them, surprisingly, stories exist of certain passengers mustering up wit and even humor during their final moments. One great example is John Jacob Astor IV – the richest man aboard the ship with a fortune of around $85 million ($2 billion today). It’s said that as the ship crashed into the iceberg and caused turmoil onboard, he simply quipped to a waiter: “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous”.
Another story of dignified last words comes from American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, who, along with his valet Victor Giglio, got changed into his evening wear and stated: “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” The pair were reportedly last seen drinking brandy and smoking cigars in deck chairs. The ship’s captain Edward Smith gave a more sobering speech to the crew; “Well boys, you’ve done your duty and done it well. I ask no more of you. I release you. You know the rule of the sea. It’s every man for himself now, and God bless you.” He also went down with the ship.
10. The Band Played On
Most people who have seen the movie Titanic will remember the tearjerking scene when the ship’s orchestra decide to spend their last moments playing to the panicked passengers as it sank. Though the final song that they played has always been a topic of much debate, one thing is for certain; all eight band members went down with the ship, as depicted in the film. Though they played in the first-class lounge when the iceberg first struck, they later moved to the boat deck when it became apparent that the situation was more hopeless than first thought.
One second class passenger made an account of the orchestra that night: “Many brave things were done that night, but none were more brave than those done by men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea. The music they played served alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recalled on the scrolls of undying fame.”
Given their bravery that night, one startling fact that came after the event was the musician’s employer, Liverpool music agency C.W. and F.N. Black, writing to the family of deceased band member 21-year-old John Law Hume in order to demand that they pay for his uniform. The letter justifiably caused outrage, and the family decided not to settle the bill.
9. Lack of Lifeboats
The huge loss of life could have been greatly reduced if the Titanic had been carrying enough lifeboats for its crew and passengers. The ship was able to carry 48 lifeboats – enough to provide a seat for every passenger – but actually only carried 20. This was done to lower costs and to stop the deck from being too crowded, and surprisingly was not a violation of British law, which based lifeboat requirement on the vessel’s weight rather than the amount of passengers.
Another oversight that could definitely have saved lives was the fact that the lifeboats they did have onboard were not filled to capacity when the ship began to go down. For example, the very first boat could have fit up to 65 people onboard, yet only ended up carrying 28. Because of this failure to organize the boats efficiently, an estimated 470 people who could’ve been saved went down with the ship.
8. Faking a Death
J.M. Rogers, aka Jay Yates, was a gambler and petty criminal wanted by the police at the time of Titanic’s sinking. A week after the sinking, a letter was sent to a New York newspaper from a female survivor who claimed Yates had given her a note as the ship sank. The woman wrote in the note:
“You will find note that was handed to me as I was leaving the Titanic. I Am stranger to this man, but think he was a card player. He helped me aboard a lifeboat and I saw him help others. Before we were lowered I saw him jump into the sea.”
The note mentioned in the woman’s letter simply said: “If saved, inform my sister, Mrs. J. F. Adams of Findlay, Ohio. Lost
[Signed] J. H. Rogers.”
In reality, Yates had never boarded the Titanic. He had written the letter himself in the hope of faking his death and getting the police off his back forever. His plan failed though; he was arrested a few months later on federal charges for postal thefts.
7. Ill-Fated Sisters
Though the RMS Titanic is undoubtedly the most famous ocean liner to have ever set sail in the ocean, she actually had two lesser-known sister ships; one of which met an equally grisly end. The first of White Star Line’s trio to be launched was the RMS Olympic, which made its maiden voyage in June, 1911. After the Titanic sank in 1912 various adjustments were made to the Olympic to improve the ship’s safety. Olympic was eventually taken out of service and scrapped in 1935, a year after she had collided with and sank Nantucket Lightship LV-117, causing the deaths of all 11 crew members.
The other sister ship was the RMS Britannic. After the outbreak of World War I she was requisitioned as a hospital ship and renamed HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic. Sadly the Britannic suffered a similar fate to her sister RMS Titanic, after hitting a German mine on November 21st, 1916. However, unlike the Titanic most of the passengers survived; 30 men lost their lives while 1,036 people were rescued.
6. Jenny the Cat
Dogs were definitely not the only animal on board the RMS Titanic; there were also chickens, canaries and other birds and even a cat. ‘Jenny’, as she was named, was taken aboard the ship in order to catch rats and mice – a common occurrence during the period, and became a mascot for the vessel. She was transferred over from Titanic’s sister ship, RMS Olympic.
Jenny gave birth to a litter of kittens the week before Titanic set off on her doomed voyage. Little is known about the fate of the feline family; Titanic survivor Violet Jessop, later said that she remembered seeing Jenny onboard the ship where she was given scraps to eat by kitchen staff and slept in a warm part of the galleys. However, another story came from stoker Joe Mulholland, who said that he witnessed Jenny taking her kittens off the Titanic one by one as the passengers were boarding the ship in Southampton. Mulholland said that he saw it as an omen and decided to leave the ship as well.
5. Only Two Bathtubs
As with most forms of transport today, the Titanic had different sections for different classes, ranging from the luxurious first class to the much more basic (though still above average for the time) third class. Though passengers in third class did have access to a library, gymnasium, smoking room for men, and reading room for women, they definitely didn’t get so lucky when it came to the bathroom situation; there was just two bathtubs for the 700 of them; one for men and one for women.
Those in first class however, would have enjoyed an experience that was much more akin to the Ritz Hotel in London, which the ship’s interiors were inspired by. They had decadent facilities such as a swimming pool, Turkish bath, squash court and a kennel for their beloved pet pooches. The large quantities of alcohol onboard; 20,000 bottles of beer and 1,500 bottles of wine was reserved solely for those in their class, as were all of the ship’s 8,000 cigars.
4. The Mystery Ship
On the night that the Titanic struck the iceberg, its crew and passengers began a panicked mission to find another nearby ship that could come to their rescue. Though some survivors believed it was the Californian that was closest to the sinking vessel, officers on the Titanic claimed there was actually another mystery ship that was closer. In fact, this unknown ship was so close that at first Captain Edward Smith told the lifeboats to head in that direction, with the hope that they would then take the passengers aboard that ship then the lifeboat could return to the Titanic to pick more up.
The identity of this ship, which seemingly ignored Titanic’s distress calls, remains a mystery to this day. Some initially believed it was Norwegian sailing ship Samson, who was thought to have ignored calls for help as they were illegally hunting seals, but research from shipping journal Lloyd’s List has disproved this theory as Samson was actually in Iceland undergoing repairs on the date the Titanic sank.
3. A Real Villain?
Chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, Titanic’s owner, Joseph Bruce Ismay has been written into history as something of a villain. Stories of him abandoning passengers and fighting his way to a lifeboat have existed since the ship went down; he was even portrayed as a heartless coward in the 1997 film. As a result of his bad reputation Ismay left the White Star Line a year after the disaster, and his public standing never recovered.
However, the truth is somewhat different. An inquiry in 1912 noted that he had spent a lot of time helping passengers into lifeboats before getting into the last boat himself when there were no other passengers left around. The report even stated that “Had he not jumped in he would merely have added one more life, namely, his own, to the number of those lost”. Despite this evidence Ismay was left a broken man after the tragedy, and lived the rest of his life under a cloud of shame.
2. Near Misses
Days before the fateful iceberg collision in the Atlantic, the RMS Titanic narrowly avoided disaster of a different kind. The much smaller steamer ship New York was pulled into the Titanic’s wake and as a result broke its mooring, making it lose control and sending it directly into the path of Titanic. Thankfully a tugboat named the Vulcan was close by at the time and stepped in to help, towing the New York away, but it was definitely a close call; the pair were only around four feet away from a collision.
Though, as we all know, the Titanic did eventually suffer a sad fate after its collision at 23:39 four days after setting sail, the ship had managed to avoid the deadly ice for hours before. There were six warnings of icebergs sent from other ships, the first of which was sent at around 9:00 am. Unfortunately though the ship’s captain didn’t make the decision to reduce speed, and it eventually succumbed to the ice field.
1. The REAL Cause
Though the cause of Titanic’s demise has always been widely accepted as being the collision with an iceberg, evidence unearthed recently has challenged that theory. Now some experts believe that it was actually a fire in the ship’s hull that was the true cause. The ship had gigantic fuel stores three-storeys in height, and there is evidence that a fire took place here and burned unnoticed for nearly three weeks, leaving 30-foot-long black marks, as can be seen in recently found photographs.
The marks are located along the front right-hand side of the hull, just behind the spot where the ship had its lining struck by the iceberg. Experts now believe that the area shows damage to the hull, which therefore would have been weakened and meant that when the iceberg hit it was able to break through the lining, which ultimately led to the ship sinking.