The Titanic – the facts and the lessons

Peter Hammond
01 March, 2012 4 min read

Youth Feature

The Titanic — the facts and the lessons

James Cameron’s epic three hour film, Titanic (released in 1997) in a short time grossed an unprecedented one billion dollars. It was also the first film to equal the 11 academy awards of Ben Hur.
   Unfortunately, although it was up to then the most expensive film ever made, it utterly failed to communicate the deeper spiritual significance of the tragedy. Most of the incidents of heroism and chivalry aboard the Titanic were inexplicably ignored by the film.
Fictitious scenes

Titanic exploited the distinctions between the first and third class, and completely ignored the second class passengers. In emotionally explosive scenes, it portrayed the third class passengers locked below decks being prevented from reaching the decks and lifeboats.
   As each class of passengers had unrestricted access to their own decks and allocated lifeboats, those fictitious scenes were impossible. The official inquiries in 1912, by the British Board of Trade and US Senate Investigation, found that allegations that third class passengers were locked below decks were false.
   In fact, 115 men in first class and 147 men from second class stood back to make space available for women and children from third class and, as a result, died.
   One of the best historical accounts of the disaster, A night to remember, by Walter Lord (Penguin, 1956), records many incidents of diligence and courage not covered by Cameron’s film.
   For example, crew members struggled to rouse and shepherd the third class passengers to the boat decks. Many of these passengers were Swedish and Finnish emigrants who spoke no English. Many Catholic passengers preferred to gather in the dining room to pray the rosary, and would not move.
   Others stormed the bar and drank themselves into oblivion. Many jammed the corridors trying to drag all their luggage down the passageways, up the stairs, to the boat deck. Some got lost in the vast ship.

Once on deck, many passengers flatly refused to climb into the small, open, wooden lifeboats to be launched onto the freezing ocean. Many preferred the bright lights and warmth of the Titanic and went back inside.
   For the first hour, the officers could not persuade enough women and children to climb into the first set of lifeboats to be launched. With the ship sinking and time running out, many boats were launched only half or three-quarters full.
   There were only 16 wooden lifeboats, and four canvas collapsible lifeboats on the Titanic. All these boats together could carry a maximum of 1178 people. On the fateful Sunday night there were 2207 people on board.
   Although there had been no lifeboat drills, the crew worked efficiently to quickly equip each boat with lanterns and tins of biscuits, fit cranks, uncoil lines, swing out the boats, load and lower them. The crew was disciplined and seemed to sense where they were needed and how to be useful. However, the passengers were not always cooperative and confusion was inevitable.
   In the film, Captain Edward Smith silently wanders off, as if in a trance, and plays no active role in launching the lifeboats and saving the passengers. History records him as vigorously active, and involved with the radio room, Morse lamp and distress rockets, trying to rouse the ship whose lights they could see 8-10 miles away.
   Cameron chose not to deal with the fact that one ship, the Californian, was close enough to see the sinking ship’s lights and their watch counted 8 distress rockets fired. Although Captain Lord of the Californian was repeatedly informed of this, he rolled over and went back to sleep.


Far from Captain Smith standing passively on the bridge waiting fatalistically for the waves, survivors testified of the captain swimming with a small child after the Titanic had sunk.
   One of the wealthiest multimillionaire bankers on the ship, Benjamin Guggenheim, worked tirelessly to help the ladies onto the lifeboats, then sent a last message to his wife: ‘Tell my wife I’ve done my best in doing my duty’. He then went back to his cabin, dressed up in his evening clothes, with top hat, and declared that he was ‘prepared to go down like a gentleman!’
   Another famous wealthy passenger, Colonel John Astor, placed his wife on a boat and stepped back into the crowd. When Arthur Ryerson noticed that his French maid, Victorine, had no life vest he stripped off his own and buckled it on her. Then he placed his wife, son and their maid on the lifeboat. He remained on the Titanic.
   After the last boat had been launched, a curious calm came over the Titanic. Captain Edward Smith walked around telling his crew, ‘Well, boys, you’ve done your duty. Now every man for himself’.
   Some passengers prayed with Rev. Thomas Byles. The band played ‘Abide with me’. The wireless operator continued to try to raise the Californian. The famous evangelical journalist and writer, William Stead, sat reading!
   The assistant surgeon, purser, assistant purser and second officer all shook hands and said, ‘Goodbye’. Most passengers stood waiting or quietly paced the boat deck. Some jumped into the water.
Lord’s Prayer

Then, with the bow plunging steadily deeper into the water and stern rising higher out of the water, a tremendous cacophony erupted of breaking china and glassware, thuds of furniture, and clatter of sliding deck chairs.
   The lights went out and everything movable in the ship broke loose in a thundering roar. Twenty-nine boilers, 15,000 bottles of beer and wine, 30,000 eggs, five grand pianos, and much more, tumbled and crashed, as the Titanic broke in half and disappeared beneath the waves.
   Thirty men who had remained with the ship managed to swim to the two collapsible boats that had floated off the sinking boat deck. One was swamped and the other was upside down. As they balanced precariously on, or around, the keel, one seaman asked: ‘Don’t the rest of you think we ought to pray?’ Everyone agreed. They prayed the Lord’s Prayer out loud together, in chorus.
   The Titanic collided with the iceberg at 11.40pm on Sunday 14 April 1912. Orders were given to uncover the lifeboats and muster the crew and passengers at 12.05am on Monday 15 April.
   The first boat was lowered at 12.45am; the last boat at 2.05am. The ship sunk beneath the sea at 2.20am. The Carpathia, which had raced at top speed from 58 miles away, arrived at 4.10am and began picking up survivors.
   The Californian, which was stationary just over 10 miles away, only responded to the disaster at 5.45am, when their wireless radio operator woke up and tuned in to what had happened during the night.
To be concluded
Peter Hammond
Edited from

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