- John Welshman reveals Titanic survivors’ shocking accounts in his new book
- The infamous ship hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912
- Nick Rennison recommends the ‘moving account’ of the doomed sea expedition
TITANIC: THE LAST NIGHT OF A SMALL TOWN
by John Welshman (Oxford University Press £12.99)
Around 11.40pm on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic, travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, famously hit an iceberg.
Within three hours, the ‘unsinkable’ ship had sunk. More than 1,500 people died. In the words of an earlier historian, it was ‘the last night of a small town’.
The tale has been told many times before, in books, radio and TV dramas, and blockbuster films. John Welshman has had the clever idea of revisiting it through the eyes of a few of the inhabitants of that ‘small town’.
John Welshman reveals Titanic survivors’ shocking stories in a ‘moving account’ of the ship’s infamous doomed maiden sea voyage, including a man who wanted to use the ice to chill his whisky
They came from all over the world. The Browns — Elizabeth and Thomas and 15-year-old daughter Edith — were emigrating to Seattle from South Africa.
They had stopped off in London, shopping for clothes in Knightsbridge and Chelsea, before Thomas bought three second-class tickets for £39.
Pekka and Elin Hakkarainen were fleeing Finland, where Pekka was liable for service in the Russian tsar’s army. Lawrence Beesley was 35 and a science teacher at Dulwich College. (One of his pupils was the future crime novelist Raymond Chandler.)
Hanna Touma was going to Michigan with her children to meet her husband, whom she hadn’t seen for seven years. She was Lebanese and had made an extraordinary journey, travelling by camel caravan, freighter ship and train from her home village.
The Harts — Benjamin, Esther and their daughter Eva, seven — were from London and were also emigrating, in their case to Winnipeg, Canada. They had been booked on another ship.
When this failed to sail, Benjamin Hart kicked up an almighty fuss. The family considered themselves lucky when they were given a cabin on the new liner.
Lawrence Beesley came across a group of men in the smoking room playing cards. Through the windows, they had seen an iceberg, but one of them gestured to his glass of whisky and said: ‘Run along and see if any ice has come aboard: I would like some for this.’ (Pictured: Unidentified Titanic survivors aboard the Carpathia rescue ship)
The Browns — Elizabeth and Thomas and 15-year-old daughter Edith — were emigrating to Seattle from South Africa (Pictured: Mrs Brown presenting a cup to the Captain of the Carpathia in May 1912)
Pekka and Elin Hakkarainen (pictured) were fleeing Finland, where Pekka was liable for service in the Russian tsar’s army
Lawrence Beesley was 35 and a science teacher at Dulwich College before embarking on the Titanic
They boarded in Southampton, Eva clutching a giant teddy bear that her father had bought for her in Gamages in Holborn.
Among the crew members was Herbert Lightoller, an experienced officer with a colourful career behind him. A gold miner in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush, he had also worked as a cowboy in Alberta. Homesick and penniless, he had become a hobo, riding the rails back across Canada. He took a cattle boat to reach England again. On the Titanic, he was Second Officer.
Convent-educated Violet Jessop, a stewardess, was born in Argentina, where her Irish father had emigrated to try sheep farming. A devout Catholic, she always carried a rosary in her apron as she cleaned and made beds in the first-class cabins.
All these people, and more than 2,000 others, were on board the Titanic when lookout Frederick Fleet first spotted danger. He telephoned a message to the bridge: ‘Iceberg, right ahead.’ Despite evasive action, the ship struck it.
Nearly all those in the boats were finally rescued by the Cunard Line ship Carpathia, which arrived at around 4am
Women and children were taken off the ship first (Pictured: The famous ‘Hoffman orphans’ who survived the crash – before they had been identified as the Navratil children)
In the immediate aftermath of the collision, few passengers were seriously alarmed. Lawrence Beesley came across a group of men in the smoking room playing cards. Through the windows, they had seen an iceberg, but one of them gestured to his glass of whisky and said: ‘Run along and see if any ice has come aboard: I would like some for this.’
It was only when the crew began to summon people on deck to get in the lifeboats that everybody began to appreciate the gravity of the situation.
The traditional rule of ‘women and children first’ was enforced. Members of the crew prevented male passengers from boarding.
Eva Hart always remembered frantic shoving near one of the boats. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe drew his revolver and fired a shot in the air, shouting: ‘If anybody tries to get here in front of women and children, I’ll shoot.’
THE TITANIC BY NUMBERS
3,000 years Age of the iceberg
2,000 Silver egg spoons were on board
7,000 Heads of lettuce on board
50 pc MORE Cost of Titanic film compared to ship
£100,000 The price of a first-class ticket on the Titanic in today’s money
ELEVEN Supper courses in first class
37 Seconds between iceberg sighting and collision
£1.3 million Amount fetched at auction in 2013 for violin that played as ship sank
THREE Dogs survived
Those who made it on the boats were the lucky ones. The Titanic was gradually turning on her nose — in Welshman’s words, ‘just like a duck does when it goes for a dive’. At 2.20am on April 15, it slipped beneath the waters of the Atlantic, taking with it hundreds of people still trapped on board.
Nearly all those in the boats were finally rescued by the Cunard Line ship Carpathia, which arrived at around 4am.
Lawrence Beesley was one of the survivors. So, too, were Elin Hakkarainen (although her husband Pekka was lost), and Hanna Touma and her children.
Eva Hart lost her giant teddy bear, but survived. She lived into her 90s and now has a Wetherspoon’s pub named after her.
Elizabeth and Edith Brown (but not Thomas) came through their ordeal. Edith died a centenarian in 1997. Stewardess Violet Jessop and Second Officer Herbert Lightoller were both rescued.
John Welshman has fashioned a moving account of the Titanic’s first and last voyage.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online