The Titanic has been appealing to the imagination for more than a hundred years. In 1997, director James Cameron gave his own version of the disaster, but there are countless other stories that remained under the radar.
You probably did not know these tragic details about the fateful night of April 15, 1912.
People died while they fought for lifeboats
The Titanic had the capacity to carry 64 lifeboats, but because the ship was “unsinkable”, there were only 20 lifeboats. A disastrous low number, as there were more than 2,500 passengers on board.
Some sacrificed their lives to get their loved ones in a lifeboat, others lost their lives while fighting for a place in a boat. “I saw crew member shooting two third-class passengers because they were trying to get off with a lifeboat,” Washington Dodge told after the disaster. “I heard that a total of twelve third-class passengers were shot, one crew member even shot six.”
Most passengers traveling with them in third class were immigrants, including Armenians, Chinese, Dutch, Italians, Russians, Scandinavia, Syrians and Britons who wanted to build a new life in America.
There were no lifeboats in third class, so passengers had to get to the deck. But when they finally arrived, most of the lifeboats were already full and 76 percent of the third-class passengers died.
One captain made death toll rise
The ship closest to the Titanic was the Californian at barely 20 kilometres. A crew member reported to the captain of the ship, Stanley Lord, that the Titanic emergency arrows were shooting. But Captain Lord decided not to sail through the icebergs strewn area to save the people on the Titanic.
Lord did nothing: he did not try to contact the Titanic and he did not try to go there either. “The danger to himself and his crew was too great to respond,” says Titanic researcher Daniel Allen Butler on news.com.au. “The Californian did nothing.”
Later, Captain Lord declared that he did not realize that the arrows of the Titanic were distress signals. And in addition, he would have been further than 20 kilometres from the Titanic. “Nothing of it”, according to a British study of the Californian. “Captain Lord could have saved a lot, perhaps all, of the lives on the Titanic.”
Captain Lord sealed the fate of 1,500 people on the Titanic with his decision. But thanks to another captain, 705 people survived the disaster.
While Captain Lord excelled in absence, another captain also received a distress signal 100 kilometers further. Unlike his colleague on the Californian, captain Arthur Rostron shot into action: he set all the figurative sails and set a race for the Titanic. “Rostron wasted no second,” says Butler.
While his ship, the Carpathia, moving at full speed on the Titanic, he had everything ready to accommodate 2,000 extra people. Passengers were transferred to other cabins and engine rooms were transformed into bedrooms. The captain closed all steam on the ship to keep the engines running at full speed. As a result, it quickly became ice cold on the ship.
Almost one and a half hours after the Titanic had sunk, the Carpathia arrived at the crash site. The only survivors were in lifeboats. During the following hours the crew personnel took all the people out of the lifeboats on the ship. Most people no longer had the strength to climb up the ropes themselves, so the staff had to carry the victims inside. The Carpathia then set course for England with 705 survivors.
If the Carpathia did not arrive at the crash site so quickly, most people in the lifeboats would have died from hypothermia, says Butler.
Families were torn apart
In the chaos, families were suddenly torn apart. Harvey and Charlotte Collyer were together with their 8-year-old daughter Marjorie in second class when the Titanic hit an iceberg. Crew members shouted that women and children first had to sit down in the lifeboats, but Charlotte refused to depart from her husband’s side.
But suddenly a crew member pulled her out of her husband’s arms. “Go, Lotty!” Harvey called. “I’ll be in a different boat.” But Harvey, like many other men, left life on the Titanic. 80 percent of male passengers died on the Titanic.
A week later Charlotte wrote a heartbreaking letter to her husband’s mother: “Oh, mother, how can I still live without him… he was so calm… I have nothing left of him, just his rings. Everything we had was sunk.”
“Heroic fathers waved to their wives from the deck, while the lifeboats carried away,” one of the survivors told later. “They waved and threw kisses at their family.”
Source: sfmuseum.org; NY Times; news.com.au