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Published: July 13th 2013
"As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line"
With the gravelly voice of Johnny Cash in the background, we departed Amherst for Halifax and the Titanic exhibits and graveyards (I know, this is sounding like a cemetery crawl).We started our Halifax adventure with a visit to picturesque Peggys Cove.
The tale of the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line is well known to most. On April 10, 1912 she departed Southampton. The Titanic was the largest ship afloat, and thought to be virtually unsinkable. At 11:40 P. M. on April 14, the liner hit an iceberg and a huge gash was opened along the starboard side, with water pouring into 5 of her 16 watertight compartments. At 2:20 A.M. on April 15 she sank beneath the waves, coming to rest in two large sections in about 12,000 feet of water, 450 miles south of Newfoundland and 715 miles from Halifax.
When it departed Southampton, the ship carried 2224 passengers and crew, including many of the
richest people in the world. About 705 survived, picked up by the nearby liner RMS Carpathia which arrived about two hours after the ship sank. The water temperatures were about 28 degrees, meaning that anyone who fell in would be dead within minutes. Thirteen people who entered the water were rescued by the lifeboats, but 500 spaces available in the lifeboats went unused. Because of a rule of filling the lifeboats with women and children first, deaths were disproportionately high among the men on board. Deaths were also disproportionately high among the lower class passengers.
Two days after the sinking, the White Star Line commissioned three ships in Halifax to go out and try to retrieve bodies. About 330 bodies were initially recovered, but the ships were required to only bring back embalmed bodies and embalming supplies were quickly exhausted, and therefore all but about 209 bodies were buried at sea. They made the decision to embalm the first class passengers first and rationalized this by saying that estates would need confirmation of death for inheritance purposes. 59 bodies were eventually claimed by relatives, leaving about 150 to be buried in Halifax in plots purchased by White Star Lines
with markers they also purchased. Many were identifiable at the time of retrieval, while many more were identified over the years because of meticulous record keeping by the retrieval teams and thorough research by various people and groups.Some number remain unidentified.
One of the saddest stories of today's visit was of the first body found, a two year old child. For some time he was unidentified, but then was identified as a young Swedish boy. DNA testing has proven that he was not the victim recovered, and the body has been identified as a young British child named Goodwin. His shoes are on display in the museum. Five out of 6 first and second class children survived, but only 27 of 79 third class children were so fortunate.
Probably thousands of books and articles have been written about the causes of the disaster. The current best explanation involves hubris and happenstance. The Titanic was thought to be virtually unsinkable, and the crew made no attempt to reduce speed despite ice warnings from nearby ships. In addition, the survival characteristics of the ship did not envision the length of the gash that opened on the starboard side. The steel
contained an unusually high amount of sulphur, and that is now known to make steel more brittle at very low temperatures.The captain was very experienced, but only in smaller vessels, and not prepared to deal with handling so many people during a disaster.
The Titanic had lifeboats for only about half of the passengers, and nearby ships had no requirement to monitor the telegraph for distress calls. The investigations and subsequent public outcry led within a year to new regulations requiring lifeboats for all passengers, regular lifeboat drills, and automated monitoring for distress calls.
The Titanic continues to have a tremendous emotional pull, I think because of the hubris and subsequent downfall.
Tomorrow: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (Anne of Green Gables and mussels)
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