THE SINKING OF THE TITANIC
(April 14-15, 1912 – North Atlantic Ocean)
(White Star Line London offices, April 16, 1912)
The Official Story
SINKING OF THE RMS TITANIC
(Aftermath, Grief and Outrage)
When Carpathia arrived at Pier 54 in New York on the evening of 18 April after a difficult voyage through pack ice, fog, thunderstorms and rough seas, some 40,000 people were standing on the wharves, alerted to the disaster by a stream of radio messages from Carpathia and other ships. It was only after Carpathia docked – three days after Titanic‘s sinking – that the full scope of the disaster became public knowledge.
Even before Carpathia arrived in New York, efforts were getting underway to retrieve the dead. Four ships chartered by the White Star Line succeeded in retrieving 328 bodies; 119 were buried at sea, while the remaining 209 were brought ashore to the Canadian port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where 150 of them were buried. Memorials were raised in various places – New York, Washington, Southampton, Liverpool, Belfast and Lichfield, among others – and ceremonies were held on both sides of the Atlantic to commemorate the dead and raise funds to aid the survivors. The bodies of most of Titanic‘s victims were never recovered, and the only evidence of their deaths was found 73 years later among the debris on the seabed: pairs of shoes lying side by side, where bodies had once lain before eventually decomposing.
The prevailing public reaction to the disaster was one of shock and outrage, directed against several issues and people: why were there so few lifeboats? Why had Ismay saved his own life when so many others died? Why did Titanic proceed into the ice field at full speed?
The outrage was driven not least by the survivors themselves; even while they were aboard Carpathia on their way to New York, Beesley and other survivors determined to “awaken public opinion to safeguard ocean travel in the future” and wrote a public letter to The Times urging changes to maritime safety laws.
In places closely associated with Titanic, the sense of grief was deep. The heaviest losses were in Southampton, home port to 699 crew members and also home to many of the passengers. Crowds of weeping women – the wives, sisters and mothers of crew – gathered outside the White Star offices in Southampton for news of their loved ones. Most of them were among the 549 Southampton residents who perished. In Belfast, churches were packed, and shipyard workers wept in the streets. The ship had been a symbol of Belfast’s industrial achievements, and there was not only a sense of grief but also one of guilt, as those who had built Titanic came to feel they had been responsible in some way for her loss.