History

On the Trail of Titanic

107 years after it sank, across Britain and Ireland lies a series of significant places, artefacts and memorials to the doomed liner’s first –and last – associations with the land from which it sailed. Sunday, April 14, 2019

By Simon Ingram
The Titanic Memorial, in the grounds of City Hall, Belfast, commemorates every known victim of the Titanic disaster.

Millvina Dean was the last survivor of the world’s most notorious nautical disaster. She was just nine weeks old when the Titanic set sail from Southampton on April 10, 1912 bound for New York. When the ship struck an iceberg off the Grand Banks four days later Milvina, her brother and mother were amongst the earliest third-class passengers to be evacuated. Her father was one of over 1,500 lost with the ship, falling to the depths two miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15th, and into history.   

Millvina died in 2009, cutting the last living link with the Titanic. Now all that’s left is the disaster’s shadow on the public’s memory, some artefacts salvaged from the dead, the survivors or the wreck, and a few places that had associations with the now legendary ship. 

(Find out how Titanic was found as part of a clandestine military operation.)

The Titanic Engineers' memorial in Southampton, unveiled in 1914.

Memorialising the Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic was a tragedy that transcended the classes, from steerage passengers to some of the brightest names in high society. After the ripples of the ship’s loss, and of the innocents aboard it – 1,496, 1,503 or 1,517 depending on the sources you consult – a legacy of tributes, memorials, installations and graves slowly began to appear to commemorate those aboard the ship. 

You can find Titanic memorials in places as dispersed as Canada, New York and Australia. Many of the dead who were recovered lie in grave sites in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But the Titanic was a British ship, and it’s here a line can be drawn from the place of its inception to its last sight of land, where today many tributes and objects bear messages and significance to the ship’s memory. To mark the 107thanniversary of the ship’s loss, here are a few of the most poignant.  

The striking Titanic Belfast attraction mimics the hull of the ship, which was built in docks within sight of it.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Construction started in 1909. Today a striking visitor attraction overlooks the docks where the ship was built, and the dock itself – then the largest dry dock in the world, for what was then its largest ship – has been preserved. The Titanic Dry Dock and Pumphouse describes itself as a place to experience the ‘physical footprint’ of the ship, and it’s apt: the dock is huge, as you would expect for the last place the ship stood on dry land. Elsewhere in the ‘Titanic Quarter’ is the Titanic Belfast attraction – its design mimicking the bow of its namesake.   

Memorial to the engine room heroes of the Titanic at Pier Head, Liverpool.

Liverpool, England

The word 'Liverpool' was inscribed on the stern of the Titanic. The ship never visited the city, but the company’s head office – White Star Line – was based on James St. The line built and ran ships on the trans-Atlantic route, hence the tendency for its ships to have ‘-ic’ at the end of its name (Majestic, Britannic, Cymric, Celtic) and class (Oceanic, Olympic). The company merged with Cunard in 1934. Today the head office Albion House is a luxury hotel, with a dining room supposedly based on that of the Titanic. Elsewhere in the city a looming memorial on the waterfront acknowledges the passengers and crew – many of whom were from Liverpool, including violinist Fred Clarke – a member of the band that continued to play as the ship sank. Also from Liverpool was the ship’s lookout, Fred Fleet – who claimed his lack of binoculars was to blame for his failure to spot the iceberg the Titanic hit. The Liverpool Maritime Museum has a permanent display of items salvaged from the wreck itself, including spectacles, a tie pin, and a wristwatch.    

The Titanic at anchorage in Southampton.

Southampton, England

Titanic spent six days in Southampton overall before setting sail on April 10th, 1912. It’s said that 500 households in Southampton were bereaved by the sinking of the Titanic – eight on one street alone – due to many of the ship’s workers, including Captain Edward Smith, resident in the town. So it’s little surprise Southampton bears many references to the ship. There’s a pub of the same name, another – the Grapes that was a haunt of the crew. Both today depict an image of the ship on their signs. 

The Titanic pub, Southampton
The White Star Line's former headquarters, Canute House in Southampton, where families of those embroiled in the tragedy gathered for news in 1912.

A significant landmark is the Canute Building, former headquarters of White Star Line in Southampton, where crowds gathered in the wake of the disaster for news of loved ones. There’s also a resplendent memorial to the engineers, and several more plaques around the city to musicians and postal workers, plus a simple, dignified stone to the passengers. Most poignant of all is the dock, Berth 44 – from which the ship set sail – and it’s from the jetty here that Millvina Dean, last survivor of the Titanic, had her ashes scattered in 2009. 

Cobh waterfront, County Cork – and the ruins of the pier used by Titanic passengers during the ship's final anchorage.

Cobh, Ireland

Titanic made two stops before striking off across the Atlantic: one at Cherbourg, France and the other Cobh, in County Cork – then called Queenstown. A few fortunate passengers disembarked both at Cobh and Cherbourg, and several hundred less fortunate boarded. Cobh today is a bright waterfront of colourful Victorian houses on steep roads. Here a stone memorial stands in memory of the dead of the Titanic, and the names of the 123 passengers who boarded here are recorded on a glass wall. This overlooks a memorial garden, and the final anchorage of the Titanic in Cork Harbour. There is a museum, and the skeletal wooden jetty used by passengers to board the ferry to the ship – which would have been anchored offshore – still stands. Plans were recently rejected to modernise and preserve it, given the additional significance of ‘Heartbreak Pier’ as the disembarkation point for an estimated million Irish emigrants leaving their homeland for America.

London, England

Inside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich a single artefact is on display – the pocketwatch of second-class passenger Robert Douglas Morgan, a 27 year-old from Glasgow, whose body was recovered from the sea. The hands – like many watches recovered from bodies, and from the wreck – are shown eerily stopped at the moment they came into contact with water. It seems Morgan forgot to set his watch back an hour to account for the time-zone the previous day. The hands read 3.07; the ship took its final dive at 2.20am. The undisplayed collections hold a few more Titanic curiosities – a toy pig, for instance – but it’s outside in the grounds where Britain’s most prestigious nautical museum doffs its cap to the ship. Here you can find the Titanic Memorial Garden, opened by Edith Haisman, a teenage survivor of the disaster, in 1995. A bronze plaque stands on a pillar of Cornish Granite – the traditional material for ship ballast. 

The pocket watch recovered from the body of Robert Douglas Morgan, Titanic passenger. The watch hands froze at the moment Morgan entered the water – uncorrected for the time zone, which was an hour behind the watch's reading.

Lowdham, Nottinghamshire

One obscure memorial worth recognition is that of Harold Cottam, a wireless operator on the Carpathia who picked up the Titanic’s distress call on the night of April 15th. A blue plaque on the wall of the Old Ship Inn in Lowdham, the village he retired to in 1958, indicates that Cottam’s ‘diligence and prompt reaction’ was instrumental in the saving of 705 lives.

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