Hanson W. Baldwin
The White Star liner Titanic, largest ship the world had ever known, sailed from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York on April 10, 1912. The paint on her strakes was fair and bright; she was fresh from Harland and Wolff’s Belfast yards, strong in the strength of her forty-six thousand tons of steel, bent, hammered, shaped, and riveted through the three years of her slow birth.
There was little fuss and fanfare at her sailing; her sister ship, the Olympic—slightly smaller than the Titanic—had been in service for some months and to her had gone the thunder of the cheers.
But the Titanic needed no whistling steamers or shouting crowds to call attention to her superlative qualities. Her bulk dwarfed the ships near her as longshoremen singled up her mooring lines and cast off the turns of heavy rope from the dock bollards. She was not only the largest ship afloat, but was believed to be the safest. Carlisle, her builder, had given her double bottoms and had divided her hull into sixteen watertight compartments, which made her, men thought, unsinkable. She had been built to be and had been described as a gigantic lifeboat. Her designers’ dreams of a triple-screw giant, a luxurious, floating hotel, which could speed to New York at twenty-three knots, had been carefully translated from blueprints and mold loft lines at the Belfast yards into a living reality.
The Titanic’s sailing from Southampton, though quiet, was not wholly uneventful. As the liner moved slowly toward the end of her dock that April day, the surge of her passing sucked away from the
quay the steamer New York, moored just to seaward of the Titanic’s berth. There were sharp cracks as the manila mooring lines of the New York parted under the strain. The frayed ropes writhed and whistled through the air and snapped down among the waving crowd on the pier; the New York swung toward the Titanic’s bow, was checked and dragged back to the dock barely in time to avert a collision. Seamen muttered, thought it an ominous start.
Past Spithead and the Isle of Wight the Titanic steamed. She called at Cherbourg at dusk and then laid her course for Queenstown. At 1:30 P.M. on Thursday, April 11, she stood out of Queenstown harbor, screaming gulls soaring in her wake, with 2,201 persons—men, women, and children—aboard.
Occupying the Empire bedrooms and Georgian suites of the first-class accommodations were many well-known men and women—Colonel John Jacob Astor and his young bride; Major Archibald Butt, military aide to President Taft, and his friend Frank D. Millet, the painter; John B. Thayer, vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Charles M. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada; W. T. Stead, the English journalist; Jacques Futrelle, French novelist; H. B. Harris, theatrical manager, and Mrs. Harris; Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus; and J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line.
Down in the plain wooden cabins of the steerage class were 706 immigrants to the land of promise, and trimly stowed in the great holds was a cargo valued at $420,000: oak beams, sponges, wine, calabashes, and an odd miscellany of the common and the rare.
The Titanic took her departure on Fastnet Light and, heading into the night, laid her course for New York. She was due at quarantine the following Wednesday morning.
Sunday dawned fair and clear. The Titanic steamed smoothly toward the west, faint streamers of brownish smoke trailing from her funnels. The purser held services in the saloon in the morning; on the steerage deck
aft the immigrants were playing games and a Scotsman was puffing “The Campbells Are Coming” on his bagpipes in the midst of the uproar.
At 9:00 A.M. a message from the steamer Caronia sputtered into the wireless shack:
Captain, Titanic—Westbound steamers report bergs growlers and field ice 42 degrees N. from 49 degrees to 51 degrees W. 12th April.
It was cold in the afternoon; the sun was brilliant, but the Titanic, her screws turning over at seventy-five revolutions per minute, was approaching the Banks.
In the Marconi cabin Second Operator Harold Bride, earphones clamped on his head, was figuring accounts; he did not stop to answer when he heard MWL, Continental Morse for the nearby Leyland liner, Californian, calling the Titanic. The Californian had some message about three icebergs; he didn’t bother then to take it down. About 1:42 P.M. the rasping spark of those days spoke again across the water. It was the Baltic, calling the Titanic, warning her of ice on the steamer track. Bride took the message down and sent it up to the bridge. The officer-of-the-deck glanced at it; sent it to the bearded master of the Titanic, Captain E. C. Smith, a veteran of the White Star service. It was lunchtime then; the captain, walking along the promenade deck, saw Mr. Ismay, stopped, and handed him the message without comment. Ismay read it, stuffed it in his pocket, told two ladies about the icebergs, and resumed his walk. Later, about 7:15 P.M., the captain requested the return of the message in order to post it in the chart room for the information of officers.
Dinner that night in the Jacobean dining room was gay. It was bitter on deck, but the night was calm and fine; the sky was moonless but studded with stars twinkling coldly in the clear air.
After dinner some of the second-class passengers gathered in the saloon, where the Reverend Mr. Carter conducted a “hymn singsong.” It was almost ten o’clock and the stewards were waiting with biscuits and coffee as the group sang:
O, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.
On the bridge Second Officer Lightoller—short, stocky, efficient—was relieved at ten o’clock by First Officer Murdoch. Lightoller had talked with other officers about the proximity of ice; at least five wireless ice warnings had reached the ship; lookouts had been cautioned to be alert; captains and officers expected to reach the field at any time after 9:30 P.M. At twenty-two knots, its speed unslackened, the Titanic plowed on through the night.
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