The Titanic is known worldwide as the largest and most magnificent ship of its time, the biggest moving object in the world, which was reputed to be unsinkable. Its story is best told as a chronological sequence of events which unfolded and resulted in the cataclysmic event – now regarded as the most famous shipwreck of all time.
Wednesday, 11 September 1907
There was a public announcement of an agreement between the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (owner of the White Star Line) and Harland & Wolff of Belfast to construct two large liners to compete with the Cunard Line’s Mauretania and Lusitania.
The Olympic and Titanic would be grander and more luxurious than those of their competitors on the Transatlantic run. The idea had been conceived by Lord William Pirrie and Joseph Bruce Ismay, president of the International Mercantile Marine Company, at a dinner one evening in July at Devonshire House, London.
Wednesday, 16 December 1908
The keel of the Olympic was laid in Slipway 2 at Harland & Wolff’s Queen’s Island yard, Belfast, in yard 400. This was followed three months later by the laying of the Titanic’s keel alongside in Number 3 Slipway, Yard 401.
31 March, 1909: Construction of the ‘Titanic’ commences.
Wednesday, 31 May 1911
The seaworthy Titanic.
The Titanic was launched, seven months after the Olympic. A fever gripped Belfast at the launch of the ‘Largest vessel in the world’. It was 882.5 feet long and grossed over 45,000 tons.
Wednesday, 20 November 1911
While departing from Southampton the Olympic was damaged in a collision off the Isle of Wight with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke. Captain Edward Smith, 50, was in command of the liner, which was holed in its after starboard side.
Monday, 1 April 1912
Captain Edward Smith formally took command of the Titanic at Belfast. The next day trials were conducted and that evening the liner was certified by the Board of Trade, then at 8pm it departed for Southampton.
Titanic – the magnificent.
Friday, 5 April 1912
On Good Friday the Titanic was decked out in flags as a salute to the Southampton residents. Recruitment of the crew for all departments then followed, as well as the loading of supplies and cargo. Henry Wilde was appointed chief officer, William Murdoch first officer and Charles Lightoller as second officer.
Wednesday, 10 April
6 am The crew boards; 6.30 am Thomas Andrews arrives; 7.30 am Captain Smith comes aboard. At 9.00am a lifeboat drill took place, using starboard lifeboat 11 (fifth officer Harold Lowe) and starboard 15 (sixth officer James Moody). At 9.30am Bruce Ismay arrived. A boat train arrived from London with second and third class passengers. Two hours later the boat train from Waterloo Station brought first class passengers who promptly embarked.
The Titanic set sail at noon. As it passed the American Line’s ship New York the suction it caused snapped the lines and the ship swung toward it. Prompt action by Captain Smith and the tugboat skipper narrowly averted a collision. A fire in coal bunker 6 smouldered while crewmen battled to extinguish it.
The Titanic crossed the channel and arrived at Cherbourg at 6.35pm, where 24 passengers were disembarked while 274 passengers were embarked. Among them were the wealthy Astor couple of New York and Margaret Brown from Denver. At 8.10 pm the Titanic set off for Ireland.
Thursday, 11 April
The Titanic arrived at Queenstown, southern Ireland, at 11.30am and anchored two miles (3.2 km) offshore. They embarked 127 more passengers and almost 200 sacks of mail. She then qualified to be a ‘Royal Mail Ship’. A crewman, fireman John Coffey, from Queenstown deserted. The Titanic departed at 1.30pm with 2,228 people aboard, about two thirds of the ship’s capacity, for its voyage to New York.
Friday, 12 April: Messages of congratulations are received as well as ice warnings, so they steer further south.
Saturday, April 13: At 11 pm the wireless ceased working. Tje marconi operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride worked all night to repair it and succeeded by 5 am.
Sunday, 14 April
Daily inspection of the ship took place from 9.00am under supervision of Captain Smith. At 9 am a message was received from the SS Caronia that there was ice in the Titanic’s path. Captain Smith posted it on the bridge. At 10.30am Captain Smith led divine service in the First Class dining saloon, which was attended by all classes of passengers.
11.40 am: The Dutch liner ‘Noordam’ reported ice ahead. Before 1.00pm Chief Engineer Bell reported to Captain Smith that the fire in coal bunker 6 had been extinguished.
1.42pm: The Baltic relayed a message warning of ice ahead. Captain Smith handed the message to Bruce Ismay, who then showed it to his friends.
5.50pm: The Titanic reached a navigation reference point called ‘The Corner’ and altered course to a more southerly route to avoid ice.
7.00pm: The shutters in the wheelhouse were closed so that its lights wouldn’t affect the night vision of those on the bridge. The air temperature dropped to 43 degrees fahrenheit.
7.15pm: Captain Smith retrieved the Baltic’s ice warning from Ismay and posted it on the bridge. Second officer Lightoller told the lamp trimmer, Samuel Hemmings, to secure the skylight over the crew’s galley to prevent its light from affecting the crow’s nest lookouts.
7.30pm: A transmission about ice from the Leyland freighter Californian was overhead by Harold Bride on the Titanic and sent to the bridge. It was approximately 50 miles (80 km) ahead. The air temperature had meanwhile dropped to 39 degrees.
8.00pm: Fourth officer Joseph Boxhall and sixth officer James Moody begin their four-hour watch, releasing third officer Herbert Pitman and fifth officer Harold Lowe.
8.30pm: The Rev Ernest Carter conducts a hymn ‘sing song’ in the second class dining saloon. Douglas Norman played the piano. Among the refrains was ‘Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea’.
8.40pm: Second officer Lightoller ordered the ship’s carpenter to ensure that the fresh water supply didn’t freeze.
8.55pm: Captain Smith left the Widener’s dinner party and attended on the bridge, where he discussed navigation with Lightoller.
9.20pm: Captain Smith left instructions that he was to be called at the first indication of ice, then retired to his cabin.
9.30pm: Lightoller instructed Jewell and Symons in the crow’s nest to be on the lookout for ice. The steamer ‘Mesaba’ warned of pack ice and bergs ahead. Jack Phillips was sending passengers’ messages so didn’t send it to the bridge.
10.00pm: First officer Murdoch relieved Lightoller on the bridge, while Frederick Fleet and Lee took over the crow’s nest, and quartermaster Robert Hichens relieved Alfred Olliver at the wheel.
10.55pm: The Californian, which had stopped before packed ice, transmitted an ice warning to the Titanic. Their operator, Cyril Evans, was brusquely cut off by the Titanic’s senior operator, John Phillips, who was busy transmitting passengers’ messages to Cape Race.
11.40pm: Lookout Fleet spotted an iceberg dead ahead, rang the bell three times and telephoned the bridge. Sixth officer Moody took his call and relayed the message to first officer Murdoch. The latter ordered the engines full astern and told Hichens to hard astarboard the wheel. He also closed the water-tight doors.
Scraping the berg.
The Titanic turned slowly to port and scraped against the berg, loosening starboard plates along approximately 250 feet. Rivets were broken and sea water flooded into the forepeak, numbers 1 to 3 holds and numbers 5 and 6 boiler rooms. Murdoch ordered the standby quartermaster, Olliver, to note the time, which Moody then entered in the ship’s log.
According to recent research Murdoch waited 30 seconds before changing course, as he thought that the Titanic might pass the hazard and that by altering direction he might swing its stern into the obstacle. The latest research established that the iceberg was 610 metres away, almost a minute before impact, and that the ship held its course for half that time.
Captain Smith immediately came to the bridge and was briefed by Murdoch. Olliver, was sent to fetch the ship’s carpenter, while Boxhall was instructed to assess damage forward. The ship’s engines were stopped.
11.45pm: Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer and the managing director of Harland & Wolff, was summoned by Captain Smith. Boxhall returned to report to Captain Smith, who then told him to have the ship’s carpenter sound the ship. Bruce Ismay arrived and was told by Captain Smith that the ship had been badly damaged. He then left.
11.48pm: Captain Smith and Andrews then left to inspect the damage. A mail clerk, John Smith, met Boxhall and told him about water in the mail hold. Boxhall rushed there and saw the water rising, then headed for the bridge.
11.57pm: Captain Smith and Andrews returned to the bridge, where they met Boxhall. Andrews estimated that the ship would sink within two hours. Ismay returned to the bridge and was told of the ship’s imminent doom. Boxhall then roused Lightoller and Pitman.
Monday, 15 April.
12.00am: Lookouts Hogg and Evans relieved Lee and Fleet in the crow’s nest. Captain Smith ordered all officers and boat crews to be mustered, then instructed chief officer Wilde to have the lifeboats uncovered. Lightoller and Boxhall supervised work on the port lifeboats, while Murdoch and Lowe did the starboard ones.
12.04am: Third officer Pitman went to see the ice which had been deposited on the forward well deck, where he met some firemen who said that their bunks on F Deck were flooded.
12.07am: Boxhall then went to the chart room, where he worked out the ship’s position then took it to Captain Smith. The latter took the note to the wireless (or marconi) room and told Phillips to stand by to send a distress call.
12.14am: Captain Smith instructed Phillips to send the message ‘CQD’ requesting assistance. It was heard by Cape Race and the ships La Provence and Mount Temple.
12.23am: The helmsman, quartermaster Hichens, was relieved by quartermaster Perkis. Boxhall recalculated the ship’s position, which he took to Captain Smith and was told to advise the wireless operators. Phillips re-broadcasted it and was heard by Harold Cottam on the Carpathia. He immediately notified Captain Rostron, who calculated that they were 58 miles south-east of the Titanic, so altered course. While returning to the bridge Boxhall noticed the lights of a ship about five miles away off the Titanic’s port bow.
12.27am: Various ships receive and relayed the Titanic’s call for help, inter alia the Frankfurt, Ypiranga, Caronia, Baltic, Birma and Mount Edgcombe. After receiving the captain’s approval Boxhall instructed quartermaster Rowe to signal to the nearby ship with the morse lamp.
12.36am: The Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm signalled the Titanic, asking what was wrong. Phillips replied, “We have collision with iceberg. Sinking. Please tell your captain to come.” They replied, “OK. Will tell.”
12.40am: The Olympic heard the Titanic signaling another ship and wished to know whether it was the Titanic in danger. Water pressure caused the forward starboard bunker door to collapse and the flood of water caused a slight lurch downward.
12.45am: The first lifeboat was lowered. Murdoch lowered starboard 7 with 28 aboard and seaman George Hogg in command. Boxhall and quartermaster Rowe fired the first of seven rockets. Rowe also continued trying to signal the nearby Californian. The Titanic called the Olympic and changed the distress signal from CQD to SOS, the first time it had ever been used in an emergency.
12.50am: The Olympic and Celtic both hear the distress call, “I require immediate assistance.” The Caronia then relayed this message to the Baltic.
12.56am: Port lifeboat 6 with 28 aboard was lowered. Quartermaster Hichens was in charge and the irascible Margaret Brown one of the passengers. Starboard 5 was lowered with 41 aboard and third officer Pitman in charge.
1.00am: Water entered E Deck, appearing at the foot of the grand staircase. The Olympic responded to the Titanic’s call, but was too far away to assist. The Asian and the Virginian were also informed of the Titanic’s whereabouts.
1.10am: Captain Smith personally had Port 8 lowered, with 24 women and four crewmen aboard. Countess Rothes and her cousin, Gladys Cherry, were among its complement. Murdoch had starboard emergency boat 1 lowered with 12 aboard, among them Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff-Gordon and seven crew members.
1.20am: Chief officer Wilde had port boat 10 lowered with 55 aboard and seaman Edward Buley, formerly of the Royal Navy, in charge. Murdoch had starboard boat 9 lowered with 56 aboard and bosun’s mate Albert Haines in charge.
1.25am: Lightoller directed the lowering of port boat 12 with 43 aboard and seaman John Poigndestre in charge. Murdoch overfilled starboard boat 11 with 70 aboard and quartermaster James Humphreys in command. At the same time he lowered boat 13 with 64 aboard. Ruth Becker, 12, had seen her mother and sibling leave and had then found her way to the starboard boats. The boat was almost swamped by a discharge of water being pumped from the side of the Titanic. Rowe fired the last rocket, though it appeared that the nearby ship was steaming away. The Olympic wanted to know whether the Titanic was steaming south to meet her and Phillips replied, “We are putting off the women in the boats.”
1.30am: Lowe directed the loading of port boat 14 with 60 aboard, then took command himself. The Titanic repeated her earlier reply to Olympic.
1.35am: Sixth officer James Moody directed the loading of port boat 16 with 46 aboard and master-at-arms Henry Bailey in charge. The Olympic asked, “What weather have you?” and Phillips responded, “Clear and calm. Engine room getting flooded.” Murdoch directed the lowering of starboard boat 15 with 70 people aboard and fireman Dymond in charge.
1.40am: The forward well deck became flooded. Chief officer Wilde directed the lowering of collapsible boat C, after allowing Bruce Ismay and William Carter aboard. Quartermaster Rowe took charge of 39 people in the boat. Cape Race advised that the Olympic was the only ship speeding to the Titanic’s rescue.
1.45am: The Carpathia heard the Titanic signal, “Engine room full up to bunkers.” The foredeck was by then under water. Lightoller lowered port boat 4 with 42 on board and quartermaster Walter Perkis in charge. The occupants, including the Ryersons, Wideners and Thayers had been shunted up and down between decks because the promenade deck was closed in. John Astor had wanted to accompany his pregnant wife, Madeliene, but was told by Lightoller that it was for women and children only. Mr Ryerson and his son Jack were also stopped by Lightoller. Mr Ryerson objected that Jack was only 13-years-old, so the boy was allowed into the lifeboat. The boat picked up eight swimmers, but two subsequently died.
1.50am: The sea began covering the forecastle deck. Cape Race and the Virginian heard Olympic broadcast that she was going to Titanic’s aid. Boiler room 4 began to flood and the propellor blades rose above the sea.
Titanic sinking deeper.
2.05am: The cables holding the forward funnel snapped and the funnel fell forward to starboard, crushing the starboard bridge wing and killing several people in its path and in the water. Among them was believed to be Astor. Water then flooded into the first class dining saloon and corridors. Collapsible boat D was lowered. A Deck was then swamped.
2.10am: Captain Smith relieved the wireless operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride. They remained at their posts for a few minutes, during which Bride knocked out a fireman who tried to steal Phillips’ lifejacket. The bandsmen ceased playing on the steeply sloping deck.
2.18am: Collapsible boats A and B floated off the sinking deck, the latter having capsized. As the stern rose to approximately 35 degrees there came a roar as the bow sank and the superstructure ruptured aft of number 3 funnel. The lights blinked, then went out.
2.20am: The bow dragged the stern to near vertical, then the keel snapped and it broke away and planed into the depths, followed shortly afterwards by the stern. Hundreds of people were left struggling in the near-freezing water. Their cries were to haunt the survivors in the lifeboats for years to come. Captain Smith swam with a baby to one of the lifeboats and handed it to Steward Maynard.
2.30am: In Boat 14 fifth officer Lowe began rounding up and tying together boats 4, 10 and 12 and collapsible D. He transferred passengers from collapsible D and his own boat. In boat 5 Pitman began returning to pick up survivors then was dissuaded by several women who were afraid of being swamped. Boxhall in number 2, Sir Cosmo in boat 1 and Hichens in boat 6 also stayed away from the struggling masses.
2.40am: Quartermaster Perkis and boat 4 picked up eight swimmers from the 28 degree water, but one died shortly afterwards and another later.
3.00am: Lowe made for the flotsam and debris and picked up four swimmers, one of whom died soon afterwards. During the night boats 6 and 16 tied up together, as did boats 5 and 7. They exchanged occupants to assist the smaller boats.
3.35am: Captain Rostron of the Carpathia had a rocket fired to reassure the Titanic survivors that they were coming.
4.03am: The officers and men on the Carpathia’s bridge saw a green flare being waved from one of the lifeboats. This was Lowe in lifeboat 14.
4.10am: Boxhall’s boat 2 reached the Carpathia and its occupants were taken aboard. Boxhall reported to Captain Rostron on the bridge that the Titanic had sunk at 2.20am.
4.45am: Boat 13 with Ruth Becker aboard reached the Carpathia.
4.50am: Lowe sailed boat 14 with collapsible D in tow. He headed for collapsible A which had been swamped and transferred Rosa Abbott and eight men to collapsible D.
5.10am: Boat 7 with Dorothy Gibson aboard arrived at the Carpathia.
5.20am: Lowe opened the sea cocks of collapsible A and casted it adrift.
6.00am: In response to Lightoller’s shrill whistles boats 4 and 12 approached the capsized collapsible B and transferred the exhausted men into their boats.
6.15am: Collapsible C with Bruce Ismay aboard reached the Carpathia. He appeared dazed and was led to a cabin where he remained for the duration of the voyage to New York.
7.00am: Lowe in boat 14, towing collapsible D, arrived at the Carpathia.
7.30am: Boat 4 with Madeleine Astor aboard arrived at the rescue ship.
8.00am: Boat 6, the second to leave arrived. Quartermaster Hichens and Margaret Brown weren’t on speaking terms since she had threatened to thrown him overboard. Ismay prepared a message to be sent to the White Star Line office in New York. It was approved by Captain Rostron and sent, but due to red tape was only received two days later. Captain Rostron ordered the house flag to be flown at half mast.
8.30am: Boat 12 arrived with over 70 survivors, having transferred people to it from collapsibles B and D. Lightoller was the last Titanic survivor to board the Carpathia. The Californian then approached the Carpathia and stopped nearby.
8.50am: The Carpathia then set off for New York, leaving the Californian to search for any more survivors.
9.00am: A service of remembrance and thanksgiving was led in the first class saloon by a Carpathia passenger, Rev Roger Anderson. A list of Titanic’s surviving passengers and crew was then prepared. A total of 705 people had been saved. The Carpathia then continued her voyage to Europe.
Thursday, 18 April 1912
The Carpathia arrived in New York and docked after 9.00pm. As the passengers disembarked Senator William Smith and a party of five, including three United States marshals, pushed their way on board and conferred with Ismay. The crew were to remain in New York for an American Inquiry which was held between 19 April and 4 May. Then followed a British Inquiry from 2 May to 8 July.
A recovery ship, the Mackay-Bennett, steamed to the location of the sinking and began picking up bodies. They were assisted by other ships, the Minia, Montmagny and Algerine. Altogether 337 bodies were recovered. All personal items and valuables were catalogued and bodies were embalmed. Most of them were later buried at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
19 April – 25 May 1912: The inquiry by the US Senate takes place in New York.
2 May – 3 July 1912: Inquiry by the British Board of Trade into the sinking.
14 May 1912: A survivor, Dorothy Gibson, wrties and stars in a silent movie ‘Saved from the Titanic’.
29 May 1912: The Carpathia returned to New York to be met by a survivors’ committee, headed by Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown from Denver. She presented Captain Rostron with a loving cup and gold medals to the senior officers, silver medals to the junior officers and bronze medals to the rest of the crew.
Colonel Archibald Gracie wrote a detailed account of the tragedy in ‘The Truth about the Titanic’. He had interviewed and corresponded with many survivors in compiling his survivors’ narratives. Regrettably he died in New York on 4 December, aged 53, apparently due to the effects of his Titanic experience.
April 1935: A tramp steamer, the Titanium, while carrying coal from England to Canada encountered an iceberg in the same are as the Titanic 23 years earlier. A crew member, William Reeves, had a premonition and shouted “Danger ahead!”. The engines were reversed and the ship stopped before it would have hit the berg. Incongruously Reeves had been born on 15 April 1912, the date of the Titanic sinking.
3 July, 1958: The world premiere of the film ‘A Night to Remember’.
1960: Opening of the musical ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’.
July 1980, June 1981 and July 1983: Jack Grimm led three attempts to find the wreck of the Titanic.
1 Sept 1985: Robert Ballard led an American/French expedition which found the wreck.
July 1986: Ballard returned to the site with a small submarine called the ‘Alvin’ to photograph the Titanic.
July 1987, 1993 and 1994: The ‘Nadir’, a salvage ship, lifts more than 5,000 objects from the site.
1991: A Soviet/Canadian expedition films a documentary called ‘Titanica’.
18 December, 1997: The film ‘Titanic’ opens in the USA.
April 2003: The film ‘Ghosts of the Abyss’ premieres.
April 2012: Centenary events held worldwide.
A number of films have been made about the sinking. The first was in 1912. ‘Saved from the Titanic’ starred Dorothy Gibson, herself a survivor of the tragedy. The various films and television documentaries culminated in the $200 million epic ‘Titanic’, directed by James Cameron and released in 1997. Within six months its worldwide gross receipts exceeded $2 billion.
Eaton, John P and Haas, Charles A, ‘Titanic, a Journey through Time’ (1999) W W Norton & Company, New York and London.
Adams, Simon, ‘Eyewitness Titanic’ 1999, DK Publishing, New York. London, Melbourne, Munich and Delhi.