Wrecked Lives: Beryl Bainbridge Reflects on the Small Reminders of a Gigantic Tragedy. (Exhibition)
Bainbridge, Beryl, New Statesman (1996)
Shortly before midnight on 14 April 1912, the "unsinkable" SS Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage to New York. She sank less than three hours later.
The causes of such a disaster were numerous. A blaze, started by the friction of coal descending at speed into the boilers, had accelerated before the ship left Belfast -- in spite of this, a certificate of seaworthiness was issued before her departure from Southampton; the fire continued for two days into the voyage, no doubt weakening the metal structure of the vessel; there was an insufficient number of lifeboats, and the crew had not been drilled in the correct release and management of those available; although other ships in the Atlantic had slowed on account of reports of icebergs, Captain Edward J Smith ordered full speed ahead.
Intimations of the tragedy to follow began in the first-class salon. The ice cubes in a poker player's glass tinkled as though shaken by an unseen hand. That was the moment when pieces of the visible iceberg, shaved off when sliding alongside the Titanic, bounced upon her lower decks. The gigantic, invisible and destructive mass drifting beneath the waterline sliced a huge gash in the liner's side and consigned her to the deep.
The water rose approximately l4ft above the keel. The watertight bulkhead between boiler rooms Nos 6 and 5 extended only as high as E deck. The first five compartments filled and the weight of the water pulled the Titanic down at the bow. As she sank lower, the water from No 6 boiler room swamped No 5 boiler room and flooded Nos 4,3,2--and soon. Captain Smith, with the help of Bruce Ismay, managing director of the ship's owners, calculated the extent and outcome of the damage at two minutes to midnight. The Titanic had an hour and a half, possibly two, before she sank.
Another vessel was believed to be not far away, and rockets were fired to engage its attention. These signals of distress were mistaken for a display of fireworks; after all, the Titanic was unsinkable. Seven hundred and fifty survivors rowed off in the partially empty lifeboats and watched as the mighty ship, her bulk outlined in stars, plunged into the depths with a cargo of 1,500 men, women and children.
On 14 July 1986, lights from a submersible at the bottom of the Atlantic pierced through the blackness to illuminate the corroded bow of the SS Titanic. …