The Titanic story comes to Down County Museum

The Titanic story comes to Down County Museum

15 February 2012

A NEW travelling exhibition, Titanic — Honour and Glory, has recently opened at Down County Museum and offers a fascinating glimpse into the story of the tragic ship.

It contains a wealth of detail on the building and structure of the ship, on the fixtures and fittings and on the facilities enjoyed by the passengers on board.

The history of the Titanic has exerted a hold over the imagination of people from all over the world, almost from the first days after her sinking on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. In the 100 years since then thousands of articles have been written about the ship, dozens of films and documentaries have been made and the Harland and Wolff ship is now the most famous liner ever built.

Visitors to the exhibition can see many objects which were used on board the White Star Line Olympic class liners — the Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. These include china from the first class dining rooms and `a la carte restaurant, china from the third class dining area, electric light fittings, bed covers and napkins, silver ware and souvenirs that were sold on the ships’ voyages.

Text panels give information on how the ship was constructed, the history of the White Star Line, the experiences of passengers on board, the events of April 14-15, 1912, the aftermath of the sinking and the relief fund set up to help for those bereaved by the disaster. There is also a section on the attempts to locate the site of the wreck.

Sections in the exhibition on how first, second and third class passengers experienced life on board the ship have already proved to be very popular with visitors. The class differences of the time are very well illustrated by the facilities available to different groups of passengers.

Although many first class passengers purchased a £30 fare — the equivalent of about £2,800 today — which gave them a stateroom with a private bathroom, some paid as much as £870 — about £16,000 — for a suite of rooms.

First class passengers enjoyed the best dining experiences available with specialist chefs employed to create the finest cuisine. First class passengers had their own dining areas, recreation areas, saloons and smoking saloons. There was also a gymnasium, a racquet court, a swimming pool and Turkish baths.

A second class fare cost £23. It was said that travelling second class on White Star Line was like travelling first class by other shipping companies and second class passengers on the Titanic also had excellent facilities.

Second class cabins did not have private bathrooms but there were large, well kept, public bathrooms and toilets. Catering was also excellent and second class passengers had their own recreation areas, library and smoking saloon.

There were 706 third class passengers, including 79 children. Most of these were emigrating to America. There was a mixture of nationalities on board. Many were from Britain and Ireland but there were also large numbers of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian passengers as well as French, Italians, Spanish and even Syrians and Libyans.

Some of the third class passengers were returning to America, having been at home to visit family. Some of those were bringing back younger brothers, sisters and cousins to the New World.

The White Star Line realised how much money they could make from emigrants travelling across the sea. Because their ships were so big they could fit in lots of third class cabins and third class facilities on board the Titanic were as good as second class on other ships, may be even better.

Thomas Morrow, a 30 year-old labourer from Drumlough, Rathfriland, was one of the third class passengers on board the Titanic. He was planning to travel from New York to Alberta in Canada to join his brother, Waddell, who was a ranch hand there.

He boarded the Titanic in Queenstown, now Cobh, in Co. Cork. He had bought a third class ticket which cost £7 and 15 shillings — the equivalent of about £610 today. Thomas did not survive the disaster and his body was never recovered.

The Titanic had a crew of just under 900 people. The deck crew included the sailors and ship’s officers. The engineering crew included the engineers, boiler men, firemen and electricians. The victualling crew looked after the passengers on board and included cooks, stewards, waiters, female stewards, musicians, postal clerks, bakers, telegraphists, a butcher, musicians, laundry staff, medical staff.

The victualling crew was made up of people from all over the world. For instance, the first class restaurant staff were mostly French and Italian. Almost all of the specialised chefs were French, or had trained in France. About 200 crew members survived the sinking.

One of the crew members was James McGrady, a 27 year-old from Lissamore, Crossgar. He was a member of the victualling crew and a first class saloon steward. His monthly wages were £3 5 shillings, the equivalent of about £260 today).

James died in the disaster and his body was recovered by a ship called the Algerine. His was the last body to be recovered by the ships sent in April and May 1912 to pick up bodies from the wreckage. He was identified by his clothing and steward’s keys. He is buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Also categorised as members of the crew, but employed by Harland and Wolff rather than the White Star Line, was the ‘Guarantee Group’. These were nine engineers, fitters and designers who worked in the Belfast shipyard.

Led by the chief designer of the Titanic, Thomas Andrews, these men travelled on the ship’s maiden voyage to check out any problems that might arise with the ship, advise the ship’s captain and crew and gather information that might help in the design and building of other ships. The youngest of these was 15 year-old Ennis Hastings Watson, an apprentice electrician. They all died on board the ship. None of their bodies was ever recovered.

Thomas Andrews, was the designer of the Titanic and Managing Director of Harland and Wolff. Born in Comber in 1873, he became an apprentice in Harland and Wolff at the age of 16. He became Managing Director in 1907 and chief designer of the White Star Line’s three great ships — Olympic, Titanic and Britannic.

When Titanic hit the iceberg Andrews made an immediate inspection of the ship. He realised she would sink and helped passengers into the lifeboats. He did not survive the disaster and his body was never recovered.

The Thomas Andrews Junior Memorial Hall was opened in January 1915. Money to build it was given by people from Comber and the workers at Harland and Wolff shipyard.