110 Years of Mystery and Discovery

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On the night of April 14/15, 1912, the Royal Mail Ship Titanic, a British luxury passenger liner, sank in the icy waters of the western North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg.

The liner was making its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York when tragedy struck, resulting in the death of approximately 1,500 passengers and crew.

Since 1912, 110 years ago, the Titanic has inspired filmmakers and writers. A musical, which premiered in April 1997, was based on the Titanic’s story. The “Titanic” movie became top viewing experience with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the protagonists.

The doomed ship also received scientific attention from scholars who speculated about the causes of the disaster, the delayed rescue of the survivors, the insufficient number of lifeboats, and the economic consequences of the disaster.

Numerous attempts were made to locate the wreck until it was finally discovered in 1985.

It is fair to comment that the Titanic was much more in the limelight after the tragedy than during the short period between its launch on May 31, 1911, and its sinking on April 15, 1912. Over time, the Titanic’s demise has fuelled an insatiable interest in the gory details of the disaster, thereby elevating its story to a mysterious level, capable of generating conspiracy theories.

The Titanic was one of the ships built by the White Star Line. This Line commissioned the construction, in addition to the Titanic, of sister ships, namely the Olympic and the Britannic, in the first decade of the 20th century.

Both White Star, the owner of the Titanic, and a competing liner, Cunard, vied to increase their share of the market. The ships of both lines competed with regard to the time needed to cross the Atlantic. The Titanic offered comfort to its passengers, and even its third-class offerings were comfortable.

Epoch Times Photo
A replica of the grand staircase from the Titanic is displayed at the Metreon in San Francisco, Calif., on June 6, 2006. (David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

However, to place this forensic cruising activity of the early part of the 20th century into perspective, it is interesting to note that modern cruise ships are usually bigger and more sophisticated than the Titanic ever was. Compared to modern-day cruise ships, the Titanic would have looked like a dinghy—an exaggeration, perhaps, but not an inappropriate comparison.

Of course, for its time, the Titanic was a luxurious and comfortable ship, and it was built to last. It was described as an “unsinkable” ship, yet four days into its maiden voyage, disaster struck in the middle of the night after increasing its speed.

The claim that the ship was “unsinkable” is a reminder that human hubris is but a futile emotion that can have, and did have, disastrous consequences.

For its time, the Titanic could certainly be described as opulent. But, of course, there has been opulence and luxury in every era.

An example of timeless opulence are the two ships built for the Roman Emperor Caligula in the 1st century. These sleek ships, raised from the Nemi lake in Italy in 1929, must have been an incredible sight: a mixture of marble, mosaics, paintings, and indescribable luxury, including heating and plumbing. They were floating palaces.

But the Titanic was certainly the most modern of its era, but not the only one, and cannot compete with the sophisticated modernity of the cruise ships of our time.

The rich and famous wanted to travel on the Titanic. The societal status of the first-class passengers contributed to the Titanic’s reputation as the world’s best-known shipwreck. They included Macy’s department store co-owner Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida, and businessperson Benjamin Guggenheim, who perished in the tragedy.

However, most victims came from steerage, unable to reach the lifeboats, which were in short supply. Only 705 people survived the disaster.

The 110th anniversary of the disaster provides an opportunity to restate a few relevant points of interest.

First, icebergs still constitute a navigational danger for ships in the western North Atlantic, where the Titanic sank. Hence, the climatic conditions that existed in 1912 are not substantially different from today’s conditions.

Epoch Times Photo
4th April 1912: Latitude 41′ 46N and longitude 50′ 14W, the place where the ‘Titanic’ sank. Original Publication: The Graphic, 1912. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Second, the Titanic was a ship with three classes: a first class for wealthy passengers, a second class for affluent passengers, and a third class for the less wealthy passengers, mostly immigrants, who occupied the ship’s steerage. Passengers in steerage were not allowed to access the facilities available only to first-class passengers, for example, the gym and the swimming pool. Such an arrangement is difficult to imagine on the cruise ships of our time.

Third, the Titanic has given the English language a new word that is very much used as an adjective to qualify a disastrous event or calamity of seismic proportions.

For years, the Titanic disaster adversely affected the willingness of people to go on cruises because they no longer trusted the safety measures taken by the cruise companies.

In a way, the reduction in cruising is reminiscent of the reluctance of people to embrace a cruise holiday today because of pandemic fears.

Indeed, cruise enthusiasts may still be haunted by the television images of dying passengers on cruise liners—a calamity that started with the death of many passengers on the now infamous The Princess Diamond that was harboured in Yokohama port in early February 2020.

The history of The Titanic is captivating and became an enduring mystery because it took until 1985 to locate the wreck. Since then, more than 300 artifacts have been raised to the surface and are now exhibited in the United States. The exhibition, known as “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” is at present viewable in the Luxor in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Among the exhibition’s displays are an unopened bottle of champagne with a 1900 vintage, passengers’ luggage, and floor tiles from the first-class smoking room. The exhibition’s website reveals that “the exhibit features a piece of Titanic’s hull, a full-scale re-creation of the Grand Staircase as well as a newly expanded outer Promenade Deck, complete with the frigid temperatures felt on that fateful April night.” It is the most-visited exhibition ever.

Hopefully, this exhibition will also come to Australia, where the story of the doomed ship is well known. It will undoubtedly assuage 110 years of mystery and generate unabated interest in an important and most unfortunate historical event.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël Moens

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Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).



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