THIS EVENING 100 years ago, the Titanic hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland. The ‘unsinkable’ ship sank to the bottom of the ocean within a few hours.
Here, crew from the Titanic recall the build, fit-out and trials that the Titanic went through in Belfast prior to her ill-fated journey in April 1912. These are first-hand interviews featured in the new book ‘Titanic on Trial: The Night the Titanic Sank, Told Through the Testimonies of Her Passengers and Crew’ by Nic Compton.
Bruce Ismay – Managing Director, International Mercantile Marine
When we built the Titanic we wanted the very best ship the builders could possibly produce. She was the latest thing in the art of shipbuilding; absolutely no money was spared in her construction.
The Titanic was built in Belfast by Messrs Harland & Wolff of Belfast. They built practically the whole fleet of the White Star Line – the Olympic and the Baltic and all those ships. Messrs Harland & Wolff have carte blanche to build the ship and put everything of the very best into her. After they have spent all the money they can on the ship, they add on their commission to the gross cost, which we pay them. We would naturally try to get the best ship we possibly could.
The ship cost $7,500,000. She was insured for $5,000,000.
When you build a ship, you have to start building her probably five or six years before you want her. Messrs Harland & Wolff prepare the plans. They are then submitted to us, to the directors of the White Star Line or to the manager of the White Star Line. They are carefully gone through with the representatives from the shipbuilders. They try to make suggestions to improve those plans. They are taken back and thoroughly thrashed out again, and they are submitted, I should be afraid to say how often.
We were very anxious indeed to have a ship which would float with her two largest watertight compartments full of water. What we wanted to guard against was any steamer running into the ship and hitting her on a bulkhead, because if the ship ran into her broadside on and happened to hit her right on a bulkhead, that would open up two big compartments, and we were anxious to guard against the possibility of that happening. The Titanic and the Olympic were so constructed that they would float with the two largest compartments full of water. I think I am right in saying that there are very few ships of which the same can be said. The Titanic left Belfast, as far as I remember, on the first of April. She underwent her trials, which were entirely satisfactory.
Charles Lightoller – Second Officer
Sea trials were held on Belfast Lough. The ship was run a certain distance on a comparatively straight course and back again, over approximately four hours – two out and two back. For a ship of that size, she went at a fair speed.
When the ship was built, we only expected her to go 21 knots, therefore all over 21 we thought very good. I do not know what her speed was on the trial trip, but we understood she would eventually go faster when she was tuned up. I dare say we wanted her to go at her maximum speed at some time or other, and naturally we talked; we wondered what her maximum speed would eventually be.
I saw the watertight doors myself tested, and they were all in perfect working order.
Harold Lowe – Fifth Officer
We arrived in Belfast and went around everything, taking stock of everything on board the ship, and also noting the condition of these things. We went around the lifeboats. The odd numbers, Nos 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15, were on the starboard side of the ship, and the even numbers were on the port side.
Mr Moody and myself took the starboard boats, and Mr Pitman and Mr Boxhall took the port boats, and we overhauled them; that is to say, we counted the oars, the rowlocks, or thole pins, and saw there was a mast and sail, rigging, gear, and everything else that fitted in the boats, and also that the biscuit tin was all right, and that there were two water beakers in the boat, two bailers, two plugs and the steering rowlock. There is a compass, a light and oil to burn for eight hours. Everything was absolutely correct with the exception of one dipper. A dipper is a long thin can, an inch and a quarter diameter, which you dip into the water breaker and draw the water. That was the only thing that was short out of our boats.
These are the outside boats, the boats that hang on the ship’s side. Then there are two collapsible on each side, two on port and two starboard, and we examined them. Everything was absolutely correct; I will swear to that.
Harold Bride – Assistant Telegraphist
I went up to Belfast to join the Titanic and test the Marconi apparatus. We had a special sending apparatus which doubled our range; during the daytime, we reckoned to be able to do 400 miles. Coming around from Belfast to Southampton, there were messages transmitted for Mr Ismay regarding the speed of the ship. They were sent to the White Star offices at Liverpool and Southampton, saying generally that the trials of the speed of the ship were very favourable.
Titanic on Trial: The Night the Titanic Sank, Told Through the Testimonies of Her Passengers and Crew by Nic Compton. Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.