- Historic Sites
The first and last trip of the “unsinkable” Titanic
December 1955 | Volume 7, Issue 1
Life was a good deal duller down in Second Class, where science teacher Lawrence Beesley and the Reverend Ernest Carter liked to discuss the shortcomings of British universities in preparing young men for the church. But Third Class couldn’t have been livelier. The lovely colleens and the strapping Irish boys carried on uproarious hopscotch games in the after well deck while a strolling bagpipe player-children trooping along at his heels—seemed to be everywhere at once.
Meanwhile the crew wrestled with all the minor troubles that beset a new ship. Down in the Turkish bath, Masseuse Maud Slocombe struggled to clean up the mess left behind by the builders. There seemed to be a half-eaten sandwich or empty beer bottle in every nook and corner. “They were Belfast men,” she mischievously explains today. In the engine room, men from the Harland & Wolff shipyard endlessly checked the valves and dials, getting everything in perfect order. In cabin A-36, Thomas Andrews, the builder himself, worked over the ship’s blueprints far into the night—trouble with the restaurant galley hot press, his plan to change part of the writing room into two more staterooms.
On top of the usual troubles a small fire broke out in one of the stokeholds. All Friday and Saturday the stokers shoveled away, trying to get to the source. With one thing and another, nobody paid much attention to the wireless message received Friday night from the French liner La Touraine, warning of ice ahead. Fourth Officer Boxhall dutifully plotted the position on the map in the chart room, but it was over a thousand miles away, and everyone went on with his work.
Sunday, April 14, dawned crisp and clear on a calm, blue sea. Colonel Archibald Gracie, an amateur military historian by way of West Point and an independent income, bounced out of bed for a pre-breakfast warm-up with Fred Wright, the Titanic ’s squash pro. Then a dip in the swimming pool, and up for a huge breakfast.
Others less vigorous lolled in their cabins until time for divine service. Captain Smith conducted and was reasonably brief. He led the passengers in the “Prayer for Those at Sea” and closed with Hymn 403, “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past …”
After services, many of the passengers took their morning walk on A deck (four and one-half times around was a mile), but others preferred to read or write letters. It was getting uncomfortably nippy outside. Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus sent a wireless greeting to their son Jesse, who was passing eastbound on the liner Amerika.
Wireless messages were also coming in. At 9 A.M. the Caronia had reported, “Bergs, growlers and field ice in 42° N, from 49° to 51° W.” At 12:45 Captain Smith gave the message to Second Officer Charles Lightoller on the bridge and told him to read it. Now it was after one o’clock, and another warning was coming in. The Baltic reported, “Icebergs and large quantities of field ice … 41° 51′ N, 49° 52′ W.” This meant the ice was about 250 miles ahead.
Captain Smith took the Baltic message and started down for lunch. On the promenade deck he ran into Bruce Ismay, who was taking a pre-lunch constitutional. They exchanged greetings, and the Captain handed the managing director the Baltic ’s ice message. Ismay glanced at it, stuffed it in his pocket, and went on down to eat.
Sunday luncheon was on the heavy side—cockie leekie, Chicken à la Maryland, mashed potatoes, custard pudding. It was a meal that left few passengers in the mood for anything very energetic that afternoon. The French aviator Pierre Maréchal browsed through The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes . Spencer Silverthorne dipped into a new best-seller, The Virginian. Colonel Gracie finished and returned to the ship’s library Mary Johnston’s Old Dominion. He had planted his own book, The Truth about Chickamauga, in the hands of Mr. Isidor Straus, who was dutifully wading through it.
Down in Second Class, Lawrence Beesley struggled with his baggage declaration, and the Reverend Mr. Carter tapped people for a hymn-sing that evening in the Second-Class dining saloon. Third Class was the usual beehive of swarming children, but there were few grownups on deck, because the temperature had fallen to around 45°.
Late in the afternoon the Strauses had an unexpected treat—a wireless from their son on the Amerika, returning their greeting and wishing them love. About the same time the Amerika sent another wireless message, asking the Titanic to relay some information to the Hydrographic Office in Washington: “Passed two icebergs in 41° 27′ N, 50° 8′ W.”
By now the ice was news to hardly anyone on the Titanic. Colonel Gracie heard reports late in the afternoon. And Mrs. Thayer and Mrs. Ryerson got the word straight from Bruce Ismay himself. The managing director, always fond of reminding people who he was, waved at them the Baltic message that Captain Smith had given him.