The story of Titanic and its connection to Halifax is one that is very important and integral part of the city’s history. To understand the impact you should know a little about the events leading up to the disaster.
At the time of its launch, the “RMS Titanic” was the largest moving object in the world.
On the morning of April 10, 1912, the luxury liner departed Southampton, slowly pulled away from the piers of on its way to New York City.
On board were Captain Smith, (the commodore of the “White Star” fleet), Bruce Ismay (chairman and managing director of the White Star Line), Jack Philips and Harold Bride, (telegraph operators with Marconi International Marine Communications Company).
Some of the influential passengers included:
industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim
Denver millionairess Margaret “Molly” Brown
The “Titanic” passengers numbered approximately 1,317 people:
- 324 in First Class
- 284 in Second Class,
- 709 in Third Class.
*869 (66%) were male and 447 (34%) female.
The ship had two stops in Europe before she made her way out to the North Atlantic; Cherbourg France and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland.
On the first day at sea, “Titanic” travelled 386 miles, and at that speed, she would have no problem making it to New York on schedule, the following Wednesday morning.
It is possible that you may have heard or read that Bruce Ismay wanted Captain Smith to increase the ship’s speed and over the years many have thought his motivation was to break a transatlantic speed record.
That would have been very unlikely.
It is true that Ismay did want to do was arrive in New York early, Tuesday night but the reason was he wanted to be there before the newspapers went to bed. He knew the media was aware of the size of “Titanic” but he also wanted them to marvel and write about her speed.
He wanted media coverage.
The first ice warning came Saturday evening, April 13th from a German ship “Rappahannock”. The message was to welcome “Titanic” to the North Atlantic and to warn them of ice.
Ice in the ocean would be no surprise to anybody who had sailed the North Atlantic in April.
The next morning, Sunday morning was a beautiful sunny day. The two telegraph operators, Jack Phillips & Harold Bride were up very early and working at their post. They had a huge stack of messages they had to send, and knew it was going to be a long day.
Throughout the day there were problems with their telegraph machines and they kept breaking down.
They worked as steadily as they could all day, but transmissions were slow and tedious. Throughout the day at least six ice warnings reached the ship.
At 5:30pm, the temperature outside was comfortable. It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, 4 degrees Celsius and the air was calm. By 7:30, the temperature had dropped to below freezing.
Smith also ordered his lookouts for the night to be extra aware of the ocean. He was concerned about ice for a number of reasons. The sky was full of stars, there was no moon and the ocean, according to the log book, was like a millpond, a rarity for the North Atlantic.
This was a perfect night if you were a passenger. Not so for the captain of this great vessel.
For centuries, sailors crossing the North Atlantic in spring, during the night depended on the moon to shine down on the water or the sound of the waves slapping against icebergs so they would know what was ahead of them.
Captain Smith had a right to be concerned.
When lookouts, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee reached their post, they were positioned high up a pole in what can best be described as a nest, on the bow of the ship. From this position, they would have a clear sight of vision.
At 11:15 p.m., the two telegraph operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were still at their telegraphs, with a stack of messages still waiting to be sent.
At the same time on another ship, the “Californian”, telegraph operator, Cyril Evans, a colleague of Jack and Harold’s, had been listening to the transmissions from “Titanic” and realized how busy they were.
He wanted to send his regards but did not want to interrupt any of their messages. Wireless messages were not like the internet of today. You were not able to type out your message, press send and it was automatically at its destination. It took time.
When Cyril felt he could safely send his message, it said, “Titanic”, it’s me, Cyril, welcome to the North Atlantic, I’m on the Californian, and we’re stuck in an ice flow, we are going to stay night and break out tomorrow”
Unfortunately, Cyril did not time his message correctly and he interrupted a message Jack was trying to send. Instead of getting a courteous response from his friend, Jack Phillips, who was very tired, snapped back at him:
“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! I’m working Cape Race, leave me alone.”
Cyril knew they were tired and did not take this personally. Instead, he listened for another couple of minutes, shut off his machine and went to bed.
At 11:39 and a half, Frederick Fleet, looking out into the ocean, saw something straight ahead. He rang the bell three times to indicate there was something out there, then he picked up the phone to the bridge and he called out.
“ICEBERG, STRAIGHT AHEAD.”
Sixth Officer Moody, who was in charge of the bridge, instinctively did what he would have done on every other ship he served.
He ordered to ship hard to starboard, and for the engines to stop, and then reverse.
Unfortunately, the rudder was too small for the weight of the ship and did not react quickly enough. Instead of moving around the berg, “Titanic” stuck it on her starboard side.
The ship came to a stop.
The damage was surveyed and Captain Smith was shocked to learn that the ship was not only damaged beyond repair, it was damaged beyond hope and would stay afloat at most an hour and a half.
The order was given to gather the passengers at the appropriate stations.
The 1st class passengers were cordially invited to gather on the 1st deck, dining area, lounge, and gym.
Second class was a little more anxious but asked to go to the 1st class deck.
Third class or steerage was treated totally different.
The water was already coming in the lower decks and rats were scurrying up the halls and instead of being sent to the upper decks, they were told to go to the mid-ship area, their eating and wait there for further instruction.
The story of the sinking of “Titanic” and its connection to Halifax is not one that can be rushed, so I am going to stop here and finish in the next post.
If you would like more detailed information about the Titanic,White Star, the passengers, the crew and the sinking check out
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