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Maritime Tales – after the iceberg

11 June 2007 by stepheng

painting of a large ship sinking at night

Painting of the Titanic sinking. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

The film A Night to Remember about the Titanic disaster was a most unforgettable film for me, Stephen Guy, as a child. The sinking of the Titanic is probably the best-known shipwreck of all – everything went wrong for the supposedly unsinkable super liner in April 1912.

The huge ship never visited Liverpool but she had connections with the great port where she was registered as part of the mighty White Star Line.

The very name Titanic almost shouted defiance to the mighty seas that had claimed so many ships and lives across the centuries. Her construction would ensure that the vessel stayed afloat despite being holed. But her designers could not have foreseen the catastrophic damage that a huge iceberg could inflict on what was, by comparison, a puny mass of wood, metal, rivets and bolts.

The Merseyside Maritime Museum has many fascinating relics of the Titanic in its Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress gallery. A 20-foot long model of the ship is as old as the original Titanic – it was made by the builders Harland & Wolff to promote the great ship.

A white cotton apron tells a remarkable tale. Possibly the only surviving item of clothing worn on the night of the disaster, it belonged to Laura Mabel Francatelli, personal maid and secretary to Lady Lucy Duff Gordon.

They were involved in a notorious incident when they were among just 12 people in a lifeboat – built to hold 65 – which was later dubbed the millionaires’ boat. Those in the lifeboat were criticised for ignoring the cries of hundreds of drowning victims because they feared the lifeboat would be swamped if they tried to pull people out of the bitterly cold sea.

Two gold watches in the museum collections tell another story from that momentous night. They belonged to Thomas and Ada Hewitt from Orrell Park, Liverpool. Thomas was a bedroom steward on Titanic. As the stricken ship lurched towards her doom, he is said to have passed the gold pocket watch to a stewardess. “Please give this to my dear wife,” he urged. She did so. Thomas died along with 1,500 other people on board.

Other items include a lifejacket, personal belongings, parts of the lifeboats, the massive report of the Board of Trade inquiry into the disaster, and the only known surviving firstclass ticket. There is also a list of the Titanic-related archives held by the museum.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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