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Titanic rescue

2 August 2010 by stepheng

old fashioned life jacket

A lifejacket worn by one of the survivors of the Titanic

Looking at things worn on the night of the Titanic disaster sends a shiver down my spine.

The lifejacket (pictured) on display at Merseyside Maritime Museum is particularly evocative when you think what scenes the person wearing it must have witnessed.

There is also the chilling thought that upon entering the icy water you would have floated for a time before dying of cold.

It started out as a routine voyage between New York and the Adriatic and ended as one of the greatest rescues in the history of the sea.

The Cunard liner was not long on her journey when her radio operator contacted another ship with a routine message and received a desperate distress call in return.

The liner was the Carpathia and she sailed as fast as possible to reach the Titanic which sank before she arrived.

All of the Titanic’s 705 survivors and 13 lifeboats that left the stricken ship were picked up by the Carpathia, which was carrying 700 passengers herself. Carpathia’s radio operator Harold Cottam had made radio contact with the doomed liner at 12.30am.

Cottam alerted his captain Arthur Rostron who immediately turned his ship around to race at full speed towards Titanic more than 50 miles away. The first lifeboat carrying survivors was recovered at 4am and the last at 8am.

On display at the museum’s Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress gallery are souvenirs of Carpathia’s dramatic rescue.

They include the lifejacket worn by a survivor and two thole pins (rowlocks) from lifeboat No 9, all obtained by 19-year-old Carpathia crew member Ernest St Clair of Liverpool.

A nameplate from Titanic’s lifeboat no 4 was removed by the Carpathia’s carpenter and given to her young quartermaster J J (Benjamin) Kirkpatrick of Wallasey.

Two brass lifeboat White Star flag emblems were unscrewed by another seaman and mounted on wooden plaques.

An enamel White Star Line notice from about 1910 gives instructions to crews for the launch and use and lifeboats.

Titanic was supplied with 20 lifeboats which could hold just 1,178 people out of a total capacity of 3,547. Although this was within outdated Board of Trade rules, it meant there was no room in the boats for hundreds of other passengers and crew.

There were three types of lifeboat on board – 14 wooden boats, each carrying 65 people, two rescue cutters for 40 people each and four collapsibles that each carried 47.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).

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