Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Titanic Centenary

As a boy I had quite an interest in all things related to the Titanic and its sinking. It was a fascination, really, and it probably began with my viewing on TV of the 1958 film A Night to Remember, sometime in the early 1970s. Soon after, as either a birthday or Christmas present, I received the illustrated edition of the book by Walter Lord upon which the film is based and named after.

At around the same time, the sinking of the Titanic was featured in the popular television series Upstairs Downstairs, with the beautiful and stately Lady Marjorie Bellamy (left) going down with the ship! The sinking of the Titanic is never actually shown, but its loss is hauntingly described by Miss Roberts, Lady Marjorie's maid, who survived the disaster.

"But we must go back for m'Lady!"

As a teenager, I was for several years a member of the Titanic Historical Society, and through its publications and other sources I became familiar with all kinds of interesting facts about the ship and its tragic loss. Did you know, for instance, that the Titanic had two sister ships? They were the Olympic (pictured at right with the Titanic) and the Britannic. Interestingly, the latter never saw commercial service as it was launched on the eve of World War One and immediately converted and put into service as a hospital ship. On November 21, 1916, it struck a mine in the Aegean Sea and sunk with a loss of 30 lives.

Above: The sinking of the Britannic.

With my Dad's help I built a model of the Titanic when I was in high school. It went with me to college (left) and then on to Goulburn, where I lived and taught as an elementary school teacher for six years before relocating to the U.S. in 1994.

Of course, when teaching in Goulburn I developed and taught a unit of work on the Titanic which my students found of great interest.

Above: Jason and Ben with the model of the Titanic they constructed in 1992.

By that time (1988-1993) the wreck of the Titanic had been found (right), and, no, it looked nothing like its depiction in the fanciful 1980 film
Raise the Titanic (below).

I remember buying Robert Ballard's book The Discovery of the Titanic, reading it with great interest, and keeping it on my bookshelf alongside my old copy of A Night to Remember!

Strange as it may sound, James Cameron's popular 1997 film Titanic never really did it for me. For a start, Leonardo DiCaprio is hopelessly miscast as Jack, and the film's overall depiction of class divisions is cliched and simplistic. But the really big issue I have with the film is its false portrayal of First Officer William Murdoch (left). In one scene in Cameron's film, Murdoch is depicted panicking and shooting two people when a group of passengers rush a lifeboat. He's then shown turning his pistol on himself and committing suicide! There's absolutely no evidence that any of this happened.

What can be said about Murdoch's actions and conduct during the last hours of the Titanic is this: Shortly after the ship's collision with the iceberg he was put in charge of the starboard evacuation during which he launched ten lifeboats, containing almost 75% of the total number who survived. He was last seen attempting to launch a collapsible lifeboat. He was never seen again after the Titanic disappeared beneath the cold waters of the Atlantic, and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

I must admit it bugs me that, to this day, whenever Cameron is praised for his "attention to detail" in the making of Titanic, he's never challenged or critiqued about his film's depiction of Murdoch. With the recent 3D release of Titanic, Cameron could have easily had cut that scene from the film. Instead, he changed another scene so that the night sky was more accurately depicted!

Anyway, given my history with the subject, I thought it appropriate to acknowledge the fact that today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and to share here at The Wild Reed the following links.

Prayers and Silence Mark Titanic Centenary – Jill Lawless and Lefteris Pitarkis (Associated Press, April 15, 2012).

Historic Titanic Pictures Give Glimpse Into Life Aboard Doomed Ship The Huffington Post (April 13, 2012).

Titanic Anniversary: Ship's Gay Passengers Revealed In New Research The Huffington Post, April 13, 2012).

Gays on the Titanic The Closet Professor (April 16, 2012).

World's Largest RMS Titanic Museum Opens in Belfast – Randolph Jonsson (, April 5, 2012).

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Embraces Its Titanic Connection At Last – Raymond M. Lane (Washington Post, April 13, 2012).

William Murdoch's Great Nephew Lays Flowers at His Grave – Matthew Taylor (ITV News, April 14, 2012).

Titanic Photo Shows Evidence of Human Remains – Claudine Zap (The Upshot, April 16, 2012).

James Cameron's Titanic as a "Body-Guy" Film The Leveret (April 15, 2012).

Titanic 3D and the Limits of Artistic License - Edward Tenner (The Atlantic, April 13, 2012).

Titanic and the 1% - Edward Tenner (The American, April 6, 2012).

What Happened to the Iceberg That Sank the Titanic? - Alasdair Wilkins (Wired Science, April 16, 2012).

Titanic Universe – RMS Titanic Facts and Information

Titanic: 100 Years National Geographic, April 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Commemorating My Grandfather, Aub Bayly, and the Loss of AHS Centaur

1 comment:

Gail said...

I remember sitting in the back of the room at UTS watching you draw amazingly detailed tiny drawings of the ship. Cameron should have checked with you on details.