Titanic pulled away from White Star Dock in Southampton, England, at the start of her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Five days later, in the early hours of April 15, she sank after striking an iceberg.
Of the 1,578 men, women and children who lost their lives in the icy North Atlantic, 548 were crew members—one third of the total casualties. And most of Titanic’s crew lived in the Southampton area. When the ship went down, hundreds of households in the city lost at least one family member leaving behind widows, widowers, orphans, mourning parents and siblings.
For days, after word reached Southampton of the Titanic tragedy, crowds of relatives gathered outside the White Star offices waiting for names of survivors to be released. The first lists were posted on April 17.
Local newspapers were filled with condolence notices and on April 20 a memorial service was held at St Mary’s Church. Surviving crew members returning to Southampton were met by crowds and welcomed by Mayor Henry Bowyer and White Star Line Manager Philip Curry. Seven hundred and twenty three crew members sailed on Titanic; only 175 returned home.
A City Remembers
For a century, Southampton has remembered the Titanic crew with memorials and, most notably, oral history by the surviving crew members and artifacts from Southampton’s crew members who perished.
When Southampton opened its first public museum in 1912, one of the first gifts was Titanic Captain John Edward Smith’s Royal Naval Reserve dress sword, presented by his widow Eleanor. Over the years many items were given to the city, mainly relating to crew members. These items were displayed at the Maritime Museum.
Now the Titanic displays will be moved to a new museum—the Sea City Museum—which is scheduled to open in time for the Titanic sinking centennial.
“Southampton was the home of the Titanic, so it is only fitting that we tell our story,” says John Hannides, the city counselor responsible for culture and heritage. “The impact was felt right across the world, but nowhere more so than here.”
The new museum, just as the original Maritime Museum did, will explain how Southampton was thrown into deep mourning by the tragedy. To families, the loss of relatives in the disaster was financially devastating as well. A Relief Fund was set up to aid the widows, orphans and dependent relatives of those who died in the sinking. Local people arranged concerts, sports days and other charity events to contribute to the fund, which helped families to pay school fees, medical bills, apprenticeship fees and for necessities including food.
On display will be many of the 4,000 artifacts from the disaster that the city has gathered over the years: plates and cutlery, letters and menu cards, and fragments gathered from the seabed after the wreckage was finally located in 1985.
Also featured will be recordings of the recollections by about seventy survivors describing their excitement at the sight of the new ship in the docks, passengers’ boarding and the near-collision with the New York as Titanic left the docks.
As the story unfolds, the interviewees describe the ship striking the iceberg and the events that followed—the launch of the lifeboats and the hours on the lifeboats until rescue by the Carpathia at dawn.
Southampton residents interviewed also recall those who lost family and friends and the effect it had on their lives.
The £28 million ($43 million) museum will include a climb-aboard replica of the doomed liner and visitors will experience life from the perspective of the crew. They will relive the day the liner left Southampton’s docks, life on board, the subsequent inquiry and discovery of the wreckage.
If you go:
The Maritime Museum closed in September while its historic exhibits are moved to the new Sea City Museum which is scheduled to open in April 2012.
There also are several memorials relating to the Titanic in Southampton including the Engineers’ Memorial, erected in 1914 in East Park; and a crew memorial erected in 1915, now in Holyrood Church.
The local tourism bureau offers a self-guided Titanic Trail walking tour. The trail takes visitors to some of the memorials and locations associated with Titanic.