The RMS Titanic, named for the Titans, or god-giants of Greek mythology, built by the White Star Line, was the largest (269 m), most luxurious ocean liner of its time. It was touted as unsinkable, but it struck an iceberg early in its maiden voyage and sank, to this day one of the world's worst marine disasters. Lack of adequate lifeboat space, poor evacuation procedures and a slow response to distress signals resulted in new mandatory safety rules and the formation of the International Ice Patrol.
Titanic's Fateful Voyage
The Titanic left Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912 to great fanfare. The ship stopped at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now Cobb), Ireland, and then set sail for New York with 2200 passengers and crew. At 11:40 PM on Sunday, 14 April, the ship struck an iceberg. The ship sent out a distress call at 12:15 AM, noting its location as Lat. 41.46 N, Long. 50.14 W. The nearest ship was the Cunard Liner RMS Carpathia, 93 km away. At full speed it took nearly four hours for the Carpathia to reach the site to find that the unsinkable Titanic had gone down in only two hours and 40 minutes. The Carpathia managed to rescue more than 700 people. More than 1500 people were lost, including the captain, Edward Smith, and Canadian railway tycoon Charles Melville Hays.
Titanic's Halifax Connection
On Wednesday, 17 April, the day before the Carpathia arrived in New York, the White Star Line began retrieval efforts by dispatching four Canadian vessels to begin the search for bodies. Among them were the Halifax-based CS Mackay-Bennett, which recovered 306 bodies (116 had to be buried at sea); the CS Minia, which had been at sea when the Titanic sank but returned to Halifax to re-supply before sailing to the disaster site on 22 April and finding only 17 bodies (two were buried at sea); the CGS Montgomery, which left Halifax on 6 May and found four bodies (one was buried at sea); and the SS Algerine, which sailed from St Johns, NL, and retrieved only one body.
The remains were taken to Halifax and delivered at the Coal or Flagship Wharf and then taken by horse-drawn hearses to a temporary morgue established at the Mayflower Curling Rink. Only 59 of the recovered victims were delivered to their families; the remaining bodies were interred in Halifax cemeteries between 3 May and 12 June, with burial services held at St. Mary's Cathedral, Brunswick Street Methodist Church, St. George's Church and All Saint's Cathedral. The headstones, matching, plain granite blocks, of the unidentified Titanic victims were purchased by the White Star Line, although in some cases relatives, friends or various organizations commissioned larger monuments. The more personalized graves are at Fairview Lawn Cemetery.
Discovering the Wreck of the Titanic
After numerous attempts to find the Titanic, an American-French expedition culminated in the discovery of the wreck on 1 September 1985, 73 years after its sinking, 590 km southeast of Newfoundland at 3810 m depth in an undersea canyon. Four days of unmanned dives with sophisticated camera and diving equipment, followed by 11 manned dives a year later, showed extensive rust in stalactite-like "rusticles," deterioration of wood by shipworms and colonization by sea life, but many artifacts remained intact. Research showed that an alleged 91 m gash did not exist, but the ship had split in two and hull and stern were 549 m apart.
Titanic exploration allowed scientists to test sophisticated submersible sonar and camera equipment developed by numerous researchers, including Canadian Joseph MacInnis, who also took part in the expedition in 1987 in which a container was salvaged from the wreck. Salvage efforts have continued subsequently. Among them was the 1998 expedition, from 30 July to 31 August, in which a section of the hull and a gangway door were retrieved.
The 1998 expedition was led by Bill Garzke and David Livingstone aboard the Ocean Voyager, which set sail from Boston Harbour. Three other ships joined them in the expedition – Nadir, Abeille Supporter and Petrel 5.
Lying 16 km from the Titanic's wreck site, 3300 m beneath the surface, was the section Titanic explorers call the "Big Piece," a 22-ton, 7.5 m by 3.9 m piece of the hull. Retrieval of the section had been attempted before by George Tulloch in 1996. Tulloch, aboard the Nadir, successfully retrieved the Big Piece on 10 August, using 2 huge lift bags filled with lighter-than-water diesel fuel and a winch. The retrieved piece was made of steel plates striped with strong vertical steel beams and had 4 portholes as well as portions of 2 others. The manufacturer's marking was still clearly visible on the brass fittings on the portholes: "Utley's Patent #11.126-1908."
On 28 August a gangway door was retrieved from the main wreckage site. It was in the open position in the ship's hull, most likely having been opened to allow passengers to escape to the lifeboats. The expedition explored parts of the ship with a small remote-operated camera and, through a complicated connection of computers and television cameras, transmitted images from the wreckage via satellite to the world.
Dr. D. Roy Cullimore, a microbiologist, placed samples of 15 different types of steel under the Titanic's engines, where they were to remain for at least a year. He studied the ship's "rusticles," which are unusual biological formations, consortiums of various microbes growing and co-operating in ways not seen on land. Cullimore estimated that the wreck loses one-tenth of a ton every day to the iron-eating rusticles and that the ship will eventually suffer a biological implosion and collapse.
In 1995 and again in 2001, Canadian film director and explorer James Cameron made expeditions to the wreck of the Titanic. The first voyage was mounted to film the wreck for the opening sequences of the movie he planned to make. He used ground-breaking remotely operated vehicle (ROV) technology. His second voyage, to film the wreck in high-definition digital 3D, captured the exterior of the bow and stern sections and used new state-of-the-art mini ROVs to explore further into the interior than had been possible before.
The Titanic Remembered
Artifacts recovered from the Titanic are several and mostly small, comprising dishes, deck chairs, bits of woodwork, and personal items like shoes. They were recovered soon after the sinking as they floated on the ocean, or were brought to the surface by expeditions conducted generations later. Many are held at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, in Halifax.
Several novels, including one from the viewpoint of the iceberg by Canadian oceanographer-ornithologist R.G.B. Brown, and the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown, were inspired by the tragedy, as was E.J. Pratt's long narrative poem, The Titanic. There have been several documentaries, exhibits, songs and movies made of the event, including James Cameron's Titanic, which was a blockbuster hit in 1997. Cameron resurrected his hit movie in 3-D in 2012, in time for the centennial of the ship's sinking. Canada Post also published a series of stamps to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.