The Titanic Artifacts Exhibition

This week, I visited a superbly curated exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. It was a display of artifacts, stories and reproductions from the RMS Titanic that famously sank on her maiden voyage when she hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 lost their lives in the disaster. We were lucky to make this visit on one of the last days before this exhibition finished its time in Melbourne.

There were three apects of this exhibition that I found intriguing.

The first thing was the stories of the passengers and crew. As I entered the exhibition, I was given a boarding pass for a Mr Frederick James Banfield, who was a 38 year old mining engineer travelling alone in 2nd class. He was travelling to a new job in Houghton, Michigan after holidaying with his wife in England.

The first class passenger list was a who’s who of famous industrialists and business people. Among them was the White Star Line’s managing director, J. Bruce Ismay, accompanied by Thomas Andrews, the ship’s builder from Harland and Wolff. Then there were people like John Jacob Astor IV, heir to the Astor family fortune, who had made waves a year earlier by marrying 18-year-old Madeleine Talmadge Force, a young woman 29 years his junior, shortly after divorcing his first wife. The elderly owner of Macy’s, Isidor Straus, was accompanied by his wife, Ida. Then there was industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, accompanied by his mistress, valet and chauffeur and widow and heiress Margaret “Molly” Brown.

Images and stories of some of the first class passengers.

For a first class passenger. life on the Titanic was exceptionally grand.  The first class fare cost around $220,000 in today’s money – that’s a lot of money for a six day trip!  Only the extremely wealthy could afford it. It’s rather sad to think that for all their money, the first class passengers only enjoyed their luxury for four days.

A receation of Titanic’s grand staircase

Recreation of a first class cabin

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The First Class Smoking Room

A larger number of second class passenger were on board. Their accommodation was actually more luxurious than first class on other vessels of the day.

Menus for each of the three classes

By far the largest group of passengers was in Third Class: more than 700, exceeding the numbers of the other two levels combined. Some had paid less than $20 to make the crossing. It was Third Class that was the major source of profit for shipping lines like White Star. 

Recreated third class cabin

The most fascinating part for me were the various objects and atifacts that had been retrieved from the wreck at a depth of around 4000 metres. The technology and skill used to locate them and bring them to the surface is quite amazing. Glass, metal, and ceramic items were common among the collections and  paper items much more rarer. The paper or textile items that were recovered survived because they were inside suitcases. The tanned leather of the suitcases tended to protect them.

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First class dinnerware recovered from the wreck at a depth of over 4000 metres

Relics of personal effects

Recovered  first class wash basin

Finally, I was fascinated with some of the details of the ship itself.

One of a new “Olympic” class of liners for the White Star Line, the Titanic measured 882 feet in length and 92.5 feet at her broadest point, making it the largest ship of its time. Work began in March 1909 in the massive Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, and took two years to complete. She was billed as being unsinkable.

The Titanic was the focus of much interest when she departed on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912. After stops in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now known as Cobh), Ireland, the ship set sail for New York.

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The Titanic leaving Southhampton at the start of its voyage

I gather that the Titanic left in a hurry – probably as a consequence of a coal miners strike at the time. She burned 1.5 tonnes of coal for every kilometre travelled and it was difficult to find a sufficient stock of coal.

The captain retired and was asked to return for this trip.

A fire was burning in one of the ships coal bunkers but the Titanic put to sea anyway assuming that it could be exrtinguished en-route. There is some suggestion that the fire weaked the steel plates on the ships hull. 

Binoculars for the lookouts were left behind, reducing their ability to see the surrounding icebergs that were drifting unusually far south because of the cold weather. At about 11:30 pm on April 14, a lookout saw an iceberg coming out of a slight haze dead ahead, rang the warning bell and telephoned the bridge. The engines were quickly reversed and the ship was turned sharply. Instead of making direct impact, Titanic seemed to graze along the side of the ice berg, sprinkling ice fragments on the forward deck. The ship could stay afloat if two of its watertight compartments were flooded, expect that the iceberg ruptured six of them.

Although reports of nearby icebergs were received, the Titanic steamed through the exceptionaly cold weather and reduced visibilty at near full speed.

Even though the number of lifeboats exceeded the number required by regulation, they only had the capacity for half the capacity for the total number of people on board. It was assumed that they wouold only be used to ferry passengers to and from port.

When it was clear that the Titanic would sink, pandemonium began with a disorganized and haphazard evacuation. The first lifeboat was lowered with only 28 people on board although it was designed to hold 65 people. Nearly every lifeboat launched was woefully under-filled, some with only a handful of passengers. During the confusion and chaos during the precious hours before Titanic plunged into the sea, nearly every lifeboat would be launched woefully under-filled, some with only a handful of passengers.

The exhibition had a number of images of the ship.

Image of Titanic’s massive boilers. 176 stokers kept the fires burning

A replica of one of the watertight doors between compartments

Most people are probably aware of the complete story of this famous ship.  If you woiuld like to read a brief history of this fatal voyage, I siuggest the following website:

Near the exit, was a list detailing the fate of all the passengers on the ship. Unfortunately, Frederick James Banfield did not survive. Most likely, he died quickly of hypothermia in the freezing water.

One thought on “The Titanic Artifacts Exhibition”

  1. Sensational blog, we visited the Titanic Museum in Ireland and were impressed.
    Thanks Bruce.

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