Disbelief as news of Titanic tragedy emerged

How the Northern Daily Mail reported the sinking

How the Northern Daily Mail reported the sinking

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TODAY the first images would travel around the world within minutes.

Yet there was no such thing as camera phones a century ago.

File photo c1912 of the "unsinkable" four-funnelled ship the RMS Titanic. Passengers and crew of the Titanic ignored a number of maritime superstitions when the ship made its ill-fated maiden voyage, new data analysis has found. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday April 5, 2012. Sailing myths, including the negative presence of women, priests and barbers on board the ship, were ignored, according to family history website findmypast.co.uk. Superstitious sailors would have been horrified to discover there were 353 female passengers, three barbers, four priests and a monk on board. See PA story SEA Titanic. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

File photo c1912 of the "unsinkable" four-funnelled ship the RMS Titanic. Passengers and crew of the Titanic ignored a number of maritime superstitions when the ship made its ill-fated maiden voyage, new data analysis has found. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday April 5, 2012. Sailing myths, including the negative presence of women, priests and barbers on board the ship, were ignored, according to family history website findmypast.co.uk. Superstitious sailors would have been horrified to discover there were 353 female passengers, three barbers, four priests and a monk on board. See PA story SEA Titanic. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

When the Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, it took hours for news to be relayed back across the Atlanic to England.

With another six hours time difference to take into account, first reports of the disaster eventually made the 6pm edition of the Northern Daily Mail, as the Hartlepool Mail was then known, and were greeted with disbelief.

The £1.5m steamer, built to cater for the increased demand in luxury travel, had been branded “practically unsinkable” by owner the White Star Line.

Yet one iceberg later and the 900ft-long vessel plunged within three hours to a watery grave some 375 miles off the Newfoundland coast.

“Huge liner in collision” was the main headline on the back page of the Mail.

Details were still sketchy with rescue ship the Virginian not expected to reach the stricken liner until 10am North American time.

There were even confused reports that all 2,200 or so passengers and crew had been successfully taken off the vessel.

The Mail wrote: “The Montreal Star reports from Halifax that the Titanic is still afloat and is making her way slowly to Halifax.”

By the following day the situation was tragically far clearer.

“Great liner founders” and “Feared heavy loss of life” were among the headlines on Page 3 of the paper in an era when front pages were predominantly taken up with adverts.

A third headline read “Only 863 of those aboard known to be safe”.

Immediately underneath the Mail observed: “The belief which was entertained that there had been no loss of life through the disaster to the Titanic was doomed to disappointment and it now seems beyond doubt that the disaster has been one of tremendous magnitude.”

At least 1,500 people died on Titanic.

An exact figure is still impossible to determine with varying estimates including at least two stowaways.

Even the number of survivors had to be drastically revised to around 700 with many of those originally saved later dying from injuries or pneumonia before reaching hospital.

The Mail glumly wrote: “There was a popular impression that these huge liners were practically unsinkable.

“But this illusion has been dispelled by the fate of the Titanic.”

Another misconception to this day is that the collision took place after a treacherous winter. Quite the opposite.

The winter of 1911-12 had been unusually mild and it was the higher than expected temperatures that had weakened the Arctic ice sheet and sent giant icebergs drifting south into Atlantic shipping lanes.

Once again it is impossible to say for certain how large the offending item was.

Most estimates agree on at least 200ft long and 50ft wide with a speed of at nearly three feet an hour.

Other factors, of course, also played their part in what the Mail dubbed “an unprecedented catastrophe”.

Official inquiries held both sides of the Atlantic later identified weaknesses in the ship’s hull and bulkheads.

Lifeboat cover for less than a third of the Titanic’s 3,547-person capacity was also highlighted.

Yet such was the rapid growth in the size of ships at the start of the 20th Century that the liner’s provision still outstripped legal requirements.

The lack of lifeboat cover also explains how many victims, resigned to their fate, quietly drank or read books amid the mayhem around them.

While the inquiries sought explanation, those that did escape now sought help of a different nature.

The Lord Mayor of London opened an appeal to help both survivors and the families of those who had perished.

With women and children first on to the majority of lifeboats, many were left without husbands or fathers and the means to rebuild their lives.

Hartlepool, as is the case today, was quick to answer the call with a number of fundraising events held across town.

Typical was the “gigantic charity matinee”, as advertised on the front page of our April 22 paper, held at the West Hartlepool Empire.

Included was the command: “Ladies, kindly see to it there are no empty seats for so worthy an object.”

“Artistes”, as they were then known, travelled from as far away as Leeds to support the occasion.

Donations would continue locally for weeks.

Hartlepool, given its proud seafaring traditions, perhaps felt more of a connection than most with those tumultuous events some 3,000 miles away.