Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters, The



THE origin of travel on water dates back to a very early period in human history, men beginning with the log, the inflated skin, the dug-out canoe, and upwards through various methods of flotation; while the paddle, the oar, and finally the sail served as means of propulsion. This was for inland water travel, and many centuries passed before the navigation of the sea was dreamed of by adventurous mariners.

The paintings and sculptures of early Egypt show us boats built of sawn planks, regularly constructed and moved both by oars and sails. At a later period we read of the Phoenicians, the most daring and enterprising of ancient navigators, who braved the dangers of the open sea, and are said by Herodotus to have circumnavigated Africa as early as 604 B. C. Starting from the Red Sea, they followed the east coast, rounded the Cape, and sailed north along the west coast to the Mediterranean, reaching Egypt again in the third year of this enterprise.

The Carthaginians and Romans come next in the history of shipbuilding, confining themselves chiefly to the Mediterranean, and using oars as the principal means of propulsion. Their galleys ranged from one to five banks of oars. The Roman vessels in the first Punic war were over 100 feet long and had 300 rowers, while they carried 120 soldiers. They did not use sails until about the beginning of the fourteenth century B. C.

Portugal was the first nation to engage in voyages of discovery, using vessels of small size in these adventurous journeys. Spain, which soon became her rival in this field, built larger ships and long held the lead. Yet the ships with which Columbus made the discovery of America were of a size and character in which few sailors of the present day would care to venture far from land.

England was later in coming into the field of adventurous navigation, being surpassed not only by the Portuguese and Spanish, but by the Dutch, in ventures to far lands.

Europe long held the precedence in shipbuilding and enterprise in navigation, but the shores of America had not long been settled before the venturous colonists had ships upon the seas. The first of these was built at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine. This was a staunch little two-masted vessel, which was named the Virginia, supposed to have been about sixty feet long and seventeen feet in beam. Next in time came the Restless, built in 1614 or 1615 at New York, by Adrian Blok, a Dutch captain whose ships had been burned while lying at Manhattan Island. This vessel, thirty-eight feet long and of eleven feet beam, was employed for several years in exploring the Atlantic coast.

With the advent of the nineteenth century a new ideal in naval architecture arose, that of the ship moved by steam-power instead of wind-power, and fitted to combat with the seas alike in storm and calm, with little heed as to whether the wind was fair or foul. The steamship appeared, and grew in size and power until such giants of the wave as the Titanic and Olympic were set afloat. To the development of this modern class of ships our attention must now be turned.

As the reckless cowboy of the West is fast becoming a thing of the past, so is the daring seaman of fame and story. In his place is coming a class of men miscalled sailors, who never reefed a sail or coiled a cable, who do not know how to launch a life-boat or pull an oar, and in whose career we meet the ridiculous episode of the life-boats of the Titanic, where women were obliged to take the oars from their hands and row the boats. Thus has the old-time hero of the waves been transformed into one fitted to serve as a clown of the vaudeville stage.

The advent of steam navigation came early in the nineteenth century, though interesting steps in this direction were taken earlier. No sooner was the steam-engine developed than men began to speculate on it as a moving power on sea and land. Early among these were several Americans, Oliver Evans, one of the first to project steam railway travel, and James Rumsey and John Fitch, steamboat inventors of early date. There were several experimenters in Europe also, but the first to produce a practical steamboat was Robert Fulton, a native of Pennsylvania, whose successful boat; the Clermont, made its maiden trip up the Hudson in 1807. A crude affair was the Clermont, with a top speed of about seven miles an hour; but it was the dwarf from which the giant steamers of to-day have grown.

Boats of this type quickly made their way over the American rivers and before 1820 regular lines of steamboats were running between England and Ireland. In 1817 James Watt, the inventor of the practical steam-engine, crossed in a steamer from England to Belgium. But these short voyages were far surpassed by an American enterprise, that of the first ocean steamship, the Savannah, which crossed the Atlantic from Savannah to Liverpool in 1819.

Twelve years passed before this enterprise was repeated, the next steam voyage being in 1831, when the Royal William crossed from Quebec to England. She used coal for fuel, having utilized her entire hold to store enough for the voyage. The Savannah had burned pitch-pine under her engines, for in America wood was long used as fuel for steam-making purposes. As regards this matter, the problem of fuel was of leading importance, and it was seriously questioned if a ship could be built to cross the Atlantic depending solely upon steam power. Steam-engines in those days were not very economical, needing four or five times as much fuel for the same power as the engines of recent date.

It was not until 1838 that the problem was solved. On April 23d of that year a most significant event took place. Two steamships dropped anchor in the harbor of New York, the Sirius and the Great Western. Both of these had made the entire voyage under steam, the Sirius, in eighteen and a half and the Great Western in fourteen and a half days, measuring from Queenstown. The Sirius had taken on board 450 tons of coal, but all this was burned by the time Sandy Hook was reached, and she had to burn her spare spars and forty-three barrels of rosin to make her way up the bay. The Great Western, on the contrary, had coal to spare.

Two innovations in shipbuilding were soon introduced. These were the building of iron instead of wooden ships and the replacing of the paddle wheel by the screw propeller. The screw-propeller was first successfully introduced by the famous Swede, John Ericsson, in 1835. His propeller was tried in a small vessel, forty-five feet long and eight wide, which was driven at the rate of ten miles an hour, and towed a large packet ship at fair speed. Ericsson, not being appreciated in England, came to America to experiment. Other inventors were also at work in the same line.

Their experiments attracted the attention of Isambard Brunel, one of the greatest engineers of the period, who was then engaged in building a large paddle-wheel steamer, the Great Britain. Appreciating the new idea, he had the engines of the new ship changed and a screw propeller introduced. This ship, a great one for the time, 322 feet long and of 3443 tons, made her first voyage from Liverpool to New York in 1845, her average speed being 12 1/4 knots an hour, the length of the voyage 14 days and 21 hours.

By the date named the crossing of the Atlantic by steamships had become a common event. In 1840 the British and Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was organized, its chief promoter being Samuel Cunard, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, whose name has long been attached to this famous line.

The first fleet of the Cunard Line comprised four vessels, the Britannia, Acadia, Caledonia and Columbia. The Unicorn, sent out by this company as a pioneer, entered Boston harbor on June 2, 1840, being the first steamship from Europe to reach that port. Regular trips began with the Britannia, which left Liverpool on July 4, 1840. For a number of years later this line enjoyed a practical monopoly of the steam carrying trade between England and the United States. Then other companies came into the field, chief among them being the Collins Line, started in 1849, and of short duration, and the Inman Line, instituted in 1850.

We should say something here of the comforts and conveniences provided for the passengers on these early lines. They differed strikingly from those on the leviathans of recent travel and were little, if any, superior to those on the packet ships, the active rivals at that date of the steamers. Then there were none of the comfortable smoking rooms, well-filled libraries, drawing rooms, electric lights, and other modern improvements. The saloons and staterooms were in the extreme after part of the vessel, but the stateroom of that day was little more than a closet, with two berths, one above the other, and very little standing room between these and the wall. By paying nearly double fare a passenger might secure a room for himself, but the room given him did not compare well even with that of small and unpretentious modern steamers.

Other ocean steamship companies gradually arose, some of which are still in existence. But no especial change in ship-building was introduced until 1870, when the Oceanic Company, now known as the White Star Line, built the Britannic and Germanic. These were the largest of its early ships. They were 468 feet long and 35 feet wide, constituting a new type of extreme length as compared with their width. In the first White Star ship, the Oceanic, the improvements above mentioned were introduced, the saloons and staterooms being brought as near as possible to the center of the ship. All the principal lines built since that date have followed this example, thus adding much to the comfort of the first-class passengers.

Speed and economy in power also became features of importance, the tubular boiler and the compound engine being introduced. These have developed into the cylindrical, multitubular boiler and the triple expansion engine, in which a greater percentage of the power of the steam is utilized and four or five times the work obtained from coal over that of the old system. The side-wheel was continued in use in the older ships until this period, but after 1870 it disappeared.

It has been said that the life of iron ships, barring disasters at sea, is unlimited, that they cannot wear out. This statement has not been tested, but the fact remains that the older passenger ships have gone out of service and that steel has now taken the place of iron, as lighter and more durable.

Something should also be said here of the steam turbine engine, recently introduced in some of the greatest liners, and of proven value in several particulars, an important one of these being the doing away with the vibration, an inseparable accompaniment of the old style engines. The Olympic and Titanic engines were a combination of the turbine and reciprocating types. In regard to the driving power, one of the recent introductions is that of the multiple propeller. The twin screw was first applied in the City of New York, of the Inman line, and enabled her to make in 1890 an average speed of a little over six days from New York to Queenstown. The best record up to October, 1891, was that of the Teutonic, of five days, sixteen hours, and thirty minutes. Triple-screw propellers have since then been introduced in some of the greater ships, and the record speed has been cut down to the four days and ten hours of the Lusitania in 1908 and the four days, six hours and forty-one minutes of the Mauretania in 1910.

The Titanic was not built especially for speed, but in every other way she was the master product of the shipbuilders' art. Progress through the centuries has been steady, and perhaps the twentieth century will prepare a vessel that will be unsinkable as well as magnificent. Until the fatal accident the Titanic and Olympic were considered the last words on ship-building; but much may still remain to be spoken.



THE fact that there are any survivors of the Titanic left to tell the story of the terrible catastrophe is only another of the hundreds of instances on record of the value of wireless telegraphy in saving life on shipboard. Without Marconi's invention it is altogether probable that the world would never have known of the nature of the Titanic's fate, for it is only barely within the realm of possibility that any of the Titanic's passengers' poorly clad, without proper provisions of food and water, and exposed in the open boats to the frigid weather, would have survived long enough to have been picked up by a transatlantic liner in ignorance of the accident to the Titanic.

Speaking (since the Titanic disaster) of the part which wireless telegraphy has played in the salvation of distressed ships, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of this wonderful science, has said:

"Fifteen years ago the curvature of the earth was looked upon as the one great obstacle to wireless telegraphy. By various experiments in the Isle of Wight and at St. John's I finally succeeded in sending the letter S 2000 miles.

"We have since found that the fog and the dull skies in the vicinity of England are exceptionally favorable for wireless telegraphy."

Then the inventor told of wireless messages being transmitted 2500 miles across the Abyssinian desert, and of preparation for similar achievements.

"The one necessary requirement for continued success is that governments keep from being enveloped in political red tape," said he.

"The fact that a message can be flashed across the wide expanse of ocean in ten minutes has exceeded my fondest expectations. Some idea of the progress made may be had by citing the fact that in eleven years the range of wireless telegraphy has increased from 200 to 3000 miles.

"Not once has wireless telegraphy failed in calling and securing help on the high seas. A recognition of this is shown in the attitude of the United States Government in compelling all passenger-carrying vessels entering our ports to be equipped with wireless apparatus."

Of the Titanic tragedy, Marconi said:

"I know you will all understand when I say that I entertain a deep feeling of gratitude because of the fact that wireless telegraphy has again contributed to the saving of life."


One of the most essential factors in making ships safe is the construction of proper bulkheads to divide a ship into water-tight compartments in case of injury to her hull. Of the modern means of forming such compartments, and of the complete and automatic devices for operating the watertight doors which connect them, a full explanation has already been given in the description of the Titanic's physical features, to which the reader is referred. A wise precaution usually taken in the case of twin and triple screw ships is to arrange the bulkheads so that each engine is in a separate compartment, as is also each boiler or bank of boilers and each coal bunker.


Then there are submarine signals to tell of near-by vessels or shores. This signal arrangement includes a small tank on either side of the vessel, just below the water line. Within each is a microphone with wires leading to the bridge. If the vessel is near any other or approaching shore, the sounds; conveyed through the water from the distant object are heard through the receiver of the microphone. These arrangements are called the ship's ears, and whether the sounds come from one side of the vessel or the other, the officers can tell the location of the shore or ship near by. If both ears record, the object is ahead.


The construction of life-boats adapts them for very rough weather. The chief essentials, of course, are ease in launching, strength in withstanding rough water and bumping when beached; also strength to withstand striking against wreckage or a ship's side; carrying capacity and lightness. Those carried on board ship are lighter than those used in life-saving service on shore. Safety is provided by air-tight tanks which insure buoyancy in case the boat is filled with water. They have also self-righting power in case of being overturned; likewise self-emptying power. Life-boats are usually of the whaleboat type, with copper air-tight tanks along the side beneath the thwarts, and in the ends.

Life-boats range from twenty-four to thirty feet in length and carry from thirty to sixty persons. The rafts carry from twenty to forty persons. The old-fashioned round bar davits can be got for $100 to $150 a set. The new style davits, quick launchers in type, come as low as $400 a set.

According to some naval constructors, an ocean steamship can carry in davits enough boats to take care of all the passengers and crew, it being simply a question as to whether the steamship owners are willing to take up that much deck room which otherwise would be used for lounging chairs or for a promenade.

Nowadays all life-boats are equipped with air tanks to prevent sinking, with the result that metal boats are as unsinkable as wooden ones. The metal boats are considered in the United States Navy as superior to wooden ones, for several reasons: They do not break or collapse; they do not, in consequence of long storage on deck, open at the seams and thereby spring a leak; and they are not eaten by bugs, as is the case with wooden boats.

Comparatively few of the transatlantic steamships have adopted metal life-boats. Most of the boats are of wood, according to the official United States Government record of inspection. The records show that a considerable proportion of the entire number of so-called "life-boats" carried by Atlantic Ocean liners are not actually life-boats at all, but simply open boats, without air tanks or other special equipment or construction.


Life-rafts are of several kinds. They are commonly used on large passenger steamers where it is difficult to carry sufficient life-boats. In most cases they consist of two or more hollow metal or inflated rubber floats which support a wooden deck. The small rafts are supplied with life-lines and oars, and the larger ones with life-lines only, or with life-lines and sails.

The collapsible feature of the Chambers raft consists of canvas-covered steel frames extending up twenty-five inches from the sides to prevent passengers from being pitched off. When the rafts are not in use these side frames are folded down on the raft.

The collapsible rafts are favored by the ship-owners because such boats take up less room; they do not have to be carried in the davits, and they can be stowed to any number required. Some of the German lines stack their collapsible rafts one above another on deck.


Lewis Nixon, the well-known ship designer, suggests the construction of a pontoon to be carried on the after end of the vessel and to be made of sectional air-tight compartments. One compartment would accommodate the wireless outfit. Another compartment would hold drinking water, and still another would be filled with food.

The pontoon would follow the line of the ship and seem to be a part of it. The means for releasing it before the sinking of the vessel present no mechanical problem. It would be too large and too buoyant to be sucked down with the wreck.

The pontoon would accommodate, not comfortably but safely, all those who failed to find room in the life-boats.

It is Mr. Nixon's plan to instal a gas engine in one of the compartments. With this engine the wireless instrument would remain in commission and direct the rescuers after the ship itself had gone down.


Life-preservers are chiefly of the belt or jacket type, made to fit about the body and rendered buoyant by slabs of cork sewed into the garment, or by rubber-lined air-bags. The use of cork is usually considered preferable, as the inflated articles are liable to injury, and jackets are preferable to belts as they can be put on more quickly.

Life-buoys are of several types, but those most common are of the ring type, varying in size from the small one designed to be thrown by hand to the large hollow metal buoy capable of supporting several people. The latter are usually carried by sea-going vessels and are fitted with lamps which are automatically lighted when the buoy is dropped into the water.


American ocean-going steamers are required to have some approved means of firing lines to the shore. Cunningham rockets and the Hunt gun are largely used. The inaccuracy of the rocket is of less importance when fired from a ship than when fired from shore.

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