Today, the 15th of April 2022, marks the 110th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic.
In 2013, I gave a Pecha Kucha talk in the Titanic museum after the CSIT security conference on the role of the wireless telegraph during the disaster. It’s both a good and bad story – it highlights the many (many!) failings, but it also demonstrated the benefits of wireless communications during a disaster.
Just to give you a flavour of the multitude of things that went wrong or contributed to the sinking – the locker in the crows nest that held the binoculars was locked and inaccessible due to an officer leaving the ship in Southampton on the 9th of April and taking the key with him. This was seen as a contributing factor to the disaster.
I’ve posted the script with the images from the talk below (with some small additions).
The Role of the Wireless Telegraph During the Titanic Disaster – David Rogers Pecha Kucha talk
This is the last picture taken of the Titanic as it left Queenstown. The priest who took it could have stayed on board, but after seeking permission his superior sent him a telegram ordering him to “GET OFF THAT SHIP”. He spent the rest of his life telling people “it was the only time holy obedience ever saved a man’s life”.
Marconi and the telegraph
These two gentlemen were Titanic’s telegraph operators. John “Jack” Phillips, 25, known as sparks because he could send morse so fast, and Harold Bride, his junior who was just 22.
Messages would include getting the news, passenger’s personal messages and information from other ships such as ice reports, fog and reports of derelicts.
Additional note here: the plan below (I took the photo in the Titanic museum in Belfast) shows where the Marconi room was in relation to the bridge:
Leaving the Titanic
Arrival in New York
Sale of the story
Reporting the sinking
Some additional thoughts
I really recommend visiting the Titanic Museum in Belfast, it is really well done and incredibly interesting both for learning about the tragic events of the 14/15th of April 1912 and also the social and engineering history behind Titanic and its passengers. They also have a section on the telegraph messages that night too.
I also highly recommend visiting the Titanic Exhibition in Las Vegas at the Luxor. I couldn’t take any pictures inside the exhibition, but it is really something else – a lot of recovered artefacts including a huge part of the side of the ship give a real insight into what it was like, again well worth a visit if you’re in Vegas.
Last, but definitely not least is the book ‘Titanic Calling: Wireless Communications During the Great Disaster‘, edited by Michael Hughes and Katherine Bosworth, and published by the Bodleian Library in Oxford which is where the Marconi archive lives. This was published to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster and is an incredible insight into all of the communications between the different ships.
Here’s my tea cup from dinner at the Titanic Museum in Belfast.