SHE was believed to be unsinkable. But in the early hours of April 15 1912 – exactly 100 years ago – the unthinkable befell the Titanic, just four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
Within hours of hitting an iceberg off Cape Race, some 375 miles south of Newfoundland, the luxurious floating hotel slid into the icy waters of the north Atlantic, taking 1,523 passengers and crew to a seabed graveyard. The 705 who escaped in lifeboats – many of them only half full – could only watch as the massive vessel plunged into the freezing depths.
This, one the greatest of all peacetime maritime disasters, pro-vokes a sense of awe and dread even today. Around the globe the name Titanic is synonymous with catastrophe.
Halifax has a special link with that horrifying day in 1912. For it was through the Courier that the ship’s owners, the White Star Line, were alerted to the disaster.
The paper rushed a special edition on to the streets. On reading the news John Sharman, of Carlton Street, Halifax, a frequent Atlantic traveller, telephoned the company’s headquarters in Liverpool, where officials were still unaware of the catastrophe. Initially they were sceptical but soon the reports were confirmed.
As the story unfolded tales of havoc and heroism emerged – such as the ship’s band playing as the ship went down. The band’s leader, 34-year-old Wallace Hartley, of Dewsbury, had many friends in Halifax and had recently appeared, playing the violin, at a performance given by Halifax Choral Society.
He had joined the Titanic only days after ending a stint on the Mauretania and took on the job for the extra money offered. Famously he and his bandmates played on, supposedly ending with the hymn Nearer, my God, to Thee, before leaping into the sea. Hartley’s body was discovered days later and returned to Britain, where he was given a hero’s funeral in Colne, Lancashire, the town of his birth.
The survivors included the fifth officer, Lt H G Lowe, who was related by marriage to Mrs Murgatroyd, whose husband was well known in Halifax through the Murgatroyd and Horsfall jewellery business.
Lt Lowe, aged 29, who had taken charge of a lifeboat, was an important witness at the US Senate Committee’s inquiry into the Titanic in the days after the disaster.
After the collision he had gone to the starboard side of the ship. In a broken voice he described vividly the shrieks and groans in the hour after the ship went down.
However he did not dare approach the “shocking field of dying hum-anity” for fear of the boat’s being swamped. “We were willing to help but we were powerless,” he said.
Among the anxious relatives awaiting news were Mr and Mrs Hudson Wood, of Ladywood Terrace, Pellon, Halifax. Mrs Hudson’s brother, James Walpole, of Southport, was the Titantic’s chief pantryman but his name was not on the list of survivors.
Meanwhile the Turner family of Brighouse, had rec-eived better news. John Henry Turner – better known as “Toffee” Turner – and his wife and son, George, were reported missing for three days. But it transpired that, although they were booked on the voyage, they had not travelled as Mr Turner was involved in a court case over his secret toffee recipe.
But more than 1,500 who did sail on that fateful voyage didn’t live to tell the tale.