A hundred years after she sank with such devastating loss of life, RMS Titanic still continues to fascinate us. But as much as the facts of her untimely, tragic demise seem to captivate our imaginations, it is the myth and legend surrounding Titanic which also keeps us talking.
There are the stories of passengers who were not allowed to board because they failed the Health Inspections. There were passengers who were too drunk to be permitted on board. There was the ‘near miss’ in Southampton as Titanic pulled away from the dockside and nearly collided with another steamer, the New York, which slipped it moorings in the wake caused by Titanic’s mass.
The Titanic, in dock at Southampton, before it set off on its infamous maiden voyage.
There are stories of passengers who shouldn’t have been on Titanic, but survived nevertheless, and stories of others who considered themselves the luckiest people alive to have a ticket for this mighty ship, but who never made it to their intended destinations. But perhaps the strangest of the many mysteries and conspiracies surrounding Titanic are those based in fiction.
Many years before Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage in 1912, several novellas and short stories were written which told, in varying detail, the story of a doomed ocean liner which sinks after colliding with an iceberg in the Atlantic. Could it be possible that the Titanic disaster really was predicted?
As noted in the preface to Walter Lord’s ‘A Night to Remember’:
‘In 1898 a struggling author named Morgan Robertson concocted a novel about a fabulous Atlantic liner, far larger than any that had ever been built. Robertson loaded his ship with rich and complacent people and then wrecked it one cold April night on an iceberg. This somehow showed the futility of everything and, in fact, the book was called Futility when it appeared that year.’
Walter Lord’s ‘A Night To Remember’.
The book was subsequently renamed ‘The Wreck of the Titan’ to draw on the uncanny similarities between its subject matter and the Titanic disaster. But just how similar were the events written as fiction and the events we now know as fact?
- Robertson’s liner is called Titan. It was 66,000 tons, 882.5 feet long and made of triple screws.
- Titanic was 70,000 tons, 800 feet long and made of triple screws.
- Both liners had lifeboats for only a fraction of the passengers and crew and both were labelled ‘unsinkable’.
- The fictional ship was travelling at the exact speed Titanic was travelling when they both hit an iceberg.
But Robertson’s Futility was not the only written work which seemed to predict the Titanic disaster.
In 1886, an English journalist and spiritualist, W. T. Stead, wrote an article in the Pall Mall Gazette titled ‘How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor’ which, again, seemed to echo what would happen to Titanic in later years. Stead’s liner leaves Liverpool, collects passengers in Queenstown, Ireland and is involved in a collision with another ship en route to New York. A lack of lifeboats results in a large loss of life and in the panic caused by the steerage passengers, the Captain of the liner brandishes a revolver to restore order.
By another bizarre twist of fate, Stead was on Titanic and was lost with the ship when she sank on April 15th, reportedly reading quietly in the First Class Smoking Room as she went down.
Newspaper article relaying the death of W. T. Stead.
In 1908, Irish detective writer, M. McDonnell Bodkin wrote ‘The Ship’s Run’ in which RMS Titanic of the Blue Star Line sails from New York to Queenstown. With plans for Titanic’s construction well underway at that time, it is suggested by some that Bodkin may have seen the construction plans and based his fictional ship on Titanic, hence the many similarities.
In 1912, a short story titled ‘The White Ghost of Disaster’ was written by Mayn Clew Garnett (pen name of Thornton Jenkins Hains), telling the account of a liner called Admiral which hits an iceberg and sinks in the North Atlantic. This story, published in Popular Magazine, was on American newsstands at the same time as newspapers reporting the actual Titanic disaster.
They say that fact is stranger than fiction, but in the case of Titanic, it would seem that sometimes fiction becomes fact. Whether you believe in premonition and conspiracy, or whether you put this all down to sheer coincidence, Titanic and the stories surrounding her ill-fated voyage, still keep us wondering and talking one hundred years on.