Quiet hero of the Titanic disaster

In  a few weeks, my family and I will once again he heading off for a holiday in the English countryside.

Titanic survivors being picked by Carpathia

Titanic survivors being picked by Carpathia

We’ll pick up our Hertz Car at London’s Heathrow Airport and drive south to my home town of Southampton on the south coast. We always use Hertz as they have over the years proven to be the most reliable of all the car rental companies.

In Southampton it’s difficult to escape the Titanic for it was from there in 1912 that the world’s most luxurious liner left on her ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic. She struck an ice berg and went down on 15 April 1912, leaving more than 1,500 people dead. The ship had been vaunted as “unsinkable.”

Most of the crew who perished came from Southampton.

The story of the doomed voyage is well known, but less known is the role of a Southampton master mariner whose expertise saved more than 700 passengers and crew from almost certain death.

Sir Arthur Rostron was in command of the Cunard Line ship, RMS Carpathia. She was very much a down-to-earth workhorse ship carrying emigrants westbound and American tourists or returning émigrés eastbound.

Sir Arthur Rostron - quiet hero of he Titanic disaster

Sir Arthur Rostron – quiet hero of he Titanic disaster

On April 11, 1912, Carpathia left New York bound for Europe. At about the same time, RMS Titanic was heading west on her maiden voyage to New York.

Titanic survivors coming aboard Carpathia

Titanic survivors coming aboard Carpathia

The 42-year-old Rostron had been an officer with Cunard since 1895. He lived near Chalk Hill Southampton, not far from where my 91 year-old mother lives today.

He had been master of Carpathia for just three months, and with him on board were 700 passengers.

At 12.15am on April 15, Carpathia’s wireless operator Harold Cottam was about to turn in for the night when he received the first SOS from Titanic. Cottam immediately ran to Rostron’s cabin to alert him.

Rostron quickly ordered the ship to change course and race towards the Titanic’s reported position, posting extra lookouts to help spot and maneuver around the ice he knew to be in the area. About 58 nautical miles (93 km) separated his ship from Titanic’s position.

Rostron and his crew skillfully obtained the maximum speed possible from the engines of Carpathia, coaxing her up to 17.5 knots – three and a half faster than her rated speed. Even so, Carpathia, travelling through dangerous ice floes, took about 3½ hours to reach the Titanic.

During this time Rostron turned off heating to ensure maximum steam for the ship’s engines and had the ship prepared for the survivors; including getting blankets, food and drinks ready, and ordering his medical crew to stand by to receive the possibly injured survivors.

At 4am, on reaching Titanic’s position, Carpathia’s engines were stopped as the crew, together with many passengers now on deck having been alerted both by the hustle of preparations and the increasing cold in their quarters, strained to see some sign of the ship.

Suddenly, they saw a green flare fired by Titanic lifeboat number two, and the first survivors came aboard at 4.10am; by 8.30am the final person to be rescued stepped aboard Carpathia.

Now carrying double her original complement of passengers, Carpathia steamed slowly among wreckage and icebergs seeking more survivors, but none were found.

The plucky little Carpathia would end up rescuing 710 survivors out of the 2,228 passengers.

In 1926 Rostron was decorated with the highly distinguished Knight Commander of the British Empire. Though praised and decorated for his calm and exemplary actions, Rostron was reluctant to speak publicly about the disaster.

RMS Carpathia

RMS Carpathia

Many years later he was asked how the little ship could have been coerced to travel at such speed, and how she had progressed safely through ice in the dark, the deeply religious Rostron simply replied; “A hand other than mine was on the wheel that night.’’ Commodore Rostron died in 1940 and is buried in the graveyard of West End Church.

My family and I will look for his grave during our visit so we too may pay our respects to this quiet hero of the Titanic disaster.

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Titanic to sail again

Australian billionaire Clive Palmer

Australian billionaire Clive Palmer

Clive Palmer, an Australian mining and tourism billionaire, is planning to build a replica of the doomed liner, RMS Titanic.

The replica will be built by a Chinese shipyard for Palmer’s Blue Star Shipping Line. It will be powered by diesel rather than coal but will otherwise follow design plans approved by a historical research team and, like its predecessor, will have 840 rooms and nine decks.

However it will incorporate state-of-the-art engineering and navigational features plus a few differences below the water line such as a bulbous bow for greater fuel efficiency and an enlarged rudder and bow thrusters for improved maneuverability.

Construction will start at the end of next year. Palmer says the replica will be every bit as luxurious as the original. She is expected to make her maiden voyage from England to North America, the old Titanic route, late in 2016.

The original vessel, the largest luxury ship in its time, struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. It went down on 15 April 1912, leaving more than 1,500 people dead. The ship had been vaunted as “unsinkable.”

The original ill-fated RMS Titanic

The original ill-fated RMS Titanic

Asked if Titanic 11 will be unsinkable, Palmer said “It is going to be designed so it won’t sink, but, of course, if you are superstitious, you never know what could happen.”

A Titanic historian at Australia’s National Maritime Museum, Inger Sheil, said the connection with the original would not put people off sailing on her.

“Curiously, in spite of the name, I think there will be quite a few people who will wish to travel on it because of the Titanic connection.

When the James Cameron movie came out in 1997 there was an upswing in interest in cruising among the general public because of the Titanic movie. What I’d be interested in is the longevity of that interest. Would it sustain itself after that initial curiosity and novelty factor has worn off?,” said Sheil.

The new Titanic will add to Palmer’s tourism portfolio which includes golf and spa resorts in the Australian state of Queensland.

Some commentators believe building the replica is in poor taste given that 1,500 passengers and crew lost their lives on the original Titanic. But Palmer says already some 45,000 people have expressed an interest in traveling on Titanic II.”

An artist's impression of the titanic sinking

An artist’s impression of the titanic sinking

My hometown is Southampton in southern England from where the original Titanic left on her ill-fated voyage in 1912. Most of the crew who perished came from Southampton. I grew up with many reminders of the Titanic. My verdict? I think it’s a terrific idea and one day I’d love to sail on the new Titanic.