107 #11: Titanic’s construction, launch and sailing were plagued by bad luck

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Titanic launch

FALSE. Although it is easy to see how this rumour developed, with the benefit of hindsight. Working in a shipyard in 1912 was undoubtedly dangerous, and at least one worker was killed during Titanic’s construction: James Dobbins, 43, whose legs were pinned by a support he was cutting during her launch. His friends dragged him to safety and he was taken to hospital, but he died the next day.

Unsurprisingly, many people claimed after the disaster that they had ‘known’ she was going to sink, or had a ‘strange feeling’ about the ship. For example, the fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon remembered in her memoirs, written years later, a ‘curious reluctance’ to cross on the new ship when told that the only berths available for her urgent business trip were on the Titanic; the booking clerk reassured her with tales of the ship’s supposed unsinkability. Titanic survivor Esther Hart refused to sleep during the voyage, as she felt that something bad would happen to the ship. As a result, she was awake when disaster struck and managed to get herself and her daughter Eva into a lifeboat, although Eva’s father died in the sinking.

However, it is not surprising that with 711 survivors, one or two of them would have remembered feeling nervous about sailing beforehand. At least two stories claimed that the ship’s fate could be seen in omens during her launch and sailing, such as the story that the figure of Death appeared above the ship as she left Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, the last port before beginning the Atlantic crossing. This was no more than one of the stokers, with a blackened face from working the coal, climbing up inside Titanic’s ventilation funnel to admire the view.

Another of these ‘omens’ claimed that the bottle failed to break against her hull when she was christened, which is generally taken to mean bad luck for the ship. In fact, the White Star Line never christened their ships, and so Titanic never had a champagne bottle smashed against her hull. ‘They just builds ’er and shoves ’er in,’ as a shipyard worker explained at the time. The 1958 film A Night to Remember incorrectly shows Titanic being christened, using footage from the launch of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 1938.

Following the disaster, people pointed to these incidents, along with Titanic’s near collision with the New York as she left Southampton harbour, and said that Titanic’s maiden voyage was cursed. Sailors are notoriously superstitious, and this and other incidents may have caused even Titanic’s officers to feel that she was not a ‘happy ship’. For example, Second Officer Bisset of the Carpathia recalled in his memoirs Tramps and Ladies that when Captain Rostron asked the Titanic’s rescued Fourth Officer Boxhall: ‘Where is the Titanic?’ Boxhall replied: ‘Gone, she was Hoodooed from the start.’

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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