This FAQ is based on questions forwarded to us by the many people who visited the web site of the Titanic Society of South Africa.


Tell us the history behind the Titanic Society of South Africa

Our history starts off in 1986 when a group of Titanic enthusiasts, decided to form a local society dedicated to the memory of the Titanic. At first it was very informal, but as interest grew so the amount of potential members increased. on 26 February 1987. The first Titanic Exhibition in South Africa was held at the Sturrock Park Recreation Club in Johannesburg. This small exhibit was put on for the benefit of the Transvaal branch of the World Ship Society, and would be the first of many similar mini exhibits that would be put on. A steering committee started work on preparing a constitution and contacting other potential members. Our first live radio appearance followed on 15 April 1988. Hosted by Chris Gibbons, the hour long talk on local radio station, Radio 702, drew many enquiries from all around the country. On 21 July 1988, the constitution was presented and formally adopted by the society and the first committee was elected.
Since then we participated in various activities, from assisting with a ballet on the Titanic, to helping school children with school projects. We have given talks, exhibits, slide shows and written letters to the press when somebody messed up! Unfortunately, throughout our life, we have been plagued by the lack of a suitable venue for meetings, as well as a reluctance on the part of members to attend regular meetings when we have them. Fortunately, an inner core of loyal enthusiasts remain.
With the advent of computers and modems our life became somewhat easier, as we were able to use modern technology to transfer our newsletters and eventually venture onto the Internet, where you find us today. Many of those who have mailed us are old friends, sharing our love for and interest in the Titanic and those who sailed with her. My own involvement with the TSSA ceased in 2000.

How was a ship as massive as the Titanic built, given the limited technology of the time period?

Shipbuilding was very advanced at that time, although it was a very labour intensive operation, (about 15 000 men were employed in 1912 on the constructing of ships at the yard). Actually it was a routine operation to build such big ships for an organisation like Harland and Wolff, they made their preparations very far in advance, even going so far as to construct special gantries under which Titanic and her sisters were built, It was a clever system. In the case of Titanic and her sisters, you just built three sets of everything. All the patterns, machinery etc were standard throughout the three ships. It took about a year to build the basic hull to a point where it could be launched. Once the hull was launched it was a matter of towing it alongside and adding the interiors and machinery. The vacated space was then used to build the next ship.

The Titanic was constructed so quickly that a worker may have been built into the hull. Is there any truth to this?

More than likely an urban legend. No evidence has been found to substantiate it. One worker died in hospital after he had been pinned under a shore just prior to the launch.

Was the Titanic a "one off"?

The Titanic was the second of three near identical sister ships constructed by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line. The first, Olympic, was launched on 20 October 1910, while Titanic entered the water on 31 May 1911, with the final sister, Britannic being launched on 26 February 1914.

What happened to the sister ships?

The Olympic was in service for 24 years, she served with pride in the First World War and even sank a submarine in this period! Sadly the changing face of Trans-Atlantic shipping made itself felt and in 1934 White Star Line and Cunard merged. The Olympic was taken out of service in 1935. On Friday 11 October 1935 she sailed for the breakers yards at Jarrow where she provided much needed jobs for the many unemployed in the region.
The Britannic was built on the slip vacated by the Olympic and was due to enter service in 1914. However, the sinking of the Titanic caused a rethink in her construction and major alterations were carried out to make her safer than Titanic. She finally was launched in February 1914 and taken in hand for fitting out with her now due to enter service by Spring of 1915. However, the First World War interrupted this process and work was scaled down on her. On 13 November 1915 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty as a hospital ship and she was fitted out accordingly. She was used to ferry wounded from the Dardenelles, before being laid up in 1916 from April till August. She was recalled to service again, making two trips to Mudros and back. While on her third trip she struck a mine laid by a U-boat and on 21 November 1916 sank with the loss of 29 lives. She had never been in commercial service.

How big was the Titanic?

The Titanic was quite large for her day, the biggest man-made objects afloat. The dimensions for the ships of the Olympic Class were:
  • Overall length: 882,9 ft. Length between perpendiculars: 850 ft.
  • Breadth: 92,50 ft.
  • Height from keel to navigating bridge: 104 ft.
  • Load draught: 34ft 6 in.
  • Gross tonnage: Olympic: 45 324, Titanic :46 328 gross tons.
  • Displacement at 34ft 7 inches: 52 310 tons.

Can you describe the engines?

There were two sets of reciprocating 4 cylinder triple expansion steam engine driving two wing propellors. The engines were designed to take steam at 215lb/sq inch with the cylinders being 54in, 84 in, 97 in and 97inches in diameter. Stroke was 75 inches in all cases with each engine expected to deliver about 15000 hp at 75 revolutions. The engine bedplates weighed in at 195 tons with the heaviest cylinder with its liner being 50 tons. A low pressure turbine was provided which drove the centre screw, it took exhaust steam from the engines at about 9 lb absolute and exhausted at 1lb. It was intended to run at 165 rpm developing a shaft horsepower of about 16000 shp. Unfortunately this turbine could only run in the forward direction, a serious flaw as it would turn out. The rotor was 12 feet in diameter and 13ft 8 inches long. They were the largest steam engines ever built.

Approximately how much money did the Titanic cost to construct and furnish?

The ships were built on a "cost-plus" basis with the owners specifying the details and the builders supplying the ship without regard to specific contractual cost. In the case of Titanic she cost about 1,5 million pounds (about $7 500 000.)

How much lifeboat capacity was there? and how big were the boats?

The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats, 16 of these "under davits." 14 were proper lifeboats with a capacity of 65 persons each. There were 2 "emergency" boats, both slung out from the ships side, these were designed to carry 40 persons each. In addition, 4 collapsible "Engelhardt" boats were carried, two being stowed on the roof of the officers quarters and two on the boat deck. They had the capacity to carry 47 persons each. That makes the lifeboat capacity 1178. The boats were numbered with odd numbers on the Starboard side and Even on the port.
Dimensions: 14 wooden boats, each 30 feet long by 9 feet 1 inch broad by 4 feet deep, with a cubic capacity of 655,2 cubic ft. Constructed to carry 65 persons each. One wood cutter 25 feet 2 inches long by 7 feet 2 inches broad by 3 feet deep, with a cubic capacity of 326,6 cubic feet. Constructed to carry 40 persons. One wood cutter 25 feet 2 inches long by 7 feet 1 inche broad by 3 feet deep, with a cubic capacity of 322,1 cubic feet. Constructed to carry 40 persons. The boats were clinker built of yellow pine, with keels of elm and stern and stem posts of oak. Life lines were fitted around the gunwales. Boat equipment was as per BOT regulations. The four Engelhardt collapsible boats were 27 feet 5 inches long by 8 feet broad by 3 feet deep, with a cubic capacity of 376,6 cubic feet, they were constructed to carry 47 persons each.

Tell me about her course and position?

The Titanic departed from Southampton on Wednesday 10 April 1912, sailing at 12 midday. She arrived at Cherbourgh, France, dropping anchor at 06.30 pm. about an hour late because of the New York Incident. She embarked more passengers and mail from tenders and set sail for Queenstown, Ireland at 8.30 pm. She arrived at Queenstown on Thursday 11 April, dropping anchor at 11.30 am. More passengers and mail were embarked, she hoisted her anchor and sailed for New York at roughly 01.30pm. With arrival scheduled for Wednesday 17 April. If a fast passage is made this would move the arrival forward to Tuesday night. The ship would have headed westward along a "great circle" track before changing course at about 05.00 pm on Sunday 14 April from S 62 W to S 85 W.
At 07.30 pm, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall fixes the ships position from a stellar observation taken by Second Officer Charles Lightoller, this is entered into the log by Captain Smith at around 10.00pm The Titanic strikes the berg at roughly 11.40 pm. Boxhall fixes the ships position as: 41 degrees 46'N, 50 degrees 14' W. based on the 07.30 fix and his own estimation of speed and distance. This is the CQD position given over the radio.
However, the sight where the stern and the heavy debris is found at the sea floor indicates that the ship sank at about: 49 degrees 56' 54" W, 41 degrees 43' 35"N, about 13,5 miles East Southeast of this "official" position.
At 02.20 am the Titanic sinks into the depths.

Were there any errors in operation?

There were quite a few of these, how many contributed to the disaster cannot really be ascertained. The ship would have been operated under procedures laid down by the White Star line, however, a few things need questioning.
  1. The ship sailed from Southampton with a bunker fire which was only later extinguished en route to New York. Why did the Board of Trade official not prevent the sailing of the ship in this condition? The fire may have affected the strength of the watertight bulkheads which may have contributed to the lack of watertight integrity of the ship once it started to go down
  2. Although a lifeboat drill was held for the crew in Southampton, no drill was held for the passengers while at sea. Further, the officers were not aware that the boats could be lowered safely with a full capacity of people in them. A tragic oversight.
  3. The lack of binoculars for lookouts was brought up at the British Enquiry, however this was quickly made to be no issue at all. The fact remains, binoculars may have provided the lookouts with a better chance of seeing the berg sooner.
  4. An important radio message relating to ice in the path of the ship is given to Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the line, who puts it in his pocket to show to passengers. The officers only see this message later. Surely that message was of more use to the officers.
  5. The influence of the chairman, Bruce Ismay, although denied cannot be overlooked. He must have had some influence in the decisions made on board.
  6. Although not really pursued at the British Enquiry, there were restrictions in place which hindered the escape of third class passengers from their quarters.

Was the Titanic really going to break any speed records on her maiden voyage?

No, the three sister ships were built to carry their passengers in safety and comfort. They would not be able to compete with the Lusitania and Mauretania for speed records.

How many people were saved?

There are two "official" figures that have been used over the years. The real amounts may never be known due to the many inaccuracies in the passenger and crew lists.

CLASS  British Enquiry:  American Enquiry: 
First class  203 out of 325 (62,46 %)  199 out of 329 (60,48%) 
Second class  118 out of 285 (41,40%)  19 out of 285 (41,75%) 
Third class  178 out of 706 (25,21%)  174 out of 710 (24,50%) 
Total passengers  499 out of 1316 (37,94%)  492 out of 1324 (37,16%) 
Total crew  212 out of 885 (23,95%)  214 out of 899 ( 23,80%) 
Total on board saved:  711 out of 2201 (32,30%)  706 out of 2223 (31,75%) 

The Titanic was boasted as being "unsinkable". What made the owners think this?

They considered that the ship, being very big and constructed so well would not really encounter a situation where it could founder. They thought that all the angles were covered, It was a case of arrogance all around. However, the unsinkablity theory does not come from the owners, rather it was perpetuated by the popular press at the time. The owners just never made any attempt to repudiate it.

I hear that one of the funnels on the Titanic was a dummy, if so, why did they even have it?

True, the last funnel was a dummy. In the mind of the many emmigrants who made use of these ships, the amount of funnels a ship had was indicative as to how grand and how safe it was. The fourth funnel was used for ventilation purposes in Titanic's case.

What were the accommodations like for the steerage passengers?

Steerage passengers were accomodated in a variety of cabins, mostly very austere, basic bunks, toilets down the passage, possibly 6 per cabin. There was strict segregation of sexes and while families were kept together, often older sons or daughters would be shunted into "young men/womens cabins" or dormitories. Most were low down in the ship, right aft and with very little deck space and very basic facilities. But then again, steerage on Titanic was pretty good compared to steerage and in some cases second class on other ships. There was also steerage accomodation right forward and these people would have been amongst the first to know that the ship had hit a berg. There were even public rooms in steerage, two dining saloons on F deck, two bars, one on D Deck and another on C. A smoking room near the stern and a general room on the Shelter deck.

Who were some of the famous people traveling on the Titanic?

Famous, well, there was John Jacob Astor (multi-millionairre and hotel magnate), Isador Strauss (founder of Maceys Department Store), Archiebald Butt (aide de campe and friend of President Taft). Benjamin Guggenheim (banker and multi-millionairre), Bruce Ismay (Chairman of the White Star Line), Jacques Futrelle (author), Frank Millet (artist), W.T Stead (editor and spiritualist), Charles M Hays (railroad president), Daniel Marvin (head of a movie firm), Karl Behr (famous lawn tennis player), George Widener, The Countess of Rothes, and so forth, virtually everybody in first class was either famous or notorious in some way.

How much did the first class rooms cost?

Mrs Charlotte Cardeza and party booked suite B51, a three room complex with its own promenade. Priced at £512. Other suites and cabins are variously priced at (all prices in 1912 £UK) George Rheims £39, Ben Guggenheim £56, Molly Brown £27, The Ryerson party £262, Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon and secretary, £39 and £56. and so on....

Who was the richest person on the Titanic?

(Net worth is estimated in £ UK.)
Colonel JJ Astor: £30 000 000

Ben Guggenheim: £20 000 000
Isador Strauss £10 000 000
George Widener £10 000 000
Walter Roebling £ 5 000 000
Charles Hays £ 1 500 000
William Dulles £ 1 000 000
Emil Taussig £ 1 000 000
Frederick Hoyt £ 1 000 000
Clarence Moore £ 1 000 000

What was the menu like for first class on the evening of April 14?























I hear that engineers on board ship still wear a mark of respect for the Titanic, is it true?

Marine engineers have a purple band between the stripes which indicate their rank. This is as a mark of respect for the engineers who were lost on the Titanic.

Are there any White Star ships surviving today?

Yes, there is one ship left, it is the tender "Nomadic", she was moored on the Seine in Paris for many years but has since been sold for preservation elsewhere. She is one of the tenders which took passengers out to the ship when she was anchored in Cherbourgh.

Photograph by Stanley le Roux

When was the Titanic rediscovered?

On 1 September 1985.

Was the Titanic carrying an Egyptian mummy on board and the ship sank as a result of its curse. Is this true?

Yet another urban legend I am afraid. The famous spiritualist and passenger on the Titanic; W.T. Stead is alleged to have told a story about a supposedly cursed mummy which had been discovered. This got misinterpreted and people thought that this mummy had been on board the Titanic and the ship sank because of this so called curse. There was no mummy case on board the ship and no evidence exists that it was on board the Empress of Ireland when it sank.

How much did the grand staircase cost to build and what made it so remarkable?

Unfortunately no price seems to have been allocated for this feature, or none that I know of. What made it so remarkable? there were more lavish and beautiful staircases on other ships. What makes Titanic stand out is the relative simplicity of the design, it was very ornate but not garish. Most people however do not realise that most top rate ships of the period had such a staircase, it is always assumed that she was the only one.

What happened to the Carpathia?

The Carpathia led an uneventful life following the sinking of the Titanic. When the war broke out she was not taken up for military service, continuing on the North Atlantic run. On 17 July 1918 she was torpedoed about 170 Miles from Bishops rock and sank with the loss of 5 of her crew.

What was written on the 2 plaques which were left on the Titanic in 1986

"In memory of those souls who perished with the "Titanic" April 14/15 1912. Dedicated to William H. Tatum, IV whose dream to find the Titanic has been realised by Dr Robert D. Ballard. The officers and members of the Titanic Historical Society inc. 1986."

In recognition of the scientific efforts of the American and French explorers who found the RMS Titanic: Be it resolved that any who may come hereafter leave undisturbed this ship and her contents as a memorial to deepwater exploration. Board of directors. July 4 1986."

Was the Titanic the first ship to ever use SOS as a distress call?

The first RADIO DISTRESS CALL was transmitted from the East Goodwin Lightship on 17 March 1899 when the merchant ship Elbe ran aground on the Goodwin sands. The message was received by the radio operator on duty at the South Foreland Lighthouse, who was able to summon the aid of the Ramsgate lifeboat.
The Goodwin Sands again featured in another first when on 30 April 1899, the East Goodwin Sands lightship sent a distress message on her own account when she was rammed by the SS R.F. MATTHEWS.
This was prior to the introduction of the "SOS" and the recognised call sign for ships then was "CQD." This signal had been devised by the Marconi Co., it was intended to mean "all stations-urgent" but was popularly misinterpreted as "come quickly, danger," or "come quickly down".
The "SOS" signal was established as an international distress signal by an agreement made between the British Marconi Society and the German Telefunk Organisation at the Berlin radio conference, 3 October 1906. This signal was formally introduced on 1 July 1908.
The first time the SOS signal was used in an emergency was on 10 October 1909, When the Cunard Liner SS SLAVONIA was wrecked off the Azores. Two steamers received her signals and went to the rescue. This was nearly three years before the TITANIC made her famous signal.

What was the name of the aide-de-camp to President Taft that was travelling on the Titanic?

Major Archiebald Butt.

Who was on duty at the helm when the iceberg was struck?

Quartermaster Robert Hitchens

Who was Charles Victor Groves?

He was the third officer on board the Californian.

What was the working alleyway on E deck called?

The officers called it "Park Lane" while the crew called it "Scotland Road."

Who was Fred Wright and who cancelled an appointment with him for 07.30am. on the morning of April 15th?

He was the squash pro on board Titanic and had an appointment with Col. Gracie to play squash on the 15th at 07.30am.

What was the name of the steward that helped Benjamin Guggenheim into a life belt and then removed it when Guggenheim complained that the belt "will hurt"?

Steward Henry Samuel Etches.

Who was amazed to see a lifeboat float past on the Starboard side and phoned the bridge to ask whether they knew about it?

Quartermaster George Thomas Rowe.

On what deck was the mail sorted?

It was stacked on the Orlop deck and sorted on G deck.

Who sculptured the statue used for the Women's Titanic Memorial in the USA, and who was supposed to have been the model for the figure?.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt.

When had the Carpathia left New York and where was she heading?

11 April, bound for Gibralter, Genoa, Naples, Trieste and Fiume.

Who travelled with 14 trunks containing among other things: 70 dresses, 38 feather boas and 91 pairs of gloves.

Mrs Charlotte Cardeza.

What were the names of Mr and Mrs Allison's children?

Trevor and Lorraine.

The story of the Titanic will touch the imagination of many people, some may pause here and their questions may be answered. Others may have other questions, if you have any please mail me and I will do my best to answer them for you.