The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 is one of the world’s most famous tragedies, with the loss of around 1,500 lives. “As the first major international disaster in peacetime, it generated a huge interest,” says Eric Kentley, co-curator of ‘Titanic Stories’ at National Maritime Museum, Cornwall. “Not just in America, Britain and Ireland, but also in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. No area seemed to be untouched.” But it continues to fascinate.
As Kentley points out, “Few people have heard about the Doña Paz or the Wilhelm Gustloff, which are far worse tragedies.” The reason, he thinks, is “partly because it is so rich in stories.” He explains: “In the two hours 40 minutes it took for the ship to sink, you can see every type of human behaviour – self-sacrifice, self-preservation, bravery, cowardice, duty, incompetence... It’s very easy to imagine ourselves on the deck of that ship and wonder how we would behave.”
Some positives did emerge from the disaster, however, such as a re-examination of safety measures at sea. And, for the QE2, a perhaps surprising surge in bookings following the release of the James Cameron film.
‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style’, sponsored by Viking Cruises, is at the V&A until 17 June, and opens at the Dundee V&A on 15 September. ‘Titanic Stories' is at National Maritime Museum, Cornwall until 7 January 2019.
Turn to page 86 of May's The Simple Things for more on our look back at ocean liners.