Tag Archives: White Star Line

April 14 1912: Iceberg Ahead! Good Bye all!

As RMS Titanic steamed towards New York, several iceberg warnings had been issued during the day of April 14 ,1912.

At 11.40 pm, with many passengers already in bed for the night, the lookout shouted ‘Iceberg Ahead’! Despite frantic attempts to manoeuvre the huge vessel, she hit the iceberg, ripping plates from her hull and leaving a huge gash in her side. Within minutes there were 14 feet of water in parts of the ship and the flooding continued relentlessly into each ‘watertight’ compartment.

25 minutes later, on April 15 1912 at 5 minutes past midnight an order is given to prepare the lifeboats. If all are filled to capacity over 1,000 people would have to stay on board as there are not enough of them.

At 00.45 am the first lifeboat is lowered, with only 28 people on board – it had space for  65.

At 2. 05 am there are 1,500 still on board the liner but there is only one lifeboat  left to be launched. The water is now just below the promenade deck.

The huge ship is now listing and people on board rush about in panic, trying to escape the freezing waters. At 2.17  Titanic’s bow plunges underwater and as all the heavy machinery slips forward, the lights flicker and go out.  The ship breaks in two and the bow disappears into the icy water. Three minutes later, at 2.20 am the stern section which had risen up into the air, plunges  into the icy depths.


Jeremiah Burke from Cork, Ireland scribbled a message and put it in a bottle as the Titanic went down. He was lost. The bottle washed up some years later and the note was given to his family. His family has donated it to Cobh Heritage Centre. Image thejournal.ie

At 2.20 am in the village of Lahardane in County Mayo in the west of Ireland a bell will peal 11 mournful peals, followed by 3 joyful peals in memory of the 14 people from this small community who were passengers on the Titanic. 11 of them were lost and 3 survived. It is probably the only location in the world where the last moment of the great Titanic is remembered ever year at the exact time of the sinking.  Of the approximate 2,227 on board, about 713 survived. Lahardane’s commemorative bells peal across the land to remember all of those lost and saved.


History on the Net

BBC History



Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Irish_American, Mayo Emigrants, Titanic

April 13 1912: Titanic sails in calm waters

On this night 101 years ago, the RMS Titanic is sailing through calm waters. Just over 48 hours earlier she had departed Queenstown, County Cork. Passengers on board expect  to dock in New York on April 17, four days from now.

Among them are wealthy Americans who, having completed their tour of Europe are returning home in the most luxurious and fastest liner on the Atlantic route. Here too are hundreds of emigrants who have bidden farewell to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends all across Europe, and are now looking forward to a new life in a new land.


Members of the Orchestra on board Titanic. Image Wikimedia.Commons

As they steam towards their meeting with destiny in just 24 hours from now, many 1st class passengers may be enjoying and dancing to the music of the on-board orchestra, while many others begin to settle down for the night. The calm conditions  make for a comfortable night’s sleep. The 128 children on board are probably already settled. For many of them –  for most of them – this is to be their last night alive.




Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants, Titanic

Titanic 100:We do not wish the memory of this calamity to be perpetuated

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Image Wikimedia Commons. Copyright expired

On April 8 1912, Francis Browne, a theology student studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood  left Dublin carrying a First Class ticket for the Southampton- Cherbourg- Queenstown (now Cobh) segments of the maiden voyage of the ‘unsinkable’ liner, the RMS Titanic.

Frank as he was known, was a seasoned  traveller – he had previously wandered across Europe courtesy of his uncle, Robert  Browne,who was the  Bishop of Cloyne. Uncle Robert had  given him a gift of a camera for the European trip, and Frank enjoyed  taking photographs of  a very high standard. The camera was again put to good use during those hours on board the Titanic. A wealthy family on board offered to pay Frank’s fare for the entire trip to New York, and he dutifully sought permission from his religious order, the Jesuits , to continue the voyage. Permission was denied and he was ordered to ‘get off that ship’. A fortuitous order  as it turned out, as not only did it probably save his own life, it meant that the pictures taken on board did not end up at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Early in 1913, Frank contacted the White Star Line looking for approval to use these  photographs and other materials for a series of illustrated lectures which he planned.  He received the following response

”We shall be glad to obtain photographs of the illustrations to which you allude in the Olympic booklet but shall appreciate it if in any lectures you deliver you will abstain from any reference to the Titanic as you will easily understand we do not wish the memory of this calamity to be perpetuated.”

Unperturbed, Browne set out on his  lecture tour  armed with the last pictures ever taken of  the mighty Titanic, with excellent shots of the interior, the crew, and passengers from First to  Steerage class, many of whom had perished.

Ordained in 1915, Fr Browne went on to become chaplain to the Irish Guards and served the dying at many of the bloodiest theatres of World war 1, including Messines Ridge, , Paschendale, Ypres.  Wounded several times and gassed, he went on to become the most decorated chaplain of the First World War, being awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre (First Class) with palms and on two separate occasions, the Military Cross and bar.

This extraordinary man carried his camera everywhere and documented life everywhere he went – all over Ireland,  and including  Australia and England and other places across the world.  Some years after his death in 1960, a fellow Jesuit priest, Fr Eddie O’Donnell,  happened upon an old trunk with ‘Fr Browne’s Photographs’ written in chalk. It contained some 42,000 negatives, with  many in poor condition. The Jesuit order  arranged for the preservation of the negatives by Davison and Associates and they own copyright for all Fr Browne’s photographs. Fr O’Donnell is the curator of the collection and has published several volumes, listed below.

Photographs of the Titanic are much sought after by those interested in the tragic liner.  The photographs of the Harland & Wolff official photographer R J Welch taken during the construction phase  are  housed at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

In 1985 the wreck of the Titanic was discovered on the seabed by Dr Robert Ballard and some 20,000 new images were taken.

Image of Titanic lying at a depth of 2.5 miles, taken from unmanned submarine Argo in 1985. From the BBC

 Now, to mark the centenary of the loss of the Titanic, National Geographic has produced some spectacular new colour images of the wreck. These can be viewed here.

Whilst  ghostly images of the rusting and mangled Titanic on the sea floor may  continue to become available with the development of new photographic techniques, it is the simple black and white ‘snaps’ taken on a relatively primitive box camera of Fr Francis Browne that tell the real story of the first and last voyage of the RMS Titanic, thereby ensuring that the memory of this calamity will indeed be perpetuated.

Some of Fr Browne’s photographs can be seen at the official website www.titanicphotographs.com. 

Fr Browne’s  Books of Photographs:

  • Father Browne’s Titanic Album: A Passenger’s Photographs and Personal Memoir by Browne, Francis M. and E.E. O’Donnell; Wolfhound Press, 1996; ISBN 0-86327-598-2
  • Father Browne’s Australia by Browne and O’Donnell; Wolfhound Press, 1996; ISBN 0-86327-443-9
  • Father Browne: A Life in Pictures by Browne and O’Donnell; Irish American Book Company, 1997; ISBN 0-86327-436-6
  • Father Browne’s Ships & Shipping by E.E.O’Donnell; Wolfhound Press, 2000; ISBN 0863277586


The Irish Times

BBC ‘On this Day’ website

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Fr Browne

National Geographic

Encyclopaedia Titanica


Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Titanic 100:Bi-lingual commemorative plaque for Addergoole 14

Addergoole – Ireland’s Titanic Village – is so-called because no fewer than 14 friends and neighbours set sail on the Titanic for a new life in America. 11 of these drowned in the freezing Atlantic waters. (See my earlier post here recounting the extraordinarily moving annual commemoration that takes place in this village in the West of Ireland.)

A commemorative plaque is to be unveiled in Castlebar, the main town in County Mayo, from which the emigrants departed by train. The Addergoole community has been instrumental in ensuring that this plaque be in both the Irish and English languages – a further fitting tribute to their kinsfolk, most of whom spoke only Irish when they left their friends and family on that ill-fated journey, a century ago.
The memory of the Addergoole 14 is indeed in the safe hands of the community that has not forgotten them.

Read the news story here. 

Well done, Addergoole!Another fine example of the excellence and dignity with which your community upholds the memory of your people!

Further Reading:

The Irish Times

Addergoole Titanic Society


Filed under Ancestry, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Mayo Emigrants

Titanic 100: Doctor’s last letter returned to Belfast

In an earlier post I wrote about the efforts of the family of  a ship’s officer to get possession of the letter from their ancestor who perished on the Titanic.

Now a good news story …from the delighted family of Dr John Simpson , a medical officer who also perished on the Titanic. His last letter written to his mother just days before he was lost, has been returned to his family. Bought by a generous and mysterious benefactor, this is indeed a good news story!

RTE News report :

A mystery benefactor has stepped in to ensure a valuable letter written by an officer days before he died on the Titanic will return to his home town.

There were fears that the note Dr John Simpson penned to his mother onboard the doomed liner would be bought by a private collector when it was put up for auction in New York with a $34,000 reserve price.

But after hearing about a campaign by relatives of the ship’s assistant surgeon to bring the letter back to his native Belfast a mystery donor stepped in and bought it for the city just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

According to witnesses who survived the 1912 sinking, 37-year-old Dr Simpson stood with fellow officers on the deck of the stricken vessel as it went down.

His great-nephew Dr John Martin said he was happy the letter was coming back to where it belonged.

He said: “I’ve never actually seen the original letter itself as it was last in Belfast in the 1940s before Dr Simpson’s son moved away.

”So for it to be on its way back is just amazing and so appropriate now just ahead of the 100th anniversary of his death. We are so thankful to the benefactor.”

He said the letter had been passed down through several generations until Dr Simpson’s 81-year-old daughter-in-law gave it to a Titanic enthusiast in The Netherlands 15 years ago in the hope it would go on display.

However, what happened to the letter after that remained a mystery to the family and Dr Martin said relatives had always regretted its loss.

They thought it was gone for good until they heard it was to be sold at Philip Weiss Auctions in New York.

But the item failed to reach its reserve price at the sale earlier this month, enabling the benefactor to step in and purchase it for an undisclosed sum.

The letter, dated 11 April 1912 and written on notepaper headed RMS Titanic, was brought ashore at Cobh, Co Cork (then called Queenstown) before the ship set sail for the US.

It was dispatched to his mother Elizabeth who was living in Belfast’s Dublin Road.

In it, the married father-of-one, who was then based in Liverpool, said he was tired but settling into his cabin well.

He had worked on the Titanic’s White Star Line sister ship the Olympic for a year previously and observed to his mother that the accommodation on board his new vessel was larger.

Dr Simpson also complained he had found one of his trunks unlocked and $5 or $6 had been stolen from his pocket book.

The surgeon, who treated second and third-class passengers, signed off: “With fondest love, John.”

It is intended that the letter will go on display in Belfast.

RTE news Item can be seen here.- Some nice scenes!


Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Titanic 100:Belfast’s Colossal Tribute

Two huge yellow gantry cranes dominate the Belfast skyline.These imposing structures,known as Samson and Goliath,stand 106 and 96 metres tall and are scheduled as historic monuments under Article 3 of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The yellow giants bearing the Harland and Wolff initials,rise above the city in testament to the fact that Belfast was,in the early 20th Century,the largest shipbuilding centre in the world.Employing up to 35,000 people, the Harland & Wolff yard on the River Lagan has been called the ‘Cape Canaveral of its time’,such were the creative feats of engineering carried out here in the construction of iron-hulled boats. Harland & Wolff enjoyed a reputation for having built some of the world’s finest ships,including ocean-going liners,cruisers, aircraft carriers and oil tankers. The list of ships is impressive and includes many well-known names –  Titanic, Caledonia, HMS Belfast,(now a museum and moored on the River Thames in London, England)  and the P&O Lines Canberra.

As the centenary of the launch and loss of the Titanic approaches,Belfast is to celebrate that long tradition of ship building excellence and to commemorate the Titanic with the opening of the Titanic Belfast building at the end of March 2012.

Sister Ships - Olympic and Titanic ( on the right) March 6 1912

Located in the dry dock area next to Samson and Goliath, the Titanic Belfast building is a fabulous and dramatic structure. The building resembles 4 hulls of massive ships set around a glass atrium, each of which is clad with thousands of shimmering aluminium plates,resembling water and ice. From above the structure is reminiscent of the emblem of the White Star Line. The White Star Line and Harland & Wolff had a long-standing commercial arrangement, which resulted in some 70 White Star Line ships coming down the slipway in Belfast. All White Star Line ships had names ending in ‘-ic’ – Titanic, Britannic, Olympic, etc. It is reckoned that the White Star Line may have carried an astonishing 2 million emigrants from Europe to the United States and Canada.

This imposing 10 storey structure will house interactive exhibitions on the Belfast ship building heyday, the construction and luxurious fit-out of the Titanic,her ill-fated maiden voyage, and the discovery of the wreck on the sea bed some 25 years ago.

The dramatic structure of Titanic Belfast

Titanic Belfast is a fitting tribute to some of the most innovative and complex engineering projects ever undertaken –  A world-class visitor attraction, it  will attract tens of thousands to the birthplace of  some of the largest and most luxurious man-made objects ever built.

I can’t wait to see it !




Harland & Wolff


Filed under Ireland, Irish American, Irish Australian, Irish History

White Star Line’s ‘First Titanic’: RMS Tayleur

The Tayleur. Sank on her maiden voyage January 1854

In the 1850s the Australian Gold Rush was in full swing with thousands clamouring for passage. From 1852 to 1857, 226,000 left Britain to seek their fortune – 60,000 of whom were Irish. It is estimated that in a single month in 1853, 32,000 people departed Liverpool for Australia’s gold fields. Large, fast ships therefore were urgently needed to meet demand on this route.

On October 4, 1853  thousands cheered as a new iron hulled ship slipped from her dry dock into the water for  the first  time, in Warrington on the River Mersey. The ship was named for the Tayleur family who owned the iron foundry that had previously built paddle steamers. (In the 1820s the Tayleur iron foundry in Warrington, England had produced sections for Telford’s famous Menai Straits Bridge, well known to tens of thousands of Irish emigrants travelling onwards from Holyhead in Anglesey, North Wales.)

The Tayleur, reckoned to be the biggest and fastest ship of her type, was chartered by the White Star line to ply the lucrative Liverpool to Melbourne route.

On January 19, 1854 the Tayleur  departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage with up to 600 passengers plus crew on board. When sailing down the Mersey, the pilot noticed that the compass readings were slightly askew, but she continued on her way. Her route was to take her south along the west coast of Britain, but very shortly after departure she hit rough weather. On January 21 a squall developed and it proved almost impossible for the crew to steer the ship. Instead of travelling south, she had in fact been travelling due west and in the gale that blew up she found herself along the shores of Lambay Island, just 10 miles or so from Dublin, Ireland. Anchors were weighed but the lines snapped and she was dashed against the rocks. Some passengers managed to scramble ashore and climb the steep cliffs to safety but, in a short time, the Tayleur slipped under the waves with a loss of about 40o lives.

The Illustrated London News,  on January 28, 1854 carried the following report:

”The most desperate struggles for life were made by the wretched passengers, great numbers of women jumped overboard, in the vain hope of reaching land; and the ropes were crowded by hundreds who, in their eagerness, terror, and confusion, frustrated each others efforts for self-preservation. Many of the females would get half way, and then become unable to proceed further; and, after clinging to the rope for a short time, would be forced from their hold by those who came after them. Three women only, out of 200, were saved. One of those had got part of the way across when her legs fell, and she hung for some time by her two hands over the foaming waves; her husband then came on the rope, and managed to assist her to the shore. Two men came on shore with children tied to their backs but of the whole who fell into the water not above five were saved. I saw one fine girl, who, after falling from the rope managed to get hold of another one, which was hanging from the side of the ship, and which she held on to for more than a quarter of an hour, the sea every moment dashing her against the side of the ship: but it was impossible for us to lend her any assistance. Someone got a spar out, by which several got on shore; but it soon broke; and now might be seen hundreds hanging on to the bulwarks of the ship, each struggling to get on shore. I saw one young woman hanging on the middle of the rope for some time by her two hands, but those pushing to get on shore soon sent her to her doom”.

Some 100 were buried on the island, others were buried where they were washed up on the mainland, but for many the sea was the last resting place. Of the 200 women on board, 100 were believed to be Irish. The style of dress that prevailed at that time  – large billowing skirts – was considered to have been a contributory factor in the loss of so many females, together with the ferocity of the undercurrents and the high seas that bashed the ship off the rocks on Lambay.

A Board of Trade enquiry into the disaster found that several factors contributed to the disaster:

The iron hull had caused the compasses to read incorrectly and there were issues with the rigging and the sails that made it difficult to handle the ship in the high wind. The rudder was of a new design that had not been tested and there had been no sea trials carried out on this new type of ship – she had gone from being fitted-out straight  into service.

The Tayleur Medal. Awarded for bravery in sea rescue.

Donations flooded in for the survivors. The residue of the fund was set aside to be ‘available at once for such shipwrecked strangers as may become future claimants on the generosity of the citizens of Dublin’ and so the Tayleur Fund Medal was inaugurated. The medal bears an engraving of the Tayleur and the inscription ‘TAYLEUR FUND FOR THE SUCCOUR OF SHIPWRECKED STRANGERS’. It was awarded to 44 people before the fund was wound up in 1913  and the residue donated to the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in exchange for a motorized lifeboat for the Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat Station.

The Tayleur was largely forgotten until the late 1950s when a sub aqua team went in search of the wreck. Local fishermen had reported that lobster hauled from a particular location had red undersides as though they had lived on a rusting wreck. The lead was followed and the wreck was located. In 1963 her bell was discovered and raised to the surface and is now in the Maritime Museum  in Dun Laoghaire.

Artefacts found at the wreck site of the Tayleur

Many artefacts such as these patterned jugs and dishes have been recovered. One of her two anchors is displayed in Rush Co Dublin, where regular commemorations take place.

The White Star Line which had chartered the Tayleur would later get into financial difficulties. In 1868 Ismay bought the trade name and the logo at a liquidation sale. Almost 60 years  after the launch of the Tayleur – the biggest fastest ship of her time – registered in Liverpool and proudly flying The White Star  flag on her maiden voyage –  another ship also registered in Liverpool – big, fast and unsinkable, would leave port flying The White Star flag on her maiden voyage and, like the Tayleur, just days later, would end up on the sea floor with heavy loss of life.

Incredible coincidence.

A list of passengers of the Tayleur can be seen here





List of recipients of Tayleur Fund Medals here


Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Irish Australian