Yesterday, during a spontaneous shopping trip to Milton Keynes, I stumbled across a free exhibition of photos from the Titanic.
Subsequent research has shown that this particular exhibition is about to embark on a world tour. But while it was sufficiently interesting to be worth 15 minutes of time, even more so as it was free, I can’t see people falling over themselves to make any sort of special trip for it, and certainly not paying for it.
That being said, the most interesting part of the exhibition came right at the end. There was a passenger and crew manifest, colour-coded according to whether they lived or died. A cursory look through quickly reveals that First Class women had the best chance of survival, and Third Class men, and crew members had the worst chances.
But when you actually look more closely at the names, and ages of people, some really sad stories pop out.
One of those is the Fortune family from Manitoba, Canada, travelling in First Class. 64-year old Mark Fortune was travelling with his 60-year old wife, 3 daughters in their 20s, and their 19-year old son. During the sinking, the wife and 3 daughters were all put onto the same lifeboat, and Mark, and his son Charles, both died. Neither of their bodies were ever found.
Also, affected in the same way was the Ryerson family from New York. 61-yead old Arthur managed to get his wife, her maid, their 2 daughters, their 13-year old son, and their governess on board the same boat. But he was not so fortunate. His body was never recovered.
Similarly, Dr William Minahan from Wisconsin managed to put his wife and sister onto the same boat, but did not survive himself. Some might say that his family were “lucky”, in that William’s body was one of only 335 out of 1500+ perished, that were ever recovered from the sea post-sinking.
From looking at the list, it was also very clear how your luck depended almost solely on your class of travel, and your gender.
Generally, if you were female, in First Class, your chance of survival was pretty close to 100%. And across the genders, eye-balling the list, your overall chance of survival in First was about 75%. But if you split it on gender lines, men in First fared less well. In fact, of all those who died from First Class, only 5 were women.
When you continue down the list to Second Class, again, virtually all who lived were women and children, but your overall chances of survival were lower. Your chances, across genders, was about 50%. But if you were female, or under 18, your chances were probably about as good as those in First.
But then you get to the unfortunate souls travelling in Third Class. There, your gender or age didn’t get you very far. If you got on a boat, you were incredibly lucky. The chances you had of survival were about 20%.
A few sad tales also emerge from here, of whole families, or even whole families minus 1 (which I’d argue was worse) being wiped out.
There was Mr and Mrs Andersson from Sweden, and their 5 children, all aged 11 or under, who all died, and were never found.
There was also the Asplund family, also from Sweden, consisting of 40-year old Carl, his wife Selma, and their 5 children. Selma, and the two youngest children, a girl and a boy, aged 5 and 3 were able to get on a boat and lived. Carl and his other 3 sons, aged 13, 9 and 5, all died. Carl’s body was later recovered, but the bodies of the boys were never found. Of the two children saved, the 5-year old was a girl, Lillian. Her 5-year old twin brother Carl Edgar was one of those who died. Lillian went on to be the last living survivor who had memories of the sinking. Two survivors outlived her, but both had been less than a year old at the time of the accident.
The Goodwin family were also completely wiped out. Frederick and Augusta, both in their 40s, and their 6 children, aged 16 to 1. The only body recovered as that of Sidney, the youngest. His discovery shocked the crew who pulled his body from the water, to such as extent, that they paid for a memorial for him from their own wages. He remained unidentified until 2008 when DNA testing by the Armed Forces lab revealed his identity.
Of the crew who sailed on the Titanic, your chances depended mostly on the job you held. There was only an extremely small number of female crew members, so those numbers are not taken into account.
If you were deck crew, your chances were pretty good. Around 80%. I imagine that was because those were the men on-deck at the time of the collision, so had the most warning to get off in time, but also because they were the ones who would have manned the life boats.
Conversely, if you were engineering crew, and therefore based deep in the bowels of the ship, your chances were extremely poor. In all likelihood, those men were probably trapped early on by water getting in, and most likely drowned in those first few moments after the collision. That being said, subsequent reports have praised the work of some of the engineering crew, who were working the water pumps and preventing the boilers coming into contact with water, which may have saved the ship from sinking for an extra hour, giving many more life boats a chance to launch.
Another department to fare badly was the victualing department. Nowadays these would be waiters and waitresses, maids, receptionists and the like. They had a survival chance of about 10%. But the largest group to do the most poorly was the restaurant staff. They were employed separately, not by White Star Line. There was some debate, post-sinking, whether they were locked in their quarters by stewards, to prevent them rushing the life boats, but this was never proven.
Needless to say, it was a tragedy that led to great loss of life, but also to vast over-hauls in passenger safety and evacuation procedures. To this day, cruise guests all have to attend mandatory safety briefings over what to do in a case of emergency. Public safety, and something that seems glaringly obvious (like having enough lifeboats for the number of people onboard), was a un-thought-of concept in the early 1900s. The idea of a mass tragedy, aboard “the un-sinkable” Titanic, was something that would never have occurred to anyone. To put safety procedures into place was seen as an admittance that “something might go wrong”, which was simply an unacceptable thought, and therefore not worth thinking about, or planning for.