When we read about the Titanic, its 1st Class passengers, with their gilded wealth and posh lifestyles, are always front and center. 2nd Class passengers are mentioned too, a myriad of preachers, missionaries, businessmen, teachers, and middle-class families. When 3rd Class passengers are mentioned, most have one thing in common—the better life awaiting them in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Chapters in books are also devoted to the Titanic’s captain and crew.
However, another “Class” is often overlooked – the hard-working Belfast men and teenage boys who helped build the ship of dreams for Harland and Wolff. They were the designers, carpenters, fitters, plumbers, woodcarvers, and apprentices who made the Titanic’s heart pulsate with beauty, grace, and speed. After the full horror of the ship’s sinking was finally realized, Belfast was one black laurel wreath—a city falling on its knees in grief and mourning. One in every three households had lost a family member or a friend.
At first, however, the local newspapers reported that the Titanic had “met with a mishap,” which caused great concern. As reports floated in with increasing rapidity, there was nothing to indicate the actual magnitude of the disaster. On the contrary, the messages indicated that the loss of life was slight, and that the liner was being towed to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
By April 16th, though, the full story was being printed for all to read: the loss of life was appalling, and the Titanic, the pride and glory of those Belfast men and boys, was now the watery grave for over 1500 men, women, and children. Rich and poor. Famous and unknown. Death was the great leveler. The following quotes are from Belfast newspapers that reported the reactions of some of Harland and Wolff’s shipyard workers.
“Titanic sinking? What bosh! Everyone knew the Titanic was unsinkable! But sure enough, she rammed into an iceberg and went down! It was certainly unfortunate, and on this her maiden voyage too!”
“The Titanic sinking, that nobody could believe! Nobody who has seen the Titanic, let alone those of us who worked on her during the last year, could, for a minute, think such a thought. But little by little, our minds became accustomed to the terrible news…our Titanic sank.”
“We started thinking about her. Her double bottoms, her many watertight compartments with watertight doors which can be shut in a second or two, her pumps, etc. We knew she could not sink, and therefore her passengers and crew would be safe. And then the heartless news is flung at us with all its awfulness and horror.”
“The Titanic sunk; 1500 lives lost! The brain reels, merciful God, this is awful! That majestic lady, that queen of ships, so proud and grand and formidable and with hundreds of invaluable human lives lost!”
The Titanic’s sinking still has lessons for us today. Many view the tragedy as a morality play about the dangers of human pride; Titanic’s creators believed they had built an unsinkable ship that could not be defeated. But don’t we think the same thing, that we too are invincible, thinking WE are unsinkable? To paraphrase a famous Titanic quote: “God himself could not sink us!” This line of thinking, dear friends and family, puts us at odds with our Creator, which is not wise. Lest we forget these words spoken by the Bishop of Winchester the Sunday after the sinking: “Titanic, name, and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption!”
As well it should.