Item of the Month

The Titanic Disaster Newspaper

 

One of the most infamous disasters of the 20th century, the sinking of the RMS Titanic claimed over 1500 lives. News of the disaster quickly spread around the world, although the details, and scale of the disaster took several days to emerge. This month Wirksworth Heritage Centre’s object of the month marks the disaster and its reporting.  It is an edition of the Derby Daily Telegraph from a few days after Titanic sank.

Above: RMS Titanic

Intended to be the ‘queen of the ocean’, at the time of her launch Titanic was the largest ship in the world.

Titanic began its maiden voyage from Southampton on the 10th April 1912. The ship was one of many ships that travelled between Europe and North America carrying both cargo and passengers. In the time before viable long-distance air travel the only practical way to make long distance internal continental journeys was by sea. Titanic and its two sisters, Olympic and Britannic, were not the fastest ocean liners (that honour went to the competing Cunard Lines’ Lusitania and Mauretania), but they were larger and designed to be more efficient. The size allowed them to offer a more luxurious journey, with passengers having access to libraries, reading rooms, restaurants, a gymnasium, and swimming pool so long as their ticket allowed them. The passengers came from all social classes (including John Jacob Astor, one of the richest people in the world) and poor families travelling to start a new life in America. Boarding this ship in Southampton was Lawrence Beesley, born in Wirksworth, he was travelling to America for a holiday possibly to see his brother in Canada.

On the night of the 14th / 15th April Titanic was approximately two thirds of the way across the Atlantic. It was a freezing moonless night and the surface of the ocean was very calm. The crew had received warning of icebergs but pressed on. At midnight a large iceberg was spotted looming out of the darkness. Despite efforts to dodge it, Titanic hit the iceberg ripping a huge gash in the side of the hull. At first there was little panic – many of the survivors, including Lawrence, report feeling very little of the collision. It quickly became apparent to the crew however that the ship was sinking. By 12.45 the lifeboats were being readied for launch. Unfortunately for many of the ship’s passengers and crew there were not enough boats for everyone, and many that were launched were not filled to their maximum capacity. Lawrence had a lucky escape when he was offered a seat in one of the lifeboats after no women or children came forward following a final call for them. Only 710 people were saved out of a total complement of 2,224 passengers and crew.

Right: The lowering of lifeboats 13 and 15

Lawrence’s was lucky to be given a space in lifeboat 13. Disaster nearly followed however when lifeboat 15, lowered after lifeboat 13, nearly landed on top of lifeboat 13 which was struggling to get away from the side of Titanic. The two lifeboats got so close that Lawrence was able to touch the underside of lifeboat 15.

The first news of Titanic’s sinking appeared quickly in newspapers, however the details of the disaster took several days to emerge as passages and crew with eyewitness accounts first had to reach New York before they could be interviewed by reporters. The edition of the Derby Daily Telegraph was published on the 19th April, four days after Titanic sank and after the SS Carpathia arrived in New York carrying the survivors. Lawrence had used his time onboard Carpathia to write an account of the sinking and gave several interviews to the press which were reprinted in newspapers around the world.  This edition of the paper devotes much of its content to the disaster with coverage on both sides. At this time the Derby Daily Telegraph was a broadsheet in the traditional sense – made up of a single large sheet of paper folded in the middle, unlike the smaller but multipage newspapers of today. Much of the page is devoted to Lawrence’s account alongside other details.

The paper came to Wirksworth Heritage Centre as part the ‘Icebergs, Algae and Dalmatians’ special exhibition, currently closed to the public under Coronavirus restrictions until 3 December. This exhibition tells the story of Lawrence Beesley from his childhood growing up in Wirksworth to his voyage on the Titanic and family links to the story ‘101 Dalmatians’. We hope to reopen the exhibition at Wirksworth Heritage Centre, which will then run until January 3rd.

 

 

Right: Lawrence Beesley

Born in Wirksworth in 1877 Lawrence’s father was a bank clerk, later manager, of Moore and Robinson’s Bank. He attended Wirksworth Grammar School, now Anthony Gell School, before attending Derby Grammar School. From here he gained a place to study at Cambridge University.

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