Titanic: The Rise, the Fall and the Birth of a Legend

(Images left and right in public domain)

While her days were numbered from the outset, Titanic was a legend during her own lifetime, and has become increasingly immortalised ever since.  In this article, we take a look at the famous liner’s origins, from the abandoned Drawing Office and slipways of Harland and Wolff to the murals of east Belfast and the awesome Titanic Quarter that is rising from the dereliction.

Building Titanic

Image via Bain News Service

Image via Bain News Service

RMS Titanic was built alongside her sister ship Olympic on two massive slipways.  Below left shows Olympic in the foreground with her younger and less complete sister Titanic behind.  The yard is alive with men constructing the future of ocean travel, and it’s hard to imagine that this corner of the yard lies abandoned today, a wasteground of empty slipways and rusting cranes.

Images by trialsanderrors

Images by trialsanderrors

Workers standing beneath Olympic’s enormous propellor help lend scale to these massive iron wonders.  This was shipbuilding on an unprecedented scale, helping to define an industry that would never be the same again.  (Read more about Harland and Wolff’s collaboration with White Star Line in our previous article: The World’s Most Famous Slipway.)

All Set to Sail

An elderly man looks on at the Titanic (author unknown)

An elderly man looks on at the Titanic (author unknown)

The completed Titanic is seen here in dock, resplendent in fresh livery and ready to bring cutting edge technology and comfort to an A-rated guest list, while transporting thousands of others to a better life in the New World – or at least that was the intention.

The Grand Staircase

Titanic's Grand Staircase, original on left; replica on right (image by cliff1066)

Titanic's Grand Staircase, original on left; replica on right (image by cliff1066)

The first-class only Grand Staircase was one of the most impressive features of the ship.  With no expense spared, the finest craftsman in Ireland created two identical sets of steps  (fore and aft) – which plunged five storeys from the Boat Deck to E Deck.  The Grand Staircase still plays an important role, as a vast empty hole through which submersibles can gain easy access to the wreck, and even today some balustrade details are still extant.  The staircase on the right is a replica at the Titanic Experience in Orlando, Florida.

The Drawing Office at Harland & Wolff Shipyard

Images by craigfinlay

Images by craigfinlay

It’s ironic to think Titanic is now the world’s most famous wreck while its birthplace remains largely forgotten.  Abandoned but not deserted, some real treasures lurk behind the sturdy doors of the old Harland & Wolff Drawing Office which, like the rusting steam cranes below, played a key role in the development of the liner that became the yard’s enduring legacy.

Rusting steam cranes (images by donnamarijne)

Rusting steam cranes (images by donnamarijne)

These cranes helped build Titanic while the Drawing Office, hauntingly empty, is where the ship was designed and its construction project managed.  With its nineteenth century sinks and ornate features, the Drawing Office is almost a microcosm of the Titanic story.  Incredibly, a selection of blueprints gather dust in what amounts to an abandoned warehouse.  Rumour has it that the scale set in James Cameron’s epic film was constructed from blueprints – long since thought lost – hidden away in the dusty store rooms of the Belfast Drawing Office.

The Titanic Quarter

Images via Google Earth and Archiseek

Images via Google Earth and Archiseek

The image above (right) shows a scale model of the £1.5 billion Titanic Quarter, which will create 20,000 jobs over a 15-year period.  To the left is the land today,with the famous concrete slipways (Titanic’s on the right) in front of the isolated Drawing Office.  The model shows how the fully renovated office and slipways are to be integrated into the final scheme, in an exciting waterfront development that blends modern architecture with Belfast’s maritime heritage.

Images via Archiseek

Images via Archiseek

The icing on the cake will be the restored Nomadic, built as a tender to Olympic and Titanic, and the last remaining vessel still afloat of the White Star Line.  Images courtesy of Archiseek.

Titanic Murals on the Streets of Belfast

Image by KGGucwa

Image by KGGucwa

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Belfast is known for its striking murals, many depicting the sectarian strife that plagued the city for years.  But this one, on Dee Street, shows Captain Edward Smith above Titanic with the famous Harland & Wolff shipyard forming the backdrop.  The caption reads “Nearer My God to Thee” and is dated April 14, 1912 – the fateful night Titanic struck the iceberg.  To the right, the words “Titanic, built in Belfast”, reflect the pride of the city and particularly the shipbuilders of East Belfast.

Titanic in the News – For Better or Worse

Contempory ads and front page news

Contempory ads and front page news

For reasons good and bad, Titanic was splashed all over the media from the moment it was envisioned to the moment it foundered.  Almost a century later the ship may not be a front page regular but its name remains at the forefront of public imagination.  The images above show a tiny selection of clamorous promotional material and sensational breaking news from the the rise and fall of the world’s most celebrated ocean liner.

Watery Grave

Titanic Google Earth

Titanic’s wreck lies in two huge pieces on the ocean floor where it came to rest in 1912.  South south east of Newfoundland, the ship’s location is shown by the boat-styled marker to the left of Google’s logo.  The survivors were rescued by RMS Carpathia and delivered to New York City.  The dead that were recovered rest in various locations.  Some were returned to their families, others buried alongside fellow passengers in cemeteries close to where their bodies came ashore.

Images by Lisa Stone

(Images reproduced with permission of Lisa Stone, mysteriousnovascotia.com)

One particular grave at Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has achieved a bizarre level of celebrity thanks to the name on the headstone: “J. Dawson”.  Incredibly, the DiCaprio fever that swept the world on the film’s release hasn’t quite abated, and the grave has become an unofficial monument to Jack himself.  In reality, the man buried here is Joseph Dawson, a 23-year-old Dublin coal trimmer who ventured to Southampton with the dream of working on Titanic.  There’s no way he could ever have envisioned the fate that awaited him, or his impact on the Nova Scotia tourist trade almost a century later.

Related Articles:
The World’s Most Famous Slipway
10 Amazing “Above-Water” Shipwrecks
The Midget Submarines of Aberlady
Great Carrier Reef: Chronology of a Sunken Supercarrier
Deep Blue Sea: Aircraft & Aircraft Carriers Lost Beneath the Waves
Belfast’s Historic (& Troubled) “Holy Land”

 
  • Deepu Biplab

    Superb article.. i love titanic

  • Aliciarosas69

    was j.dawson on the ship

  • Aliciarosas69

    was j.dawson on the ship

  • John Liozeris

    Interesting but the text is too hard to read on a black page.

 
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