A Channel 4 documentary aired on Sunday evening shed a fascinating light on the tragic circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Titanic and the death of 1503 people on that fateful night.
“Titanic – The New Evidence” follows Senan Malony, author of a number of books on the Titanic, as he examined evidence that seems to have been brushed aside for many years which proves that the sinking and the tragic loss of life could have been avoided had the ship’s owners at White Star not been more concerned about financial loss than they were about the lives of all on board.
A raging inferno lasting weeks in the boiler room weakened the hull and the bulkhead which led to the ship sinking after coming into contact with the iceberg. That fire was discovered BEFORE the ship set sale.
The enquiry began after the discovery of a photo album discovered at an auction house. The album contained photographs taken by the ships chief electrical engineer charting the building process and launch of the vessel. On two photographs a distinct mark on the ship’s hull measuring around 30ft long can been seen and this sparked the enquiry.
Official records from the time show that the day the ship prepared to leave Belfast for Southampton a fire was discovered in a 3 storey high coal bunker in boiler room 6. Dr Guillermo Rein of the Imperial College of London an expert on coal fuelled fires stated the the fire would most likely have been burning for weeks before being discovered. Records show that the bunker had been filled 3 weeks prior to the fire’s discovery and so could well have been burning for that length of time. Fire fighters on board the ship reported that even after 4 days of 11 men fighting the fire it was simply out of control. The ship was launched to set sail for Southampton whilst it was still on fire.
Official reports and accounts from the men on board the ship reveal startling information. They state that White Star top brass told them to “keep your mouths shut” about the fire. Fire fighters and engine room workers report seeing the bulk head, the main safety feature which prevents water flooding the ship in the event of a breach in the hull, glowing red and warping. The black mark on the hull in the image lies directly in front of where boiler room 6 is situated. It seems the heat weakened the steel structure of the hull. One of the survivors, John Dilly, who worked as a stoker on board the ship told a reporter in New York “From the day we sailed, the Titanic was on fire”. Dilly stated that there was “hundreds of tons of coal stored in there… we made no headway against it”. Four days later and the fire was getting worse.
The fire fighters fought the fire on the journey from Belfast to Southampton and were warned by bosses not to utter a word. It seems they were pressured into keeping the fire a secret to avoid people refusing to travel or the journey being delayed. However once the ship was at Southampton only 8 of a crew of over 160 decided to get back aboard Titanic and continue the journey to New York. All but 8 people had to be quickly replaced.
On the 10th April 1912 the Titanic set sail with it passengers from Southampton. Many on board the upper decks were millionaires and members of British aristocracy. The investigation suggests that the owners of the vessel had already suffered delays in the Titanic’s maiden voyage and were fearful of losing money and reputation if they delayed any further to extinguish the fire and repair any damage. They would also have expected passengers to refuse to board had they known about the inferno in the boiler room and so White Star permitted the journey to go ahead regardless. Further reports suggest that substandard steel was used in the construction of the hull when building the Titanic to save money which may also have contributed to the fate of the passengers.
The fire was mentioned in the official inquiry conducted in 1912 by Lord Mersey but wasn’t deemed significant with Lord Mersey dismissing the evidence a number of times and trying to refocus the inquiry towards the excessive speed and iceberg theory we have all been lead to believe.
One fire fighter, Charles Hendrickson, who boarded the Titanic at Southampton to replace one of those who abandoned ship, give evidence to the inquiry and stressed the importance of the fire. He admitted that they didn’t actually start removing coal from the bunker until the day it left Southampton. The only way to deal with the fire was to shovel the already burning coal from the bunker into the engine furnaces. Until this point the fire had simply been burning away causing devastating damage to the ship. It took them a further 3 days to get the fire out. Once the fire was out Hendrickson also claimed that he discovered the metal of the bulkhead was “red hot” and he was instructed to cover the “dented” and “warped” bulkhead with a black oil to make it appear ordinary. Despite these facts Lord Mersey kept trying to move the inquiry along to what he called “the real, serious issues of the inquiry” and he instructed that the fire had nothing to do with it.
The documentary then reveals even more dramatic evidence of a SECOND fire in the neighbouring coal bunker caused by the red hot metal. The fire fighters then had to begin emptying the coal from a second bunker and throw it into the furnace. Malony’s investigation suggests that this could be the reason behind why Captain Smith ploughed on at full speed into the ice field ignoring all warnings. With the UK suffering a minor’s strike and the ship carrying just enough to get them to New York, was Captain Smith worried about running out of coal if he slowed down through the ice field and then loaded up the furnaces again once safely through? If he ran out of coal and became stranded at sea due to insufficient coal reserves what damage would that to do to both the ship company and his own career and reputation? Again, it seems risks were taken to avoid financial loss and damage to reputation.
The evidence uncovered by Malony is indisputable. The Titanic sank due to the fire. Another witness quoted in the programme was Lead Fire Fighter Fred Barrett. He was in boiler room 6 at the time the Titanic struck the ice. He reported afterwards that he had seen the fire damaged bulkhead give way and the sea water came flooding into the ship. That would never have happened had the bulkhead and the hull not been subjected to such intense heat for such a prolonged period of time. Experts using scientific evidence and computer generated reconstructions suggest that had the bulkhead of boiler room 6 held tight the Titanic could have stayed afloat long enough for the rescue ship to reach them. The loss of 1503 lives could have been prevented if the owners of the ship had not valued money more than life.
Titanic – The New Evidence can be seen again on channel 4seven on Thursday at 12:40am or Sunday at 7:00pm