Monday, 15 April 2013

New Artifact: A Titanic Report that Changed History

Today, on the 101st anniversary of Titanic's sinking, our museum installed a new donation as part of our permanent Titanic exhibit. It is an original 1912 report of the influential British investigation into Titanic’s sinking. The British shipwreck inquiry, which followed quickly on the heels of a Senate Inquiry in the United States, was headed by the British Judge Lord Mersey. While regarded by many as a whitewash since it did not assign blame, the Inquiry did make important and wide-ranging safety recommendations. These included requiring lifeboats for everyone aboard, round-the-clock monitoring for distress calls and mandatory iceberg reporting. These recommendations were made into international standards in 1914 by the International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Updated over the years, SOLAS still governs the safety of mariners and passengers today.

This 1912 copy of the report was used by the Cunard Line at their office in London, England to upgrade the safety standards for its vast fleet in the wake of the Titanic tragedy. The volume includes not only the 1912 Mersey Report but also the 1914 SOLAS Convention and the various British laws and recommendations that followed in the same year. It gives us a vivid period view of government, captains and corporations trying to change their ways following the high profile tragedy.

Frank Dawson, a senior Cunard employee, gave the volume to naval historian Peter Elliott in 1968.  Dawson, who knew Titanic’s officers personally, offered his blunt opinion of the safety standards of his rivals at the White Star in this 1968 letter which he sent with the 1912 report.

This volume, bound and titled evocatively in gold, as “TITANIC ETC”, contains five documents. They trace the chain reaction of reform that followed in the wake of Titanic. Dramatic changes were first called for in the British Inquiry; codified in the International Treaty; made into British law by the board of trade and then implemented by British steamship companies. In the notes from a key 1914 meeting in Liverpool of the many liner companies of the International Mercantile Marine (Titanic's parent company), you can see how captains and companies were grappling with the adaption these new rules to their ships.

  1)  Shipping casualties (loss of the Steamship "Titanic") : report of a formal investigation into the circumstances attending the foundering on 15th April, 1912, of the British Steamship "Titanic." , July 30, 1912  by the UK’s Court of Wreck Commissioner Lord John C. Bigham Mersey.
  2)   International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea,  Text of the Convention” Jan. 20, 1914, French original and English translation.
  3)  “Rules for Life Saving Appliances”, May 8, 1914 Board of Trade UK
  4) “Meeting Held at Exchange Station Hotel, June 16, 1914”, minutes of meeting by White Star, Atlantic Transport Line, Leyland Line, Red Star Line, and White Star Dominion American Line about requirements of the Safety of Life at Sea convention.
  5)  “Captain Tubb’s Report on the International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea” by Capt. Frederick William Tubb, marine superintendent of the Atlantic Transport Line circa1914.

The Report of the British Enquiry has been republished and is available online on a number of websites such as this one about Titanic Inquiries. The other documents in our bound volume are less common and some are very rare. Having them altogether in one original document that was actually used by an ocean liner company to improve safety, makes this  a very special object.

The volume was recently donated to the museum by an anonymous donor. We have placed the document in our Titanic exhibit along with Frank Dawson's candid letter. A complete copy of all the documents in the volume is available for researchers at the Museum's Niels Jannasch Library

CREDIT: MMA, M2012.24.1 (Report) and M2012.24.2 (letter) 
All images by Gerry Lunn, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic      

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