The History of the R.M.S. Titanic

Overview > History > Aftermath

The World's Reaction

At first, the news papers reported only that the Titanic had struck an iceberg. It was stated that the liner was making for Halifax and that all passengers had been saved. Phillip A. S. Franklin, the vice-president of the White Star Line, even insisted that the Titanic was unsinkable after she had already gone down. So, the anxious relatives of the passengers were calmed down.
The sinking was not confirmed by the White Star offices until 6.15 p.m. on April 15. Even then, the horrible loss of life was only admitted bit by bit:

Quoted ...

6.15 P.M. The Titanic sank at 2.20 this morning. No lives were lost.
8.20 P.M. The following statement has been given out by the White Star officials:
"Captain Haddock, of the Olympic, sends a wireless message that the Titanic sank at 2.20 a.m. on Monday after all the passengers and crew had been lowered into lifeboats and transferred to the Virginian. The steamer Carpathia, with several hundred passengers from the Titanic, is now on her way to New York."
8.40 P.M. The White Star officials now admit that many lives have been lost.
9.00 P.M. Latest advices state that probably only 675 of the Titanic's passengers, who were taken on board the Carpathia, were saved. Mr. Franklin is hoping to hear that more have been rescued by other steamers, but the indications point to an appalling catastrophe and loss of life.
9.10 P.M. The Titanic's survivors on board the Carpathia are stated at the White Star offices to include all the first class passengers. The Carpathia is expected to reach New York on Friday morning. No information has been received from the liners Parisian or Virginian at the White Star offices, where it is still believed that many of the Titanic passengers are aboard these vessels.
9.35 P.M. Mr. Franklin, Vice-President of the International Mercantile Marine, now admits that there has been "horrible loss of life." He says he has no information to disprove the Press despatch from Cape Race that only 675 passengers and crew had been rescued. The monetary loss could not be estimated to-night, but he intimated that it would run into millions. "We can replace money," he added, "but not lives."

Reuter, New York (April 15, 1912)

On April 16, the first survivor list was published, and the crowds began to storm the White Star offices. Especially at Southampton, where most of the crew was from, wives of crewmen were waiting anxiously for news. The news, however, was only pouring in very slowly, for the two wireless operators transmitted only personal messages of survivors and did not answer questions of reporters. Survivor lists were transmitted very slowly.
The full extent of the disaster was not known until the Carpathia reached New York on the evening of April 18. Thousands were awaiting her to learn finally if their relatives had survived the sinking. The Carpathia first proceeded to the White Star Line's pier where she lowered the Titanic's lifeboats, and then returned to the Cunard pier, where the disembarkation of the passengers began at 9.00 p.m. The survivors were met not only by their relatives, but also by a veritable fleet of reporters. They were all in a search of a scoop – and they were certainly satisfied in this regard. Some others, however, were less happy, as their hopes of meeting their relatives were dashed: Their loved ones had perished in the disaster.
Shortly after the arrival in New York, the survivors expressed their gratitude for the rescue in providing a distribution of cash to all members of the Carpathia's crew. The Cunard Line, who owned the Carpathia, joined in the reward: An extra month's wage was paid to all of the crew. Later, the crew also received commemorative medals.


The Queen and I are horrified at the appalling disaster which has happened to the Titanic and at the terrible loss of life. We deeply sympathize with the bereaved relatives and feel for them in their great sorrow with all our hearts.

George, R. ET. I.

Even before the Carpathia docked in New York, funds were opened to help the survivors and those who became widows or orphans due to the disaster. The world's sympathy was also expressed in the large amount of marconigrams sent by several heads of state from all over the world – from Cuba and from Japan, from South Africa and from China, from Peru and from Persia, ... – who expressed their "deepest and heartfelt sympathy." On April 19, a Memorial Service was held in St. Paul's Cathedral in London which was attended by thousands of people. Similar services were held all over the world, for example in France and in the USA.

Meanwhile, the White Star Line hired the cable ship Mackay-Bennett to recover bodies. Together with three other ships, a total of 328 bodies were found, of which 128 were unrecognisable and were therefore mostly buried at sea (119 bodies). The balance was brought to Halifax in coffins (first-class passengers) and canvas bags (second-class and steerage passengers). At the cemetery in Halifax, the graves of many of the victims can still be seen today.

Investigations and Consequences

Following the disaster, two inquiries were held – one in the United States, one in Great Britain.
The American Senate Investigation was presided over by Senator William Alden Smith who was assisted by some colleagues. It was opened on April 17 – even before the Carpathia docked in New York – and eighty-two witnesses were called, among them J. Bruce Ismay and all surviving officers, until the final report was published on May 28, 1912. Senator Smith was criticised in Britain for his lack of knowledge concerning shipping and for his sometimes foolish questions.

Quoted ...

Smith: "Did the Titanic go down by the head or the bow?"
Smith: "What are they [icebergs] composed of, if you know?"
Boxhall: "Some people who have been very close to them tell me that they have seen sand and gravel and rocks and things of that kind in them."
Smith: "Rocks and other substances?"
Boxhall: "And earth. [...]"
Smith: "Do you know what an iceberg is composed of?"
Lowe: "Ice, I suppose, sir."

Dialogues between Senator Smith and witnesses at the American Senate Investigation (April 1912)

The British inquiry was conducted by the British Board of Trade, the very government ministry which was responsible for the outdated maritime safety laws. Therefore, the Board of Trade and also the White Star Line escaped virtually unscathed, as damaging the reputation or the balance sheet of the shipping line would be bad for British shipping. The investigation was presided over by Lord Mersey, who was assisted by several experts. Ninety-eight witnesses were questioned in May and June 1912, and the final report was published toward the end of July.
The employees of the White Star Line made an effort to avert any damage to the shipping line. Especially Second Officer Lightoller, who defended Captain Smith, too, was very careful in avoiding any testimony which could get the company into trouble.

Quoted ...

Scanlan: "Although there were abnormal difficulties you took no extra precautions whatever."
Lightoller: "Have I said so?"
Scanlan: "In view of the abnormal conditions and of the fact that you were nearing ice at ten o'clock, was there not a very obvious reason for going slower?"
Lightoller: "Well, I can only quote you my experience throughout the last twenty-four years, that I have been crossing the Atlantic most of the time, that I have never seen the speed reduced."
Scanlan: "Is it not quite clear that the most obvious way to avoid it is by slackening speed?"
Lightoller: "Not necessarily the most obvious."
Scanlan: "Well, is it one way?"
Lightoller: "It is one way. – Naturally, if you stop the ship you will not collide with anything."
Scanlan: "What I want to suggest to you is that it was recklessness, utter recklessness, in view of the conditions which you have described as abnormal, and in view of the knowledge you had from various sources that ice was in your immediate vicinity, to proceed at 21 ½ knots?"
Lightoller: "Then all I can say is that recklessness applies to practically every commander and every ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean."
Scanlan: "I am not disputing that with you, but can you describe it yourself as other than recklessness?"
Lightoller: "Yes"
Scanlan: "Is it careful navigation in your view?"
Lightoller: "It is ordinary navigation which embodies careful navigation."

Dialogue between Thomas Scanlan, representative of the National Sailors' and Fishermen's Union at the British inquiry, and Second Officer Lightoller (May 1912)

The conclusions of both inquiries were almost the same, though the American Senate Investigation put some blame on Captain Smith who, according to Senator Smith, should have slowed down regarding the weather and ice conditions. The British inquiry stated that maintaining speed and course in such conditions was common practice. Both inquiries put most of the blame on Stanley Lord, Captain of the Californian, who, according to the investigators, could have rescued all aboard the Titanic if he had taken immediate action to steam towards the liner firing the distress rockets. Both investigations presented some recommendations: It was considered to be of utmost importance that all ships carried lifeboats able to accommodate everyone on board and that a twenty-four-hour radio watch was establish on every liner. Besides, it was proposed that there should be regular lifeboat drills, ship construction should feature watertight decks, transverse and longitudinal watertight bulkheads as well as high double bottoms, and speed should be reduced in regions of ice, fog, or any other zones of possible danger.
Following the inquiries, lots of male survivors from the first class came under severe scrutiny, as nearly one third of the male first-class passengers survived, but more than half of the women and children in steerage perished: J. Bruce Ismay, for example, was referred to as J. Brute Ismay, and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon was reproached for giving five pounds to every crew member in his lifeboat. This was seen by many as a sort of bribe, because Duff Gordon feared being swamped if they returned to the scene of the sinking – in his boat, there were more than 20 vacant seats.
To avoid such disasters in the future, the International Ice Patrol was established by the American and British government. It registers every errant iceberg that drifts towards the steamer lanes which have been, as an additional precaution, shifted further south. The two major recommendations of the two inquiries concerning lifeboat accommodation and a twenty-four-hour radio watch were passed into law.

Effects on Society

The Titanic disaster did not only affect British law concerning shipping, but also the whole society was changed: Firstly, the Titanic disaster marked the end of the Edwardian era. Along with that, it marked the end of a general feeling of confidence: Until then, men felt they had found the answer to a steady, orderly, civilised life. For 100 years, the Western world had been at peace, and technology had steadily improved, hence society had been able to benefit from peace and the growing industry. But after the Titanic disaster, the faith in technology was shaken; nobody believed in the unsinkable ship anymore. What is more, people began to wonder what wealth did mean. Their wealth had not rescued the millionaires in that night in April, what did wealth therefore mean during the rest of the life? Never again did established wealth occupy people's mind so thoroughly, and never again was it so spectacular. Furthermore, the Titanic somehow lowered a curtain to the way of living of the first class – a life in total, almost excessive luxury. The coming war and the income tax made sure of that. Along with the upper class of the extremely rich went some of its prejudices – but also some nobler instincts: The opinion of the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon courage began to disappear, but also the braveness, or even chivalry with which some of the Titanic's passengers had behaved was never seen again.
All in all, life was not quite the same after the Titanic disaster.