A cyclonic storm now referred to as the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone or the Dhanushkodi cyclone started with the depression that formed in the South Andaman Sea on December 17, 1964. On December 19, it intensified into a severe cyclonic storm. From December 21, it moved westwards, 400 km to 550 km per day. On December 22, it crossed Vavunia in Sri Lanka with a wind speed of 280 km per hour.
On December 22-23 night, the cyclone moved into Palk Strait and made landfall in Dhanushkodi, at the southern tip of Rameswaram island, on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India. The devastating tidal waves that were 7 metres high submerged all houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town with heavy casualties.
On December 22, 1964, the tidal wave smashed into the Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger train and washed it into the sea while it was crossing the viaduct during the cyclonic storm.
More than 100 passengers drowned in the sea. The death toll was estimated to be anywhere between 115 and 200. The variation is due to the many ticketless travellers. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was washed away.
The 1¼ mile-long Pamban Rail Bridge over the Pamban Channel, that links the Indian mainland with the island of Rameswaram was also badly damaged; 126 of its 145 girders collapsed. However, the lift span was barely damaged.
Most of the girders were salvaged from the sea and the Pamban viaduct was working once again in a span of just three months time.
The metre gauge branch line from Pamban Junction to Dhanushkodi was abandoned after the cyclone destroyed it.
Prior to the cyclone, Dhanushkodi was once a flourishing town. Then, the Railway line to Dhanushkodi, destroyed in the 1964 cyclone, went directly from Mandapam station to Dhanushkodi without touching Rameswaram. In those days Dhanushkodi had a railway station, a small railway hospital, primary schools, a post office, customs and port offices. There were hotels, dharmashalas (religious rest houses), and many textile shops that catered to the Hindu pilgrims and travellers to Sri Lanka.
Dhanushkodi is about 18 miles (29 km) West of Talaimannar, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There was a steamer ferry service which operated daily from the pier on the south-east of the Dhanushkodi town to the pier at Talaimannar. The ferry transported travellers and goods, across the Palk Strait.
In the 1950s and 1960s, I used to travel to Ceylon by the Dhanushkodi-Talimannar steamer ferry.
The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail train, plied from 1915 to 1964 on a metre gauge track between Egmore Station in Chennai (then known as Madras) and Dhanushkodi. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 420 miles (675 Km).
After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train had to pass through the customs before boarding the ferry which used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. Depending on the weather, it took between 2 and 3½ hours to cross the very shallow Palk Bay and reach the Talaimannar Pier in Sri Lanka. The voyage used to be bumpy and nauseating when the sea was rough.
The name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express after the 1964 cyclone. Now, it is a 12-hour journey from Chennai to Rameswaram on a broad-gauge track.
On June 12, 2014, my wife and I along with relatives left Chennai on Rameswaram Express to attend a wedding at Pamban town. We reached Rameswaram the following day around 5:30 am and lodged in a hotel. We hired a van and left the hotel around 11:00 am to see Dhanushkodi.
After travelling for 20 minutes, we reached Dhanushkodi. Even 50 years after the cyclone of 1964, Dhanushkodi remains a dilapidated strip of land.
The driver stopped the van at a spot on the Indian Ocean side where many other vans carrying tourists were parked.
The driver said he cannot go farther as local regulations, meaning rules set by the local cartel of van drivers, forbids it. But the members of that association ply a number of their own vans to ferry the travellers to the end of Dhanushkodi and charge ₹100/- per person. At the end of the journey we paid ₹2,200/-.
After 35 minutes of a bumpy ride by van, on shallow waters and muddy tracts, we reached the tip of Dhanushkodi where Adam’s Bridge, a chain of sand shoals between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar begins. The distance from the tip of Dhanushkodi in India and Talimannar in Sri Lanka is about 18 miles (29 km). The Dhanushkodi fishermen say that some sand dunes are just 50 yards in length. Surprisingly, the smallest land border in the world, is a shoal in Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka – just 45 metres in length.
An eerie stillness prevailed around us except for the chatter of the few tourists subdued by the sound of waves. There were a few marine birds pecking on the soggy earth searching for food and many sea eagles circling in the air ready to swoop on any prey they could spot in the shallow waters or on the muddy land.
We saw many Hindu pilgrims bathing in the Palk Bay. The Hindus believe that pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi (Benares / Varanasi) in North India would not be complete without having the ritual bath at the tip of Dhanushkodi, considered a sacred confluence of the Palk Bay and the Indian Ocean, before completing their pilgrimage to Rameswaram.
It was heartrending to see only thatched huts and no buildings with standing walls. The only walls we saw were the dilapidated walls of St. Anthony’s church and of a school devastated during the cyclone of 1964.
The main trade other than fishing was the sale of conch shells, and trinkets and ornaments made of shells sold at exorbitant prices to tourists and pilgrims.
Eventually, we left Dhanushkodi around 2:30 pm with a heavy heart after having seen the ravages wrought by the 1964 cyclone.
An antidote for anyone who despairs at the loss of innocence. How sweet it is to think that there’s a shed in the Malvern hills in which a dedicated bunch of artisans is hard at work hand-building sports cars with wooden chassis. What’s more, with the Aero 8 and forthcoming hybrid LifeCar, it looks like they’re here to stay.
This aroused my curiosity about wooden cars.
The Morgan Motor Company, is a family owned British motor car manufacturing firm founded in 1909 by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan that specializes in hand-assembled cars. The company, based in the Malvern hills, an area of Malvern, Worcestershire, England to the north and east of Great Malvern employs around 163 people. In 2007, Morgan produced 640 hand-assembled cars.
In their FAQs page to the question “Is it still made with a Wooden chassis?” they answer:
“The Morgan car has always been built around an ash-frame , and a steel chassis. The new Aero 8 also has an ash frame. This gives unique strength, flexibility and surprisingly, research showed that the frame made the car safer on impact tests.”
A year ago, in May 2013, I came across a news item in the media about Istvan Puskas, a 51-year-old Hungarian farmer. He lives in Tiszaörs, a village in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county, in the Northern Great Plain region of central Hungary.
Farmer Istvan Puskas, is also skilled in woodcraft. He loves to create unique articles with wood that would interest people.
A year earlier, in 2012, he created a unique motorcycle entirely of wood. a one-of-a-kind chopper made almost exclusively out of wood.
In 2013, Puskas created a unique wooden vehicle powered by a Polish-made Fiat 126 engine. The vehicle resembles a tractor.
Though a steering wheel salvaged from an old Mercedes-Benz came in handy, he made the frame, wheels, axles, suspension and gearbox out of wood. He used an old beer barrel for the fuel tank. His object was to use as much wood as possible.
It took him four months to finish building his vehicle.
Even though the current Hungarian laws make it impossible for Istvan Puskas to officially register and drive his unique wooden vehicle on the road, the local policemen impressed with his efforts allow him to drive it on the local lanes in his village. So far, touch wood, he has not run into any accidents.
Since Istvan had no garage to park his wooden vehicle, he had plans to put his creation on the market, as a collector’s item, or as a vehicle for someone who prefers to drive slow. He said that he intends to use the proceeds to fund his next project – a three-wheeled vehicle.
Recently, I came across the following video on YouTube of an amazing, beautiful custom-built 2009 wooden car Uploaded on October 13, 2010 by mrantisocialguy.
This custom hand-built wooden car mounted on a 1986 Toyota truck frame is powered by a Chrysler 318 engine. Driven by an automatic transmission it had 1,800 miles registered on its speedometer at the time of shooting this video.
The following video titled “wooden car Amazing Invention – HD” uploaded by Mohammed Rashed Ul Haq on Jan 13, 2011 is a four-minute long documentary on the manufacture of a wooden car.
Today, I read an article in the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai edition, titled “Wooden car awaits licence“.
Appar Lakshmanan, a hereditary master wood craftsman belonging to the Viswakarma community, has built a wooden car, which is probably the first eco-friendly vehicle made in the state of Tamilnadu, India.
Like Istvan Puskas in Hungary, Appar Lakshmanan too finds it difficult to meet the high criteria set by the Regional Transport Officer (RTO), Chennai.
The writer of the article J.V. Siva Prasanna Kumar quotes Appar Lakshmanan as saying:
“If its strength of materials and ability to withstand combustion in the event of an accident or collision, then test my car and see the results… The officials seem to raise several questions, including how the wooden frames were fixed together. My father used bamboo pegs as rivets and they stood the test of time. Would anyone believe that?”
Appar Lakshmanan says the wood he used to make the car was not inflammable. Nevertheless, his efforts to convince the RTO authorities and obtain a licence did not yield the desired results. The one among his woes is that he could not get an engine or chassis number for his wooden car. A real paradox indeed!
To travel abroad, one needs a passport, a travel document issued by that person’s government that normally includes information about the holder: name, date of birth, sex, nationality and place of birth. The passport helps to attest the identity and nationality of its holder.
The passport holder is normally allowed to re-enter the country that issued the passport in accordance with the laws of that country. Holding a passport does not necessarily grant the person entry into any other country, nor to consular protection while abroad, or other privileges such as immunity from arrest or prosecution.
Usually, a national passport is not issued to stateless people. They may be able to get a refugee travel document to enable them to travel internationally, and sometimes to return to the issuing country.
One of the earliest known references to a document that served the role similar to that of a passport is found in Nehemiah 2:1-9 in the Bible. In this autobiographical book, also called the “Memoirs of Nehemiah”, dating from approximately 450 BC, emerges the story of a man dedicated to the single purpose of the welfare of his people.
While serving as cupbearer to the king at the Persian court in Susa, Nehemiah received permission from his master Artaxerxes I to fortify Jerusalem, and served as governor of Judah for two terms, the first lasting twelve years (445–432 BC).
In the month Nisan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when the wine was in my charge, I took some and offered it to the king. Because I had never before been sad in his presence, the king asked me, “Why do you look sad? If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart.” Though I was seized with great fear,
I answered the king: “May the king live forever! How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates consumed by fire?”
The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?”
I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it pleases the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favor, send me to Judah, to the city where my ancestors are buried, that I may rebuild it.”
Then the king, with the queen seated beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take and when will you return?”
My answer was acceptable to the king and he agreed to let me go; I set a date for my return.
I asked the king further: “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of West-of-Euphrates, that they may give me safe-conduct till I arrive in Judah; also a letter for Asaph, the keeper of the royal woods, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the temple citadel, for the city wall and the house that I will occupy.”
Since I enjoyed the good favor of my God, the king granted my requests.
Thus, I proceeded to the governors of West-of-Euphrates and presented the king’s letters to them. The king also sent with me army officers and cavalry.
In the medieval Islamic Caliphate, a form of basic passport, the bara’a, a receipt for taxes paid was in vogue. Muslim citizens who paid their zakah, and Dhimmis, the non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who paid their jizya as taxes were allowed to travel to different regions of the Caliphate.
The British Passport
In England, the earliest reference to documents for travel is found in a 1414 Act of Parliament. It is generally believed that King Henry V, who reigned England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422, was the first to come up with the idea of issuing the first true passport to help his subjects to prove their identity in foreign lands.
Between 1540 and 1685, the Privy Council of England, granted travel documents and used the term “passport”. They were signed by the monarch until the reign of Charles II.
Etymologically, the term “passport” is derived from the document issued by the local authorities to travelers, allowing them to pass through the “porte” (French: the door, the gate) of a city wall. Generally, such documents contained a list of towns and cities the document holder was permitted to enter or pass through. At that time, a passport was not required for travel to sea ports, which were considered open trading points, but it was required to travel inland from sea ports.
At that time, the passport was a simple single-sheet paper document penned in Latin or English. From 1772 onwards French was used instead.
From 1794, the Office of the Secretary of State began issuing the British passports. From then on, the Secretary of State signed all passports in place of the monarch and formal records started to be kept.
By 1855 passports became a standard document issued solely to British nationals and English was used to write passports, with some sections translated into French.
From 1914 onwards, the passport included a photograph of the holder.
Does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?
“When travelling overseas, does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?” is an oft asked question.
In 1945, when the Queen was 18, she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. At that time, she was given a driver licence, which became redundant in 1953 when she became Queen Elizabeth II. The World War II document, signed just ‘Elizabeth‘ is one of the exhibits at the Adjutant General’s Corps Museum in Peninsula Barracks, Winchester. It was given to the then 18-year-old Princess in 1945 when she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
Now, the front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006, features the Royal Arms, and the first page declares:
‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.’
In the realms, namely in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is Sovereign, a similar formula is used, except that the request to “all whom it may concern” is made in the name of the realm’s Governor-General. In Canada, the request is made in the name of “Her Majesty,” by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
As a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is not necessary for The Queen to possess one. However, all other members of the Royal Family, including The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales, have passports.
The US Passport
The United States now issues three types of passports: blue, maroon and black.
American passports had green covers from 1941 until 1976, when the cover was changed to blue, as part of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. Now, around 44 million people hold the familiar blue-covered American tourist’s passport. Green- covered passports were again issued from April 1993, until March 1994, and included a special one-page tribute to Benjamin Franklin in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the United States Consular Service.
In 1981, the United States became the first nation to introduce machine-readable passports. In 2000, the Department of State started to issue passports with digital photographs.
In 2006, the Department of State began to issue biometric passports to diplomats and other officials. Later in 2006, biometric passports were issued to the public. Since August 2007, the department has issued only biometric passports, which include RFID chips. As of 2010, all previous series have expired.
Maroon-covered “official” passports are issued to the citizen-employees of the United States government assigned overseas, either permanently or temporarily, and their eligible dependents. The Maroon-covered passports are also issued to US military personnel when deployed overseas, and to members of Congress who travel abroad on official business.
Black-covered American diplomatic passports are issued to accredited overseas American diplomats and their eligible dependents, and also to citizens who reside in the United States and travel abroad for diplomatic work.
Does the US President carry a passport?
“When travelling overseas, does the US President carry a passport?” is also an oft asked question.
Yes, the US president needs a passport, but it is not like everyone else’s. The president, his immediate family, certain top officials, and diplomatic personnel are issued diplomatic passports, for which the holder need not pay a passport fee.
When the president travels, a team of people, usually from the State Department, coordinate the paperwork of the trip and hold on to the president’s passport. After the president emerges from Air Force One, waves to the crowd, and gets in his limo, he does not stand in the queue at the host country’s customs. The employees of the US State Department take his passport, and those of the others in his entourage, through the host country’s customs procedures.
One perk of the American presidency is that even when the president is out of office, he gets to keep his diplomatic passport.
Papal visits abroad
The Pope holds Vatican passport number one. I doubt whether his passport is ever checked.
As the head of a state, the Pope travels as a diplomat and diplomats have far less trouble crossing borders than us, the commoners.
The Pope also has diplomatic immunity and is given the same courtesy and protection in any country he visits just like any other visiting head of state would receive.
On November 21, 1916, Violet Jessop, after attending an early service by Rev. John A. Fleming, one of the ship’s chaplains, was having breakfast along with others in the dining room. In the dining room was John Priest, a fireman or stoker who was on board along with Violet Jessop on the RMS Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke, and was also aboard the RMS Titanic when she sank on April 15, 1912.
At 8:12 am, a loud explosion reverberated around the ship. HMHS Britannic apparently struck a submerged sea mine. Violet Jessop later wrote:
“Suddenly, there was a dull deafening roar. Britannic gave a shiver, a long drawn out shudder from stem to stern, shaking the crockery on the tables, breaking things till it subsided as she slowly continued on her way. We all knew she had been struck...”
Later on, Reverend Fleming described the blast as “if a score of plate glass windows had been smashed together.”
In his official report Captain Charles Alfred Barlett said:
“…atremendous but muffled explosion occurred, the ship trembling and vibrating most violently fore and aft, continuing for some time; the ship fell off about 3 points from her course.”
Some aboard the ship thought the ship had hit a small boat. Even so, the doctors and nurses left the dining room immediately for their posts. Many others outside the dining room felt a forceful bump that swept them off their feet. Captain Barlett said:
“Water was seen to be thrown up to E or D deck forward at the time of the explosion, and a cloud of black smoke was seen, the fumes for some time being suffocating.”
The first reports brought to Captain Bartlett and Chief Officer Hume on the bridge were alarming; HMHS Britannic had apparently struck a submerged sea mine. The explosion had taken place low on the starboard side between holds 2 and 3. The watertight bulkhead between hold 1 and the forepeak was damaged.
The first four watertight compartments started filling with water. The watertight door of the firemen’s tunnel connecting the firemen’s quarters in the bow with boiler room 6 was severely damaged and water started flowing into that boiler room. The watertight door between boiler rooms 6 and 5 also failed to close properly.
Captain Barlett later said:
“The damage was most extensive, probably the whole of the fore part of the ship’s bottom being destroyed and in my opinion penetrating to No.6 boiler room.“
To aggravate matters, as the ship’s list increased, water reached the level of the portholes that had been opened previously by the nurses to ventilate the wards.
Captain Bartlett sent a distress signal and ordered the crew to get ready to launch the lifeboats.
At 8:35 am, Captain Bartlett gave the order to abandon ship and the crew members started the drill to lower the lifeboats for evacuation.
At 8:35 am, Captain Bartlett gave the order to abandon ship and the crew members started the drill to lower the lifeboats for evacuation.
An officer ordered two lifeboats to be lowered. A group of panic-stricken stewards and some sailors rushed immediately and occupied the two lifeboats. The officer decided not to remove the frightened stewards from the lifeboats as he did not want them later to obstruct the evacuation of the people on board. He ordered all the sailors to get out except one on each lifeboat to take charge of it as it left the sinking ship.
The officer then ordered the lifeboats to be lowered, but stopped lowering them when they were about six feet above the churning water as he realized the engines were still running. He waited for further orders from the bridge. Shortly after, the order came from the bridge not to launch any lifeboats as the Captain Bartlett had decided to beach the Britannic.
Captain Bartlett made a dire try to beach the ship on the shores of Kea, about three miles out to his right. Unfortunately, the steering gear did not respond due to the list and she slowly started to turn.
The nurses were loaded onto the lifeboats for evacuation after being counted and grouped by Matron E. A Dowse.
A group of firemen/stokers furtively took a lifeboat from the poop deck without being authorized. Seeing the lifeboat was not filled to its maximum capacity, Assistant Commander Harry William Dyke ordered the firemen to pick up some men who had already jumped into the water. In the next 50 minutes, the crew managed to lower 35 of 58 lifeboats.
Of the lifeboats assigned to Third Officer David Laws three were lowered without his knowledge. Using automatic release gear they dropped six feet and hit the water violently. The gigantic propellers that were still running were almost out of the water and the two of the three unauthorized lifeboats started drifting towards the giant rotating blades of the portside propeller.
Archie Jewell, the lookout, was in one of the lifeboats which was being sucked into the ship’s still turning propellers. However, he survived. In a letter to his sisters Archie described his escape:
“… most of us jumped in the waterbut it was no good we was pulled right in under the blades…I shut my eyes and said good bye to this world, but I was struck with a big piece of the boat and got pushed right under the blades and I was goin around like a top…I came up under some of the wreckage … everything was goinblack to me when some one on top was strugling and pushed the wreckage away so I came up just in time I was nearly done for … there was one poor fellow drowning and he caught hold of me but I had to shake him off so the poor fellow went under.“
Violet Jessop was in one the other lifeboat, No. 4. In her memoirs she wrote:
“... the lifeboat started gliding down rapidly, scraping the ship’s side, splintering the glass in our faces from the boxes, which formed, when lighted, the green lighted band around a hospital ship’s middle, and making a terrible impact as we landed on the water...”
“… eyes were looking with unexpected horror at the debris and the red streaks all over the water. The falls of the lowered lifeboat, left hanging, could now be seen with human beings clinging to them, like flies on flypaper, holding on for dear life, with a growing fear of the certain death that awaited them if they let go…”
Moments after touching the water, her lifeboat clustered with the other lifeboats already in the water, struggling to get free from the ship’s side, but it was rapidly drifting into the propellers.
“… every man jack in the group of surrounding boats took a flying leap into the sea. They came thudding from behind and all around me, taking to the water like a vast army of rats … I turned around to see the reason for this exodus and, to my horror, saw Britannic’s huge propellers churning and mincing up everything near them-men, boats and everything were just one ghastly whirl“.
To avoid being sucked into the Britannic’s propellers that chopped to shreds the lifeboats, one after another, Violet overcame her fear and jumped out of the lifeboat even though she could not swim. She struck her head on the ship’s keel. An arm grabbed her, but Violet shirked it off fearing the arm was that of another person drowning like herself. She surfaced because of the life-belt she was wearing and her clothes almost torn off her.
“… The first thing my smarting eyes beheld was a head near me, a head split open, like a sheep’s head served by the butcher, the poor brains trickling over on to the khaki shoulders. All around were heart-breaking scenes of agony, poor limbs wrenched out as if some giant had torn them in his rage. The dead floated by so peacefully now, men coming up only to go down again for the last time, a look of frightful horror on their faces…“.
At this exact moment, a third lifeboat was about to be shred to pieces by the propellers. Violet Jessop closed her eyes to stop watching the impending massacre. Unaware of the bloodbath generated by the monstrous propeller blades, Captain Bartlett gave orders to stop the engines. The propellers stopped turning, and the occupants of this boat pushed against the blades and escaped with their lives.
Violet Jessop was rescued once again by a lifeboat.
Around 8:50 am noticing the rate of the flooding had decreased, Captain Bartlett gave orders to restart the engines in a second attempt to beach the ship. But he immediately aborted the attempt as water was reported on Deck D.
At 9:00 am, when the water reached the bridge, Captain Bartlett sounded one last blow on the whistle alerting the ship’s engineers, who had remained at their posts until the last possible moment, to evacuate the ship.
Captain Bartlett swam from the bridge to a collapsible lifeboat. From there he coordinated the rescue operations.
The ship rolled over her starboard side. The funnels collapsed. The machinery on the deck fell into the sea.
At 9:07 am, 55 minutes after the explosion, HMHS Britannic, built to be an ocean cruiser, envisaged to be the last word in luxury travel, but never served as a transatlantic passenger liner, sank and vanished into the depths at 37°42’05.0″N 24°17’02.0″E, on its sixth voyage as a hospital ship transporting sick and wounded soldiers.
Reverend John Fleming who left the sinking ship in the second-last boat, described the sinking:
“Gradually the waters licked up and up the decks — the furnaces belching forth volumes of smoke, as if the great engines were in their last death agony; one by one the monster funnels melted away as wax before a flame, and crashed upon the decks, till the waters rushed down; then report after report rang over the sea, telling of the explosions of the boilers. The waters moved over the deck still, the bows of the ship dipping deeper and deeper into the sea, until the rudder stood straight up from the surface of the water, and, poised thus for a few moments, dived perpendicularly into the depths, leaving hardly a ripple behind. A sense of the desert overwhelmed my soul.“
The HMHS Britannic was the third and largest Olympic-class ocean liner of the White Star Line larger than the RMS Titanic.
Some sources claim the ship was to be named “Gigantic“. At least one set of documentations exists, in which Noah Hingley & Sons Ltd., in Netherton, near Dudley, United Kingdom, discuss the order for the ship’s anchors; this documentation states that the name of the ship is Gigantic. It appears more probable that the name Gigantic must have been used informally in correspondence with Harland & Wolff before being dropped quietly. However, Tom McCluskie affirmed that in his capacity as Archive Manager and Historian at Harland & Wolff, he “never saw any official reference to the name ‘Gigantic’ being used or proposed for the third of the Olympic class vessels.”
The keel for Britannic was laid on November 30, 1911, at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, 13 months after the launch of the RMS Olympic. Her watertight bulkhead was extended, higher than Titanic’s had been. Britannic was designed to carry 48 open lifeboats. Of these, 46 were to be 34 feet long, the largest lifeboats ever carried until then and two of the 46 were to be motor propelled equipped with wireless sets for communications. The other two were to be 26-foot cutters placed on either side of the bridge.
Though Britannic was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner, she never crossed the Atlantic carrying the rich and the poor to the New World.
After improvements were introduced as a consequence of the Titanic disaster, Britannic was launched at 11:10 am on February 26, 1914. Around 20 tonnes of tallow, train oil and soft soap were used to move the gigantic ship down the slipway. In 81 seconds she stood afloat in the water. Later, she was towed to the Abercon Basin for fitting by five tugs.
The British press hailed her as “a twentieth century ship in every sense of the word” and “the highest achievement of her day in the practise of shipbuilding and marine engineering.” However, after launching, she was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months.
In August 1914, when the first World War broke out, the shipyards in Britain focused on converting many liners for Transport of Troops. Some were converted to Hospital ships. Britannic‘s maiden voyage scheduled for April 1915 was cancelled.
On November 13, 1915, after being docked for 15 months, the British Admiralty requisitioned Britannic, which was just an empty hull, to use it as a hospital ship. She was readied in just six weeks before being put to use as a hospital ship and was given ship number 9618.
The public rooms on the upper decks were converted into wards for the wounded soldiers. The large first class dining rooms and the reception rooms were converted into operating theatres and main wards. Deck B was furnished to house the medical officers. The lower decks were fitted out for medical orderlies, other staff and the less wounded patients. In all, the ship was fitted to carry 3,309 people.
The ship’s hull was repainted in the internationally recognized colours of a hospital ship; a green band was painted along each side of the ship broken by three large red crosses, to provide her safe passage at sea. For protection at night, two large red crosses were painted on both sides of the boat deck and were highlighted at night with a band of green electric bulbs.
Renamed HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic, she entered service on December 23, 1915 under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett.
On December 23, 1915, she entered service as His Majesty’s Hospital Ship – HMHS Britannic.
After her traumatic experience on the RMS Titanic, Violet Jessop secured a position with the British Red Cross as a stewardess. She was posted on HMHS Britannic.
Along with Violet on board was 27-year-old Arthur John Priest, a fireman / stoker, who, like her, had survived the collision of the RMS Olympic with the HMS Hawke, and escaped from the RMS Titanic when she sank on April 15, 1912.
Also, on board was 23-year-old Archie Jewel, one of the six lookout men on the deck of the ill-fated Titanic. On the night of April 14, 1912, he had worked the 8 pm to 10 pm shift and was in his berth when the ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 pm. He was one of the first to leave the ship on the starboard side at 12:45 pm in lifeboat 7, with just 28 people on it while the full capacity was for 65. After the Titanic, Archie was on board the SS Donegal which was sunk by enemy action in April 1917.
On December 23, 1915, HMHS Britannic left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Moudros, on the island of Lemnos, North Aegean, Greece under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett. She reached Moudros eight days later on December 31, 1915 and returned to Southampton on January 9, 1916.
After completing two more voyages to Naples, she was laid up on April 12, 1916.
On August 28, 1916, HMHS Britannic was recalled to active service and was given a new Transport Identification Number, G618. She made two more voyages to Moudros returning with the sick and wounded.
The HMHS Britannic left Southampton at 2:23 pm on November 12, 1916 with Captain Charles Bartlett in command on her 6th outbound voyage to Moudros. On arriving at Naples on November 17, 1916, she took on board more coal and water.
The ship was secured for two days at Naples due to a storm. On Sunday, November 19, 1916, finding a brief shift in the weather, Captain Bartlett decided to sail away from Naples. A total of 1,066 people – sick and wounded soldiers, the ship’s crew, and the medical staff – were on board.
As HMHS Britannic left the port, a storm set in and the sea rose again. The following morning, the storm passed and the sea became calm and the ship passed the Strait of Messina without any further problems. In the early hours of Tuesday, November 21, 1916, the ship rounded Cape Matapan.
At 8:00 am, Captain Bartlett changed course for the Kea Channel, in the Aegean Sea, lying between the islands of Makronisi (to her port side) and Kea (to her starboard side), just off Cape Sounion on the mainland of Greece. Chief Officer Robert Hume and Fourth Officer D. McTowis were on the Bridge along with him.
At full speed it took four hours for the RMS Carpathia, working her way through dangerous ice fields in the dark, to reach the RMS Titanic. When Carpathia arrived at the scene at 4 am on the morning of April 15, 1912, Titanic had already sunk. Carpathia took on around 700 survivors of the disaster from Titanic‘s lifeboats. It rescued the last of the survivors in the lifeboats by 9:15 am.
Out of the 2,224 people aboard RMS Titanic, 710 were saved, leaving 1,517 dead.
The figures below are from the British Board of Trade report on the disaster.
Children, First Class
Children, Second Class
Children, Third Class
Women, First Class
Women, Second Class
Women, Third Class
Men, First Class
Men, Second Class
Men, Third Class
Captain Edward Smith, Chief Officer Henry Wilde, First Officer William Murdoch, Thomas Andrews, the naval architect of RMS Titanic, Jack Phillips, the senior Marconi radio operator, were among those lost with the sinking ship.
Harold Bride after being picked up by the RMS Carpathia assisted Harold Cottam in dealing with a constant exchange of messages in the following hours.
Lifeboat 12 reached the RMS Carpathia at 8:30 am where Jack was reunited with his mother. A kind passenger on the Carpathia gave Jack his pajamas and a bunk to sleep. Later, Jack Thayer reflected that the brandy he had drunk on that day was his first shot of hard liquor.
After being picked up by the RMS Carpathia, Bruce Ismay was taken to the ship’s doctor, Frank Mcgee’s cabin. Ismay gave Captain Rostron a message to send to White Star Line’s New York office:
“Deeply regret advise you Titanic sank this morning after collision with iceberg, resulting in serious loss of life. Full particulars later.“
During the entire journey to New York on board RMS Carpathia, Ismay never left Dr. Mcgee’s cabin. He did not eat any solid food and had to be kept under the influence of opiates.
After visiting Ismay, Jack Thayer said:
“[Ismay] was staring straight ahead, shaking like a leaf. Even when I spoke to him, he paid absolutely no attention. I have never seen a man so completely wrecked.”
The RMS Carpathia finally reached New York on April 18, 1912. Guglielmo Marconi, visited his exhausted radio operators on board. He himself had plans to to cross the Atlantic on the ill-fated RMS Titanic, but had changed his plans. He arrived In New York on the RMS Lusitania.
After their arrival in New York, Jack Thayer, his mother and Miss Fleming took the Thayer’s private train carriage from Jersey City, NJ, back home to Haverford.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Jack Thayer took on banking. A few years later he was appointed Financial Vice-President and Treasurer of the University. He served as an artillery officer in the US Army during World War I. He married Lois Cassatt and they had two sons. Edward C. Thayer and John B. Thayer IV.
In 1940, conceivably, as an attempt to purge some of the memories that still haunted him, Jack Thayer produced a pamphlet relating his experiences with the Titanic’s sinking in vivid detail in a self-published pamphlet. Just 500 copies were printed exclusively for family and friends. Oceanographer Robert Ballard used the details of Jack Thayer to determine the location of the Titanic and proved that the ship had split in half as it sank, contrary to popular belief, as was finally confirmed when the wreck of the Titanic was discovered.
During World War II, both his sons enlisted in the armed services. In 1943, Edward Thayer was a bomber pilot in the Pacific theatre. After his plane was shot down, he was listed as missing and presumed dead. His body was never recovered. When the news of Edward’s death reached him, Jack Thayer, became extremely depressed.
On the 32nd remembrance day of the RMS Titanic‘s collision with the iceberg, Jack Thayer’s mother Marian died. The loss of his mother depressed him further.
On September 20, 1945, Jack Thayer committed suicide by cutting his throat and wrists in an automobile at 48th Street and Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia.
He is buried at the Church of the Redeemer Cemetery, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
In New York, Bruce Ismay was hosted by Philip Franklin, vice-president of the company. Ismay also received a summons to appear before a Senate committee headed by Republican Senator William Alden Smith the following day and a few weeks later he appeared before the British Board of Trade chaired by Lord Mersey.
Bruce Ismay testified that as the ship was in her final moments, he was working at an oar, his back to the ship so as to avoid watching his creation sink beneath the waters of the North Atlantic. During the United States Inquiry he assured that all the vessels of the International Mercantile Marine Company would be equipped with lifeboats in sufficient numbers for all passengers.
After the inquiry, Ismay and the surviving officers of the RMS Titanic returned to England aboard RMS Adriatic. Ismay’s reputation was irreparably damaged and he maintained a low public profile after the disaster. London society ostracized Ismay for life and labelled him one of the biggest cowards in history.
The American and the British press the American and the British press Bruce Ismay for deserting the ship while women and children were still on board. Some newspapers, even conjectured that Ismay jumped into the boat, despite there being women still near the lifeboat. Some papers called him the “Coward of the Titanic” and others named him as “J. Brute Ismay” and suggested that the White Star flag be changed to a yellow liver.
Ben Hecht, then a young journalist in Chicago, wrote a scathing poem titled “Master and Man” for the Chicago Journal contrasting the actions of Captain Edward Smith, the master of RMS Titanic who had just gone to an icy grave with his ship along with a majority of its passengers, and J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line of steamship safe on the rescue ship RMS Carpathia.
Master and Man by Ben Hecht
The Captain stood where a Captain should For the Law of the Sea is grim; The Owner romped while the ship was swamped And no law bothered him. The Captain stood where the Captain should When a Captain’s ship goes down But the Owner led when the women fled, For an Owner must not drown. The Captain sank as a man of Rank, While his Owner turned away; The Captain’s grave was his bridge and brave, He earned his seaman’s pay. To hold your place in the ghastly face of Death on the Sea at Night Is a Seaman’s job, but to flee with the mob Is an Owner’s Noble Right.
However, some newspapers claimed Ismay’s escape was justified since he was a passenger just like any other passenger on board the RMS Titanic. Some journalists maintained that Ismay bound by the dictum, “Women and children first” assisted many women and children himself. At the inquiry Bruce Ismay and first-class passenger William Carter said they boarded Collapsible C lifeboat only after there were no more women and children near that lifeboat.
On June 30, 1913, Ismay resigned as president of International Mercantile Marine and chairman of the White Star Line, to be succeeded by Harold Sanderson.
The above news “J. Bruce Ismay Tells in Whispers How He Escaped Death By Leaving Sinking Titanic in Lifeboat With Women” in The Times Dispatch reminds me of an apocryphal account of how Violet Jessop got into the lifeboat:
Violet watched patiently as the crew members loaded the passengers on to lifeboat Later, they called out “Are there any more women before this boat goes out?”
Bruce Ismay, who had already got into the boat loaded with women saw Violet and said: “Come along; jump in.“
Violet replied: “I am only a stewardess.“
Ismay said: “Never mind – you are a woman; take your place.“
Just as the boat was being lowered, an officer of the Titanic gave her a baby to look after.
According to this unsubstantiated account Violet Jessop would have got into lifeboat C along with Bruce Ismay.
Violet Jessop, said later that while on board the RMS Carpathia, a woman without saying a word grabbed the baby Violet was holding and ran off with it; and many years after her retirement on a stormy night Violet received a telephone call from a woman who asked her if she saved a baby on the night the Titanic sank. When Violet replied “Yes,” the caller said, “I was that baby.”
When she told this to John Maxtone-Graham, her friend, and biographer, the latter said it would have been most likely some prankster. Violet replied, “No, John, I had never told that story to anyone before I told you now.”
The above account is a bit enigmatic. Some sources say that Violet Jessop escaped from the sinking Titanic on lifeboat 16. According to available records, the only baby in lifeboat 16 was 5-month-old Master Assad Alexander Thomas/Tannous who was handed over to 27-year-old Miss Edwina Celia Troutt. The infant was later reunited with his mother on the RMS Carpathia. Also, according to available records there were only two stewardesses on that lifeboat: 28-year-old Miss Evelyn Marsden and 41-year-old Mrs. Mary Kezia Roberts.
Many survivors lost all their possessions and became destitute. Many families, those of crew members from Southampton in particular, lost their principal breadwinners and were helped by charitable donations.
Videos taken at the wreck site of the Titanic by recent expeditions, show empty holes where the rivets gave way. Recent investigations by forensic experts reveal the rivets holding the steel plates are the real culprits leading to the Titanic catastrophe. Tests show flaws in the rivets used in the construction of Titanic. Inferior grade iron was used to manufacture the three million odd rivets that were used to hold the steel plates together.
After the demise of RMS Titanic, the SS Majestic was pressed back into service once again, filling the hole in the transatlantic schedule of White Star Line.
Even after the horrendous experience on RMS Titanic Violet Jessop continued to work as a stewardess on ocean-liners. Her next posting as a stewardess was on HMHS Britannica.
On Sunday, April 14, 1912, at 11:40 pm ship’s time, about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from Queenstown and 375 miles (600 km) south of Newfoundland at 41°43’42″N 49°46’49″W, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg directly ahead of the RMS Titanic and alerted the bridge. At that time, the ship was travelling near her maximum speed.
First Officer William McMaster Murdoch ordered the ship’s engines to be put in reverse to reduce speed and maneuver the vessel around the obstructing iceberg; but it was too late. The starboard side of the ship grazed the immense iceberg, creating a series of gashes below the waterline. The ship began to founder.
At 12:11 am on April 15, 1912, the radio operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride sent out the first distress signal: “CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD DE MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY” from position 41°44’N 50°24’W, and continued sending the distress signal by wireless.
‘CQD’ transmitted in Morse code as – · – · – – · – – · · is one of the first distress signals adopted for radio use. It is understood by wireless operators to mean, “All stations: distress.” “DE” from French “for” and ‘MGY’ the call sign of Marconi’s wireless telegraph station aboard RMS Titanic.
The crew sent distress signals using rockets and Morse code lamp.
Unfortunately, the ships that responded to her distress call were not near enough to reach her in time.
On the night of Sunday, April 14, 1912, the RMS Carpathia (call sign MPA), a Cunard Line transatlantic passenger steamship commanded by Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, was sailing from New York City to Fiume, Austria-Hungary (now Rijeka, Croatia). Carpathia’s only wireless operator, Harold Cottam, received messages from Cape Race, Newfoundland, stating they had private traffic for the RMS Titanic’s Marconi Room. At 12:11 am on April 15, 1912, he sent a message to RMS Titanic stating that Cape Race had traffic for them. In reply he received the Titanic’s distress signal.
Cottam informed Captain Rostron who immediately set a course at maximum speed of 17 knots (20 mph; 31 km/h) to the Titanic’s last known position – approximately 58 miles (93 km) away. To make as much steam as possible available for the engines, the Captain ordered the cutoff of the ship’s heating and hot water. As RMS Carpathia raced from the southeast, it fired rockets to let RMS Titanic know that help was on the way.
The RMS Titanic was provided with innovative safety features such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors.
At the outset, to accommodate the luxury features in RMS Titanic, Bruce Ismay ordered the number of lifeboats reduced from 48 to 16, the latter being the minimum allowed by the Board of Trade, based on the Titanic’s projected tonnage. However, during the maiden voyage she carried a total of 20 lifeboats: 14 standard wooden Harland & Wolff lifeboats with a capacity of 65 people each and four Englehardt “collapsible” (wooden bottom, collapsible canvas sides) lifeboats (identified as A to D) with a capacity of 47 people each. In addition, she had two emergency cutters with a capacity of 40 people each. So, there were not enough lifeboats to accommodate all on board. Though there were 2,224 people, including the 908 crew members aboard the ship, there were lifeboats enough only for 1,758 people. The RMS Titanic was less than 75% full during her maiden voyage and had room for 1,000 more people.
Lifeboat No. 5
Violet Jessop wrote in her memoirs that she was “comfortably drowsy” in her bunk, but not quite asleep when the collision occurred.
The second boat lowered on the starboard side was lifeboat 5. Third Officer Pitman was sent in charge of the boat, having five other crew with him as well as two stewardesses – most probably Violet Jessop and her roommate Elizabeth Mary Leather. Passengers were still a bit reluctant to enter the boats at this time.
Violet Jessop wrote in her memoirs:
“I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship’s officer ordered us into the boat first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: ‘Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.’ And a bundle was dropped onto my lap.”
There were probably 35 or 36 people in the boat when lowered. Lifeboat No. 5 was one of the first boats to reach the Carpathia.
The collapsible lifeboat C
Bruce Ismay was active on the starboard side all night, urging and assisting passengers into the lifeboats., more or less urging them to get away. Lifeboat No. 1, had left 20-30 minutes earlier. The collapsible lifeboat C had been fitted into a pair of empty davits, a system that is used to lower an emergency lifeboat to the embarkation level to be boarded. The davits had falls of manilla rope to lower the lifeboat into the water.
Ismay was standing close to the collapsible lifeboat C. Those near the boat were third class passengers – many from the Middle East.
Emily Alice Brown Goldsmith and her young son, Frank John William Goldsmith got into the boat with a few younger lady friends from England. After about 25 to 28 women and children had been assisted into the boat, five crew members were ordered in as well as Quartermaster George Rowe, who had been trying to contact ships in the vicinity by assisting with the Morse lamp and with firing rockets.
When there were few seats still free, Ismay and a first class passenger, William Ernest Carter, who had sent his family in lifeboat 4, got on to the lifeboat C as it was about to be lowered. Lifeboat C was probably lowered about 20 minutes before the RMS Titanic sank. It was the ninth and the last boat lowered on the starboard side.
While rowing away from the ship four Chinese third class passengers were discovered in the bottom of the boat and were taken into the lifeboat.
Lifeboat C had the capacity to hold 49 people. Mrs. Goldsmith thought there were 30 women, five crew members and four Chinese and her son in the boat while QM Rowe thought there were 39, and Bruce Ismay estimated between 40 and 45 in the boat. In all likelihood, there were just under 40 people in the boat. They did not pick up any more people from the cold sea and possibly reached the RMS Carpathia as the tenth or twelfth lifeboat.
Two weeks before boarding the RMS Titanic at Cherbourg as first class passengers on April 10, 1912, Second Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 49-year-old John Borland Thayer from Haverford, Pennsylvania, his wife 39-year-old Marian Longstreth Thayer (née Morris) and their 17-year-old son John Borland (“Jack”) Thayer Jr. had been in Berlin as guests of the American Consul General and Mrs. Thackara.
At night on April 14, 1912, while preparing for bed in his cabin C-70 Jack Thayer noticed the breeze through his half-open porthole stop. Pulling an overcoat over his pajamas he called to his parents cabin C-68 that he was ‘going out to see the fun.’ Jack ran up on A deck on the port side, but could see nothing amiss. He went towards the bow where, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could make out the ice on the forward well deck.
Jack Thayer returned to get his parents. They together went to the starboard side of A deck where the father thought he saw small pieces of ice floating around. As they crossed to the port side, they noticed that the ship had developed a list to port. They then returned to their room and dressed. Jack put on a tweed suit and vest with another mohair vest underneath in order to keep warm. Having put on life-belts, with overcoats on top, they went to the deck along with 48-year-old Miss Margaret Fleming, the personal maid of Marian Thayer.
When the order was given to women and children to board the boats, John and Jack said goodbye to Marian at the top of the grand staircase on A-Deck. While Marian and her maid went to the port side, John and Jack went to the starboard side.
A while after, the two men were surprised to learn from Chief Second Steward George Dodd that Marian and her maid were still on board. Reunited, John, Marion and Margaret went on ahead to find a boat. Jack lagged behind and finally lost them, perhaps he was talking to his friend Milton Clyde Long whom Jack had met for the first time, over coffee that evening; or perhaps he just got caught up in the crowd.
Jack searched for his parents for a while, but then, presuming they had probably got into a boat he went forward on the starboard side accompanied by Milton Long.
The boats were leaving rapidly and the crowds were large. The two young men stood by the empty davits of a lifeboat that had left. Here, close to the bridge they watched a star through the falls of the davit to measure the rate at which the ship was going down.
As the ship began to sink more rapidly and deeper, Jack, a strong swimmer, wanted to jump into the sea as others were doing towards the stern. However, Long persuaded Jack against it. Eventually, as they could not wait anymore, saying goodbye to each other, they jumped up on the rail.
Long put his legs over and inquired,, “You are coming, boy, aren’t you?”
Jack replied “Go ahead, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Long then slid down the side of the ship. Jack never saw him again.
Jack then jumped out, feet first. He surfaced well clear of the ship, he felt he was pushed away from the ship by some force.
Later on, Jack Thayer reminisced about the terrifying plunge:
“I was pushed out and then sucked down. The cold was terrific. The shock of the water took the breath out of my lungs. Down and down, I went, spinning in all directions. Swimming as hard as I could in the direction which I thought to be away from the ship, I finally came up with my lungs bursting, but not having taken any water.”
At 2:20 am, two hours and forty minutes after the Titanic smashed into the iceberg and drifting to the south at a rate of one knot per hour equating to a 2.66 mile drift, sea water gushed in through open hatches and grates; her forward deck dipped under water and she started sinking rapidly. After In two hours time after, the ship broke in two and sank. All remaining passengers and crew were plunged into lethally cold water around 28°F (−2°C). Even young and fit people would not last longer than 15 minutes in such a temperature. Almost all of those in the water died from hypothermia within 15–30 minutes.
Jack Thayer reminisced about the sinking:
“The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare, and stood out of the night as though she were on fire…. The water was over the base of the first funnel. The mass of people on board were surging back, always back toward the floating stern. The rumble and roar continued, with even louder distinct wrenchings and tearings of boilers and engines from their beds. Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split, well forward to midship, and bow or buckle upwards. The second funnel, large enough for two automobiles to pass through abreast, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks It looked as if it would fall on top of me. It missed me by only twenty or thirty feet. The Suction of it drew me down and down struggling and swimming, practically spent…
“This time I was sucked down, and as I came up I was pushed out again and twisted around by a large wave, coming up in the midst of a great deal of small wreckage. As I pushed my hand from my head it touched the cork fender of an overturned lifeboat. I looked up and saw some men on the top and asked them to give me a hand. One of them, who was a stoker, helped me up. In a short time the bottom was covered with about twenty-five or thirty men. When I got on this I was facing the ship.”
As Jack Thayer and the other survivors balanced precariously on the upturned Collapsible lifeboat B, the cries of those swimming in the water came to them. It sounded to Jack just like the high-pitched hum of locusts back home in Pennsylvania.
“Her deck was turned slightly toward us. We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the greater part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle. Here it seemed to pause, and just hung, for what felt like minutes. Gradually she turned her deck away from us, as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle.
“I looked upwards – we were right under the three enormous propellers. For an instant, I thought they were sure to come down on top of us. Then, with the deadened noise of the bursting of her last few gallant bulkheads, she slid quietly away from us into the sea.”
Of the last moments, Violet Jessop wrote:
“… one awful moment of empty, misty darkness…then an unforgettable, agonizing cry went up from 1500 despairing throats, a long wail and then silence…“
Violet and the rest of the survivors remained in the boats all night.
Niagara Falls is one of the most beautiful places in the world I have ever seen.
Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that sprawl the international border between the United States and Canada. It is located between the international twin cities of Niagara Falls, in the state of New York, United States, and Niagara Falls, in the province of Ontario, Canada. These falls form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge where Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario.
The international boundary line separating the United States and Canada was originally drawn through Horseshoe Falls in 1819 has long been in dispute due to natural erosion and construction.
From the largest to the smallest, the three waterfalls are:
On the Canadian side: theHorseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls) on the right between Goat Island and Table Rock.
On the American side:
The American Falls on the far left between Prospect Point and Luna Island, and the Bridal Veil Falls mid left between Luna Island and Goat Island.
The breathtaking bluish-green colour of the Niagara River is caused by
refraction of sunlight and reflection of the blue sky
dissolved minerals picked up primarily from the limestone bed
from the shale and sandstone under the limestone cap at the falls
microscopic plants such as algae and plankton in the water.
Around 60 tons of dissolved minerals are swept over Niagara Falls every minute.
Though these three falls are not exceptionally high, they are very wide. The American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls have a crest line of 1,100 feet (335 meters) and a height of 176 feet (54 meters).
More than six million cubic feet (168,000 cubic meters) of water fall over the crest line every minute in high flow, and almost four million cubic feet (110,000 cubic meters) on average. The summer daytime flow at the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls is 75,000 gal/Sec (285,000 Liters/Sec).
About eight million tourists visit the American side and about 20 million tourists visit the Canadian side of Niagara Falls every year.
On August 2, 2012, our son Subas Raj took me and my wife to Niagara Falls, in the state of New York. We were there for three days. We enjoyed the magnificent views of the three falls.
Here is a short video of the breathtaking view of the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls from Luna Island.
Since 1925, every evening beginning at dusk, the Niagara Falls are lit in the colours of the rainbow, financed and operated by The Niagara Falls Illumination Board. Also, year after year, the Niagara Parks Commission, an agency of government of Ontario which maintains the Ontario shoreline of the Niagara River, hosts Canada’s longest-running fireworks series in Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls in the province of Ontario, Canada.
The unmatched beauty of the Niagara Falls at night illuminated by strobe lights from the Canadian side, and the spectacular fireworks display before an unforgettable backdrop captivated us. I captured this video “Niagara Falls by Night – Illuminations & Fireworks” using my Canon Powershot camera from Prospect Point in Niagara Falls, New York. I regret that I did not have a high-end camera with high-resolution to capture the unmatched beauty of the Niagara Falls at night.
Ever wondered what the falls on the American side would look like when dry?
The above photo shows the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls during the preservation work carried out in 1969.
Does the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande haunt Taprobane Island ?
Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933), a Sri Lankan born Canadian-English businessman, philanthropist, adventurer, and writer thinks so.
Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to a Burgher family of Dutch and Indian origin. His name comes from an Indian ancestor called Ondaatchi from Thanjavur, South India.
In the early 18th Century, a physician to the King of Tanjore from the clan of Ondaatchi, was summoned to Ceylon by Adrian Van der Meyden, the Governor-General of the Dutch East-India Company, to treat his ailing wife. The physician arrived in Ceylon on June 9, 1659 from Tanjore. He treated the sick woman with a bath of water in which 23 jungle herbs were boiled. She recovered fully. The physician’s success in curing the lady led to the Governor to become his friend. In appreciation, the Governor appointed him as the First Doctor of the Town of Colombo.
In 1660, the physician got converted to Christianity. He adopted the name ‘Michael Jurgen Ondaatch’. He married Magdalene de Cruz (1640-1688), a Portuguese woman. Michael Jurgen Ondaatch died in 1714.
After Christopher Ondaatje’s alcoholic father lost the family fortune, Christopher had to leave school a year from graduation. In 1956, at the age of 33, he emigrated to Canada, arriving in Toronto with almost no money. He quickly became a wealthy stockbroker, and was one of the three founding members of Loewen Ondaatje McCutcheon. He became a multi-millionaire in the publishing industry by founding the Pagurian Press, which he later sold to the Bronfman family.
Christopher Ondaatje represented Canada in the four-man bobsled at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. He is the author of 11 books including The Man-Eater of Punanai and Woolf in Ceylon.
I have reproduced below an article, wherein Sir Christopher Ondaatje gives an account of his tryst with the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at about three o’clock in the afternoon on November 27 in the 1940s.
The Count haunts Taprobane
By Sir Christopher Ondaatje
I first heard the scream in 1946. Actually it was more like a repeated plaintive gasp than a scream, and this was followed by a long low hissing noise, somewhat like air being released through someone’s teeth. I was only twelve years old and holidaying with my parents, two sisters and my brother Michael on Taprobane Island off the coast of Weligama, a fishing village on the south coast of what was then Ceylon.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon and we children had been sent to our rooms for an afternoon nap – quite a normal thing to do in the tropics. It was a very hot November afternoon. We had been playing and swimming most of the morning on the long crescent shaped Weligama beach only a few yards from the tiny Taprobane Island on which Count de Mauny Talvande had built a unique and magnificent house on the red granite rock covered with palms and jungle scrub. He bought the Island in 1925 and it remained in his possession until he died.
I didn’t know it then, but the Count had died in 1941, only five years before we rented the Island from the subsequent owners who had bought the extraordinary island for Rs.12,000 at an auction in 1942. It really is a magical island, only about two acres in area, and the Count christened it Taprobane because its original pear shape looked a little like a miniature Ceylon. He ignored its local name which had always been Galduwa. The first stones were laid out in 1927 and despite the fact that the island had been used by locals as a cobra dump (he eventually got rid of them) he set about building an enormous octagonal central hall which was thirty feet high and twenty feet at its widest point. The so-called Hall of the Lotus was lined with eight panels of inlaid wood which were dyed a dull gold and eau de nil, and bore a design of lotus buds and flowers.
The dome is supported by eight square pillars of Wedgwood blue, 24 feet in height, and on either side of these two light columns, 12 feet in height making sixteen in all – terra-cotta with gilded capitals support a white stone traverse which join the pillars with an arch of 10-feet span. This is hung with curtains of soft eau de nil silk, a deep brocaded border of art nouveau design at the bottom, black and gold on a cream ground. These curtains are kept open during the day, drawn only at night.
All the rooms converge in to the hall through eight arches; nothing interferes with the full view of the interior, nor with that of the terraces and gardens which are seen through the carved mullions of doors and windows. A frieze inspired by the Sigiriya frescoes runs along the white stone walls. After Count de Mauny had finished building and decorating his building one could look from the centre of the hall through wrought iron and brass gates northwards to the entrance through towering palms and a vast array of tropical foliage. To the east one could see the Italian gardens the Count had created. The land sloped down to a well fed by a spring below sea level. East, and overlooking this garden, was the Count’s own bedroom.
He loved the sunrise and, looking southwards, there was nothing between the small triangular lawn outside his bedroom window and the South Pole. Every morning the Count would lie in bed and listen to the gardener raking the leaves off the gravel path with an ekel broom. Everything, the house, the garden, and furniture of his own design and making, was in perfect harmony. There was a marvellous view up the palm-fringed Weligama bay to the north-east, and at low tide one could easily walk the few yards to and from the shore. However, at high tide the water was chest high and women and children used to be carried by servants to the small pier that led to the entrance steps. After a restless and turbulent life in France and England the Count spent many happy years in his unique island home – less a fortress than a pavilion.
As I said, I first heard the scream in 1946. It was late in November and I was having a nap in the room next to the Count’s old bedroom. In those days there were no doors to the bedrooms – only the thin silk curtains which we pushed open and shut along solid brass curtain rings. I knew no one was in the Count’s bedroom because my mother and father, who had been sleeping there, had driven to Galle with a tea-planter friend of theirs, H.L. ‘Tank’ Roche who was also staying on the island. We were left in the charge of our ayah or nanny. The others were still asleep, and I heard the gasping cry very clearly so I got up and looked into the Count’s bedroom, only to see his large empty ebony bed. And then I heard it again – a long plaintive repeated gasp. A sudden queer sensation passed over me and I felt a little faint. But this disappeared quickly. Far from being terrified I entered the room and looked on either side of the bed for something or someone who could have made the anguished sound. I saw nothing so returned to my own room next door to wait for the others to wake up.
I told no one anything about the scream until two evenings later when we waded across the water to the Weligama Rest House for an early evening dinner of fried prawns and fish curry – my father’s favourite. In those days the main road ran behind the Weligama Rest House and not in front of it. At low tide one could run down the front steps of Taprobane and literally run across the shallow surf in bare feet, over the wide sandy beach and across a little bit of scrub grass to the Rest House. The food was marvellous and the Rest House keeper, Jayakody, was very kind to all of us. While we were having dinner – in fact we had almost finished and were having a second helping of buffalo curd and kitulpanni or honey, that Jayakody jokingly said to me, “Did you hear it?”
“What?” I said, not even remembering the scream.
“You heard nothing? Nothing at all? What bedroom are you in?”
I told him. And then I remembered my experience and told him that I had indeed heard rather a horrible scream or groan a couple of days earlier. My father was actually quite annoyed that I hadn’t told him anything about it.
“Ah yes,” Jayakody said. “That’s the Count. He died two days ago, you know, on November 27, 1941, of a heart attack. Angina pectoris. He was visiting a friend in
Jaffna on the Chelvarayan Estate in Nawatkuli. And then they buried him up there in St. Mary’s Burial Ground which is a Catholic cemetery. It was a real shame. He always wanted to be buried on his island. He came here with practically nothing, but he built this fabulous house. It was the only place he was really happy. He was deeply in debt, which is why his island was sold. But he wrote a remarkable book about it, “The Gardens of Taprobane” which is very difficult to get. None of his family went to the funeral which was organised by an English solicitor whom he didn’t even know. He often comes back but usually at this time of the year. And his awful gasping for breath and his last sounds are usually heard by the gardener outside his open bedroom windows. It is quite a usual occurrence and no one pays any attention anymore. He was seventy five years old and died a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”
During the early part of the night we made our way back to Taprobane Island with flares and torches. We children were still in high spirits and enjoyed being carried over the high tide by the servants who made several trips to and from the Weligama beach to collect us. My father and mother were unusually quiet. Not surprisingly they didn’t sleep in the Count’s bed and bedroom that night or on any subsequent night. They simply collected their bags and clothes from the Count’s bedroom and moved to the spare guest room over the servants’ quarters facing the Weligama beach.
Source: The Sri Lankan Anchorman, Toronto, Canada.
Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande died suddenly from a heart attack at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on November 27, 1941, while visiting a friend at the Chelvarayan Estate, Navatkuli, 3.73 miles (6 km) south of Jaffna in Ceylon.
John Lambert, an English solicitor at the Chelvarayan Estate, is registered as the person who buried the body of Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at St Mary’s Burial Grounds in Jaffna, Ceylon, with none of his family members present.
The Ceylon Daily News, in its edition of Friday November 28 1941, printed the following in its obituary column:
“The death has occurred in Jaffna yesterday of the Count de Mauny, who had resided in Ceylon for over twenty years, making his island home, Taprobane, off Weligama, one of the most attractive show pieces of the kind. A French Catholic, the count became a naturalized Englishman.
He was married to a daughter of the 4th Earl of Strafford and had one son, Mr. V A de Mauny, who served with the British Navy in the last Great War and rejoined when the present hostilities broke out.
The late Count de Mauny’s principal hobbies, in which he was himself an adept, were the laying out of beautiful gardens and furniture craftmanship, which he turned into an art. Besides his own at Taprobane, many of Colombo’s most pleasing gardens owe their inspiration to him. His book The Gardens of Taprobane published in London some years ago, met with a good reception.
Count de Mauny who was nominated to the Weligama Urban Council, took a keen interest in public affairs and there was a time when he was a prolific writer to the newspapers. At one period he was even a member of the Labour Union.
The funeral takes place this morning.”
While the above obituary states that Maurice “… had one son, Mr. V A de Mauny, … “, it does not mention anywhere anything about his daughter Alexandra.
Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande’s son, Victor Alexander, passed away in 1978, and his daughter Alexandra died in 1989. They were both childless. Seweryn Chomet mentions a rumour that Victor Alexander had an illegitimate son in Ceylon who eventually emigrated to New Zealand.
Even after the Count died, Taprobane Island continued to draw new generations of romantics.
Taprobane Island remained in Victor Alexander’s ownership until it was sold by public auction in 1942 for Rupees 12,000.
In 1946, when Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933) was 12 years old his father had rented the island from the owners who had bought it at the auction.
The island changed hands to various people, and none of them lived there long as the Count did.
Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999), an American expatriate composer, author, and translator was a child prodigy. He could read by the time he was three, and within the year he was writing stories. Soon, he started writing surrealistic poetry and music. In 1922, at age seventeen one of his poems, “Spire Song”, was accepted for publication in the twelfth volume of Transition, a literary journal based in Paris that served as a forum for some of the greatest proponents of modernism – Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Paul Éluard, Gertrude Stein and others.
In 1947, Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco, and his wife, Jane Bowles followed him in 1948.
Bowles visited Ceylon for the first time in 1949. He wrote:
Like most people, I have always been certain there was a place somewhere on this planet that could provide the necessary respite from all reminders of present-day chaos and noise, a place to which one could escape and, having escaped, shut the figurative door, there to breathe pure air and hear only the sounds provided by natural forces. So it was with tremulous excitement that I first saw the little island of Taprobane, in Weligama Bay off the south coast of Sri Lanka. Here was a site that seemed to have all the requisite qualities: It was scarcely more than a hummock of black basalt rising above the waves of the Indian Ocean, yet was heavily covered with high trees that left visible only a glimpse of the house at its summit. I had never seen a place that looked so obviously like what I was searching for. And I felt that it was aware of me, that it silently beckoned, sending forth a wordless message that meant: Come. You’ll like it here.
Three years later, I signed the necessary documents and became the owner of this tiny parcel of paradise. The erstwhile proprietor, a rubber planter named Mr. Jinadasa, also bred racehorses and bet on them. When a horse in which he has great confidence failed to justify his hopes, he found himself in immediate need of cash. My informant in Sri Lanka wired me in Madrid, and as soon as the news arrived I rushed out to cable the money.
I inherited a couple who were resident gardener and maid, and who continued their work as if they were still in the employ of Mr. Jinadasa. In aspects they had worked for several owners, scarcely knowing them apart, and were aware only that their employer must be addressed as Master.The island had belonged to various people in the recent past, and none of them had kept in very long. It was a pleasure dome, a place they used for weekend parties. The only person who had actually lived there was the Comte de Mauny Talvande, who had built the house and furnished it after reclaiming the island from its former status as the local cobra-dump. (All cobras found in the region were put into sacks, carried across to the island and left there, since in Sri Lanka one doesn’t kill snakes). In order to settle in, I needed to buy only new mattresses for the beds, and lamps and kitchenware. The furniture, made of the heaviest kinds of tropical wood, was well-nigh immovable.
In 1951, Bowles purchased the island from its owner, Mr. Jinadasa, for English Pounds 5,000. He lived there for many years, alternating seasonally with his better known home in Morocco.
In 1952, during a three-year self-internment on the island, Bowles wrote his most successful novel, “The Spider’s House.” He incorporated the villa as one of the principal settings in the book. In his diary, he wrote of early-morning tours of the garden:
“the sun, although scarcely risen above the headlands to the east, is already giving off an intimate, powerful heat, and the distant flotillas of fishing boats later slip past the white line of the reefs into the open sea, their furled sails like the dorsal fins of giant sharks”.
The American art collector, bohemian and socialite, Peggy Guggenheim, the Moroccan artist Ahmed Yakoubi, and British science fiction writer, science writer, and undersea explorer, Arthur C. Clarke were among those who visited Taprobane Island during Paul Bowles’ tenure.
In 1956, at his wife’s insistence Bowles sold the island to the Irish writer Shaun Mandy and moved back to Morocco.
Frederick Lorensz de Silva
Shaun Mandy sold the Island in late 1950s to Sri Lankan lawyer and politician Edmund Frederick Lorensz de Silva, MBE, who was once the Mayor of Kandy, Member
of Parliament and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to France and Switzerland, and a former Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya from 1990 to 1993.
Frederick de Silva was known to the residents of Kandy and outside as ‘Fred’, and his colleagues and litigants called him ‘Lion of the Kandy Bar’ as he dominated the Criminal Bar for 58 years with a lucrative practice like his father late Mr. George E. de Silva who dominated the Criminal Bar for well over 30 years.
‘Fred’ was the second son of veteran politician and statesman late Mr. George E. de Silva who fought to achieve Independence and Adult Franchise for his country along with national leaders like late D. S. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Baron Jayatilleke, E. W. Perera, A. E. Goonesinghe and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.
Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ
Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ (born December 31, 1939), a prominent British lawyer, and former United Nations Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone
inherited Taprobane Island from his father Frederick Lorensz de Silva.
Sir Desmond married Princess Katharina of Yugoslavia, cousin of Queen Elizabeth and one of Queen Victoria’s great granddaughters. They divorced on May 6, 2010.
The island became neglected for many years until a brief period in the 1970s when writer Thadée Klossowski de Rola, the younger son of the Polish-French modern artist Balthus, held court there and captivated many a young visitor!
In the 1970s, the Hong Kong based entrepreneur Geoffrey Dobbs, a very successful Anglo-Australian hotelier, first saw the Taprobane Island in an airline magazine. Struck by the beauty of the place he fell in love with it. He patiently negotiated with the de Silva family and obtained it on a long lease. Eventually, he bought the Island from them. In 1995, Geoffrey Dobbs moved in, and restored the island to its heyday.
A resident of Sri Lanka for the last 18 years, Geoffrey Dobbs is one of the key players in the tourist renaissance of Sri Lanka. He opened the first boutique hotels in Sri Lanka’s south-west, restoring two colonial mansions in Galle: the Sun House and the Dutch House. He has another beach retreat at Tangalla, and more recently restored Lunuganga, the jungle retreat near Bentota.
Dobbs was one of the key figures in raising money and awareness for the tsunami relief for Sri Lanka and founded the charity “Adopt Sri Lanka” in 2001 with the objective to assist rebuilding and rehabilitating local communities on the coastline of Sri Lanka and to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. Having originally worked with other NGOs, Adopt Sri Lanka is now principally operating in the Weligama and Tangalle areas on long-term projects, rebuilding the fishing industry, restoring small businesses for widows and helping with education and housing.
He runs a “twinning” program which connects Sri Lankan schools with schools around the world.
He is the founder and president of the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association, Hong Kong. Every February he plays host to the world’s only beach elephant polo tournament held in front of his idyllic island of Taprobane on Sri Lanka’s south coast.
In 2007, he set up the Galle Literary Festival, which has now become a well recognised annual event.
Dobbs has a natural love for water and spends as much time as he can in or near the sea. He is a keen enthusiast for traditional boats and said:
“I have had a Chinese Junk in Hong Kong for over 25 years and was a member of the 1995 expedition sailing a bamboo raft across the Pacific Ocean to prove the Chinese reached America before Columbus.“