Tag Archives: Britain

The Five Days of December 1952 When the Killer Smog Blanketed London.


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Smokestack belching dense dark smoke.
Smokestack belching dense dark smoke.

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The modern fight against environmental pollution around the world owes much to the tragedy that befell Greater London, about 63 years ago. The haphazard use of coal brought the country to the brink of a frightening black disaster on December 5, 1952.

During the Industrial Revolution, from about 1760 to around 1840, there was a transition to new manufacturing processes. The main factor in this transition was the change from wood and other biofuels to coal.

Indiscriminate use of coal drove Britain, the most powerful empire in the world. Tall smokestacks became the symbols of the industrial age in Britain. The appalling use of coal in industries, for generating electricity, heating homes, for cooking, etc., was frightening. Trains, boats, iron, steel, everyday items used coal. In London, it was like millions of micro-volcanoes erupting all at once. It was as if London was eating coal to survive.

People were burning large quantities of poor quality coal and emitting pollution at low elevations. The pollution from home chimneys was double the amount of the industries.

In the Victorian era, London was well known for its romantic fog that covered the city for 90 days each year for decades. But as the years passed by, this romantic fog and the smoke and fog turned into a poisonous cloud of smog (smoky fog) during each winter. In his book “Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930) wrote:

In the third week of November, in the year 1895, a dense yellow fog settled down upon London. From the Monday to the Thursday I doubt whether it was ever possible from our windows in Baker Street to see the loom of the opposite houses. … But when, for the fourth time, after pushing back our chairs from breakfast we saw the greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops upon the windowpanes, my comrade’s impatient and active nature could endure this drab existence no longer. He paced restlessly about our sitting- room in a fever of suppressed energy, biting his nails, tapping the furniture, and chafing against inaction.

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A view of Battersea Power Station in 2012 from River Thames.
A view of Battersea Power Station in 2012 from River Thames.

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Construction of the first phase, the A Station of the Battersea Power Station, began in March 1929. It first generated electricity in 1933, but was not completed until 1935. The total cost of its construction was £2,141,550. It burned approximately 10,000 tons of coal each week to supply one fifth of the electricity for the entire city of London.

Washing off the accumulated soot in London.
Washing off the accumulated soot in London.

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Slowly, with time, London became completely covered in soot.

In late 1952 an unusual cold cinch had gripped London for weeks. On December 5, 1952, the day the disaster began, Londoners awoke to find a clear sky, but coal fireplaces worked overtime to fight the chill in the air. As the day progressed, a light veil of fog began to blanket the city. In the afternoon, the fog mixed with the thousands of tons of soot being pumped into the skies of London by million or more coal stoves, home chimneys, from local factories and industrial smokestacks began to turn a sickly shade of yellow and settled in the London basin.

Smog was nothing new for Londoners, but on that day, this thick sulfurous yellow “pea souper” quickly thickened into a poisonous brew, unlike anything the city had ever experienced before. A high-pressure system parked over London caused a temperature inversion. The air about a thousand feet above the surface, warmer than that at ground level kept the smog under the clouds and prevented it from rising. And, there was no breeze to disperse and dissipate the soot-laden soup.

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The Killer Smog That Blanketed London, 63 Years Ago (Source: history.com)
The Killer Smog That Blanketed London, 63 Years Ago (Source: history.com)

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For five days from Friday, December 5 to Tuesday, December 9, 1952, the Great Smog paralyzed life in London. Poisonous smog closed down all establishments.  Day became as dark as night.

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People found it difficult to breathe the murky air.
People found it difficult to breathe the murky air.

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People found it difficult to breathe the murky air. The smog was so dense that residents of the Isle of Dogs section of the city reported they were unable to see their feet as they walked. It was as if they needed a blind person to lead them home.

The dense smog crippled all transportation. Boat traffic on the Thames came to a halt. Bus conductors holding flashlights and torches walked in front of the double-deckers to guide drivers. Flights were grounded, and trains canceled. Only the Underground was in service.

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The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches s to show them the way.
The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches s to show them the way.

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London was completely silent. Only sirens of ambulances which brought those whose lives were in danger to the hospitals was heard. The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches to show them the way.

Even at mid-noon, automobile drivers and motorcyclists turned on their headlights. They hung their heads out the windows in a futile attempt to inch ahead through the yellow gloom. Many abandoned their vehicles.

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Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.
Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.

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Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.

A greasy grime covered exposed surfaces. Pedestrians with their faces and noses blackened by the smog tried not to slip on the greasy black ooze that coated the sidewalks.

People wore face masks to go to shopping, to walk their dogs. Students wore face masks to go to school.

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People wore face masks even to kiss.
People wore face masks even to kiss.

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People wore face masks even to kiss.

Fearing the children might get lost in the smog, authorities advised parents not to send their children to school.

Fearing the children might get lost in the smog, authorities advised parents not to send their children to school.

Criminals emboldened by the thick dark smog resorted to purse snatching and burglaries and then vanished into the cloaking darkness.

Birds lost in the fog crashed into buildings.

Breeders fashioned improvised gas masks for their cattle by soaking grain sacks in whiskey. Eleven prize heifers brought to Earls Court for the famed Smithfield Show choked to death.

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All weekend soccer matches were canceled.
All weekend soccer matches were canceled.

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All weekend soccer matches were canceled. However, Oxford and Cambridge carried on with their annual cross-country competition at Wimbledon Common. As runners materialized out of the thick haze, the track marshals shouted continually, “This way, this way, Oxford and Cambridge.”

Since the smog seeped even inside closed buildings, movie theaters closed down as the yellow haze made it impossible for the audience to see the screen. The opera houses too put up their shutters as the audience could no longer see the performers on the stage due to the acrid smog.

The unparalleled admissions to hospitals and the great number of pneumonia reports overwhelmed the medical authorities.

Sadly, the Great Smog was not only a nuisance, it was also lethal for those with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, the elderly, the babies and the infants. Amidst coughing and the wheezing, death came silently to London. The smog literally choked thousands to death. Deaths from bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than seven-fold and the death rate in the East End increased ninefold.

Eventually, the siege abated on December 9, 1952, when cold winds from the west swept the toxic smog away from London and carried out to the North Sea. Yet, the detrimental effects lingered on, and death rates remained above normal into the summer.

Initial reports estimated that upwards of 4,000 died prematurely in the first week of the Great Smog. The mortality rate remained high for a couple of months after the Great Smog. People realized the impact of the deadly Smog when the undertakers ran out of caskets and the florists out of flowers and bouquets.

There were 12,000 unexplained deaths and additional deaths during the episode and in the two months after the abatement of the peak smog.

A preliminary report not finalized yet attributed these later deaths to an influenza epidemic. New evidence shows that only a fraction of the deaths could be from influenza.

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The lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon.
The lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon.

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Thorough examinations of the lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon, a byproduct of burning coal and a short-term overexposure to a high concentration of fine particulate matter containing heavy metals.

Initially, the British government was reluctant to act in the wake of the Great Smog.

The Coalition for Clean Air calculated the concentration of pollution in London at the time. They concluded that it might have surpassed the current pollution in China by a large margin even though PM2.5 was not measured at the time. During the Great Smog, the concentration of sulfur dioxide was 190 times higher than the WHO standard.

Following the investigation, the British Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, which restricted the burning of coal in urban areas. The Act authorized local councils to set up smoke-free zones.

The public received grants to convert from coal stoves to alternative heating systems.

It took years, for London to transit from its primary source of heating coal to gas, oil, and electricity. During the transition period, deadly smogs occurred periodically, such as one that killed 750 people in 1962. But none of them reached the scale of the Great Smog that descended upon London on December 5, 1952.

In the 1960s, after the Great Smog in London, other countries began to reduce and control their use of coal.

Now, India, a country suffering from severe air pollution is also on a similar footing. Soon, India will become the world’s second largest consumer of coal. Yet, as of today, India has not yet set standards for emissions of important pollutants in its industries.

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Tea Act of 1773 and the Boston Tea Party


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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For thousands of years, indigenous peoples lived in the vast expanse of land that is now known as the United States of America. They developed their own complex cultures before the arrival of the European colonists. The Spanish had early settlements in Florida and the Southwest. The French settled along the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast.

After 1600, most of the colonists in these new-found lands were from England. By the 1770s, there were 13 British colonies along the Atlantic coast east of the Appalachian Mountains. About two and a half million people populated these colonies.

In early 1770s, the British East India Company was in financial difficulties. It held a massive surplus of tea in its London warehouses. The English Parliament presented the Tea Act of 1773 to help the struggling company survive. This Act was also promulgated to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain’s North American colonies.

The Tea Act of 1773 granted the British East India Company the right to ship its tea directly to North America. The Company also received the right to duty-free export of tea from Britain. Yet, the tax imposed by the Townshend Acts and collected in the colonies remained in force. The Tea Act received the royal assent on May 10, 1773. (See my article: The Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773).

The colonies did not send representatives to the British Parliament. Hence, they had no influence over the taxes raised, levied, or how they were spent. So, they objected to the Tea Act. They believed the Act violated their rights as Englishmen in America to be taxed without their consent. They raised the slogan: “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.”

In September and October 1773, seven ships carrying East India Company’s tea set sail to the American colonies. The ships carried more than 2,000 chests containing about 600,000 pounds of tea. Four ships were bound for Boston and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

The Americans learned the details of the Tea Act only after the ships were en route. Whigs was a nickname for the Patriots, who sometimes called themselves the “Sons of Liberty”. They mobilized a coalition of merchants and artisans to oppose the delivery and distribution of the inbound tea.

The Whigs began a campaign to raise awareness about the implications of the provisions in the Tea Acts. They opposed the Acts which implicitly agreed to accept the right of taxation by the English Parliament.

Benjamin Franklin - one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Benjamin Franklin – one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Benjamin Franklin said the British were trying to use cheap tea to “overcome all the patriotism of an American”.

Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father of the United States from the state of Pennsylvania, urged his fellow Americans to oppose the landing of the tea. He said the cargo contained “the seeds of slavery”.

On October 16, 1773, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Colonel William Bradford, Thomas Mifflin, Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, and other local leaders and members of the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty organized a meeting at the Pennsylvania State House. They adopted eight resolutions. One resolution stated:

That the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them without their consent.

The most important one read:

That the resolution lately entered into by the East India Company, to send out their tea to America subject to the payment of duties on its being landed here, is an open attempt to enforce the ministerial plan, and a violent attack upon the liberties of America.

These declarations, printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette,  comprised the first public protest against the importation of taxed tea from England.

Samuel Adams -  one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Samuel Adams – one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

In Boston, Whig leader Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting at Faneuil Hall. Three weeks later, on November 5, 1773, at a town meeting at Faneuil Hall the Bostonians adopted the same resolutions that Philadelphians had promulgated earlier. In their resolution the Bostonians declared:

That the Sense of the Town cannot be better expressed on this Occasion, than in the words of certain Judicious Resolves lately entered into by our worthy Brethren the Citizens of Philadelphia.

Colonial merchants, some of them smugglers of Dutch tea, joined the Whigs. They played a significant role in the protests because the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper. Also, the Tea Act was a threat to put an end to their smuggling business. Other legitimate importers of tea, not chosen as consignees by the British East India Company, also faced financial ruin because of the Tea Act. Most American merchants feared that this type of government-created monopoly might extend to include other goods in the future.

The Whigs convinced, and sometimes harassed the Company’s authorized consignees to resign. They successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three colonies and forced the ships to turn back to England. They could not do so in Massachusetts.

The tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, 1773. On November 29, a handbill posted all over Boston, contained the following words:

Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! – That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor.

That day Whig leader, Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting, at Faneuil Hall. As thousands of people arrived, the meeting shifted to a larger venue – the Old South Meeting House. The assembled passed a resolution, introduced by Adams, urging the captain of the Dartmouth to turn back to England without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent unloading of the tea from the ship.

British law required the Dartmouth to unload its cargo of tea and pay the customs duties within twenty days . If the customs duties were not paid within that time, the customs officials could confiscate the cargo.

Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian Royal Governor of the Massachusetts Colony..
Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian Royal Governor of the Massachusetts Colony..

Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave Boston without paying the duty. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down.

Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor. Another ship, the William headed for Boston encountered a storm and sank before it could reach Boston.

On December 16th, the last day of the Dartmouth’s deadline to pay the customs duties, about 7,000 people gathered around the Old South Meeting House.

After receiving the report that Governor Hutchinson had refused to let the ships leave, Samuel Adams announced: “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country”.

Immediately, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House. Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, but the throng headed out to prepare to take action.

Some donned elaborately prepared Mohawk costumes, disguising their faces, because of the illegality of their protest. Dressing as a Mohawk warrior was a specific and symbolic choice. In the evening of December 16, 1773, they boarded the three vessels – Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver. Over the course of three hours, they dumped 342 chests of tea into the water.

Eventually, the Boston Tea Party proved to be one of the many courses that culminated in the American Revolutionary War.

 

Click on the image below to see video

Boston Tea Party - 02.
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The Travails of Traveling Abroad on a Sri Lankan Passport


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 Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise PascalPensées

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On April 28, 2014, I wrote an article titled “Is a Passport Necessary for the Queen of England, US President, and the Pope to Travel Abroad?”  After reading it, my friend Joe Croos, a constant reader of my posts, now living in Germantown, Maryland, USA, forwarded me the following hilarious piece of writing sent to him by his friend Tony Rajanayagam.

Neither Tony nor Joe knows who the original author of this article is. Obviously he must be a Sri Lankan.

I enjoyed reading every word of this sarcastic, thought-provoking dissertation, and wish to share it with you.

I have used my editorial discretion, to strike out two phrases in the first paragraph which, though hilarious might seem objectionable to a few. Also, I have added images to spruce up the presentation.

Sri Lanka Passport (Source:  elankanews.com)
Sri Lankan Passport (Source: elankanews.com)

There are three things in the world that are of no use to anyone, viz. a man’s breast, a priest’s balls,, and a Sri Lankan passport. The uselessness of the third item becomes absolutely clear when one tries to apply for a visa to go abroad.

Today, international travel for a bona fide traveler from Sri Lanka is fraught with unbelievable red-tape, undesirable paperwork and unforeseeable pitfalls. It is, for example, much easier for the proverbial camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an honest Sri Lankan passport holder to enter the United Kingdom. Everything in life has a price.

Ironically, these days, it is relatively easy for a Sri Lankan illegal immigrant to enter any western country of his choice and claim asylum, become a citizen and sponsor his kith and kin. This way, entire villages from Jaffna peninsula have been uprooted and are now relocated to Scarborough in Toronto, Canada.

A Sri Lankan passport is not unique. Israeli passport is the next most useless document as it is not recognized by 23 countries in the Middle East and also by North Korea and Cuba. Presenting an Israeli passport to an immigration officer in a Muslim country would be the equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull in Spain.

Although the Sri Lankan passport clearly states that “The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka requests and requires 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” the document is more often than not treated with total disdain while its possessor is regarded with suspicion by almost all countries including Bangladesh, Benin and Bulgaria.

Although the purpose of the Sri Lankan passport is to promote and facilitate international travel, the way in which its owners are treated at foreign embassies makes one wonder if it was instead designed to dissuade and restrict international travel as much as possible.

Applying for a visa to a western country in Sri Lanka has become such a complex, confusing and complicated activity that some people, especially old men and women, come down with the condition known as “visaitis“. This is a relatively new disease which emerged in Sri Lanka at the end of July 1983.

The symptoms include a certain dryness of the mouth, dizziness, and mild dementia. Patients afflicted with this disease also suffer from outrageously watery diarrhea and are in the habit of passing urine frequently, and in rare cases, may be subject to catatonic schizophrenia. They can be nervous, irritable and immune to therapy. The mere thought of going to a western Embassy or High Commission in Sri Lanka is so traumatic that one or two people have in fact died of a broken heart, following the mandatory medical check-up.

There is a particular Hindu place of worship known affectionately as the “Visa Pillayar Temple” (VPT) in Colombo where people go to break a coconut and offer a silent prayer to ensure success prior to their interview (or interrogation) for a visa at the Embassy. Visa aspirants from places as far away as Valluvettithurai (VVT) in the north come to VPT to collect the vipoothi (holy ash), which when applied on the forehead is supposed to confer divine protection during the inquisition at the Embassy.

The insults start at the gate of an Embassy where you experience the taste of what is in store for you in the country you plan to spend your hard-earned money.

French Tricolor Flag - 1803

At the French Embassy in Colombo, rated 9.5 in the “Richter Scale of Rude Shocks,” it is the illiterate gatekeeper who functions as Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades, to whom one must give the sop to slip into the Embassy.

Japanese Flag

At the Japanese Embassy in Colombo, you cannot see the visa officer through the one-way opaque glass window when you submit your application. He can see you, but you cannot see him. The experience can be quite unnerving. It is a bit like speaking to an Oracle in Greece.

Canadian flag

The application for a Canadian tourist visa is 10 pages long and has more than 60 questions, including the names, places and dates of birth of yourself, your wife, your siblings, parents, grandparents, your wife’s relatives, your in-laws and outlaws! All these details have to be submitted first electronically before you are given a date for the interview.

Bangladesh flag

Once I went to the Bangladesh Embassy in Colombo to apply for a visa. The Embassy looked more like a tuck shop and I was the only applicant. Even then that bored consular officer rudely told me that it would take five working days to issue a visa!

Indian Tri-Colour flag

In the Indian Embassy, one would witness the death of common sense. However, much you gather the required documents you need to substantiate your application for a visa, the officer will ask for the one that you forgot to bring.

US flag

By contrast, the US Embassy in Colombo offers one of the best services in the world. The US staff are extremely kind, helpful and patient and they genuinely try to assist the potential visa applicant to the best of their ability. The US evaluation process is very fair, thorough and proper. If you are a genuine visitor to the USA, you need not worry. You will get a fair hearing. All the US immigration officers are trained well to be civil and polite to the visitor. They would often engage you in small talk just to find out if you were a genuine visitor or not to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Today, many embassies have subcontracted the TT Services to deal with the initial stages of processing the visa.

New Zealand flag

More recently, on arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand (the Land of the Long White Cloud), the immigration officer asked me, very politely and with a pleasant smile, what the purpose of my visit was? When I told him that I had come to deliver a talk on elephants at the University of Canterbury, the bewildered officer exclaimed, “But we do not have elephants!” and stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. It spoke so well about the country of just 4.5 million people and 60 million sheep.

WWF

Once when I worked for WWF-International, I was a member of a small working committee planning the next International Theriological (= Mammal) Congress. Two countries, Australia and Colombia, were interested in hosting the event. The Australian delegate was interested in moving the Congress to Sydney, but cautioned us that the only requirement for the visa was that none of the foreign participants had any criminal record. On hearing this, the Colombian delegate jumped up in sheer joy and informed us that on the contrary, his Government would welcome delegates with a criminal record! The Congress was held in Sydney.

In the unlikely event of a visa being issued, it does not automatically guarantee that you’d be allowed to enter the country at the other end. That depends on the mood and the maturity of the immigration officer.

United Kingdom flag

One of the most traumatic experiences one could have on arrival is at the Heathrow airport in London. You had been travelling 16 hours from Colombo and the flight lands at 9 am. It is supposed to be summer, but the sun is nowhere to be seen in the Land of Ceaseless Fog and Drizzle. Thus, even before the plane comes to a complete stop, you would get an idea of the weather that awaits you on arrival. Sometimes it appears that the plane had been taxiing through ginger beer or syrup. That’s the colour of the atmosphere outside.

Heathrow airport inside

On arrival I have to join the cattle class and then go to the queue reserved for aliens. No wonder I am often treated as if I am an extraterrestrial phenomenon!

Almost all British immigration officers are most unfriendly to non-Caucasian visitors, and often act like tinpot Hitlers. They are as hard as nails and bored as the people who serve you at McDonalds. They look miserable knowing they are stuck in dead end jobs.

Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Right behind his shoulder you can read in letters big, bright and bold, the banner that reads, “Welcome to Heathrow”. The welcome you receive is frostier than the weather outside.

The first question the bored and grumpy immigration officer with a smirk on his face asks the hapless visitor is: “When are you getting back?”

If you ask for a three-month stay in England, you are more likely to be given just a month. On the other hand, if you were to request for only a week, just to attend a conference and get back home, you may be granted a stay for six months. More disturbing is the recent news from the UK that in the future, visitors to Britain from ‘high risk’ countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana coming to Britain on a six-month visit visa will have to put up a 3,000 pound (equivalent to Rs. 594,000 in Sri Lankan currency) bond as security, according to the Home Secretary Theresa May.

Australian flag

Sometimes things can go wrong. During my first visit to Australia in 1990, I flew into Sydney from Jakarta. Before the plane landed, we were given immigration forms to be filled. There was an additional yellow card that had to be filled as well, and one of the questions on it was: “Are you carrying live semen?” to which I promptly ticked the yes box, given that I had already fathered two kids.

As I cleared the immigration and moved to the customs, I was stopped and taken to a small room where I was interrogated by a big, bespectacled, Wagnerian white woman with a pair of enormous Bristols and a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. She waved a yellow card at me and exploded, “Is this a joke?”

I was genuinely clueless as to why she blew her top and asked her what was it all about, to which she pointed the box I had ticked off to say that I was indeed carrying live semen. I told her that I believed so, to which the human volcano erupted once more and thundered in no uncertain terms that it referred to livestock and warned me not to make a joke of it ever again! It was literally a seminal experience for me. The yellow card is no longer issued.

Sri Lanka flag

In the 1960s, we had a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) member from the United States who became friends with us while we were doing research on wildlife in Wilpattu national park with Dr. John F. Eisenberg from the Smithsonian Institution and his assistant Melvyn Lockhart. The VSO chap was a hippie who loved smoking ganja (marijuana). In his lucid moments he managed to learn a few words in Sinhala which Melvyn taught. 

When he left Colombo, he was in fact carrying some ganja with him, and given his long hair and hippie demeanor, he was promptly stopped by a vigilant customs officer who wanted to see the contents of his handbag. In a flash of brilliance, despite the perspiration which had commenced its journey down his spine, he began to engage the customs officer in small talk, and told him that he had lived in Ceylon for a month and that he could even speak the local language a bit. 

When the customs officer asked him to say something in Sinhala, he promptly remembered what Melvyn had taught him, and blurted out in a loud voice “මගේ පුක්කෙ මයිල් නෑ” (Transliterated: “Magey pukkay mayil naa“) meaning “my arse has no hair” in his native Texan drawl.

All the customs officers who heard him burst out in uncontrollable laughter and began to dance (a few even had tears of joy streaming down their cheeks). They complimented him on his language skill and wished him “bon voyage“. It was the hippie who had the last laugh.

Melvyn later received a “Thank you” note from Amarillo, TX.

As a Sri Lankan, I feel that we are treated abroad as if we do not matter, despite our education, ancient culture and proud heritage. We may be short on geography, but we are long on history. We deserve better treatment in the western countries. Unlike the ASEAN countries where citizens of the member states enjoy a 14-day visa free entry to each other’s country, we who belong to the SAARC cannot go to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, or Bhutan even for a short stay without a visa!

In the final analysis, given the limitations of our Sri Lankan passport, it is far better for us to enjoy a local holiday than be subject to untold indignities and interrogations at the hands of immigration officers. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

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A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author - Chamath237)
A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author: Chamath237)

 

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 5 – After the Titanic Disaster


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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R.M.S. Carpathia by Scottvisnjic
R.M.S. Carpathia by Scottvisnjic

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.

Members of a rescue crew in a whaling boat attempt to retrieve the floating body of a Titanic victim. Photograph by Joseph H. Bailey. (Source: channel.nationalgeographic.com)
Members of a rescue crew in a whaling boat attempt to retrieve the floating body of a Titanic victim. Photograph by Joseph H. Bailey. (Source: channel.nationalgeographic.com)

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.

Passenger category Number aboard Number saved Number lost Percentage saved Percentage lost
Children, First Class 6 5 1 83.4% 16.6%
Children, Second Class 24 24 0 100% 0%
Children, Third Class 79 27 52 34% 66%
Women, First Class 144 140 4 97% 3%
Women, Second Class 93 80 13 86% 14%
Women, Third Class 165 76 89 46% 54%
Women, Crew 23 20 3 87% 13%
Men, First Class 175 57 118 33% 67%
Men, Second Class 168 14 154 8% 92%
Men, Third Class 462 75 387 16% 84%
Men, Crew 885 192 693 22% 78%
Total 2224 710 1514 32% 68%

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.

In this 1912 photo made available by the Library of Congress, Harold Bride, surviving wireless operator of the Titanic, with feet bandaged, is carried up the ramp of RMS Carpathia
In this 1912 photo made available by the Library of Congress, Harold Bride, surviving wireless operator of the Titanic, with feet bandaged, is carried up the ramp of RMS Carpathia

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 Times Despatch - 2The 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.

Empty holes where rivets gave way (Source: history.com)
Empty holes where rivets gave way (Source: history.com)

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.

Titanic at 100
Click image to view video “Titanic At 100 Mystery Solved 720p HD (full movie)”

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 4 – Sinking of the RMS Titanic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Maiden voyage of RMS Titanic. (Author: T.V. Antony Raj)
Maiden voyage of RMS Titanic. (Author: T.V. Antony Raj)

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.

The iceberg suspected of having sunk the RMS Titanic. This iceberg was photographed by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert on the morning of April 15, 1912, just a few miles south of where the “Titanic” went down. The steward hadn't yet heard about the Titanic. What caught his attention was the smear of red paint along the base of the berg, indication that it had collided with a ship sometime in the previous twelve hours. This photo and information was taken from "UNSINKABLE" The Full Story of RMS Titanic written by Daniel Allen Butler, Stackpole Books 1998. Other accounts indicated that there were several icebergs in the vicinity where the TITANIC collided.
The iceberg suspected of having sunk the RMS Titanic. This iceberg was photographed by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert on the morning of April 15, 1912, just a few miles south of where the “Titanic” went down. The steward hadn’t yet heard about the Titanic. What caught his attention was the smear of red paint along the base of the berg, indication that it had collided with a ship sometime in the previous twelve hours. This photo and information was taken from “UNSINKABLE” The Full Story of RMS Titanic written by Daniel Allen Butler, Stackpole Books 1998. Other accounts indicated that there were several icebergs in the vicinity where the TITANIC collided.

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.

The Thayers

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 Jrhad 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.”

Sinking of RMS Titanic
Sinking of RMS Titanic (Artist: Ken Marschall)

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 darknessthen 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.

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 Previous: Part 3 – Ice Warnings for the The RMS Titanic

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 3 – Ice Warnings for the The RMS Titanic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Violet Jessop said that it was her habit to breathe in fresh air on deck before retiring for the night. Regarding the fourth day of sailing on Titanic she wrote:

If the sun did fail to shine so brightly on the fourth day out, and if the little cold nip crept into the air as evening set in, it only served to emphasize the warmth and luxuriousness within.

Titanic in ice field (Artist: Ken Marschall)
Titanic in ice field (Artist: Ken Marschall)

From the second day on, after leaving Southampton on its maiden voyage, RMS Titanic received reports of ice from ships passing through, or stopped due to heavy ice in the region she would be sailing to New York. On the 11th she received six warnings, on 12th five, on 13th three, and on 14th six. As a matter of fact, the Marconi room of RMS Titanic relayed some of the warnings to the shore.

As a routine, all these messages would have been logged in the radio book as they were received or intercepted and passed on to the officers on the bridge. So, it is unlikely that Captain Edward Smith and his officers, would have been unaware of the dangerous ice that was lying directly in the path of the ship.

Here are the messages received or intercepted on Sunday, April 14, 1912 – four days into the crossing:

At 9:00 am  (“Titanic” time), RMS Caronia (call sign MSF), a Cunard Line ocean liner, Eastbound New York to Liverpool, sent an ice warning message to RMS Titanic:

“Captain, ‘Titanic.’ – Westbound steamers report bergs, growlers and field ice in 42°N from 49° to 51°W, 12th April. Compliments. – Barr.”

Action taken: This message referred to bergs, growlers and field ice sighted on April 12, 1912 – at least 48 hours before the time of transmitting the message. At the time this message was received RMS Titanic was at 43°35’N, 43°50’W. Captain Smith acknowledged the receipt of this message and posted it for his officers to read.

At about 8 am on April 14, 1912, Greek steamer Athinai (call sign MTI) belonging to the Hellenic Transatlantic Steam Navigation Company, Westbound from Piraues and Mediterranean ports to New York, encountered a large ice field containing several large bergs. During the morning she sent an ice advisory to RMS Baltic, an ocean liner of the White Star Line, Eastbound New York to Liverpool.

At 1:42 pm, RMS Baltic (call sign MBC) relayed this report to its sister ship RMS Titanic:

“Captain Smith, ‘Titanic.’ – Have had moderate, variable winds and clear, fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer ‘Athinai’ reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice today in lat. 41°51′ N., long. 49° 52′ W. Last night we spoke German oiltank steamer ‘Deutschland,’ Stettin to Philadelphia, not under control, short of coal, lat. 40° 42′ N., long. 55° 11′ W. Wishes to be reported to New York and other steamers. Wish you and ‘Titanic’ all success. – Commander.”

Action taken: At the time this message was received the RMS Titanic was at about 42°35’N, 45°50W. Captain Edward Smith acknowledged the receipt of this message.

J. Bruce IsmayCaptain Smith showed the message to J. Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, on board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage to let him know that ice was to be expected that night. The latter pocketed the message and showed it later to two ladies; and of course many people on board became aware of its contents. At 7:15 pm, Captain Smith asked for its return, when it was finally posted in the chart room.

At 11:20 am, the German steamer SS Amerika, belonging to the Hamburg America Line of Germany, Eastbound, New York to Hamburg sent an ice advisory telegram message to the Hydrographic Office in Washington, DC via RMS Titanic because Titanic was nearer to Cape Race, to which station it had to be relayed to reach Washington. Here is a facsimile of the message:

File copy from Samuel Barr of the telegram from SS Amerika via SS Titanic on location of two large icebergs 14 April 1912. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
File copy from Samuel Barr of the telegram from SS Amerika via SS Titanic on location of two large icebergs 14 April 1912. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips

Action taken: The location of the bergs 41°27’N, 50°08’W was 12.5 miles from where the RMS Titanic later sank. The message does not mention at what hour the bergs had been observed. However, as a message affecting navigation, it should have been taken to the bridge. The two Marconi operators on board Titanic were 25-year-old John George Phillips, better known as “Jack Phillips”, and his Deputy, 22-year-old Harold Sydney Bride. Maybe Phillips waited until the ship would be within call of Cape Race (at about 8:00 or 8:30 pm). No one on board the RMS Titanic knew about this message outside the Marconi room.

The SS Californian, a tramp steamer of The Leyland Line, transporting cargo to whichever port wanted it, commanded by Captain Stanley Lord, left London on April 5, 1912, and was on her way to Boston, Massachusetts. Although she was certified to carry up to 47 passengers, she carried none during this trip. She had a crew of 55 men. At 6:30 pm she sighted three bergs to her southward, 15 miles (24 km) north of the course the RMS Titanic was heading.

At 7:30 pm, Cyril Evans, the only wireless operator of the SS Californian (call sign MWL), sent a wireless message of the ship’s position to their sister ship SS Antillian:

“To Captain, ‘Antillian’, 6.30 pm apparent ship’s time; lat. 42°3’N, long. 49°9’W. Three large bergs five miles to southward of us. Regards. – Lord.”

Action taken: Harold Bride, the other wireless operator on RMS Titanic intercepted the message, but delivered it to the ship’s bridge only at 10:20 pm. Later, Bride said that he could not remember to whom he delivered this message.

.At 9:40 pm, the Marconi station of the MV Mesaba (call sign MMU) belonging to the Atlantic Transport Line sent the following message:

“From ‘Mesaba’ to ‘Titanic’ and all eastbound ships. Ice report in lat. 42°N to 41°25’N, long. 49° to long. 50°30’W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear.”

Action taken: This message clearly indicated the presence of ice in the immediate vicinity of the RMS Titanic and was not  delivered to the deck or to any of the officers.

Harold Bride
Harold Bride

This message never left the Titanic’s radio room because the wireless set had broken down the day before, resulting in a backlog of messages that the two radio operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were trying to clear. At the time time this message reached Titanic’s radio room an exhausted radio operator Harold Bride was getting some much needed sleep. Phillips may have failed to grasp the significance of the message as he was preoccupied with transmitting and receiving messages for passengers via the relay station at Cape Race, Newfoundland.

At Longitude 42°05’N, 50°07’W, a position to the south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, SS Californian was confronted by a large ice field. Captain Stanley Lord decided to halt the ship at 10:21 pm and wait until morning to proceed further.

Officers of SS Californian.  Front row, left to right: Captain Lord, Chief Officer Stewart. Back row, left to right: 2nd  Officer Stone, 3rd Officer Groves
Officers of SS Californian. Front row, left to right: Captain Lord, Chief Officer Stewart. Back row, left to right: 2nd Officer Stone, 3rd Officer Groves.

Around 11 pm, Lord saw a light in the east, but thought it could be a rising star.

At 11:10 pm Third Officer C.V. Groves on deck, also saw the lights of a ship 10 or 12 miles away. To him, it was clearly a large liner as he saw brightly lit multiple decks. Fifteen minutes later Groves informed Captain Lord of what he saw.

They tried to contact the other ship using a Morse lamp, but did not see any reciprocal reply. The Captain then asked his wireless operator Evans if he knew of any ships in the area. Evans said: “only the Titanic.” Captain Lord instructed Evans to call RMS Titanic and inform her that the Californian was stopped, surrounded by ice.

When Evans tried to convey the message the RMS Titanic‘s on-duty wireless operator, Jack Phillips, was busy working on a large backlog of personal messages sent and received from the wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland. The relative proximity of SS Californian made signals sent from it loud in Phillips’ headphones. So, Phillips rebuked Evans with: “Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape Race!

Evans waited and at 11:30 pm when he did not receive any reply from Phillips he switched off the wireless and went to bed.

Praying the Rosary

Violet Jessop was a firm believer in the power of prayer. As a devout Catholic she always had a rosary in her apron. In her memoirs, Violet says she had taken along with her belongings a copy of a translated Hebrew prayer that an old Irish woman had given her. On that fateful day, after settling down in her bunk she read the strangely worded prayer supposed to protect one who read it against fire and water. Then, she persuaded her roommate, a stewardess (according to editor John Maxtone- Graham, possibly Elizabeth Leather) to read it.

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 2 – Aboard the RMS Titanic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Titanic - A painting by Ken Marschall
Titanic – A painting by Ken Marschall

In 1911, RMS Titanic was the second of three Olympic class ocean liners owned and operated by the White Star Line of steamships. It was the largest ocean cruiser afloat at the time it entered service.

Harland and Wolff built the ship in their shipyard on Queen’s Island, now known as the Titanic Quarter, in Belfast Harbour. Thomas Andrew, the managing director and head of the drafting department for the shipbuilding company was her naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner. It took about 26 months to build it. Although RMS Titanic was virtually identical to the class lead ship RMS Olympic, a few modifications were made to differentiate the two ships.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Author: F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Author: F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)

RMS Titanic was launched at 12:15 pm on May 31, 1911 in the presence of Lord William Pirrie  a leading Irish shipbuilder and businessman, J. Pierpoint Morgan  an American financier and banker, and J. Bruce Ismay (son of Thomas  Henry Ismay)  chairman and managing director of the White Star Line of steamships, and 100,000 onlookers. It is alleged that 22 tons of soap and tallow were spread on the slipway to lubricate the vessel’s passage into the River Lagan.

Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR

Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR
Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR

Edward John Smith, RD, RNR (January 27, 1850 – April 15, 1912) joined the White Star Line in March 1880 as the Fourth Officer of SS Celtic. He served aboard the company’s liners to Australia and to New York City and quickly rose in status. In 1887, he received his first White Star command, the SS Republic. From 1895 on, Smith was captain of SS Majestic for nine years.

He gained a reputation among his passengers and crew members for his quiet pomposity. Most England’s elite preferred to traverse the Atlantic only in a ship captained by him, thus he became known as the “Millionaires’ Captain“.

From 1904 on, Smith commanded the White Star Line’s newest ships on their maiden voyages. In 1904, he was given command of the then-largest ship in the world, the RMS Baltic. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, that set sail on June 29, 1904, went without incident. After three years with RMS Baltic, Smith was given his second new big ship, the RMS Adriatic and once again the maiden voyage went without any untoward incident.

On board the RMS Titanic

Violet Jessop was one of the happiest stewardesses while working on the Olympic. But, after the Hawke incident, she was apprehensive in joining as a stewardess on any ship. However, her friends persuaded her to join the heavily advertised ‘unsinkable’ Titanic as they thought it would be a ‘wonderful experience’ to serve on her.

On April 10, 1912, Violet, ‘dressed in a new ankle-length brown suit’ set out in a horse-drawn Hansom cab to join the brand new ship as a stewardess at her berth in Southampton. The same day RMS Titanic left Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York.

Bruce Ismay usually accompanied his ships on their maiden voyages, and the Titanic was one of them.

There were 908 crew members, including Violet Jessop on board the RMS Titanic under the command of Captain Edward Smith. Most of the crew members were not seamen. They were divided into three principal departments: Deck, Engine, and Victualling. Of these crew members only 23 were female, mainly stewardesses.

Also among the crew were bakers, chefs, butchers, fishmongers, dishwashers, stewards, gymnasium instructors, laundrymen, waiters, bed-makers, cleaners, etc. The ship even had a printer, who produced a daily newspaper for passengers called the Atlantic Daily Bulletin with the latest news received by the ship’s wireless operators.

Southampton is a major port and the largest city on the south coast of England. Out of the 908 crew members, 699 of the crew came from Southampton, and 40% were natives of the city. Most of the crew signed on in Southampton on April 6, 1912.

Some specialist crew members were self-employed or were subcontractors. There were: five postal clerks, who worked for the Royal Mail and the United States Post Office Department; the staff of the First Class À La Carte Restaurant and the Café Parisien; the radio operators, employed by Marconi; and the eight musicians employed by an agency and travelling as second-class passengers. Violet says she became a friend of the Scottish violinist Jock Hume.

The pay of crew members varied greatly. Captain Edward Smith was paid £105 a month. Violet Jessop and the other stewardesses were paid £3 10s. The lower-paid victualling staff were allowed to supplement their wages through tips from passengers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of Europeans immigrated to the United States and Canada. White Star was among the first shipping lines to have passenger ships with inexpensive accommodation for third-class passengers, in addition to luxury first-class and second-class berths. The White Star Line’s quartet of revolutionary liners had the largest carrying capacity for third-class passengers: RMS Celtic of 1901 had a capacity for 2,352 passengers; RMS Cedric of 1903 and RMS Baltic of 1904 had a capacity for 2,000 passengers each; and RMS Adriatic of 1907 had a capacity for 1,900 passengers.

The passengers on RMS Titanic included some of the wealthiest people in the world: 325 first-class and 285 second-class passengers, as well as 706 third-class passengers – mostly emigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and from countries throughout Europe seeking a new life in North America.

The following photos are from scenes enacted by actors for the play TITANIC at the Barrow-Civic Theatre, at 1223 Liberty Street, Franklin, Pennsylvania, USA.

TITANIC - First Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
TITANIC – First Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

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TITANIC - Second Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
TITANIC – Second Class Passengers. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

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TITANIC - Third Class Irish Immigrants (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
TITANIC – Third Class Irish Immigrants (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

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The proud serivce staff of the RMS TITANIC (from left to right) Stewardess Annie Robinson, Stewardess Violet Jessop, Head Steward Henry Etches, Mrs. Latimer, and Stewardess Mary Hutchinson. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)
The proud serivce staff of the RMS TITANIC (from left to right) Stewardess Annie Robinson, Stewardess Violet Jessop, Head Steward Henry Etches, Mrs. Latimer, and Stewardess Mary Hutchinson. (Source: titanic-bct.blogspot.in)

On April 10, 1912, at noon RMS Titanic left Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York. She called at Cherbourg in France at 6:35 pm. After disembarking 15 first and seven second class passengers, the ship took aboard 142 first, 30 second and 102 third class passengers. It left Cherbourg at 8:10 pm for Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland.

The ship reached Queenstown at 11:30 am. After disembarking and embarking passengers, she set out at 1:30 pm on her fatal voyage towards New York with a total of 2,224 people: 908 crew members, 325 first class, 285 second class and 706 third class passengers.

RMS Titanic, painted by 16-year-old Ken Marschall (Source : greenwichworkshop.com)
RMS Titanic, painted by 16-year-old Ken Marschall (Source : greenwichworkshop.com)

In her memoirs, Violet Jessop mentions Thomas Andrews, the naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner RMS Titanic. Like all other crew members, she too greatly admired him for he was the only person who heeded the requests of the crew for improvements in their quarters. She wrote:

“Often during our rounds we came upon our beloved designer going about unobtrusively with a tired face but a satisfied air. He never failed to stop for a cheerful word, his only regret that we were ‘getting further from home.‘ We all knew
the love he had for that Irish home of his and suspected that he longed to get back to the peace of its atmosphere for a much needed rest and to forget ship designing for awhile.”

During the voyage, Bruce Ismay talked about a possible test of speed if time permitted.

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 1 – Aboard the RMS Olympic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Jonah

The Biblical narrative of Jonah in the Old Testament, set in or around the 8th century BC, concerns the disobedient prophet Jonah. God orders Jonah: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; for their wickedness has come before me.

But Jonah chose to flee “away from the LORD” to Tarshish by sea, geographically in the opposite direction. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish. The LORD, however, hurled a great wind upon the sea, and the storm was so great that the ship was about to break up. Then, the sailors were afraid and each one cried to his god. To lighten the ship they threw its cargo into the sea. The sailors cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Jonah admitted his disobedience to God.

The sailors asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may calm down for us?

Jonah responded, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea and then the sea will calm down for you. For I know that this great storm has come upon you because of me.”

Since the sea was growing more and more stormy they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging. But the LORD sent a great fish to swallow Jonah, and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to God in his affliction. God commanded the fish to spew Jonah out.

Violet Constance Jessop (October 2, 1887 – May 5, 1971)
Violet Constance Jessop (October 2, 1887 – May 5, 1971)

Violet Constance Jessop (October 2, 1887 – May 5, 1971) was an ocean liner stewardess and nurse notable for surviving the disasters associated with the British White Star Line’s trio of Olympic-class liners: RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic.

Was Violet Jessop a 20th century Lady Jonah?

In the mid 1880s, her father, William Jessop immigrated to the Argentine Republic from Dublin to try his hand at sheep farming. In 1886, his fiancée, Katherine Kelly from Dublin joined him.

Violet Jessop was the first of nine children born to them. Violet contracted tuberculosis at an early age. However, she survived even though her doctor predicted that she would succumb to the illness. Despite a delayed education, Violet benefited from an American schooling in Argentina.

SS Orinoco (Source: clydesite.co.uk)
SS Orinoco (Source: clydesite.co.uk)

After William Jessop died in Mendoza, Katherine Kelly moved to Great Britain with her children where she found a job as a stewardess for the Royal Mail Line. Violet attended a convent school under the tutelage of Breton nuns in Kent.

When Katherine became ill, Violet left school at an early age to act as a parental surrogate to four younger brothers. Like her mother, Violet decided to become a ship stewardess.

In the early 20th century, most women working as stewardesses were middle-aged, but Violet just 21-years-old and looked beautiful which proved to be a disadvantage in finding a position as a stewardess because Employers believed that her youth and good looks would cause problems with the crew and passengers. Violet solved the problem by making herself look homely by wearing old clothes and no makeup while attending interviews.

In 1908, Violet joined as a stewardess aboard the Royal Mail Line’s passenger-cargo vessel the SS Orinoco that plied between Southampton and the West Indies. From then on, her seagoing career continued with few interruptions for 42 years.

Titanic Survivor

John Maxtone-Graham the editor of “Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters,” said her beauty increased her troubles with the “philandering captains and pursers, loquacious or insufferable fellow stewardesses, and an array of sometimes horrifying passengers.”

During her career as a stewardess on various ships, at least three men proposed to her, of while one was an incredibly wealthy first-class passenger.

The White Star Line and Harland & Wolff

Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries Limited in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a Northern Irish heavy industrial company, specializing in shipbuilding and offshore construction. The company was formed in 1861 by Edward James Harland and Hamburg-born Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, who lived in the United Kingdom from age 14.

The Belfast shipbuilders had a long-established relationship dating back to 1867 with the White Star Line founded in Liverpool, England, by John Pilkington and Henry Wilson in 1845.

White Star Line concentrated on the Liverpool to New York shipping services. They financed their heavy investment in new ships by borrowing from the Royal Bank of Liverpool. The bank failed in October 1867 leaving White Star Line with an overwhelming debt of £527,000 (£39,510,442 as of 2014) and forced into bankruptcy.

White Star Line vector logo

On January 18, 1868, Thomas Henry Ismay, a director of the National Line, purchased the house flag, trade name and goodwill of the bankrupt company for £1,000, (£76,182 as of 2014) intending to operate large ships on the North Atlantic service.

Thomas Ismay was president of White Star Line till 1899 and had several ships under his authority. Most of these ships were chartered.

Gustav Christian Schwabe, a prominent Liverpool merchant, and his nephew, Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, approached Thomas Ismay during a game of billiards. Schwabe offered to finance the new line if Ismay had his ships built by Wolff’s company, Harland & Wolff.

Thomas Ismay agreed, and established a partnership with the agreement with the stipulation that the shipbuilders would not build any vessels for the rivals of White Star Line. Harland and Wolff were given a great deal of latitude in designing ships for the White Star Line. Cost considerations were relatively low on the agenda and the shipbuilders were authorized to spend whatever on the ships and would be paid cost plus a fixed five percent profit margin.

White Star Line placed their first order with Harland & Wolff on July 30, 1869 and began operating again in 1871 between New York and Liverpool, with a call at Queenstown.

It has long been a custom with many shipping lines to have a common theme for the names of their ships. White Star Line named their ships ending in –ic.

In the late 19th century, White Star Line sought to fund construction of two ships, SS Majestic and SS Teutonic through the British government. The government accepted the proposition with the stipulation that the Royal Navy would have access to the two ocean liners in a time of war.

SS Majestic (1890)
SS Majestic (1890)

Harland & Wolff built SS Majestic for White Star Line and launched her on June 29, 1889. After fitting the ship during the next nine months, it was delivered to White Star Line in March, 1890. On April 2, 1890, SS Majestic left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to New York.

In 1895, 45-year-old English naval reserve officer Edward John Smith, who years later would gain lasting fame as the captain of the RMS Titanic was given command of SS Majestic. He served as her captain for nine years. When the Boer War started in 1899, SS Majestic under Smith’s command transported troops to Cape Colony. The ship made two trips to South Africa, in December 1899 and in February 1900, without any adverse incident.

Thomas Ismay died on November 23, 1899 and his son J. Bruce Ismay succeeded him as the chairman of White Star Line. He decided to build four ocean liners to surpass the RMS Oceanic built by his father: the ships were dubbed the ‘Big Four’: RMS Celtic, RMS Cedric, RMS Baltic, and RMS Adriatic. These vessels were designed more for luxury and for speed than safety.

In 1902, J.P. Morgan & Co., was organizing the formation of the International Mercantile Marine Company (IMM). It was an Atlantic shipping combine which absorbed several major American and British lines. Bruce Ismay negotiated the sale of the White Star Line to J.P. Morgan&Co. The White Star Line became one of the IMM operating companies. In February 1904, Bruce Ismay became president of the IMM, with the support of Morgan.

Violet Jessop’s Career with White Star Line

After a brief assignment aboard SS Orinoco, Violet Jessop was hired by the White Star Line as a stewardess aboard SS Majestic.

In the early 20th century, the Harland & Wolff shipyard built a trio of ocean liners for the White Star Line, which were popularly called the Olympic-class ocean liners. They were: RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic and RMS Britannic.

The designs for both Olympic and Titanic were on the board at the same time. However, to ease pressures on the shipyard, construction of the Olympic began three months before Titanic. Several years would pass before Britannic would be launched.

In 1912, the trio were by far the largest vessels of the White Star Line’s fleet of 29 steamers and tenders.

The RMS Olympic

RMS Olympic built by Harland & Wolff was the lead ship and the namesake of the White Star Line’s trio of Olympic-class liners. Launched on October 20, 1910, it was the largest civilian transatlantic luxury ocean liner at that time – nearly 100 feet (30 meters) longer than any other ship. Edward Smith, who had earned the reputation as one of the world’s most experienced sea captains was given the first command of the lead ship.

RMS Olympic arriving at New York on her maiden voyage in June 1911.
RMS Olympic arriving at New York on her maiden voyage in June 1911.

The maiden voyage of RMS Olympic from Southampton to New York concluded successfully on June 21, 1911. However, as the ship was docking at Pier 59 in New York harbor under the command of Captain Smith with the assistance of a harbor pilot, one of the 12 assisting tugs got caught in the backwash of Olympic, collided with the ship, and for a brief moment was trapped under Olympic‘s stern. Eventually, the tug managed to free itself and limped to the docks.

During World War I, RMS Olympic served as a troop ship and was fondly remembered as the “Old Reliable“. After the war, it returned to civilian service. Throughout the 1920s and in the first half of the 1930s, she served as an ocean liner. She was in service for 24 years from 1911 to 1935. After 1930, the slump in trade during the Great Depression, and increased competition, made her operation increasingly unprofitable for the White Star Line.

On June 14, 1911, the 23-year-old Violet Jessop boarded the RMS Olympic to work as a stewardess on it.

Three months later, on September 20, 1911, shortly after leaving Southampton at the start of her planned fifth voyage to New York, RMS Olympic collided with the old protected Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight, the largest island of England in the English Channel.

At the time of this incident Violet Jessop was on board the RMS Olympic.

Satellite image showing the Solent, separating the Isle of Wight from mainland England (Source: Earth Sciences and Image Analysis, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
Satellite image showing the Solent, separating the Isle of Wight from mainland England (Source: Earth Sciences and Image Analysis, NASA-Johnson Space Center)

The collision took place as RMS Olympic and HMS Hawke were running parallel to each other through the Solent. The wide radius taken by RMS Olympic to turn to starboard took the commander of the HMS Hawke by surprise and its bow designed to sink ships by ramming, tore two large gashes on the RMS Olympic‘s starboard side, one above and one below the waterline resulting in the flooding of two of her watertight compartments and a twisted propeller shaft.

The damage to RMS Olympic (Source: Popular Mechanics Magazine December 1911)
The damage to RMS Olympic and HMS Hawke (Source: Popular Mechanics Magazine December 1911)

HMS Hawke nearly capsized after she sustained severe damage to her bow.

Despite the heavy damage to both vessels, there were no casualties and none seriously injured.

Both vessels managed to steam back to Southampton for repairs. The fifth voyage of RMS Olympic to New York was cancelled.

After two weeks of temporary repairs in Southampton, RMS Olympic returned to Belfast for further repairs. On 30th November 1911, she returned to active service.

Though Violet Jessop survived the collision of RMS Olympic with the HMS Hawke, she was slated for more traumatic experience a year later on RMS Titanic and on the RMS Britannic in 1916.

 

Next Part 2 – Aboard the RMS Titanic

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The Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Without the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, the American revolutionary war would not have taken place at all; or would have been delayed for many decades more.

Boston Tea Party - 01

Canada, France, and the United Kingdom use the name Seven Years’ War to describe the European and Asian conflicts, as well as the North American conflict.

The “French and Indian War” (1754–1763) is the American nomenclature for the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War fought primarily between the colonies of British America and New France, with both sides supported by military units from their parent countries, namely Great Britain and France. However, many historians and scholars in America, such as Fred Anderson like their colleagues in other countries refer to the conflict as the “Seven Years’ War”, regardless of the theatre.

The British distracted by the French and Indian war were losing control over their colonial governments that were increasingly vying for independence. The wars proved costly for the British. The Imperial Crown wanted to reestablish sovereign control over their colonies. At the end of the war in 1763, as a means of recouping the war expenses, King George III and his government contemplated on taxing the American colonies.

The Stamp Act (1765), the Townshend Acts (1767) and the Boston Massacre (1770) infuriated the colonists in America, straining relations with the mother country.

In the 17th century, Europeans developed a taste for tea and many companies in Europe imported tea from China. In 1698, the English Parliament gave the monopoly to the East India Company to import tea. Until 1767, the East India Company paid an ad valorem tax of about 25% on tea that it imported into Great Britain.

Soon tea became popular in the British colonies. The East India Company did not export tea to the colonies; the law required the company to sell the tea it imported to wholesalers at auctions in England. British firms bought this tea and exported it to the colonies, where they resold it to merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

The Dutch government did not tax tea imported into Holland. However, the English Parliament imposed additional taxes on tea sold for consumption in Britain. These high taxes impelled the Britons and the British Americans to buy smuggled Dutch tea at much cheaper prices. Soon England became the biggest market for smuggled tea. In 1760s, the East India Company was losing £400,000 per year to smugglers in Great Britain. At the same time, British America smuggled Dutch tea in significant quantities because they did not have to bear the 25% tax on tea which the East India Company paid to the British government.

In 1767, to help the East India Company compete with smuggled Dutch tea, the English Parliament passed the Indemnity Act which lowered the tax on tea consumed in Great Britain. It also gave the East India Company a refund of the 25% duty on tea re-exported to the colonies. This move reduced the price of legally imported tea. Even so, the colonists concerned with a variety of other issues protested.

To offset the loss of government revenue, the English Parliament passed the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which levied new taxes in the colonies. Townshend’s taxes rekindled the controversy about the right of the English Parliament to tax the colonies. This laid the groundwork for the American Revolution.

In early 1770s, the British East India Company was in financial difficulties. It held a massive surplus of tea in its London warehouses. To help the struggling company survive, and also to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain’s North American colonies, the English Parliament presented the Tea Act of 1773. This Act granted the British East India Company the right to ship its tea directly to North America and the right to the duty-free export of tea from Britain. However, the tax imposed by the Townshend Acts and collected in the colonies remained in force. The Tea Act received the royal assent on May 10, 1773.

To offset the loss of government revenue, the English Parliament passed the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which levied new taxes in the colonies. Townshend’s taxes rekindled the controversy about the right of the English Parliament to tax the colonies. This laid the groundwork for the American Revolution.

The Indemnity Act of 1767, which gave the British East India Company a refund of duty on re-exported tea to the colonies, expired in 1772. This left the Company in serious financial crisis. It held a massive surplus of tea in its London warehouses.

To help the struggling company survive, and also to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain’s North American colonies, the English Parliament presented the Tea Act of 1773.

The Tea Act forced the colonies to import tea only from Great Britain. This Act granted the British East India Company the right to ship its tea directly to North America and the right to the duty-free export of tea from Britain. However, the tax imposed by the Townshend Acts and collected in the colonies remained in force. The Tea Act received the royal assent on May 10, 1773.

The Tea Act allowed the British East India Company to reduce costs of the tea by eliminating the middlemen who bought the tea at wholesale auctions in London. In July 1773, the Company selected colonial merchants in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston to receive the tea on consignment. The consignees would in turn sell the tea for a commission.

Nathaniel Dance Lord North
Prime Minister Frederick North

However, the Tea Act retained the three pence Townshend duty on tea imported to the colonies. Some members of the English Parliament argued that there was no reason to provoke another controversy since the Americans would not accept the tea if the Townshend duty remained; even so, Prime Minister Fredriclk North did not want to give up the revenue from the Townshend tax that primarily served to pay the salaries of colonial officials. He maintained the right of taxing the Americans was a secondary concern. According to historian Benjamin Labaree, “A stubborn Lord North had unwittingly hammered a nail in the coffin of the old British Empire.”

In September and October 1773, seven ships carrying more than 2,000 chests containing nearly 600,000 pounds of East India Company tea set sail to the American colonies – four bound for Boston and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

While the ships were en route, Americans learned the details of the Tea Act. Whigs (a nickname for Patriots), sometimes calling themselves Sons of Liberty mobilized a coalition of merchants and artisans to oppose the delivery and distribution of the inbound tea. They began a campaign to raise awareness about the implications of the provisions in the Tea Acts, namely, implicitly agreeing to accept English Parliament’s right of taxation.

The colonies sent no representatives to the British Parliament, and so they had no influence over the taxes raised, levied, or how they would be spent. Therefore, they objected to the Tea Act because they believed it violated their rights as Englishmen to be taxed without their consent. They raised the slogan:

“No Taxation Without Representation”

Colonial merchants, some of them smugglers, played a significant role in the protests. Because the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper, it threatened to put the smugglers of Dutch tea out of business. Other legitimate importers of tea, not chosen as consignees by the British East India Company, also faced financial ruin because of the Tea Act. Most American merchants feared that this type of government-created monopoly might be extended to include other goods in the future.

Governor Thomas Hutchinson
Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian Royal Governor of the Massachusetts Colony.

The Whigs convinced, and in some instances harassed the Company’s authorized consignees to resign, in the same way the stamp distributors were forced to resign during the 1765 Stamp Act crisis. They successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three colonies and forced the ships to turn back to England. They could not do so in Massachusetts. In Boston, Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to England. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down.

Dr. Benjamin Rush, painted by Charles Willson
Dr. Benjamin Rush, painted by Charles Willson

Benjamin Franklin said the British were trying to use cheap tea to “overcome all the patriotism of an American”. Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father of the United States who lived in the state of Pennsylvania urged his fellow Americans to oppose the landing of the tea, because the cargo contained “the seeds of slavery”.

When the Philadelphians received word that the East India Company’s tea shipments were on their way, on October 16th, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Colonel William Bradford, Thomas Mifflin, Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, and other local leaders and members of the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty organized a meeting at the Pennsylvania State House. They adopted eight resolutions, one of which stated: “That the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them without their consent.” The most important one read:

“That the resolution lately entered into by the East India Company, to send out their tea to America subject to the payment of duties on its being landed here, is an open attempt to enforce the ministerial plan, and a violent attack upon the liberties of America.”

Printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette, these declarations comprised the first public protest against the importation of taxed tea from England.

Samuel Adams -  one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Samuel Adams – one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

In Boston, Whig leader Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting to be held at Faneuil Hall. Three weeks later, on November 5, 1773, at a town meeting at Faneuil Hall the Bostonians adopted the same resolutions that Philadelphians had promulgated earlier. In their resolution the Bostonians declared:

“That the Sense of the Town cannot be better expressed on this Occasion, than in the words of certain Judicious Resolves lately entered into by our worthy Brethren the Citizens of Philadelphia”

(fromResolutions Of The Town Of Boston, November 5, 1773“, Boston Record Commissioner’s Report, vol. xviii., pp. 142, 143; a draft of the preamble, in the handwriting of Adams, is in the Mellen Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.)

The tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, 1773. On Monday morning, November 29th, a handbill posted all over Boston, contained the following words:

“Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! – That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor.”

That day Whig leader, Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting, to be held at Faneuil Hall. As thousands of people arrived, the meeting shifted to a larger venue – the Old South Meeting House. The assembled passed a resolution, introduced by Adams urging the captain of the Dartmouth to turn back to England without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent unloading of the tea from the ship.

British law required the Dartmouth to unload its cargo of tea and pay the customs duties within twenty days; if not the customs officials could confiscate the cargo. Governor Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave without paying the duty.

Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor. Another ship, the William headed for Boston encountered a storm and sank before it could reach Boston.

On December 16th, the last day of the Dartmouth’s deadline to pay the customs duties, about 7,000 people gathered around the Old South Meeting House. After receiving a report that Governor Hutchinson had again refused to let the ships leave, Samuel Adams announced: “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country”.

Immediately, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House. Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, but the throng headed out to prepare to take action.

Gadsden flag
Gadsden flag

mohawkSome donned elaborately prepared Mohawk costumes, disguising their faces, because of the illegality of their protest. Dressing as a Mohawk warrior was a specific and symbolic choice. As with the rattlesnake on the Gadsden Flag, the historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike, and the use of the Bald Eagle as the national symbol, this displayed something specifically American overriding any traditional European symbolism. This gesture showed the British that the Sons of Liberty identified themselves with America and derided their official status as subjects of Great Britain.

In the evening, a group of 30 to 130 men some disguised as Mohawk warriors, boarded the three vessels – Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver. Over the course of three hours, they dumped 342 chests of tea into the water.

Eventually, the Boston Tea Party proved to be one of the many courses that culminated in the American Revolutionary War.

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Boston Tea Party - 02
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