A new exhibition explores the Titanic tragedy’s Merseyside links, reports Peter Elson
THE big, 100 year-old question is: can Liverpool claim the Titanic for itself? And the answer, according to the new centenary exhibition at the Mersey Maritime Museum, called Titanic and Liverpool: the Untold Story, is resoundingly in the affirmative.
This is the Titanic story intriguingly told from the Liverpool angle and which also, unusually, explores its sad aftermath.
True, the doomed White Star ocean liner never visited Liverpool, but she was conceived, planned, registered and owned in the city.
The White Star Line’s distinctive former headquarter building still stands on the corner of the Strand and James Street, proclaiming how important this company was to the city.
The organisation of Titanic’s uncompleted maiden voyage, including the selection of her officers, was managed by Charles Bartlett, White Star’s marine superintendent at Liverpool.
Some 90 Titanic crew members on her tragic voyage (about 1 in 10) were from Merseyside, or had close links with the area. Most of her key officers and crew had originally sailed from Liverpool for White Star, and many still lived here in 1912.
Although White Star’s express New York service was transferred from Liverpool to Southampton in 1907, many of its ships still sailed from the Mersey.
The exhibition draws on the book Titanic and Liverpool, written by recently retired Mersey Maritime Museum curator Dr Alan Scarth.
Rather chillingly, as visitors enter the exhibition they will get a card with a passenger or crew member’s name.
At the end the visitor can find out if their “name” survived the collision with the iceberg and sinking.
All 705 survivors were rescued by the Liverpool-based Cunard liner Carpathia. The death toll was 1,517.
Rebecca Watkin, maritime collections curator in charge of this exhibition, says: “Alan’s book contains a lot of new research into the Titanic tragedy and its links with Liverpool.
“To go with this information we have some amazing objects in our collection to commemorate the centenary.
“For example, the 67-piece silver gilt testimonial set given to Thomas Ismay, White Star’s founder and father of J Bruce Ismay, who was later chairman.
“Or the poignant undelivered letter from May Louise McMurray, of 60 Empress Road, Kensington, to her father, William, a steward who died.
“When you first enter the exhibition you will look at the port of Liverpool, at its bustling maritime peak.
“There are some wonderful paintings from that period which also help set the scene.
“Then we show the opulence of first class steamship travel, with a dress and a robe designed by Lucille – the retail name of Lady Duff Gordon, who survived the sinking.
“Titanic was due to visit Liverpool, but didn’t because of various unexpected factors."