Informing the people of disaster
By Dan Kerins
By Dan Kerins
INITIALLY, the news of the Titanic disaster was confused and contradictory.
Some reports had the vessel damaged but continuing on towards Nova Scotia, whilst others were confident she had foundered but all aboard were saved.
Indeed, this paper was proud that it was able to report that all on board the vessel were believed to be safe on Carpathia and California, unlike some of the rumours which had been gathering pace during April 15 – the day the ship sank.
But by the following day, the reality had been realised by all and it was just a matter of waiting for details of the disaster.
Crowds formed outside the White Star Offices in Canute Road as well as the dock entrances at what are now Ocean Village and Dock Gate Four, and the offices of the Southampton Times and the Southern Daily Echo.
Communications between Southampton and New York were proving problematic, but by far the biggest difficulty was in getting information from the ocean liners that were believed to be carrying the survivors.
To begin with, it was understood that Carpathia and California had picked up the lifeboats between them.
As they slowly approached the North American continent however, their wireless signals were faintly received on land and slowly news filtered through to the crowds in Halifax, New York, London and Southampton.
The numbers on Carpathia were first reported as 675 survivors, while the California reported it had not heard Titanic’s distress calls and had no survivors, despite being the nearest ship at the time of the impact with the iceberg.
It took days for a complete list of survivors to be compiled. As Carpathia headed for New York, the names of those on board were transmitted by ‘Marconigram’, but by the very nature of the medium, mistakes were common and names were often incorrect.
This all had the effect of adding to the torment felt by those waiting in Canute Road and beyond, as the hope the desperate clinged on to became more and more dependent on nothing more than a simple typographical error.
The only way to get news on the streets of Southampton at the time was either from the White Star Line itself or from the Daily Echo – the other publications which served the town were weekly and the formation of the first British radio station was still some ten years away.
Beyond that, it was the whispers and half-heard tales that emanated from street corners and dock gates that the townspeople relied on for news of loved ones. As Southampton fell quiet, it was these hushed tones that rang around and brought the worst kind of news.
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