Key facts on Titanic and Belfast — 110 years after it sailed on its fateful transatlantic voyage

It is 110 years to the day since the Belfast-built Titanic set sail on its disastrous maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

By Staff Reporter
Sunday, 10th April 2022, 12:01 am
Updated Sunday, 10th April 2022, 1:41 pm

The grand vessel, dubbed unsinkable, left Southampton at midday on April 10 1912.

Later that day, the White Star Line ship reached Cherbourg, on the northern coast of France and picked up more passengers.

The next day it made a further stop at Queenstown, in Co Cork.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Titanic set sail from Southampton to New York on April 10 1912, 110 years ago. It had left Belfast eight days earlier, on April 2, The idea for the 900-foot vessel, one of the then grandest to have ever been built, was hatched in 1907 and work had begun in Harland and Wolff in 1912

The liner, which had been built in Harland and Wolff, was then one of the most luxurious ever to have set sail, yet foundered after striking an iceberg on her first journey to New York with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.

The Titanic link to Belfast has its origins almost half a century earlier, when White Star Line in 1869 chose Harland and Wolff in the city to commence construction of vessels to rival Cunard Line, which was the main shipping service across the Atlantic.

This began to reap dividends for White Star, which by the 1870s was achieving some of the fastest crossings of the ocean separating north America from Europe.

In 1907, the head of White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, hatched the idea for the Titanic over dinner in London with William James Pirrie, the then chair of Harland and Wolff and a former lord mayor Belfast. They would also build Britannic and Olympic.

The then derelict Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices on Queen's Island in Belfast, seen in 2015. It is where Titanic and other famous ships were designed. After a Heritage Lottery Fund has provided a £4.9m grant to restore the building, it was turned into boutique hotel. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The following year designs were begun and Titanic’s keel was laid down in early 2009.

It was in May 2011 that tens of thousands of spectators watched Titanic’s hull being launched in Belfast, before being towed to the fitting-out basin.

Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton would in fact have been several weeks earlier than April 10 1912, and instead around the time of the spring equinox, March 20, but was delayed by repairs to the Olympic.

Olympic had completed its maiden voyage in June 1911, but that autumn it collided with a Royal Naval vessel, while under the command of Edward J. Smith, the captain who would go down with Titanic.

The SS Nomadic in Belfast in front of a crane from the Harland and Wolff shipyard. In 2011 more than £3 million has been awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the restoration of Titanic tender vessel

On March 31 construction of the 900 feet-long Titanic was finished, and days later, on April 2, it set sail from Belfast for Southampton. Again this was watched by ten of thousands of spectators, as the grand ocean going liner headed out towards Belfast Lough.

Titanic would arrive on the south coast of England the next day.

After leaving Southampton, then Cherbourg, then Queenstown (now known as Cobh), the Titanic — filled with passengers ranging from immigrants to wealthy figures in London and New York high society — would make good progress.

Such good progress, indeed, that it went too fast through an ice field, foundering on a berg, and sinking in the early hours of April 15, with more than two thirds of those on board dying, 1,500 people, and the remaining 700 surviving.

Belfast City Hall now has five bronze plaques on a plinth (9 metres/30 ft wide), naming all 1,512 victims of the Titanic disaster, passengers and crew, listed in alphabetical order

Captain Smith was among those to perish.

So too did Thomas Andrews from Co Down, the Titanic’s architect. Aged 38, he was head of the drafting department of Harland and Wolff.

This newspaper, the world’s oldest English language daily title, had been reporting on transatlantic crossings from its very first editions in 1737 (the first surviving papers from the following year, 1738, have ads for sailings out from Ulster to America in the spring of 1739 — 173 years before Titanic.

The Belfast News Letter on April 18 1912, days after the sinking of Titanic, reported:

“It is no exaggeration to say that the sad details of the loss of the Titanic...cast quite a gloom over the city, and on every side and amongst all classes of the community, one heard expressions of deep regret and genuine sympathy for those who have suffered through the sinking of the huge vessel.”

Thousands of workers from Harland and Wolff had helped construct the vessel.

Mr Thomas Andrews, from Co Down, chief architect of the Titanic, who went down with the ship, aged 39

A group of them, as experts on Titanic, travelled on the maiden voyage to New York, including engineers.

Twenty two of the dead are named in a memorial in the grounds of Belfast City Hall, which was unveiled in 1920.

The memorial is a marble female figure, Thane, her right arm outstretched, holding a wreath in her right hand.

The inscription reads:

‘”Titanic” Memorial. Erected to the imperishable memory of those gallant Belfast men whose names are here inscribed and who lost their lives on the 15th April 1912, by the foundering of the Belfast-built R.M.S Titanic through collision with an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.

‘Their devotion to duty and heroic conduct through which the lives of many of those on board were saved have left a record of calm fortitude and self sacrifice which will ever remain an inspiring example to succeeding generations. “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends”’.

The memorial carries the name of the Belfast men known at the time to have been lost in the tragedy:

Thomas Andrews Jnr, William Henry Marsh Parr, Roderick Chisholm, Anthony Wood Frost, Robert Knight, William Campbell, Ennis Hastings Watson, Francis Parkes, Alfred Fleming Cunningham, Herbert Gifford Harvey, Albert George Ervine; and Dr John Edward Simpson, William McReynolds, Henry Philip Creese, Thomas Millar, Hugh Fitzpatrick, Joseph Beattie, Matthew Leonard, Archibald Scott, Hugh Calderwood, Richard Turley, William McQuillan.

The memorial now forms part of a Titanic Memorial garden, which in its upper level includes five bronze plaques on a plinth 9 metres (30 ft) wide, naming all 1,512 victims of the disaster, passengers and crew, listed in alphabetical order.

The old Titanic drawing offices, where Mr Andrews would have worked, have since been turned into a hotel.

It is near to the iconic Titanic Belfast building, which opened on the centenary of the Titanic sinking, a visitor attraction the pays tribute to Belfast’s maritime heritage.

Nearby is the restored SS Nomadic, which was one of two vessels commissioned by the White Star Line to tender for Olympic and Titanic, which were too large to dock in Cherbourg Harbour.

The blue plaque from the Ulster History Circle detailing that Thomas Andrews designer of the Titanic lived at Windsor Avenue. The building is now the headquarters of the Irish Football Association. Picture: Diane Magill
The Titanic Belfast museum, which opened in 2012, on the centenary of the ship's sinking