Titanic sinks – 1912

More than 1,500 passengers and crew died when the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. These are the eyewitness accounts of some of the survivors.

RMS Titanic was an Olympic class passenger liner that became infamous for its collision with an iceberg and dramatic sinking in 1912. The second of three superliners, she and her sisters, RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic, were designed to provide a weekly express service and dominate the transatlantic travel business for the White Star Line.

During her maiden voyage from Southampton to Cherbourg, Queenstown (Cobh), then New York, she struck an iceberg at 11:40 PM (ship’s time) on Sunday evening April 14, 1912, and sank two hours and forty minutes later, after breaking into two pieces, at 2:20 AM Monday morning April 15.

Sinking of the RMS Titanic, 14-15 April, 1912

This account was given by George Brayton, a first class passenger
A number of us who were enjoying the crisp air were promenading about the deck. Captain Smith was on the bridge when the first cry from the lookout came that there was an iceberg ahead. It may have been 30ft high when I saw it. It was possibly 200 yards away and dead ahead. Captain Smith shouted some orders … a number of us promenaders rushed to the bow of the ship. When we saw he could not fail to hit it, we rushed to the stern. Then came a crash, and the passengers were panic-stricken.

This account was given by Lawrence Beesley (left), a school teacher and second class passenger
As I dressed, I heard the order shouted, “All passengers on deck with life belts on.” We all walked up slowly with the life belts tied on over our clothing, but even then we presumed that this was merely a wise precaution the captain was taking. The ship was absolutely still, and except for the gentle, almost unnoticeable, tilt downwards, there were no visible signs of the approaching disaster. But, in a few moments, we saw the covers being lifted from the boats and the crews allotted to them standing by and uncoiling the ropes, which were to lower them. We then began to realise that it was a more serious matter than we had at first supposed. Presently we heard the order, “All men stand back away from the boats. All ladies retire to the next deck below.” The men all stood away and waited in absolute silence, some leaning against the end railings of the deck, others pacing slowly up and down. The boats were then swung out and lowered. When they were level with the deck where all the women were collected, the women got in quietly, with the exception of some, who refused to leave their husbands. In some cases they were torn from their husbands and pushed into the boats, but in many instances they were allowed to remain, since there was no-one to insist they should go.

This account was given by Colonel Archibald Gracie, who jumped from the top deck
After sinking with the ship, it appeared to me as if I was being propelled by some great force through the water. This might have been occasioned by explosions under the water, and I remembered fearful stories of people being boiled to death. Again and again I prayed for deliverance, although I felt sure that the end had come. I had the greatest difficulty in holding my breath until I came to the surface. I knew that once I inhaled, the water would suffocate me. When I got under water I struck out with all my strength to the surface. I got to air again after a time, which seemed to me to be unending. There was nothing in sight save the ocean, dotted with ice and strewn with large masses of wreckage. Dying men and women all about me were groaning and crying piteously. By moving from one piece of wreckage to another, at last I reached a cork raft. Soon the raft became so full it seemed as if she would sink if more came on board her. The crew for self-preservation had therefore to refuse to permit any others to climb aboard, This was the most pathetic and horrible scene of all. The piteous cries of those around us still ring in my ears, and I will remember them to my dying day. “Hold on to what you have, old boy!” we shouted to each man who tried to get on board. “One more of you would sink us all!” Many of those whom we refused answered as they went to their death, “Good luck – God bless you!”

This account was given by Seaman Thomas Jones of the Countess of Rothes and lifeboat number eight
I saw the way she was carrying herself and the quiet, determined manner in which she spoke, and I knew she was more of a man than most on board, so I put her in command at the tiller. There was another woman in the boat who helped, and was every minute rowing. It was she who suggested we should sing, and we sang as we rowed, starting with Pull for the Shore. We were still singing when we saw the lights of the Carpathia, and then we stopped singing and prayed.

Source: The Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable” Ship, by Geoff Tibballs (Carlton, 1997)