It is 97 years next month since she went down, but the Titanic – the supposedly unsinkable liner that scraped an iceberg in the north Atlantic on her maiden voyage and sank with the loss of 1,500 people – continues to exercise a huge public fascination. There have been several films and myriad books and documentaries, Belfast has its Titanic quarter around the docks where she was built – and now Southampton, the city which provided most of the crew, is planning its own interactive museum, to open in time for the centenary in 2012.
John Hannides, the city councillor responsible for culture and heritage, was yesterday predicting hundreds of thousands of visitors: “Southampton was the home of the Titanic, so it is only fitting that we tell our story. The impact was felt right across the world, but nowhere more so than here. I don’t think we’re competing with Belfast. We’ve not been in close contact with them, but the two experiences are not mutually exclusive.”
Southampton was thrown into deep mourning by the tragedy. It was the port from which the new liner set off on her maiden passenger voyage on 5 April 1912 and 549 of the dead, a third of the total casualty list, hailed from the city – yet only one was a passenger. The crew’s professionalism and dedication in staying with the sinking ship has hitherto been marked with a modest monument to the Titanic’s engineers in a city park. Among the other dead were waiters and stokers, sailors and stewards whose stories have been overlooked.
On display will be many of the 4,000 artefacts from the disaster that the city has gathered over the years, many of which are in storage: plates and cutlery, letters and menu cards, and fragments garnered from the seabed after the wreckage was finally located by a team led by the American oceanographer Robert Ballard in 1985. Also in store are recordings of the recollections of about 70 survivors.
Yesterday’s announcement that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded the city £500,000 to develop the project could lead to a £28m exhibition in the city’s former magistrates’ court, next to the civic centre. More than 100 companies have expressed an interest in developing the idea and Hannides believes potential sponsors will not be put off by the recession. If the plans come to fruition, visitors will board a reconstruction of the ship, into – of course – a first class cabin, of a sort made familiar by Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s 1997 film.
Many local people are descended from members of the crew. The last known survivor, 97-year-old Milvina Dean, who as a nine-week-old baby was handed down into a lifeboat with her mother while her father remained on board and died, still lives close to Southampton. She is due to give a talk at Southampton University on 17 April, as part of the city’s annual commemoration of the disaster. “There’s a very strong connection, still. It’s part of our social history and personal experience,” said Hannides.
There is also one further link. “Titanic was an Olympic class liner and 2012 will be the London Olympics,” he said. Hopefully the coincidence ends there.
Titanic Commemorative Events – April
Update 1st June 2009
Millvina Dean, last remaining survivor of the Titanic, dies aged 97