The Titanic disaster in figures

It’s one hundred years to the day since the Titanic sank. I’ve decided to mark the centenary by posting this statistical summary of the appalling death toll, which I prepared for the Rough Guide to the Titanic.

These figures should be taken as a general guide only. There will never be a definitive total either for survivors or victims of the Titanic disaster; no one knows for sure exactly how many people were on board, and there are further discrepancies between the various lists of survivors. The above tallies are based on the official statistics published by the British Inquiry, with adjustments for known errors.

Just over two thirds of all those on board, passengers and crew, died in the disaster. The survival rate for men travelling first-class was well over three times the rate for those travelling second-class, and double that for men in steerage.

All those listed as children above were aged fourteen or younger, but some fourteen-year-olds have been counted as adults, including crew members and a newly-wed Lebanese girl who was travelling with her husband. The youngest “adult” first- or second-class passenger to lose his life was farm labourer George Sweet, who died the day before his fifteenth birthday.

The only child travelling either first- or second-class who did not survive, two-year-old Loraine Allison, died because her parents remained aboard searching for their baby son Trevor, not realising that he’d left with his nurse on lifeboat 11.

More than half the women, and an even higher proportion of the children, travelling third-class failed to find a place in the lifeboats. The death rate is thought to have been especially high among those passengers who did not speak English.

John R. Henderson of Ithaca College Library has prepared a comprehensive in-depth summary of survival rates among passengers of different origins, which you can see by clicking here. I should point out that I had not seen Mr Henderson’s work myself when I prepared the chart above.

For the crew as for the passengers, survival rates correlated with their location on the ship. All seven of the Titanic’s quartermasters, and all six of her lookouts survived, as did two thirds of her deck crew, whereas only around 22 percent of those who worked in the engine rooms managed to escape. Out of the 68 restaurant staff, three were rescued. All eight of the ship’s musicians, and all five of her postal workers, died in the sinking. Twenty out of the ship’s 23 female employees survived.

Several families travelling third-class were entirely wiped out. John and Annie Sage from Peterborough perished alongside all nine of their children, aged from four up to twenty. Frederick and Augusta Goodwin, from Fulham in London, died with their six children, while two women with five children each also failed to survive, Mrs Maria Panula from Finland, and an Irish widow, Mrs Margaret Rice.

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Did the band really play on?

One of the few facts that everyone “knows” about the Titanic is that the band went down with the ship, playing Nearer My God To Thee as she slipped beneath the dark waters. The story holds a substantial kernel of truth, mixed in with a great deal of myth.

Although the Titanic didn’t have a “band” as such, an ad hoc group of musicians did indeed play as the lifeboats were loading. None survived, and it’s not known what they played, or at what point they finally stopped.

The great problem is that so few survivors witnessed the Titanic’s final moments. For those who escaped before the end, the musicians may well have provided their last memory of the ship. However, they were in no position to know what happened later on.

Washington Herald, April 19 1912

The eight musicians aboard the Titanic played in two separate combinations. The man later eulogized as the bandleader, violinist Wallace Hartley, in fact led a quintet, made up of two violins, one cello, one double bass and a piano. There was also a trio of violin, cello and piano.

It seems likely that not all eight were in the group that assembled half an hour after the collision. After playing atop the grand staircase on the Boat Deck – where they would have had use of a piano – they moved out on deck as the first lifeboats were lowered.

As for what they played, Colonel Archibald Gracie remembered, “I did not recognize any of the tunes, but I know they were cheerful and were not hymns.” Other witnesses described a mixture of popular styles – ragtime, jazz and waltzes – that included the biggest hit of 1911, Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Second Officer Charles Lightoller later wrote “I could hear the band playing cheery sort of music. I don’t like jazz music as a rule, but I was glad to hear it that night. I think it helped us all.”

The legend that the band played Nearer My God To Thee is based on very flimsy evidence – a newspaper interview with a Canadian first-class passenger, Mrs Vera Dick. Although she left on lifeboat 3 at 1am, she claimed to have heard the tune at the crucial moment – a time when the Titanic was breaking apart, and the air was filled with screams.

Gracie was adamant the hymn was never played “If Nearer My God To Thee was one of the selections, I would assuredly have noticed it and regarded it as a tactless warning of immediate death to us all … all whom I have questioned or corresponded with … testified emphatically to the contrary”.

Adapted from the Rough Guide to the Titanic; all text © Greg Ward

Bisbee Daily Review, April 19 1912