Richard Davenporthines

When the great ship went down

The looming centenary of the world’s most notorious shipping calamity, when the Titanic ruptured its starboard flank as it scraped the side of an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912, presents publishers with a tactical challenge.

The looming centenary of the world’s most notorious shipping calamity, when the Titanic ruptured its starboard flank as it scraped the side of an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912, presents publishers with a tactical challenge.

The looming centenary of the world’s most notorious shipping calamity, when the Titanic ruptured its starboard flank as it scraped the side of an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912, presents publishers with a tactical challenge. Almost as many books and articles have been written about the stricken liner as about Jack the Ripper — and for the same reason. Like the Whitechapel murders, the deaths at sea of 1,517 souls created a media storm which has never abated. The challenge to find anything new to say is best met by an oblique approach: by taking some specialised theme; or fixing on an individual whose experiences personalise and intensify what happened.

Christopher Ward (whose article on the aftermath was published in The Spectator 6 August), has written a poignant memorial to his mother’s unmarried parents. His grandfather, Jock Hume, was a 21-year-old violinist from Dumfries who learnt just before he embarked as a bandsman on the Titanic that his glove-maker fiancée Mary Costin was pregnant. After the collision the band calmed passengers by continuing to play until shortly before the liner’s final plunge. With stalwart camaraderie they then jumped overboard together. Eight days later Hume’s body was found floating in the Atlantic, upright in its life-jacket, besides those of two other bandsmen, with his violin case strapped to his chest. Ward’s book contains new information on the retrieval of Titanic corpses from the ocean, with macabre details about freezing to death, but is chiefly a work of family piety, with the sinking of 1912 providing a pretext for publication.

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