Face masks mandatory until 12.01 am, Monday 17 May 2021. Please read our special conditions of entry before visiting us.
On Sunday 15 April 1912, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg off Cape Race in the Atlantic. Of the 3000 people on board for the maiden voyage, around 1500 lost their lives in the icy water. It remains one of the most famous disasters in history and the State Library of New South Wales holds some interesting items relating to the event in its collections.
Firstly, there is a volume of newspaper clippings pasted onto the pages of an old 'De Dion Bouton' motor carriage catalogue. These were taken from the Sydney Morning Herald in the days following the disaster.
One of these refers to the Titanic's Second Officer, Mr. Charles Herbert Lightoller, who was the senior surviving officer. It was Lightoller who told John Astor, the richest man on board: “...the ladies and children first, sir”.
Charles had worked on the Australian route with the White Star Line before being assigned to the Titanic. In 1903 he had married Miss Sylvia Hawley Wilson in St. James church, Sydney and both returned to England soon after. On the night of the 15 April Charles found himself in charge of lowering lifeboats and after doing all he could to launch the boats went down with the ship. Fortunately he was blown back to the surface by a rush of warm air as the boiler exploded and after clinging to overturned lifeboat was rescued.
The second item is a book: 'The Tragedy of the Titanic; told in song-snatches by singers of the sea'. Compiled from articles that appeared in the Otago Daily Times 20 April, 1912, it retells the events from snippets taken from famous poems and songs. While offering solace for the survivors and their families, some excerpts seem to have been directed at creating the opposite effect:
There rose from sea to sky the wild farewell,
Then shrieked the timid and stood the brave,
Then some leapt overboard with a dreadful yell,
As eager to anticipate their grave.
The last item is a photograph of a Titanic memorial erected in one of the driest places on earth, Broken Hill, in north-west New South Wales. The people of Broken Hill were so moved by the bravery of the ship's bandsmen that within a few weeks they had launched a public appeal to create a memorial to them.
The ship's band, led by Wallace Henry Hartley, famously played, ‘Nearer My God to Thee', in an effort to calm the passengers as the ship sank. They all went down with the ship. The Broken Hill memorial, in the shape of a broken pillar, was unveiled in December 1913.