rms titanic

The public was nonplussed with the magnitude of the disaster, and many people found it impossible to grapple mentally with the intelligence that the newest and biggest vessel in the world–a floating palace, a vessel declared to be practically unsinkable…lay thousands of fathoms deep in the Atlantic Ocean.
—  An article from the Liverpool Daily Post, April 17th, 1912
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February is Black History Month and, although I myself am not Black, I believe there is importance in knowing history.
The tweet above is, in my opinion, a prime example of why Black History Month is important and why Black History matters, especially Black History that is rarely discussed. In a world where mainstream history tends to overlook the stories of Black individuals it is easy to make assumptions that People of Color were not there to witness events such as the sinking of the Titanic, and due to the ignored presence of said individuals, it is easy to dismiss tragedies that seemingly did not affect one’s own people. Despite Hollywood depictions of centuries past, Black people are everywhere. From the eruption of Vesuvius to Elizabethan England, Black people have been present in history. (On a side note, in the 2015 movie ‘Pompeii’, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje portrays the role of a slave/gladiator but I remember while watching a documentary on the eruption of Vesuvius, a historian pointed out that there is evidence that one of the wealthiest families in Herculaneum, Pompeii’s often overlooked and much more interesting neighbor, was a Black family. Why couldn’t we get a movie about them instead?)

The finely dressed gentleman above is Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche (b. May 26, 1886, d. April 15, 1912) along with his french wife Juliette (1889-1980) and their two daughters, Simonne (1909-1973) and Louise (1910-1998).

Joseph was born in Haiti and had traveled to France at the age of fifteen to study engineering, while in France he met Juliette Lafargue and they were married in March of 1908.

After Louise’s birth, the couple decided to move their growing family to Haiti in order to escape discrimination and provide for their children, especially Louise who had been born prematurely and needed constant care. 

In 1912, Juliette discovered she was pregnant once more and the couple decided to bring forward their journey by a year. Joseph’s mother purchased first-class tickets on Le France for them but because of the ship’s strict policies regarding children (they were to be kept separate from their parents, in the nursery, even during dinner), they transferred their tickets for second-class accommodations on board RMS Titanic.

The family boarded RMS Titanic through the Nomadic in Cherbourg on the evening of April 10. 

It is believed that Joseph and his family kept to themselves throughout the voyage, he was no doubt a loving father and most likely spent his final days enjoying the company of his wife and two daughters. Any other information about their time on board has been lost to history; due to uninterested historians, no doubt.

On the evening of April 14, the RMS Titanic sideswiped an iceberg approximately 400 miles from shore, and after two hours and forty minutes, sank beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, descending, in pieces, two and a half miles to the ocean floor.

As the lifeboats were being lowered, Joseph made sure his family were safely taken off the ship before dying a heroic death.

When the Carpathia arrived on the scene early the next morning, Simonne and Louise were raised onto the ship in burlap sacks for they were too small to climb the swinging rope ladder that was lowered on the side of the ship.

Upon arriving in New York, alone and with no one to meet her at the dock, Juliette decided to take her daughters back to France. On December 17, 1912, she gave birth to a boy whom she named Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche, Jr.

Years later, in 1918, Juliette successfully sued the White Star Line for 150,000 francs and used the money to set up a business in order to provide for her three children.

In March of 1995, Louise Laroche, now an old woman, stepped on board the Nomadic; the last place where her father Joseph had been before boarding Titanic; for the first time in eighty-five years. She was also present in the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the passengers that departed from Cherbourg.

History is important, especially history that is not regularly discussed or covered by mainstream media, and in this month it is especially important to remember the many Individuals of Color that, without proper research, we would not know about. Black Lives Matter and Black History Matters. It is everywhere yet it is usually, unfortunately, overlooked. I believe we should all look for the obscure and hidden stories in Black History, especially in this time (not just because its February), and share these stories with others and celebrate the heroic People of Color that are no longer with us. 

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April 14th 1912: Titanic hits an iceberg

On this day in 1912, at 11.40pm, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg. The Titanic was the largest and most opulent passenger liner the world had ever seen, attracting notable dignitaries to its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. The vessel was built in Belfast for White Star Line, with the intention of trumping the company’s rivals at Cunard. The Titanic was lauded as an ‘unsinkable’ ship, but subsequent examinations have suggested some fatal flaws in the ship’s design, in addition to a lack of lifeboats, which only could accommodate half the passengers. Just four days after setting sail, on April 14th at around 11.40pm, the Titanic hit an iceberg. The collision caused a massive gash in the ship’s hull, dooming the vessel to sink. As the ship filled with water and slowly sank, its over two thousand passengers rushed to lifeboats. The panicked evacuation was haphazard, with lifeboats lowered despite not being at full capacity. The ship’s final hours saw a number of particularly touching stories, including the elderly Straus couple who stayed in their cabin to die together, the violin players continuing to perform as the ship sank, and Benjamin Guggenheim changing into his formal dress and declaring “We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”  The Titanic finally sank at around 2.20am, leaving thousands to die of hypothermia in the freezing ocean. Over 1,500 people died in the tragedy, with around 700 survivors rescued by the Cunard’s Carpathia. The demise of the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic shocked the world, and the tragic fate of a symbol of early twentieth-century optimism continues to captivate people’s imagination.

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the Titanic musicians

“I don’t suppose he waited to be sent for, but after finding how dangerous the situation was, he probably called his men together and began playing. I know that he [bandmaster Wallace Hartley] often said that music was a bigger weapon for stopping disorder than anything on earth. He knew the value of the weapon he had, and I think he proved his point.”

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Unseen Titanic, from the April 2012 edition of National Geographic

Top: The First Class promenade on A Deck

Middle: The single surviving davit on the Boat Deck

Bottom: The Turkish Baths, only discovered on recent dives to the wreck - the art nouveau tiles, submerged in freezing salt water under incredible pressure for over a century, are in perfect condition

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My Infinite List of Favourite FilmsTitanic (1997)

Titanic is a 1997 American epic romantic disaster film written and directed by James Cameron. A fictionalized account of the sinking of the luxurious RMS Titanic, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as members of different social classes who fall in love aboard the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage.

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In a rare and wonderful treat for Titanic historians and casual fans alike, “new” photos of the Titanic have surfaced in a private collection and have been shown to the public for the first time in a century.

The photos show Titanic’s launch from the Harland and Wolff Arrol Gantry when she was just an empty hull, and the complete and freshly-painted ship’s departure from Belfast for sea trials. Other photos from the same collection also show Olympic, Titanic’s identical sister ship. All photos above are of Titanic.

While the number of photos of Titanic publicly known to exist is relatively small compared to those of Olympic, even as these new photos have been unveiled, there are most certainly other photos in private collections that have yet to be discovered or released.

The photos are currently on display at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Read more here.

Photos courtesy: National Museums Northern Ireland

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The Titanic moored at Belfast - probably on April 2nd 1912.

RMS Titanic was designed and constructed at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland under the supervision of marine architect Alexander Carlisle and chief designer Thomas Andrews.  |  She was 882 feet 9 inches in length and 92 feet in breadth. Her gross tonnage was 46,328 tons. Three propellers were driven by two four-cylinder, triple-expansion, inverted reciprocating steam engines and one low-pressure Parsons turbine. Steam was provided by 25 double-ended and 4 single-ended Scotch-type boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces that gave her a theoretical top speed of 23 knots.