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Titanic Webchat

Below is the transcript of a live chat with Douglas Carson, President of the Titanic Trust, which took place on 15th April 2002, the 90th anniversary of the sinking of the ship.


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Below is the transcript of a live chat with Douglas Carson, President of the Titanic Trust, which took place on 15th April 2002, the 90th anniversary of the sinking of the ship.

BBC Host: Hello, and welcome to tonight's live chat with Douglas Carson.

Before he arrives here are some interesting facts about the Titanic. The luxury liner sank exactly 90 years ago today on April 15 1912 after striking an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York. Some 2,200 people were on board - about 1,500 lost their lives. The Titanic was the jewel in the crown of the White Star Line and was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world at the time. It was designed and built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

Douglas Carson is president of the Titanic Trust which was set up five years ago to promote Titanic as a centre of interest for Belfast. The Trust aims to establish Belfast as the world capital of Titanic studies. Douglas Carson is related to Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic, who went down with his ship.

Kathy Holmes: There have been other maritime disasters in which more people have died. Why all the interest in the Titanic?

Douglas Carson: Well there are several reasons. The first reason is that the headline was an editor's dream. The largest ship in the world sinks, on her maiden voyage with a cargo of millionaires. The second reason is that we look back on the Titanic with different perceptions of those of people at the time and we do this because we know what they did not know. We know about World War I and World War II and all the appalling catastrophes of the 20th century. We know about the tens of millions who died in the 20th century. Because of that we see the Titanic as the first of a long series of disasters so the Titanic becomes a symbol of the 20th century and of the horrors of the 20th century and we are able to look back like the survivors in the lifeboat and somehow or other think we got out of the 20th century alive.

Laura Brown: Do you think it's right that items are being salvaged from the wreck or should it be treated like a graveyard - sacred ground?

Douglas Carson: I think it is possible to do both. I think it is possible to respect the Titanic as a grave site and I think it is possible to salvage objects from the debris field spread around the ship. There is a very large area on the seabed which was scattered with objects from the Titanic and these are of genuine interest and I think it is worth rescuing them and preserving them. I will add one thing I met George Tulloch who has been responsible for bringing up many of the artifacts and I know that George is a great respector of the Titanic and I know that George would not want to do anything that would disturb the memories of the dead.

Kacey Lucian: Should there be a Titanic 2?

Douglas Carson: There have been proposals from time to time to build a new Titanic. The Japanese intended to build one at one time and there was also a plan to build one in Belfast. I doubt if it can be done. For one thing the design would have to be changed to meet the requirements of modern life at sea. It's hard to imagine the huge coal fired ship being welcomed in the 21st century but I see no reason why an approximation to the Titanic should not be created. I would like to see it in Belfast and I would like to see people coming from all over the world to visit it.

Wes: How much of the story in the film 'Titanic' is true? Were there people called Rose and Jack, and was the Heart of The Ocean a real diamond which was taken on board?

Douglas Carson: Where the original Titanic was launched. Most of the film was fiction and there was no real Jack there was no real Rose. There was no real Heart of the Ocean but there was a fireman on the Titanic who happened to have the same name in real life as Jack. His body was buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia and after the film all the girls who loved Leonard de Caprio went to this Jack's grave and put flowers there. So 85 years after his death this man became a sex symbol. I would like that to happen to me!

Jenny Doyle: Did your family know anybody who was on the Titanic?

Douglas Carson: Yes, not quite on the Titanic. My father had a cousin a lady called Helen Riley Barber and Helen married Thomas Andrews and Thomas Andrews designed the Titanic and he was drowned on it. So I have a family connection with the Titanic because of that. Also Thomas Andrews of course died on the Titanic 90 years ago on the 15th of April and this is the 15th of April and it is my 64th birthday. So I was born on the anniversary of the sinking, but the coincidence goes further than that. One of the Andrews family today James Andrews was also born on the 15th of April, the anniversary of the death of his great uncle. I will add that I have met some people who were on the Titanic and survived. In particular I think of Milvina Dean who was on the Titanic as a baby and is still fit and well and travelling the world.

Linda Champion: I would wish to inquire about Helen Andrews. Where was she when she learned of the sinking, and how did she find out about it?

Douglas Carson: Well I think she was at the family home in Windsor Avenue in Belfast. Thomas Andrews had a house there called Dunallan. About 10 days ago a blue plaque was put on the house to mark the place where Thomas Andrews lived. Helen Andrews had a daughter and the daughter was called Elizabeth Law Barbour Andrews and she was known by her initals ELBA. Now her mother Thomas Andrews' widow married again. Her first husband had been Thomas Andrews who was nephew of the head of the shipyard. Her second husband was Henry Harland who was the nephew of the founder of the shipyard and she had a second family of Harlands by that marriage. Her daughter Elba, lived to a good age and died in another accident - she was killed in a car crash.

Chris Salmond: Apart from making sure that future ships carried enough lifeboats for all the passengers on board what other lessons were learned from the tragedy?

Douglas Carson: Well the lessons were learnt slowly. I think looking back there was a lot of complacancy in 1912. Britannia ruled the waves and British sailors saw themselves as the princes of the sea. The Titanic reminded them that they were human and the sea was more powerful than they were. Also Britain at that time was very worried about the German navy. So they didn't want to say too much in public about their mistakes in case they encouraged the Kaiser. But in private they learnt the lessons painfully.

John: Why shouldn't the wreck of the Titanic be raised and turned into a museum?

Douglas Carson: The wreck cannot be raised. Even if it were ethically proper to raise it is just not physically possible. Two and a half miles down on the bed of the Atlantic there are tiny creatures which eat iron and for 90 years they have been eating the Titanic. Much of the hull is very weak. Any attempt to move it would destroy it. But I think we should have a Titanic museum and I think it should be here on the shores of Belfast Lough. We want people to come from all around the world to see the city where the Titanic was born. And the city where hundreds of other great ships were built.

Paul Taylor: What ever happened to Bruce Ismay? Did White Star fire him because if they didn't they should have?

Douglas Carson: Bruce Ismay had a sad life. After the enquiries were over he had to give up his job and retire. He moved to the west of Ireland to Galway. He lived in a large estate in Galway and kept himself to himself. In later life one of his legs was amputated and recently someone said to me I always think that the leg which was amputated was the leg that he put first into the lifeboat. But there is a poem about him by the Belfast poet Derek Mahon and he is compassionate to Ismay. He really says that Ismay really is another of the victims of the Titanic. The Titanic destroyed the lives of many people and Ismay's life was destroyed too.

Evelyn White: Is it true the Titanic would have survived if it had hit the iceberg head on instead of trying to avoid it and spreading the damage so far down the side of the ship?

Douglas Carson: The answer is probably yes. The Titanic was built with a system of watertight compartments and these would probably have saved the ship if only the forward compartments had rudders. But if you see an iceberg in front of you and you have two thousand people on board, your natural instinct is to try and avoid the iceberg. It would have taken a very strong man with great powers of decision to drive the Titanic at almost full speed into an iceberg. Even with the engines in reverse the Titanic had tremendous momentum. An officer who took that decision would probably have had a hard time explaining it his captain and to the inquiry.

Susan Patterson: Do you think Belfast is too late trying to capitalise on the Titanic?

Douglas Carson: I think it is late but not too late. For many years the people of Belfast refused to remember the Titanic because the memories were painful but now we are begining to realise that the Titanic is the most famous thing that ever came out of the city. We are beginning to see that the whole world is interested in the Titanic and because of that the whole world is ready to come here. We have just had a Titanic festival in the city hall, and fifty thousand people came out to hear about the great ship. I look forward in a few years' time to five hundred thousand people coming out and I expect them to come from Canada, and America and Germany and Isreal and Japan and Greece and all over the planet. I think we should remember that although the Titanic was a British ship, she could not have been built without American friends and American money. She belonged to the Americans. I want Belfast to have American friends and American money and Austrialian friends and money and German friends and German money. We have had 30 years of trouble and we need a new future. And the Titanic can help us to build that. It is not a question of exploiting a disaster - it's a question of remembering a great past and trying to create a great future.

BBC Host: That is all we have time for.



Jen - Jan '07
Hello does anyone no where I can find remains of the titanic which have been dragged from the deeps below? I'm finding it rather hard to find a museum in belfast please help

Cateylnn Koharik - Jan '07
Where does Eliza Gladys Milvana Dean live?


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