MARCONI AND THE TITANIC
Gerard J. Hannan
‘CQD CQD SOS Titanic Position 41.44 N 50.24 W. Require immediate assistance.
Come at once.We struck an iceberg. Sinking’
From the very second the first SOS signal was sent from Titanic in the early hours of April 15, 1912 when that high-pitched musical tone travelled for hundreds of miles across the North Atlantic in a desperate plea for help it not only marked the beginning of the greatest maritime tragedy in recorded history but also was to have a long term resonation for Irish broadcasting. The Titanic sent the signal using her 1.5 kW Marconi installation to signal her death knell. The 1.5 kW set was the absolute latest piece of modern technology, for the time, and as such optimal performance was not only an absolute demand but also a natural expectation. Titanic’s Wireless set had a nominal working range of 250 nautical miles and signalling more distant stations was also possible, especially at night when ranges of up to 2000 miles were attained using similar sets. The location of the Wireless suite on Titanic was given secondary importance to valuable windows for use by First Class passengers.
The equipment was housed in a series of interconnecting rooms; the soundproof ‘Silent Room’ in which noisy transmitting equipment was located, the Marconi Room, an office in which contained the operators’ workstations, manipulation keys, and receiving equipment; and the bedroom, which contained the operators’ berthing. The Wireless set was operators and cared for by Marconi’s employees, who were by routine assigned to Titanic for the duration of one voyage and, therefore, not considered part of the normal crew. Their time was spent within the Marconi suite except at mealtime when they were allowed to adjourn to the dining saloon (Stevenson, 2002).
The alleged last audible message from Titanic came at around 2;05 AM when, as the New York Times revealed on April 21, 1912 based on testimony given by Harold Bride, there was an exchange between Capt Smith and Jack Phillips and Harold Bride who were the operators in charge of the Marconi suite. The Captain visits the Wireless room for the last time and says “Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Abandon your post. Now it’s every man for himself” the captain’s comments shock the operators. Capt Smith then told them; “You look out for yourselves. I release you” There is then another pause and Capt Smith adds “that’s the way of it at this kind of time… Every man for himself” the Captain then leaves the Wireless room. The operators then make a final call to all ships as water is flooding the room and Phillips says to Bride “come on, let’s clear out”… then Titanic’s signals end very abruptly as if power suddenly switched off (Titanic Radio, 2012).
Harold Bride survived the sinking of the ship, but Jack Phillips, died of exposure. However, The New York Herald, the New York Times biggest rival challenged the account and questioned how the newspaper got exclusive access to Harold Bride’s personal account of the events. The Herald publishes the shocking revelation that American Marconi officials sent telegrams to the Marconi operators, instructing them to withhold information about the disaster so that reports could be sold. According to later testimony by Guglielmo Marconi, the New York Times paid a negotiated $500 for the exclusive rights to Brides story.
Furthermore, it was later revealed that there were complaints that Marconi operators aboard the Patio had ignored other Navy vessels, demanding information as to the situation on board Titanic. The real question being asked by the international media was did Guglielmo Marconi see the disaster as no more than an opportunity to yield high profits and, distort the flow of information to such a point that lives were lost in the name of business practice? The following 24 hours after the first fatal message was sent the flow of information was dangerously distorted, contaminated and highly inaccurate and the primary source of this information was Marconi’s Wireless apparatus. The international media could not access accurate information without first dealing with Marconi and his officials. Consequently, international newspapers opted to fill space for their news hungry readers with speculation, convolution and misinformation. Marconi’s punishment would be severe.
On Tuesday April 16th the Central News Agency releases some information about an ‘incident’ at sea. “Wireless messages received at Halifax early this afternoon state that the condition of the Titanic is dangerous, and that the lives of those who still remain aboard are in some peril. In a maze of Wireless messages from various steamers it is difficult to get any connected story. The Government tug Lady Laurier is going from London to render assistance. The news of the disaster to the Titanic reached New York in the small hours of this morning by way of Montreal, whither it had been transmitted by Wireless Telegraphy from the Allan liner Virginian, Eastward bound.
The Virginian herself, in common with other liners, had picked up in the night the Wireless signals for assistance broadcast by the maimed liner, and at the same moment that she was passing them on to the shore was steaming her fastest to the rescue” (Central News Agency, 1912). The report states that “New York was preparing to give the Titanic a big welcome on the same lines as that extended last year to her sister ship, the Olympic, and among her passengers it was known that there were many distinguished American citizens, concerning whose fate the carrier messages said nothing. Most of these, after fulfilling business and other engagements in Europe, had waited in order to enjoy the thrill of making the homeward journey in the world’s greatest liner, the ‘millionaires’ ship, on board which they might almost be pardoned for considering themselves as safe as in their hotels on shore. Among them may be mentioned the following;-Mr Benjamin Guggenheim, a member of the famous Guggenheim family of capitalists, associates of Mr Pierpont Morgan, and world famous in connection with Alaskan development and copper production; Mr C Clarence Jones, a New York Stock Broker, who has been visiting the European capitals in connection with the purchase of American Embassy sites; Mr Washington Roebling , head of the great wire cable firm, and son of the builder of Brooklyn Bridge; Mr Washington Dodge, member of the well known banking firm of Phelps, Dodge and Company; Col. John Weir, mining engineer; Mr Henry B Harris, theatrical producer and manager, and son of the gentleman of the same name who owns many of New York’s theatres; Mr Jacques Futrelle , one of the best known of American authors; Mr Frank D. Millet, American painter, who resided a long time in London (Central News Agency, 1912). In Ireland, the Irish Independent reports on ‘update’ on the story; ‘The publication of the Montreal message sent scores of anxious folks to the White Star offices in quest of further information, but there was nothing to tell them for several long hours. The officials were emphatic in their declarations that the huge hull of the Titanic, divided into several water-tight sections, each as big as a good sized ship, was in no danger of sinking, and even when the Wireless at Cape Race announced that the liner was down by the head and that preparations were being made to take the passengers off, they repeated their assurances, which in the light of later news seem to have been well founded. The cheering announcement was forthcoming that besides the Virginian, which at midnight was 170 miles from the scene of the disaster, the White Star liners ‘Olympic’ and ‘Baltic’, the Cunard liner Mauretania, and three or four German and French liners were all hurrying in the same direction (Irish Independent, 1912).
The story of the disaster is briefly, yet graphically, told in a Wireless message received from the Cunard liner which runs in the companies Mediterranean service and picked up the Titanic’s signals when four days out on her voyage from New York to Gibraltar. The Titanic struck the iceberg at 10.25pm last night(American time). She was then running at reduced speed, presumably from the knowledge of the proximity of ice. Most of the passengers had retired to bed, and were awakened and terrified by a thunderous impact, which crushed and twisted the towering bows of the liner and broke them in like an eggshell. The behaviour of the crew is stated to have been exemplary and they were assisted by many of the male passengers, who also succeeded in calming the women and children. The Wireless was immediately set going, and, as a precaution, the majority of the passengers were placed in the liner’s boats, which were swung out and ready to be lowered. The sea was calm, and though the sea was pouring into the vessel forward, her machinery had not been disabled and when it was found that, with the pumps working and the watertight bulkheads holding well, there was a good chance of the liner making port, the captain set about proceeding cautiously in the direction of Halifax (Central News Agency, 1912).
Reuters Cablegrams had less information to offer about the disaster. All they could report is that the Titanic was sinking off Newfoundland Banks, as the result of a collision with an iceberg; that several ships were in Wireless communication with, and that the women were being taken off in lifeboats (Reuters Cablegrams, 1912). The liner Baltic sent a Wireless message to New York at 3;50 AM and was within 200 miles of the Titanic. The last signals from the Titanic came at 12;25 AM. It reports that the messages were blurred and ended abruptly. A later telegram from Cape Race says the Wireless operator on board the Titanic reported the weather calm and clear. The position of the liner being 41 46 N, 50 14 W, the Virginian liner also reported at midnight that it was 170 miles West of the Titanic, and was expected to reach her 10;00 AM. The Olympic at midnight was in 40.32 North latitude, 61.18 West longitude. She’s also in direct communication with the Titanic, and is hastening to her. The dispatch also states that all the passengers of the Titanic had left the ship by 3;30 AM this morning. Reports were coming into New York by 4;30 AM stating that most of the passengers from the Titanic had been put in lifeboats, and the sea was calm. The Montréal Star newspaper confirms that the Titanic is still afloat and making her way slowly to Halifax.
In Boston, there were reports stating that the Titanic is slowly struggling in the direction of Cape Race. In Montréal they receive an “unsigned telegram” stating that the Titanic is steaming to Halifax and she hopes to make port (Reuters Telegrams, 1912). The Freemans Journal reports that ocean voyaging still has its perils. Two thousand, two hundred and fifty three people were drawn into danger of death at the one swoop when the Titanic crashed into the ice. A few years ago, had it been possible then for such a population to be aboard one vessels, the iceberg might well have caused a great disaster, a death list terrible enough to keep land fork from sea for a long time. It was not certain at first that the Titanic would not sink, it is not even quite certain, at the moment of writing, that it will be brought the whole way into port. Should it go under yet, the village full of people aboard may thank the Wireless Telegraph for their lives. The cry of distress sent raying over the ocean by the great liner brought help that else must have passed, within helping distance, quite without knowledge of the need. At 3;30 AM, the dead hour of the night to human beings, every one of the 1350 passengers had been transferred to other vessels, leaving 903 members of the crew and service to make Halifax on the ship if it is to reach port. Of course, this second large population, of 900, will be safe, unless a last disaster should happen suddenly, a thing not to be anticipated. But for the Wireless installation, and the confidence it gives of help almost certain, there must surely have been a deadly panic on the Titanic when the great ship drove into the iceberg which crippled it. No doubt the now facts bring a new mind; passengers have already acquired what one is tempted to call the “Wireless mind” the feeling that the ocean is no longer lonely space cut off from all human life. The instinct of old was to throw oneself overboard at the first terrible moment of a collision, or of the cry of fire; people that read yesterday’s news in mid ocean and knew the price of shares in Dublin or of coal in London do not feel so utterly abandoned; the sea has become a continuation of the land life, and, no doubt at all, every passenger at the moment of the shock uttered the one word, “Wireless”; everyone thought at once that the Titanic was on a known track within easy hail of friends, who would turn on their paths within five minutes and bring help.
The same system has proved itself useful also in warnings of danger, the question will arise at once whether the Titanic might not have avoided this awful peril by the ice warning that had already been sent out by other ships. The Virginian, which has been helping the giant in distress, had already sent out word that three days out of Halifax it had encountered “ice fields 100 miles in extent, with enormous bergs” It will be asked whether this danger signal had not reached the Titanic; if not, why not? And, if it did reach the Titanic, why the Titanic could not avoid the whole bristling ground? The biggest ship afloat has had an unhappy first trip, and it will be remembered that the Olympic, also one of the giants, made and in ill-omened start. But there is no certain connection between the size of these monsters and the misfortunes which have fallen about them. The Titanic is believed to be not merely the fastest ship that man has put on the waters in all the history of the world, but to be the safest also. It was even famous for its “collision bulkhead”, and collision it has had to meet on its first going forth. It remains to be seen whether there will be any effort now to maintain that the size of these ships is, after all, a danger; whether in any way bulk increases peril when there may be need of hasty stopping, backing, or wheeling about. The enquiry into the causes of the Titanic’s mishap will certainly consider this question. And there will be an anxious desire for information as to the reason the Titanic took the course which was known to be made terrible for the moment by that vast floating country of ice, “100 miles in extent, with enormous bergs” (Freeman’s Journal, 1912).
The Irish Independent states “sailors, who are proverbially superstitious, may be pardoned if they think there is something unlucky about the two largest steamers afloat, the Olympic and Titanic, of the White Star Line. Six months ago the Olympic collided with the cruiser Hawke in an apparently unaccountable way, and on a subsequent occasion lost one of her propeller blades in mid-ocean. The sister ship, the Titanic, when starting on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic last week, narrowly avoided a collision in Southampton water. On Sunday night she appears to have collided with a huge iceberg, and sustain such damage that the first accounts received by Wireless represented the huge vessel as sinking and the passengers and crew, upwards of 2000 souls, as being in great danger. There were Irish passengers on board the Titanic, and the alarm caused in Ireland yesterday by the news of the disaster was consequently great. Fortunately, however, later Wireless messages represent the accident as not so serious; passengers are said to be safe on board other vessels summoned by Wireless to the assistance of the great liner, and the steamer, though apparently badly damaged, is making her way to Halifax, the nearest port. During the past few days many vessels have encountered huge icebergs and ice fields off the coast of Newfoundland, and this source of danger threatens alike the largest and the smallest shipping. That the collision of the Titanic with an iceberg did not result in heavy loss of life may be partly attributed to the splendid construction of the vessel and the system of collision bulkheads and electrically worked watertight doors with which the vessel is provided, but mainly to the prompt assistance which the Wireless messages summoned from all sides within a radius of 200 miles. This is a new triumph for Marconi, and if the lesson is taken to heart by ship-owners one may soon hope to see every oceangoing steamer equipped with his marvellous invention (Irish Independent, 1912).
The flow of early misinformation in relation to the sinking of the Titanic seemed to continue as April 16th’s late editions hit the newsstands. A Reuters “all classes” cablegram from New York claims the Titanic sank at 2;20 AM this morning. No lives were lost. An hour later Reuters issued another telegram stating; “the following statement has been given out by the White Star officials. Capt Haddock, of the Olympic, sends a Wireless message that the Titanic sank at 2;20 AM on Monday, after the passengers and crew had been lowered into the lifeboat and transferred to the Virginian. The steamer Carpathia, with several hundred of the passengers from the Titanic, is now on her way to New York” A late edition of the Irish Independent states “White Star have given assurances that the passengers were safe. Vice President, Mr Franklin, has expressed the belief that the vessel was also safe, however severely damaged, being practically unsinkable. All news has been coming in aggravating fragments in the form of Wireless messages from various vessels at the scene of the wreck or hastening thither, nothing has been received direct from the Titanic herself” (Irish Independent, 1912).
A later Reuters telegram seemed to contradict all previous messages in relation to the Titanic. The statement issued in New York at 8 AM declares “up to this hour the officials of the White Star line have not received a word regarding the reported accident to the Titanic. 12 hours have passed since the collision of the Titanic is reported to have taken place. We have heard nothing of an accident. It is very strange to the Titanic sister ship Olympic, which has a Wireless installation of sufficient strength has not communicated with us” (Reuters Telegram, 1912).
However, the Irish media did not believe a word of this official statement. “Disaster has marked the maiden voyage of the gigantic White Star liner Titanic, for while steaming through the night, some 270 miles South-East of Newfoundland, she struck an iceberg, and is now crawling towards Halifax in imminent danger of sinking. Happily so far as can be at present ascertained, no lives have been lost, and with plenty of help from other liners standing by the passengers should be landed safely tonight or tomorrow. The first notification of disaster came from the Wireless station at Cape Race, which picked up the Titanic’s message for help. Shortly afterwards came another Wireless message from the Virginian, stating that she also had picked up the Titanic’s message, and was hastening to the relief. The next message received by the Cape Race Wireless station was even more alarming, for the Titanic’s operator reported that the ship was sinking by the head, and that the women and children were being put into lifeboats. Then came a long pause and at 12;27 AM the Virginian operator said that the last signals received from the Titanic were blurred and indistinct, and that the message had been broken after suddenly. By this time no fewer than 11 great liners had picked up the despairing SOS signals, and were heading full speed to the rescue. The Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, which was herself in collision only a short time ago; was about 300 miles away on her way from New York to Southampton, and while passing the message on she announced that she was racing to the rescue. Another boat, comparatively near, was the White Star liner, Baltic, and some other vessels including Amerika and Cincinnati, the Parisian, the Carpathia, the North German Prinz Friedrich Willhelm and Prinz Adalbert; and a French liner, La Provence, all of which sent Wireless messages of encouragement and the news that they were hurrying to the rescue (Irish Independent, 1912).
However the flow of misinformation persisted. Another Reuters cablegram claims to have received a message from the ship Minin, off Cape Race, stating that steamers are now towing the Titanic, and endeavouring to get her into shoal waters near Cape Race, for the purpose of beaching her. A further message from Halifax states that the Government Marine Agency has received a Wireless message to the effect that the Titanic is sinking. A telegram from Montréal states that White Star has denied the report that the Titanic had sunk. He believed that with so many vessels around her it would be unnecessary for the Virginia to return to Halifax with her. Traffic officials of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, have been notified that the passengers of the Titanic will be landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia. About 600 would require transportation to New York by sleeping cars, and 800 by ordinary coaches. White Star also confirm that the Virginia, Parisian and Carpathia were now standing by the Titanic. The Company claims to have definite information that all the passengers had been transferred successfully from the Titanic; they also confirm that they had received nothing indicating the extent of the damage sustained by the Titanic” (White Star Liners, 1912).
Although the news of the disaster to the Titanic came as tremendous shock and the gravity of the position was fully recognised, the shipping community of Liverpool resolutely took a sanguine view throughout that the ship would be brought to a place of safety. The intelligence that the Titanic is in tow of the Virginia has been communicated to the owners, who finding it a confirmation of their expectations that the giant ship, damaged though she may be, has, through the medium of her collision bulkhead and watertight compartments, sufficient buoyancy to enable her to reach a port of safety. The chief feature discussed was the splendid demonstration the disaster affords of the practical utility of Wireless Telegraphy. In marine insurance circles it seems to be generally believed that the vessel is covered to the amount of £1m, half of which will be carried, not by the White Star line itself, but by the White Star and all the companies with which it works in combination. This combination is known to possess a very large insurance fund. Of the million at risk in the open in insurance market, it is believed a quarter is taken by Liverpool companies, the remaining three quarters being distributed amongst London offices, Hamburg probably coming in aid (Irish Independent, 1912).
However, it would be at lEast 24 hours more before the true facts of the disaster began to emerge to a shocked world. But interestingly, somebody somewhere had to account for the flow of misinformation that had caused so much confusion in the preceding 24 hours. The finger of blame was pointed at “airwave Pirates” who had interrupted professional transmissions using amateur Wireless apparatus; “These operators are making it difficult to communicate with legitimate sources” (Reuters Cablegram, 1912).
Numerous articles began to appear in Irish newspapers which included the names of some of the survivors of the Titanic disaster. However, the true horror of the tragedy was beginning to unfold. Headlines in most newspapers announced that Titanic had sunk long before any help arrived. White Star claim to have received positive news that the number of survivors is 868. There is reason to believe that the death toll reaches the awful number of 1490. There are many notable persons among the missing and there were no survivors of the disaster on board either the Virginian or Parisian. The King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, and the Kaiser have sent messages expressing deep sympathy with the relatives of the Titanic victims to the White Star Directors.
The messages received up to about 2;30 AM yesterday regarding the fate of the vessel were very conflicting, and it was not until that hour that a definite message was received stating that the liner had sunk. For this reason practically all the newspapers that commented on the disaster did so on the assumption that the Titanic had been merely damaged by the collision, and that no lives had been lost. Irish passengers, representing every part of this country, joined the Titanic at Queenstown. The majority travelled steerage. The latest information from Cape Race indicates that only the 675 survivors on board the Carpathia have escaped from the wreck. Heartrending scenes were witnessed at the White Star Company’s offices at New York, Liverpool, London, and Southampton when the news of the disaster was made known. At the official luncheon on board the Titanic before she sailed one of the tables collapsed, and the incident was much commented upon. Today’s news has shed an entirely new light upon the disaster which overtook the Titanic during the night of Sunday. It is now, unhappily, only too clear that the magnificent vessel, the pride of her builders, owners, and all whom gloried in Britain’s shipbuilding supremacy, is lying on the bed of the North Atlantic at some depth of some 1700 fathoms, and that her last constitutes the most appalling catastrophe in the maritime history of the world. It can only be assumed that the erroneous reports so widely circulated, which raised false hopes in the hearts of thousands, were the result of the confusion which must necessarily have arisen at a time when Wireless messages were being transmitted from dozens of vessels and relayed from as many more. It is known that the Titanic disappeared before the help summoned by her Wireless operators could reach her, and that those of her Company who were saved were picked up from her boats by the Carpathia, which was the first ship to arrive on the scene.
The most terrible news is that the number taken aboard the Carpathia is only about 800. Hopes that other survivors might be on board other ships were disappointed by Cablegrams which set forth that these liners were too late to render help, and it is, therefore, practically certain that over 1500 lives were lost when the Titanic went down. The Carpathia is likely to take a considerable time in reaching New York, in as much as she herself is forced to steam slowly owing to the presence of huge ice fields in her track.
Many persons whose names are known throughout the world are among those who are believed to have perished. It appears clear that all the survivors of the Titanic disaster, to the number of about 800, says a “Central News” New York message, are on board the Carpathia, which is on her way to New York. White Star officials in New York hoped to be in a position to give out something in the nature of a full statement later today. No word has been received direct from any of the Titanic’s passengers (Irish Independent, 1912).
In Ireland the accuracy of the information coming from America was under question. Newspapers report that American journalists are unprincipled in their methods; “As an indication of the unscrupulous methods of some American journalists several of the morning newspapers in New York yesterday published a telegram from St John’s, Newfoundland, giving a graphic account of the collision, which was credited as having come by Wireless Telegraphy from the British steamer Bruce, and is having been picked up from various steamers in the vicinity of the wreck of the Titanic. A Reuter’s cablegram of yesterday afternoon stated that these messages were now stated to be without foundation, as the only news of the wreck received by the Bruce was a bulletin from Cape Race (Irish Independent, 1912).
At the Dublin Stock Exchange Marconi Ordinary shares make a bad start but as the day goes on the shares start to recover (Irish Independent, 1912). According to the Freemans Journal, “conjecture will long be busy, and not unprofitably, on the causes of the disaster to the Titanic and on the measures that must be taken to reduce the danger of such terrible events in the future. Very soon, of course, we shall be in possession of some authentic accounts of what actually happened, and almost certainly there will prove to be among the rescued some able to give the expert account from which understanding and future prevention may come. It has already been suggested that the Titanic did not carry a lifeboat and raft service adequate to the needs of its great population in time of danger. The outsider may be wrongly impressed by this suggestion. It is not for him to say whether this thing is even possible, perhaps a vessel that was all safety could not carry passengers with any freedom of movement, with any adequate speed, possibly even a ship bristling with safety devices would be the most dangerous in time of hurry. Only a practical shipbuilder can answer fully on such points, and the amateur even when he was right in principle would generally be wrong in his method of arriving at this theory. It does not appear likely that the builders and buyers of the Titanic, the last word of the craft, would ignore the entirely obvious. The vessel that had installed a Turkish bath on board would not probably forget or neglect it’s reasonably adequate supply of life-saving apparatus. It is said that under the Titanic specification there were lifeboats enough for the accommodation of nearly 2000 people, if this were actually so, the ground of complaint is shifted. The number of lifeboats would be adequate, and the mistake would be in their placing, or possibly even in their number itself. The charge would partly be against the very bigness of the ship. An officer of wide experience remarks on this point that the difficulty is to bring the life-saving appliances into use. “In the case of the Titanic,” he said, “you have to consider the great height of the boats above the water and where the collapsible boats and the rafts are stored. The accident to the Titanic happened in the dark, and apparently when the boats were needed the ship was deep down forward. If there were a list to either side it would make matters still worse and some of the boats might be altogether useless” it is obvious that at the terrible moment of such a crash as that which destroyed the Titanic, in the dark, there cannot be the order of the school picnic entertainment. You have 32 lifeboats each good for 60 passengers, but no one can guarantee that each will be neatly ready for the water at its exact spot and its 60 passengers drawn neatly up to step with decorum into it. The article also states, “as for the Wireless apparatus, much has been expected obvious, but just at present, after the full change of tidings from the first cheerful belief to the final despair, there is a tendency to forget all that it has done. At lEast 800 people unquestionably owe their lives to the Wireless, the 800 on the Carpathian must have gone down with the others but for the signal SOS that brought them at lEast their rescue. 800 is a vast ship full saved and, although it is a lesser matter, something must be credited to the Wireless in letting the world know what happened. Two years ago we should have been waiting days and days after the Titanic was due, and collected agony of those on land watching for the missing ship would be a terrible increase to the total of the tragedy. This disaster will give an immediate impulse to the study of the ways and signs of floating ice. It is admitted that this vastly important matter has not yet been adequately studied and recorded. Old Mariners differ more strangely about the signs by which the fatal presence may be known, some speak of chill in the air, others of chill in the water, to be recognised at safe and sufficient distance by common perception; others deny that there are any such warnings, but allow that delicate instruments may give the word; there is also, it appears, an instrument, not yet largely used, which foreshows the presence of more solid mass in the water. Some commanders said that there are recognisable reflections from the ice in the sky overhead “iceberg blink”, others deride this alleged lore. Some believe in keeping the sirens blowing in suspected areas in the faith that the bergs will give back a significant echo. The danger, it may be noted, however, is more from sunken ice then from the visible berg. The ghastly suggestion is made in the case of the Titanic that it may have dashed into what is called an iceberg cave, being cut and hacked by the ice underneath until it was entirely caught in the mass, when the very impact would bring the berg smashing down like a hammer upon it” (Freemans Journal, 1912).
News also comes to light that Captain Smith had grave concerns, some weeks prior to the disaster, and spoke of the life preserving equipment of the Titanic, which was then under construction. He told his colleague, Glenne Marston, “if the ship should strike a submerged derelict or iceberg, that would cut through into several of the watertight compartments we have not enough boats or rafts aboard to take care of more than one third of the passengers. The Titanic should carry at lEast double the number of boats and rafts that she does to afford any real protection to passengers. Besides, there is the danger of some of the boats becoming damaged or being swept away before they can be manned” (Irish Independent, April).
The flow of misinformation that had occurred on April 16th could not be dismissed, at lEast by the general public, as a result of the interference of so-called “airwave Pirates”. During this 24 hour period much of the credit for saving the lives of all of the passengers of Titanic was given to Marconi and his “wonderful apparatus”. The Marconi Company clearly basked in the glory and praise showered on them by the international media. In fact, as time would tell, and new facts came to light soon after the disaster, the Marconi Company itself were major contributors to the propaganda that would ultimately have far reaching social, political and financial consequences for the Company that were perceived as exploiting a major disaster for financial gain. Marconi’s Dublin shareholders were the first to anticipate the looming disaster for the Company and at the first opportunity on April 17th 1912 to surrender their interests in the Company; “Marconi shares experienced a reaction in price and as the day progressed Marconi issues collapsed into comparative quietude. It is understood that the shares of the American Wireless Company will be introduced to the market in the next few days” (Financial Correspondent, 1912). This clearly suggests that shareholders remained interested in Wireless technologies but were beginning to lose interest in Marconi. It is arguably more than a coincidence that the loss of interest in Marconi and the sinking of the Titanic were unrelated events. Had the romance between Ireland and Marconi come to an abrupt end and if so, what would be the consequences of this for Irish radio?
Meanwhile the international media were reporting that there is little hope that the disaster would not prove to have been the most awful in the history of the sea. In view of the receipt early this morning from the Carpathia of the partial list of those saved, it is anticipated that the vessel will soon be within Wireless zone, and would be able to send details of the disaster. The list of the save is mainly composed of women, though several men’s names appear upon it, including that of Mr Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line; “throughout last night and even early this morning crowds thronged the offices of the White Star, many of the enquirers came out in tears, and some became hysterical when they were unable to hear tidings of their friends and relatives. Company officials hold out no hope that any passengers had been saved other than those on board the Carpathia (Press Association, 1912).
According to the New York Correspondent of the “Evening News” a crowd of anxious relatives and friends of the passengers on the lost Titanic was massed all night in front of The White Star Line offices in Broadway. The friends of the wealthy men unaccounted for are in a state of great anxiety. After a sleepless night, men worked thousands of pounds were rushing down at 5 and 6 o’clock to the business distract to hear the latest reports. It is a certainty that, at the time of writing, most of the notable men on board have gone down. The rule of the sea prevailed, “women and children first”. The women and children in the steerage would be taken off before the first and second class mail passengers. It is now known that the Carpathia picked up the passengers eight hours after the sinking of the Titanic. The Virginian was to give up her search after daylight and proceed with her voyage, as being a mail boat, she is forced to make the utmost haste to her destination. On learning of the disaster shortly before midnight, a well-dressed man on the arm of the friend fell fainting on the pavement outside the New York Times office” (London Evening News, 1912). The news of the probable heavy loss of life had only a limited circulation. Crowds had gathered at the White Star offices, and women in tears and men in frantic search of reassuring news were met with the frank admission that little was known of the fate of the passengers who were not travelling first or second class (Freemans Journal, 1912).
Any news now in relation to the disaster is based on second hand information and limited telegrams, some confused and contradicting previous news information. It is clearly a ‘waiting game’ to get first hand information and the hours were ticking by. Until the Carpathia reaches New York with the survivors it will be impossible to form a definite opinion of how the disaster occurred. Commanded by one of the ablest and most experienced seamen in the service of any of the great shipping companies, the mammoth liner was fitted with every device that science has invented to secure safety at sea, and yet within four hours after striking an iceberg she sank. Captain Smith had been warned several days before by a French vessel that floating ice had been encountered far South of where it is usually expected at this time of year. The presumption is, therefore, that the Titanic was being navigated with special care in order to avoid danger. How, then, did it happen that the precautions adopted proved unavailing? (Irish Independent, 1912).
Questions can not be answered, and, as captain Smith is believed to have gone down with his ship, it is possible that the truth will never be known. It is incredible that any culpable want of foresight or inexplicable loss of nerve on the part of any of the officers contributed to the fearful calamity. The gallant commander of the Titanic had been dogged by what is commonly called ill-luck since he took command of her sister ship, the Olympic, which collided with the Hawke in the Solent in 1911. In a deep and touching Editorial the Irish Independent states; “Only last week, owing to the suction caused by her enormous bulk, the Titanic came near colliding with the American liner New York. But nobody, whether seaman or landsman, could have believed that the magnificent vessel would have met with disaster practically in mid-ocean; the horror of the scene in dead of night when the Titanic met with the dread foe which nature had loosed for her destruction palsies the imagination. Now we must brace ourselves to confront one of those terrible events in the order of Providence which baffle the most careful foresight, which appals the imagination, and make us realise the inadequacy of words to do justice as to how we feel. With pride in the nobler instincts of our humanity our hearts must thrill at the story of willing sacrifice epitomised in the fact that the lifeboats were filled with women and children. The first chance of safety was given to those who were lEast able to help themselves. The deliberate and disciplined heroism which must have been displayed will be blazoned on the mariners’ book of fame, and in that record will be inscribed many an Irish name. In truth both the pity and the glory of this unprecedented disaster come right home to our minds. The Titanic was planned by Irish brains and built by Irish hands. A considerable number of her passengers were Irish. By the loss of many persons of worldwide reputation or of enormous wealth who were on board the doomed vessel, many families in England and America will be plunged into mourning. To the bereaved, both rich and poor, the sympathy of every heart which can feel a pang of sorrow at distress will go out in this time of agony. It is enough to move a stoic to tears to read of the frenzied inquiries at the White Star Offices of parents and relatives for news of their children or other loved ones who were aboard the ill-fated ship. In due course all that can ever be known of the circumstances attending the loss of the Titanic will be revealed at the Board Of Trade enquiry. But it is not of expert evidence and official findings that the civilised world is now thinking. It is of the awful death toll and what it involves of poignant sorrow to all the bereaved and of acute distress amongst those who have lost their breadwinners. The misery of the latter will not, we know full well, go unrelieved. In the confusion of Wireless messages from many vessels and stations there was at first left room for hope that there had been no loss of life. But we can now no longer doubt that, measured by the death toll, the calamity is the most terrible in the history of the world’s mercantile marine.
The loss of 1,020 lives through the burning of the excursion steamer General Slocum in Long Island in 1904 is the one recorded shipping disaster that comes near rivalling the Titanic catastrophe in the number of its victims. In the awe inspiring circumstances of her disappearance beneath the waves; however, the disaster to the White Star leviathan is without a parallel” (Irish Independent (Editorial), 1912). Hopes for more survivors are further dashed with the news reported on April 18th 1912. White Star Liners confirm that reports of 250 survivors on board Baltic were not accurate. Furthermore, Wireless messages claiming many fishing boats responded to the SOS are also untrue. The Dominion Government has ordered lighthouse keepers and patrol boats to keep a sharp look out for bodies of the victims as a number of ships were now heading to the scene of the wreck in the hopes of collecting the dead. A gruesome feature of these preparations is that these boats are carrying hundreds of coffins and many undertakers and embalmers (Irish Independent, 1912).
The task of investigating the Titanic wreck began in the American Senate on Friday, April 19th, 1912. The Commerce Committee had appointed a subcommittee of 7 to take testimony. The sub-committee left for New York to gather witnesses to give evidence. Subpoenas are issued to compel officials and members of the crew of the Titanic to give evidence regarding all that occurred in connection with the disaster. The Chairman of the subcommittee, Mr William Alden Smith, Senator for Michigan, is demanding that it is absolutely imperative that the investigation begins immediately and claims “I have been informed that the surviving officers and members of the crew of the Titanic all of whom are British subjects, plan to transfer to the Cedric upon their arrival in New York and return immediately to England. This would take them beyond the jurisdiction of the committee, if, indeed, the committee has any jurisdiction to summon British subjects in such circumstances. I propose to urge upon Mr Ismay the advisability of his cooperation as a British subject with this Government to get at the true facts of this horrible disaster, and I shall tell him that, while we have no jurisdiction over British subjects, we have jurisdiction in American ports, and to avoid any trouble the Company and its officers should help us in the enquiry”. Mr Smith added that the committee wished particularly to find out the reasons for the great loss of life. These, he believed, Mr Ismay and the Titanic surviving officers were especially competent to give (Reuters Telegram, 1912).
In Washington there is a new proposed resolution to consider uniformed laws and regulations for merchant vessels at sea. The subjects specified for discussion to include regulations in regard to the efficiency of crews, construction of vessels, equipment of lifeboats, Wireless apparatus, searchlights, submarine bells, and life-saving and fire extinguishing equipment. While the Titanic never entered an American port the investigation is expected to show the extent to which other great liners meet Americans safety regulations. However, many members of Congress are openly opposed to the idea of holding an investigation into the disaster. Meanwhile, the continued silence of Carpathia as it approaches American waters is giving cause for alarm to the American public and European citizens anxious for news about the disaster. Although there have been attempts to maintain Wireless contact with the ship there has been absolutely no information concerning the disaster. “This veil of secrecy which enshrouds the liner has naturally given rise to all sorts of wild and horrifying conjectures. The American public is quite convinced that the absolute silence which has been maintained by the Carpathia means a ghastly tale will be unfolded when the survivors are landed. Certain it is that many of these survivors must be nearly crazed with grief and weak from exhaustion and exposure, and a horrible fear is growing that insanity is rife among the survivors. The preparations that have been made for the reception tend to confirm this belief, for a large number of doctors, nurses, and ambulances are in readiness on the pier. All outsiders are barred from the dock, and no phototographer will be permitted to snap shot the arrival. Some of these precautions are, of course, necessary and wise for the protection of the distressed passengers and crew, but the opinion is general that the secrecy is being carried to too great an extreme. The correction of the number of rescued from 868 to 705 has given rise to all sorts of conjectures. A ghastly explanation put forward in some quarters is that the 163 who have been taken from the original official total were really rescued but died on board the Carpathia as a result of the exposure or injuries received in the disaster. There is, of course, no confirmation of such a suggestion, but it is characteristic of the theories which are being put forward and represents fairly accurately the state of mind to which people have been brought by the disaster and the lack of information (Irish Independent, 1912).
According to a message, which is at present unconfirmed, 200 of the Titanic’s crew were asleep in their bunks when the crash came, and our quarters being in the four-part of the vessel, there were crushed to death. However, so many of these messages have been received that they must be accepted with reservation. When the Carpathia finally slowed down on the last lap of the sad journey, preparatory to treading the path through the long and narrow channel which leads into New York harbour some hours distant in the early hours of a rainy and dismal day where it was would be met on the pier by a big crowd of “privileged people”, mostly relatives and friends. Nearby was a long line of carriages and ambulances. Out on the channel it was still dark and “very raw and cheerless”. The lights on the steerage deck showed silent, pathetic groups, chiefly of women, who had come up from their cabins to obtain a glimpse of the distant glare reflected in the sky, indicating the myriad illuminations of New York City. The steerage passengers of the Titanic in muddled and cowed groups stared out vaguely into the night towards the city of New York. They were more easily distinguishable than the first and second class passengers, partly because they occupied the lower deck and kept rather rigidly to themselves, and also because the latter were generally on the upper deck and mixed with the Carpathia’s regular passengers. “Slowly and with her speed continually decreasing as New York came near the Carpathia advanced to port. Many of the survivors were in an hysterical state from being bereft of their husbands or other loved ones, and were constantly under the care of the ships surgeons, some delirious, while others had not recovered from the rigours of eight hours in the lifeboats on a cold and foggy sea. Cases of pneumonia are mentioned, and children lying almost at deaths door” (Irish Independent, 1912).
A Reuters telegram issued at 7;30 PM confirms the arrival of the Carpathia at the Quarantine Station, New York. The first of the survivors left the vessel at 9;35 o’clock. There was an immense and anxious crowd at the pier and details of the tragedy were eagerly sought by journalists and others. Definite particulars of the appalling occurrence are coming to hand but slowly, and it will still probably take a day or two before a full and consecutive narrative of the disaster can be given to the public. Survivors relate stories of husbands and wives refusing to part-Company with each other and opted instead to go down with Titanic. One survivor tells journalists that as the Titanic went down about 2;30 AM the ships band lined up on deck and played the him, “Nearer my God to Thee”. There are also stories of many rescued people who later died and were buried at sea. A steward states that the Carpathia, only 62 miles away when the Wireless call was received, took over four hours in covering the distance, as to the Captain feared running down the lifeboats in the darkness. Harold Bride, the surviving Wireless operator on board the Titanic, states that Phillips, the chief operator, worked heroically during the last 15 minutes. Bride strapped a lifebelt around Phillips. A man tried to take off the lifebelt but Bride knocked him down and left him in the Wireless cabin. Bride afterwards, though on crutches, took over the Wireless work on the Carpathia. There were other heroic stories including that of Col Astor who died heroically refusing to go into a lifeboat. His last act was to lift a child into the last boat. Captain Smith also refused to leave, and was last seen on the bridge. Four of the crew manning the lifeboats were frozen to death. There appears to be no truce in the statement the passengers were kept back at revolver point and that two well-known men were shot. All the passengers acclaimed British seamen’s heroic conduct. The men sang sea songs while lowering the boats and many male passengers behaved most courageously, helping to get the boats out (Irish Times, 1912).
The true story of the awful catastrophe of the Titanic sinking is now coming to light as numerous survivors relate their experiences “which show that the circumstances were, perhaps, the most harrowing in the world’s history”. One of the most dramatic stories is that as told by Harold Bride, the assistant Wireless operator, who was standing by his ill-fated colleague, Mr Phillips, as he was sending out his distress signals over the ocean while the great vessel was sinking. Mr Bride said there was no panic, though the decks were full of excited men and women. The Wireless instruments were growing more and more indistinct, and as the water was close up by the boats deck the captain entered the instrument telling the men to leave immediately. Although this account was widely reported there were some people who challenged, not its authenticity nor its source but the mysterious manner in which the story surfaced. Other survivors confirmed that the lifeboats were lowered as fast as they were filled, and many passengers, in a frantic state, flung themselves into the sea. As the liner disappeared beneath the water, the survivors who were adrift in the boats heard two explosions, and in a moment the Titanic had gone down. Several survivors assert that the Titanic was steaming at 23 knots an hour when she struck the iceberg. Three Italians were shot in the struggle for the boats. Many survivors said that the behaviour of the second and third class passengers was heroic, but that some of the first class passengers fought like madmen for the boats. One of the most realistic narratives of the disaster was given by Mr Beasley, of London, who states that at about 10;30 PM on Sunday night there was a slight jar. Persons were playing cards in the smoke room at the time. None of them had any idea that the boat had been pierced by an iceberg. There was a total absence of any panic. After all the ladies had been got into the boards one of the crew said to him, “then you had better jump,” and he jumped to the bottom of boat. Many passengers of the Titanic issued a signed statement in which they paid warm tribute to the officers and crew of the Carpathia. They drew attention to the insufficiency of the lifeboat accommodation of the Titanic, and point out that the number saved was about 80% of the maximum capacity of the boats (Irish Independent, 1912).
The Donegal News are glowing in their praise for the role of Marconi’s “ wonderful instruments” and reports the story of the Titanic and it signals of distress received and answered by Wireless Telegraphy adds one more chapter to the romance of the Marconi system, which has already been the means of saving many noble vessels and thousands of lives. It was as recently as 1898 that the new arrival of Wireless transmission became generally acclaimed, when the Prince of Wales, in the Royal yacht Osborne, was kept in uninterrupted communication with Osborne house, a distance of nearly 2 miles. But by December 1901 Marconi had at St John’s, Newfoundland, received signals from Poldhu, Cornwall, a distance of 1800 miles across the Atlantic. That was a triumph of signs which begin a new era in the history of navigation. Now all the great liners of the world carry Wireless and already a fascinating book might be written recording the rescue is made possible by Wireless and adventurers at sea stranger than Annie dreamt of by writers of fiction. The story of the Republic disaster in 1909, when, Jack Binns, the Marconi operator, became a popular hero, in spite of his modesty, deserves to be recalled as a famous example. From the details of that shipwreck one may imagine more clearly and vividly the scenes that have been taking place in the Titanic and ships that have raced to her rescue (Donegal News, 1912).
The world media did not share the same sense of enthusiasm for Marconi or his officials are any of his Wireless operators whom journalists would later describe as equally as corrupt. In the days following the disaster the international media, pressurised by the Titanic Disaster Investigating Committee in New York and also by their infuriated readers, had to account for the misinformation published in the 100 or so hour period immediately after the disaster. They turned their attention to the activities of the primary source of news, Marconi and laid the blame, justifiably or not, squarely at his feet. The New York Herald on April 21st, 1912 published the headline; “Keep Your Mouth Shut; Big Money for You, Was Message to Hide News’ The article stated that Marconi operators on Titanic and other nearby Marconi operated ships, were told by Marconi telegram to hold the story “Four figures for you”.
The article contends that while the world was waiting three days for information concerning the fate of the Titanic, for part of the time at lEast, details concerning the disaster were being withheld by the Wireless operator of the steamship Carpathia under specific orders from T.W. Sammis, chief engineer of them Marconi Wireless Company of America, who had arranged the sale of the story. This was admitted by Mr Sammis, who defended his action. He said he was justified for getting for the Wireless operators the largest amount he could for the details of the sinking of the ship, the rescue of the passengers and the other information the world had waited for. The first information concerning the loss of the Titanic came Monday evening, and it was known at that time the survivors were on board the Carpathia. About midnight the first of the list of survivors begin to come by Wireless, and from that time until Thursday night, when the rescue ship arrived in port, the world waited and waited in vain for the details of how the “unsinkable ship” had gone down. Three messages were sent to the Carpathia telling the operator to send out no news concerning the disaster. Two of these were unsigned, and the last one had the signature of Mr Sammis. The article further alleges that the first message was unsigned, and it said it was sent as a list of names of survivors was being forwarded. The message read “Keep your mouth shut. Hold story. Big money for you” The messages from the Carpathia to the Marconi office concerning this matter were not available, but there was evidently some communication, for the second unsigned message followed after an interval. This message read; “If you are wise, hold story. The Marconi Company will take care of you” The third and last message was addressed to “Marconi officer, the Carpathia and the Titanic,” and signed by Sammis which read “Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures. Mr Marconi agreeing. Will meet you at dock” Sammis was questioned at a hearing before the subcommittee of the United States Senate and he was asked about the message and did he actually send it. He admitted to sending the message but also stated that the matter was nobody’s business. He was told that it was interesting to know that when the world was horror stricken over the disaster and waiting for the news, that there were persons preparing to capitalise on the suspense and had arranged for ‘four figures’. Sammis explained that he felt justified for getting the highest price and was defiant in his contention that the matter was nobody’s business but his own (New York Herald, 1912).
The article further states that it is not unlikely that the sending of these messages with the no apparent result that no details of the disaster came from the relief ship will form part of the enquiry that is being made by a subcommittee of the Senate. Part of this enquiry has been directed as to why a message from President Taft asking for information about Maj Archibald W. Butt was unanswered, and it is not likely that in view of the message from Sammis that this will be taken up again. While these messages were intercepted by more than one Wireless receiving station, there is one place where the Senate committee could undoubtedly get copies of them. The New York Navy Yard has a powerful receiving station, and has what is known as an “intercepted message” book. These messages are considered confidential and are never given out, but the book would undoubtedly be at the disposal of the investigating committee. Sen. Smith claims that the authorities in Washington knew on Thursday long before the Carpathia arrived, that the White Star line was contemplating the return of part of the Titanic crew to England by the steamship Cedric, and this information undoubtedly came from a Government station. John W Griggs, onetime Attorney General of the United States and Gov of New Jersey, is President of the Marconi Wireless Company of America claimed to be unaware that the chief engineer of the Company was marketing the information of the disaster. The following day the Marconi Company challenged the New York Herald and claimed that their article was a grave injustice to the Marconi Company that called for immediate correction. They said that false and injurious impression had been created. They claim that the messages were sent on Thursday as the Carpathia was coming up the bay, and not as intimated on any of the early days following the Titanic disaster. Furthermore, if the operators having fully discharged their duties to the public, to the Carpathia and to the Marconi Company, desired to sell to a newspaper narratives of their personal experiences, this was attained they had a complete right to do, for these narratives were the own personal property. Who will begrudge these unfortunate and hard-working men the remuneration they thus received, or because of it charge them with previous neglect of duty? While the New York Herald reported Marconi’s dissatisfaction they remained adamant that their version of events was not without substance. In an article headed “Told to Keep Out Navy Man Charges” they contend that the Carpathia had not only refused to give the United States Scout cruiser Chester information concerning the Titanic, but had told her Wireless men to “keep out”. This information came to light when Frank Gaffney, chief operator of the Chester, informed the Herald. The refusal to answer, Gaffney stated, was after the Carpathia had been informed that Pres Taft was anxious to learn the fate of Major Butt and other prominent persons. Cmdr Decker, who was in charge of the cruiser, said the statements made by Harold Bride, that the navy operators were “wretched” was absurd. The Chester, it is said, continued to flash questions to the Carpathia onto the operators aboard the latter were compelled to answer because the high power of the Navy’s apparatus made the reading of messages to other points impossible. Gaffney also declared that he and his colleagues aboard the Chester probably would be witnesses before the Senate committee. He also confirmed that the operators on board the Carpathia left him under the impression that all had been saved. He said that at one time they did answer when enquiries were made for Major Butt by saying “He is not here” One of the officers on board the Chester claims that the operators of the Carpathia ignored everything that Gaffney and Blackstock sent or asked. Gaffney has been a Wireless operator for more than six years, while Blackstock has been one for about three or four years. The former is capable of sending about 45 words a minute and to say they are slow and wretched is absurd (New York Herald, 1912).
The United States inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic would last a total of 18 days. Surviving passengers and crew, and those who had aided the rescue efforts were questioned and more than 80 witnesses gave testimony are deposited sworn affidavits. The primary subjects covered by the enquiry included the ice warnings received, the inadequate number of lifeboats, the handling of the ship and its speed, Titanic’s distress calls, and the handling of the evacuation of the ship. As the enquiry progressed more and more ‘new facts’ began to come to light; the Wireless operator on Carpathia, Mr Cottain, appeared before the committee and told them that after picking up the Titanic’s boats the Carpathia at first made for Halifax, but afterwards changed her course for New York. He denied having sent any messages stating that all passengers were safe, or that the Titanic was in tow. Owing to the constant dispatch of messages he had less than ten hours sleep in three days.
The subcommittee’s report was presented to the United States Senate on 28 May 1912. Its recommendations, along with doors of the British enquiry that concluded a few months later, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The report was 19 pages long and summarised 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits and amongst its key findings were; a lack of emergency preparations had left Titanic’s passengers and crew in a state of absolute unpreparedness, and the evacuation had been chaotic. The ship safety and life-saving equipment had not been properly tested, Capt Edward Smith had shown an indifference to danger that was one of the direct and contributing causes of the disaster, the lack of lifeboats was the fault of the British Board of Trade, the SS Californian had been much nearer to the Titanic than the captain is willing to admit and the British Government should take drastic action against him for his actions, Bruce Ismay had not ordered captain Smith to put on extra speed, but Ismay’s presence on board may have contributed to the Captain’s decision to do so and finally, third class passengers had not been prevented from reaching the lifeboats, but had in many cases not realised until it was too late that the ship was sinking. The report was strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that Titanic’s builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlighted the arrogance and complacency that had been prevalent aboard ship but it did not find the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could only be categorised as “an act of God” (Barczewski, 2011).
Guglielmo Marconi was one of the first people to give testimony to the United States Senate enquiry and was called upon on day one to give evidence. He described himself as an Electrical Engineer and chairman of the British Marconi Company. He also confirms that it was his Wireless operators that worked on board both Carpathia and the Titanic and that day alone are responsible for the commercial work, accounting for messages and degenerative conduction of commercial Telegraphic service and were accountable to the Captain according to the exigencies of the service. However, he also confirms that there are numerous instructions which are general rules and regulations for expediting the traffic and for preventing interference with other ships. There are, in the main, the same rules and regulations as are enacted by the International Convention on Wireless Telegraphy otherwise known as the Berlin Treaty to which Great Britain is a party but the United States was not. The regulations of the international convention are the basis of regulations and instructions to men operating Wireless apparatus. It was also established that in the case of a large ship like Titanic, Olympic, Mauritania, or the Lusitania they always carried two operators, but the smaller ships of the class size of the Carpathia carry one. Size is normally dictated by the average number of passengers carried. Marconi tells Smith that the Carpathia is provided with equipment which should call a short distance; it is an apparatus which can transmit messages under favourable circumstances, up to about 180 to 200 miles and on average would send a distance of about 100 miles depending on numerous circumstances including state of space, weather and the skill of the operator. The Titanic was also equipped by Marconi’s Company with ‘fairly powerful sets’, capable of communicating for 500 miles during the daytime and much further during the night-time. This, according to Marconi, was the latest and best Wireless apparatus for the purpose. Marconi also confirms that he is aware that one of the two operators on the Titanic was drowned and the other was picked up, got on a raft, on a collapsible boat, and he was rescued by the Carpathia, having been wounded in his ankles or his legs. Sen Smith then asks whether Marconi or his offices in New York were in communication with the Titanic on Sunday night? Marconi stated that he could not answer that but he was aware there were a great number of messages had come true from the Carpathia but “I sent no messages to the Carpathia, nor did I receive any”.
Marconi is then asked whether there was any general interference from the time of the collision on the part of experimental rival services to the detriment of this service. He states that, to the best of his knowledge, there was no interference. After a lot of technical questioning Marconi is then asked were any orders given by the Marconi Company to the operators or the operator on the Carpathia, with reference to the receipts and answer of messages? Marconi replies “None whatever, there was no disposition to censor or control the operator of the Carpathia and further, “I was very much surprised at things that were stated in the press, that replies had been refused or had not been transmitted. But I have been ensured by the operators on the Carpathia that he never dreamed of refusing any replies” (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).
On day six of the enquiry Marconi is recalled. He has asked by Sen Smith to elaborate with what he has to do with the equipment of Wireless apparatus on ocean vessels or shore stations, and what has he to do with the selection of operators in that work? He tells the Smith “I am consulted with regard to all technical details concerning the apparatus installed in ships generally, though I am not consulted with regard to the equipment of each particular ship” He further states that, “concerning the business arrangements made with ship owners, I am usually not in thorough touch with what is going on, for the reason that I’m usually occupied with technical work. I travel about the world a great deal in order to carry on experiments and to inspect plants in various countries. For the business details and for the general management of the Company there is a managing Director or general manager, who attends to all the work of engaging operators and of negotiating with ship owners and others for the use of Wireless Telegraphy” Marconi is then questioned as to the identity of this man to which replies Mr Godfrey C. Isaacs who resides in London and had just left New York prior to the Titanic accident.
Marconi is then questioned as to his relationship with the British Government and he tells Smith that he has no official relationship with the British Government, except that he is called upon by them to advise them on matters of Wireless Telegraphy generally, and also is responsible for the design of the long distance stations which they are erecting in various parts of the British Empire, in which his Company have an interest for a period of at lEast 18 years. Sen Smith then asks Marconi to state to the committee, in general terms, the scope of that contract and whether that contract requires him to install his apparatus and supervises operation and management, or whether he received compensation by an agreement which permits the management to fall under the control of the British officials? Marconi states that the contract provides that within a certain period of time, two years, “we shall direct these stations for the Government of England in Cyprus, Egypt, India, South Africa, Singapore, and other places where the Government may decide to erect them. We are paid a certain lump sum per station for the expense of erection, and the station, before being accepted by the Government, has to satisfy certain requirements in regard to speed of transmission, effectiveness, and reliability”
Sen Smith then wants to know if a contract of a similar character existed between Marconi and the German Government or if he had any dealings with the Government of the German Empire. Marconi confirms that he had some dealings with the Government of Germany and is fitting German ships with Wireless apparatus on a profit-sharing basis but he also had similar contracts with Italy; “in consideration of not being charged for Patent rights in regard to the use of the system they undertake to equip their shore stations and their colonies with my apparatus and use it exclusively for commercial purposes, being free for war and navy purposes to use anything they like” Marconi is then asked a series of questions in relation to what Wireless apparatus was in operation in a number of different ships from a number of different countries. He seems very knowledgeable on such questions and confirms that the Cape Race station would be the best and most likely station, given the whereabouts of the Titanic at the time of the tragedy, to pick up the communications from the ship. Mr Marconi is then questioned on the positions of certain members of his staff in America but most notably an officer named Mr Sammis who is chief engineer of the American Marconi Co., Who, says Marconi, “Is very intimately in touch with everything concerning the equipment of the ships and the operators, and the operation of the system” Marconi is then invited to give a full background as to how he became involved in Wireless Telegraphy and he avails of this opportunity and further elaborates on how he set up his own Company and brought it, under his supervision, to an international organisation.
After some hours Sen Smith enquires as to whether Marconi himself had any communication or had ordered any communication with the Carpathia on Sunday night or Monday? Marconi denies having any such communication. He is then asked did you have any communication with the Carpathia directly or through a ship coast station, on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday up to the time of the arrival of the Carpathia in New York. He confirms he had no direct communication with Carpathia. Following a series of questions in relation to whether Marconi himself had been in direct contact with the Titanic or the Carpathia he emphatically states that he had no communication whatsoever with either ship at any time immediately after the disaster or during any of the following days. Marconi does confirm that he went to the Carpathia on the evening of its arrival and went on board to meet the Wireless operator, Mr Bride, and congratulated him on what he had heard he had done and then enquired after his senior operator, Phillips. Marconi also tells of his instructions to the Wireless operator to give every account he could to reporters and to disclose and discuss anything he knew about the disaster when and if he were asked. However, Marconi does admit that it is an offence, punishable by imprisonment to disclose the contents of messages. “On an occasion like this, of course some latitude would have been given. I mean, I think that on an occasion like this it would have been a good thing if some report had been sent. But this was a matter that depended on the discretion of the operator, and he used his discretion in such a way that he did not send any messages”. Marconi further admits that Carpathia’s operator, Mr Cottam, had left the ship but later made contact to inform him that journalists wanted the story of the disaster, and that he(Cottam) was going to be paid something for the story; “he did not tell me how much. He asked if he could give the story, and I said yes. But, in regard to this question, of operators, that there is a rule in these companies that operators must not act as reporters. They must accept messages from everyone in the order in which they are presented and there are bound to transmit them. But it is not encouraged that they should send stories of their own; at lEast, they would be dismissed if they did it” Sen Smith then asks Marconi if he sent a Wireless to the operators on the Carpathia and ask them to meet him at a later date and telling them to keep their mouths shut. Marconi denies any knowledge of any such message. Sen Smith then produces a document and tells Marconi he’s going to read the document and then ask whether Marconi new and eating about any fact or circumstance connected with the document. “On the evening of the steamship Carpathia’s arrival in New York, the four following radiograms were intercepted by the chief operator, JR Simpson, chief electrician, United States Navy. They appear to me to be significant enough to be brought to the attention of the Department;
Seagate to Carpathia; “Say, old man, Marconi Company, taking good care of you. Keep your mouth shut, and hold your story. It is fixed for you so you will get big money. Now, please do your best to clear”
That was at 8.12 PM, and then follows this one;
“To Marconi officer, Carpathia and Titanic; 8;30 PM; arranged for your exclusive story for dollars in four figures, Mr Marconi agreeing. Say nothing until you see me. Where are you now?(JM Sammis).
From Seagate to Carpathia operator; go to Strand Hotel. 502 W. 14th Street to meet Mr Marconi.; 9;33 PM;
And finally this;
From Seagate to Carpathia; A personal to operator Carpathia. “Meet Mr Marconi and Sammis at Strand Hotel, 502 W. 14th Street. Keep your mouth shut; Signed Mr Marconi.
Marconi claims that he does not know anything whatever about any of these messages; “They are not in the phraseology which I would have approved of if I had passed them. I should, however said that I told Mr Sammis or Mr Bottomley, I do not remember which, that I, as an officer of the British Company, would not prohibit or prevent these operators from making anything which they reasonably could make out of selling their story of the wreck. I was anxious that, if possible, they might make some small amount of money out of the information they had” Sen Smith confirms that it is a habit of the Marconi Company that Wireless operators are allowed to make personal profit, with Marconi’s consent and approval, from their personal experiences; “Mr Marconi let me ask you this with the right to exact compensation for an exclusive story detailing the horrors of the greatest sea disaster that ever was recorded in the history of the world, do you mean that an operator under your Company’s direction shall have the right to prevent the public from knowing of that calamity? Marconi replies, “I gave no instructions in regard to withholding any information, and I gave no advice or instructions in regard to an exclusive story to anybody. The only thing I did say or did authorise was that if he was offered payment for the story of the disaster, he was permitted, so far as the English Company went, to take that money” (Took & Donnelly, 1998). Later in his questioning of Marconi Sen Smith asks “regarding this arrangement with Mr Bride, you simply expressed willingness that he should make some money out of a narration of his experiences? Marconi replies; “Yes, sir, my feeling, expressed quite frankly, is that these operators are paid a very small amount; that certainly we would have compensated them to some degree; but if it were possible for them to make some money out of the story that they had, I do not say that they had exclusive information, but through permitting themselves to be interviewed, I was very glad that they should make this small amount. That was my sole feeling in the matter”
Through a series of such questions and answers the Inquiry Committee ascertain that Marconi had no intention that any information should be withheld in any way. Furthermore, that in a time of crisis the Captain is absolute chief and head and ruler of everything concerning the Wireless, and all the commercial rules which hold in ordinary times are suspended at the discretion of the captain. But in such cases the captain would not know actually whether his orders were being followed and if messages had been sent, he must rely on the statement of the operator. Before he leaves the stand Marconi makes the point that in his organisation a copy is kept of every message received and sent on board a ship. Therefore, this register of messages may be of some use to the committee but could not guarantee access to any of the messages on Carpathia which were taken to the Mediterranean. The Captain would not land them; “we endeavour to get them, but captain would not give them out”
Later the same day Marconi is recalled to be asked one question by Sen Smith; “In my examination this morning I failed to ask you specifically whether between the date of the collision, Sunday evening, April 14, and the present time, any officer, Director, or employee of the White Star Line, or of the International Mercantile Marine Co., had requested you or anyone associated with you, to your knowledge, to delay any message, or send any silence message, or message enjoining silence on the part of the Titanic’s operator, Bride, or the Carpathia’s operator, Cottam, with reference to the time and manner in which and to which the Titanic accident was in any way related? Marconi replies that; I am absolutely certain that I have received no such request. Smith then asks, “Or any officer or employee of your Company, without our knowledge? Marconi replies, “Yes, you may add those as part of my answer” (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).
On day 10 of the inquiry Marconi returns to give further testimony. Sen Smith begins his questioning by asking Marconi, “When you were last on the stand, I asked you whether you had sent any messages to the Carpathia during her voyage from the scene of the catastrophe to New York, and I recall your reply. Would you like to correct it? Marconi explains that he had said that he did not send any messages to the Carpathia but “on my return to New York, after having testified, I found that I had sent one message to the Carpathia” Marconi then reads this message to the inquiry; “Wire News dispatch immediately to ‘Siasconset’ or to navy boats. If this is impossible, ask captain give reason why no news is allowed to be transmitted. Signed, Guglielmo Marconi” The Siasconset sent to my office in New York return of what it actually transmitted to the Carpathia. This is the message; “Wire news dispatches immediately to navy boats. If this impossible ask captain give reason why no news is allowed to be transmitted” Marconi says he received no reply to the message which he sent at about 1;00 AM. He is then further questioned on issues relating to difficulties in international communication codes, American systems compared to European systems and then asked did he desire the committee to understand that these two telegrams that he had just read were the only messages he communicated to the Carpathia on the day of arrival in New York? Marconi denies all knowledge of the telegrams sent on the 18th, allegedly signed by him at 9;33 PM and says that it was absolutely unauthorised; “no matter who signed it, and I stated I did not send it or authorise it to be sent” He further states that he disapproves of both the language of these Wireless messages and the unauthorised use of his name and adds, “I should also ask you to allow me to say that the message which I sent to the Carpathia, to which you have already referred, proves, I think, quite conclusively that I had no intention of preventing the United States Navy boats from receiving any information from the Carpathia. I was exceedingly surprised, as everybody else was at the time, that no news was coming through, and I was very much worried about it, and that day I did suggest this message should be sent, and it was sent” Sen Smith then asks, “I want to ask you a straight, square question; whether you infer that the failure of your operators to communicate with the Salem or the Chester or with your office, or to give this news of the trip of the Carpathia to New York to the public, was influenced in any manner by the hope of reward from the sale of exclusive information in the possession of the Wireless operators?” Marconi replies, “my opinion is that it was not influenced in any way, because I do not see that they had any reason to believe or to hope or to think that they were going to sell their story to anybody”
Sen Smith then refers back to the case of the ship Republic, also owned by a sister Company of the White Star line, which in the early morning of 23 January 1909, while sailing from New York to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports with 742 passengers and crew and captain in command, entered a thick fog off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Out of the fog, the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida appeared and hit Republic at a right angle after which the ship listed and began to flood. Republic was equipped with the new Marconi Wireless Telegraph system, and became the first ship in history to issue a CQD distress signal, sent by Jack R. Binns. Florida came about to rescue Republic’s passengers, and the US Coast Guard cutter Gershwin responded to the distress signal as well. Passengers were distributed between the two ships, with Florida taking the bulk of them, but with 900 Italian immigrants already on board, this left the ship dangerously overloaded. The white star liner Baltic, commanded by Capt Ranson, also responded to the CQD call, but due to the persistent fog, it was not until the evening that Baltic was able to locate the drifting Republic. Once on scene, the rescued passengers were transferred from the Gresham and Florida to Baltic. Because of the damage to Florida, that ships immigrant passengers were also transferred to Baltic, after which the Republic ship sank. After the tragedy, Jack R. Binns, hailed by international media as a hero was handsomely paid for his story. Sen Smith felt that it was possible that the fact that Binns received money for his story of that disaster would influence Wireless operators somewhat in their course. Marconi explains that Binns had received a great deal of notoriety, and has benefited himself by the fact of his having been on board the Republic and on duty on that occasion. “I might say that he is still implied in writing newspaper articles and magazine articles about operators, and the sea, and ships, and things of that kind, which have absolutely nothing to do with the actual facts of the loss of the Republic. It seems to me that the public interest or the newspaper interest, becomes so great when an individual finds himself placed in the position of these men, that whatever they say that has public interest is paid for by these enterprising American journalist” Marconi is then asked by Smith, “you, being the leading and most active figure in the field of Wireless Telegraphy, probably the most prominent man in the world in that work, and your offices being in every part of the world and on most of the ships of the sea, I ask you whether from the developments of this enquiry you do not feel that it is incumbent upon you to discourage that practice; indeed, to prevent it all together, so far as you are able? Marconi agrees, “I am entirely in favour of discouraging the practice, and I naturally give very great weight to Annie opinion expressed by the chairman of this committee” Marconi is then asked to read further telegrams sent by his Company, all of which are demanding news (Titanic Inquiry Project., 1999).
Following the inquiries, United States Government passed the Radio Act of 1912. This act, along with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, stated that radio communications on passenger ships would be operated 24 hours along with a secondary power supply, so as not to miss distress calls. Also, the Radio Act of 1912 required ships to maintain contact with vessels in their vicinity as well as coastal onshore radio stations (Minichiello, P.E., Ray, 2008).
The Titanic tragedy had shown the public the usefulness of Wireless communications. Although 700 passengers were saved, the press argued that more could have been saved if there was a stronger Wireless regulation in effect. The press would argue that there was a lack of standards regarding the proper use of this Wireless technology on ships in particular, but also there needed to be regulation to protect citizens in general. The Radio Act proposed that Government would be given a specific wavelength, power level and operational hours to counter the Marconi Company’s monopoly of the spectrum. The feeling at the time was that long wavelengths of 250 m and over provided the best means for communications. Amateurs were therefore given those wavelengths of 200 m and below, what we know and call today the AM band. Sen Smith felt that over time the amateurs would lose interest and funding and all the wavelengths would revert to the Government. The Radio Act of 1912 reduced the amateur stations from 10,000 to just over 1,200 by the end of 1912. The Act mandated that all radio stations be licensed by the Government, as well as mandating that seagoing vessels continuously monitor distress frequencies.
The act set a precedent for international legislation of Wireless communications. Along with the Titanic disaster another factor to be considered was to combat the issue with amateur radio operators, the act provided for a system of licensing all radio stations, including amateur radio operators. Furthermore, it prohibited those amateurs from transmitting over the main commercial and military wavelengths. Amateurs were limited to transmitting signals that were below a certain wavelength in addition to being limited by wavelengths, amateurs were also limited to location and operating hours. The act would also allow Government to close down any or all radio stations and also empowers Government to impose fines and to revoke licences of those radio operators who violated the restrictions laid down by the act. Furthermore, the Government could seize the equipment of the offending station, as well as suspending the radio licences of the operators (Keith, 2007).
The Titanic tragedy has a connection to another Wireless story that has almost been forgotten; the dawn of modern radio licence regulation. Historical narratives vary on this subject. Even without the Titanic disaster, Government would have eventually asserted entirety over Wireless frequencies. But the Titanic tragedy accelerated the process and gave it a reference point in the public mind. Within weeks of the tragedy Wireless radio operators had to be licensed. During the Titanic disaster Marconi stations across the Atlantic Rim had become scenes of chaos, and they blamed it on amateur operators. Embarrassed newspaper editors joined the blame game and furious editorials against amateurs appeared in global newspapers. The American Radio Act of 1912 functioned as a template for global Government. Does the Titanic really deserve some credit or blame for this condition? It’s a point of disagreement among historians.
The tragedy is “often cited inaccurately as the reason for drawing the Radio Act of 1912,” writes broadcast regulation scholar Marvin R. Bensman. “The subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee had actually completed its work on this bill and the bill had been reported out prior to the Titanic disaster” (Lasar, 2011). That’s exactly right, but the footnote to this assertion comes from Captain Linwood S. Howeth’s 1963 statement, “The Titanic disaster has often been given as the compelling reason behind the enactment of this legislation. This is not correct. The subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee had completed its masterful work of bringing the opposing views into proper focus and the bill had been reported out prior to the disaster. It did, however, awaken congressional eyes to its wisdom and necessity and ensured its final enactment” (Howeth, 1963)
By April 30th the Irish newspapers were publishing their last ‘detailed’ witness accounts of the Titanic disaster and their editorials reflected the mood of angry readers who had been misled by early accounts and, in the light of evidence given in New York and Washington, clearly desired to move forward; “In the midst of her rejoicing over the near approach of the realisation of her national aspirations, Ireland has been plunged with dreadful suddenness and unexpectedness into consternation and gloom. The imagination is terrified by the wreck of the Titanic, the sacrifice of human life, the human bodies, many of them those of Ireland’s sons and daughters, cut off in the flower of youth and when filled with the hope of a livelihood and a foreign country, grinding against the ice and washed about the ocean. The agonies of those hours of horror can never be figured in the human mind. Within a few square yards of sea upon that awful night there was played such a tragedy of fear and grief and pain as no human mind can even remotely conceive. The passengers on board the Titanic went to sleep after a normal day, with its petty chatter and its little pleasures and follies. The Wireless operators sent desperate messages across the ocean; but think of the tortured minds flashing messages all over the world and beyond the world. The thought of it is terrible. The hope would be that the end was swift to all that were to perish. An earthquake at lEast has that good side to it, and, it is said, those found dead in the lava of Pompeii show in the normal line of their features that they had no terror, but were caught by death before they knew that their tomorrow was not to be like their yesterday. The grim story of the Titanic is still only little-known. The half information of the moment leaves all people black in doubt. Especially there will be doubts; as to those giant vessels that have been the pride of our new century. The Olympic began badly; the Titanic will enter into a sad fame as the cause of the most awful sea tragedy of all record. It was the “unsinkable” and it is sunk; and sunk four short hours after the collision. Within a few days of its proud first taking to the high seas, it is at the bottom, its passengers are washing over the sea, and their intimates will be haunted for years by the thought of their fate” (Southern Star, 1912).
But the matter was not quite closed yet as the House of Commons announce a public enquiry into the loss of the Titanic which would open within a few days (Irish Independent, 1912). Charles Buxton informed the House of Commons that the scope of the Titanic enquiry would be wide enough to allow the courts to receive evidence bearing on the advisability of changing the present regulations of the Board of Trade as to the safety of human life on the steamers. He further stated that the Court of Inquiry would be open to the press, and the proceedings would be fully reported. In addition, he proposed to supply some copies of the official print of the proceedings, from day-to-day to the libraries of both Houses. He also confirmed that the interests of the general public would be represented by the Law Officers of the Crown; “Other persons might, by leave of the Judge, appear by counsel, and the court had full power to provide for the costs of the inquiry. The arrangements for Wireless Telegraphy under Titanic and other vessels to which she sent, or from which she received messages would be considered by the Court of Inquiry” (Buxton, 1912).
The Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, is asked if he would propose a resolution to appoint a committee of that House to investigate the circumstances connected with the loss of the Titanic and sending Wireless messages in connection therewith, instead of having the Board of Trade investigation in view of the fact that the Board of Trade must necessarily be itself on trial in any such investigation. The Prime Minister told the House that the Government were of the opinion that the court of inquiry, presided over by Lord Mersey, would afford the best means of arriving at a conclusion with regard to all the circumstances connected with the loss of the Titanic, and all questions of responsibility involved. The Court was an independent tribunal with full power to mould the inquiry according to its own discretion. He further denies that the Board of Trade had some representatives on the tribunal.
In reply to further questions Asquith says the Board of Trade had absolutely no power to direct the course of the inquiry. He is further challenged and informed that under the merchant shipping act, the court must report to the Board of Trade itself. How is that possible if they may find that the Board of Trade has been culpable? Asquith insists, there is no difficulty at all, “They send their report formally to the board of trade and are perfectly entitled to find the board of trade culpable” (Asquith, 1912).
The court of enquiry into the circumstances of the disaster to the Titanic was opened in the Scottish Hall, Buckingham Gate, West Minister, the Hall of the headquarters of the London Scottish Territorials, and there were over 1000 persons present including members of the general public. Lord Mersey, the Wreck Commissioner with five colleagues who were acting as assessors, took their places on a rostrum at the top of the room. In front of the commissioners were an unusually large number of counsel representing the numerous parties interested. Chief among these were; Board of Trade, the White Star Line and builders, underwriters, surviving passengers and officers, and other big shipping companies. Behind counsel were the numerous professional witnesses to be called including the builders, underwriters, surviving passengers and officers and representatives of other big shipping companies. Beside the platform was a big model of the Titanic that had been used by Harland & Wolff for the construction of the mammoth liner. Alongside was an enormous route chart of the North Atlantic, and to the left of the platform were other plans of the vessel. Over 300 witnesses had been subpoenaed and the inquiry is predicted to ‘necessarily’ last many weeks.
When Lord Mersey took his seat at 11;10 the seats are set apart for the public were by no means filled up. Capt Bigham, Secretary to the Commission, opened the proceedings by stating “the enquiry will now be opened into the Titanic” Sir Rufus Isaacs then said, “Before this inquiry proceeds, I desire, on behalf of his Majesty’s Government, to express our deepest sympathy with all those who mourn the loss of relatives and friends among the passengers, the officers, or the crew of this ill-fated vessel. This terrible disaster in mid ocean, both because in mere magnitude it exceeds any calamity in the history of the Mercantile Marine, and also because of the many harrowing incidents, which has in a profound and marked degree touched the hearts of the nation, and while not desiring in any way to anticipate the result of this inquiry, I cannot refrain from paying tribute of warm admiration of those whose manful devotion to duty and heroic sacrifices for the safety of others have maintained the best traditions of the sea. Before proceeding further I do not know if my learned friend has anything to add” (Isaacs, 1912). Sir Robert Finlay added “I desire to associate myself, on behalf of the owners of the Titanic, with the expressions which the Attorney General used. No words can express the sympathy which everyone must feel with those who have suffered. There is only one thing which gives some consolation, and to that the Attorney General has alluded, that the disaster has given an opportunity for a display of discipline and of heroism that is worthy of all the best traditions of the Marine of this country. I can say no more, for the sympathy which we feel on this occasion with those who have suffered is really beyond expression in words” (Finlay, 1912).
Isaacs then states that it was the earnest desire of the administration that a searching and thorough enquiry should be made with the object of ascertaining as fully and precisely as possible the circumstances surrounding the casualty, and of abducting lessons and conclusions that might help hereafter to promote the safety of vessels and life at sea; “it is the wish of the President of the Board of Trade, and the law officers of the Crown were equally desiring, that in the public interest every possible source of information and all available evidence would be placed before the inquiry”. It was proposed to call surviving members of the crew, and afterwards witnesses as to the construction and equipment of the vessel and a series of 26 questions framed by the Board of Trade would be asked. This would include questions such as the number of persons employed in any capacity on board, and the total number of passengers, discriminating between sex, adults, and children. Did the Titanic comply with the requirements of the Merchant Shipping Acts rules and regulations? Were any special provisions made in actual design and construction of the Titanic for the safety of those on board in the case of casualty? How was the Titanic officered and manned?; The number of boats, arrangements for manning and launching of them, and their capacity and had there been boat drill during the voyage?; Enquiries into Wireless installation and regulations for operators?; Were instructions as to navigation given to the master, and, if so, what were they?; Was the route taken usual and was it safe at this time of year?; Had the master discretion as to the route?; There will also be many questions related to what happened before warning was sent by Wireless to the Titanic and whether, after leaving Queenstown, information had not reached the Titanic by Wireless signals as to the existence of ice in certain latitudes, and was her course altered? (Freemans Journal, 1912).
There were a total of 36 days of official investigation. Lord Mersey and the various counsels, assessors and experts in marine law and shipping architecture, questioned White Star Line officials, Government officials, surviving passengers and crew, and those who had aided the rescue efforts. Organisations represented by legal counsels included shipping unions and Government organisations. Nearly 100 witnesses testified, answering more than 25,000 questions. The questioning resulted in a report that contained a detailed description of the ship, an account of the ship’s journey, a description of the damage caused by the iceberg, and an account of the evacuation and rescue. The final report was published on 30 July 1912. Its recommendations, along with those of the earlier United States Senate inquiry that had taken place in the month after the sinking, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The lines of questioning at the inquiry had resulted in a detailed description of the ship, an account of the ship’s journey, a description of the damage caused by the iceberg, an account of the evacuation and rescue. There was also a special section devoted to the circumstances of the Californian (Titanic Inquiry Project, 1912).
The report found that Titanic’s sinking was solely the result of colliding with the iceberg, not due to any inherent flaws with the ship, and that the collision had been brought about by a dangerously fast speed in icy waters; “The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons appearing in the annex hereto, that the loss of the said ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated” (Titanic Inquiry Project, 1912). It also found that the lookout being kept was inadequate given the navigational hazards Titanic faced, and that the ship’s officers had been complacent. There were too few lifeboats available and they had not been properly filled or manned with trained seamen, though they had been lowered correctly. The inquiry concluded that the Californian ”could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the Titanic. Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost” (Butler, 1998).
The Board of Trade’s representative suggested to Lord Mersey that a formal inquiry should be held into Captain Lord’s “competency to continue as Master of a British ship” but no action was taken against him due to legal technicalities. The Board of Trade was criticised for its inadequate regulations, notably the failure to ensure that enough lifeboats were provided and that crews were given proper training in their use. The Duff Gordons were cleared of wrongdoing but it was made clear that they should have acted more tactfully (Butler, 1998)
In contrast to the American inquiry, the Mersey report did not condemn the failures of the Board of Trade, the White Star Line or Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith. The report found that although Smith was at fault for not changing course or slowing down, he had not been negligent because he had followed long-standing practice which had not previously been shown to be unsafe (Lynch, 1998) The inquiry noted that British ships alone had carried 3.5 million passengers over the previous decade with the loss of just 10 lives (Eaton & Haas, 1994) it concluded that Smith had merely done “only that which other skilled men would have done in the same position” However, the practice itself was faulty and “it is to be hoped that the last has been heard of this practice. What was a mistake in the case of the Titanic would without doubt be negligence in any similar case in the future” (Lynch, 1998)
The report’s recommendations, along with those of the earlier United States Senate inquiry that had taken place in the month after the sinking, led to changes in safety practices following the disaster. The report was well received by the British press. The Daily Telegraph commented that although “technically speaking, the report is not the last word, but in practice it would probably be treated as if it were” (Eaton & Haas, 1994) The Daily Mail suggested that it was “difficult to suppose that any court which had to inquire into the responsibility of the owners of the ship would disregard the expression of opinion of Lord Mersey and those who sat with him … The report having, in effect, acquitted them of all blame, it is not likely that any attempt will be made hereafter to establish the contrary” (Barczewski, 2011).
Others were more critical. In his memoirs, Charles Lightoller pointed out the inquiry’s conflict of interest; “A washing of dirty linen would help no one. The Board of Trade had passed that ship as in all respects fit for the sea … Now the Board of Trade was holding an inquiry into the loss of that ship – hence the whitewash brush” (Barczewski, 2011) Titanic historian Donald Lynch notes the consequences; “Apart from protecting itself, the [Board of Trade] had no interest in seeing the White Star Line found negligent. Any damage to White Star’s reputation or balance sheet would be bad for British shipping – and there was considerable potential for both. Negligence on the part of the shipping Company might pave the way for millions of dollars in damage claims and lawsuits that would tie up the courts for years, possibly break the White Star Line, and result in the loss of much of Britain’s lucrative shipping traffic to the Germans and the French” (Lynch, 1998).
Stephanie Barczewski notes the contrast between the approaches taken by the American and British inquiries. The British inquiry was much more technical, “the more learned and erudite of the two”, while the American inquiry’s report was a reflection of a comparatively poorly managed inquiry that had frequently allowed itself to get sidetracked. However, the American report took a much more robust stance on the failures that had led to the disaster. As Barczewski puts it, it “bristles with criticisms of established seafaring traditions and of the conduct of the Titanic’s builders, owners, officers and crew”, and conveys “righteous indignation” and a “passion to right the wrongs” done to the victims of the disaster and to prevent any recurrence. The authors of the two reports took markedly different interpretations of how the disaster had come about. The American report castigated the arrogance and complacency that had led to the disaster and held Captain Smith, the shipping industry and the Board of Trade culpable for their failures. The British report emphasized that “the importance of this Enquiry has to do with the future. No Enquiry can repair the past” (Barczewski, 2011)
“Signor Marconi whose name is world famed as the inventor of the Wireless system, yesterday began an important extension of the Wireless. Messages by Wireless may now be sent through any Telegraph office in the United Kingdom at a cheap rate to the United States or Canada”
(Ulster Herald, 1912)
In early May 1912 the financial pages are reporting that the Wireless market, as compared with some weeks ago, has developed remarkable weakness. “At one time yesterday Marconi ordinary shares fell under the previous day’s closing price and the panicky feeling endured for the remainder of the day” (Freemans Journal, 1912). The Irish Independent reports “Business in Marconi shares fell away to very meagre proportions at the Stock Exchange. Sellers of the various Wireless Telegraph issues came prominently forward, and, in the absence of adequate support, prices dropped all round” (Irish Independent, 1912).
The time was right for an exercise in damage limitation. As Marconi’s shares began to plummet the Irish media’s immediately started on rebuilding both his reputation and the reputation of his Company and began to publish articles in praise of the man they described as an “absolute genius”. The part which Wireless played in the tragedy of the Titanic suggests a note or two on the inventor of Wireless, Guglielmo Marconi, says the Southern Star newspaper; “To begin, anyone more unlike the typical Italian as we know him, dark, olive skinned, and given to gesticulation, than the propounder of the above gigantic scheme, it would be difficult to imagine. If anything Marconi is on the fair side; his wonderful eyes are of a greyish blue, and in manner he is the essence of quietness. But, then, he is only half an Italian, for his mother was Irish and from Enniscorthy, a member of a well-known family, and although born in Italy, Marconi was educated for a time in England at a private school at Bedford. Inventors are often poor, but Marconi’s father was a wealthy landed proprietor. At school he particularly objected to be made to learn things by heart, and to the methods of teaching handwriting, and to this day he condemns the latter, schoolboys being taught to write in a way they will never use in afterlife. Anyway, both at Bedford and at other schools in Italy, Marconi refused to study except in his own way and at his pet subjects. What were his early tastes? Music held foremost place; but his scientific tastes were also strong, and in his own way he studied chemistry and electricity at an age when most boys are mainly occupied with games. He was only 13 when he installed electric light in his father’s house, an achievement which made something of a sensation locally, electricity being little understood, in those days. He went to Bologna University and quite probably he would eventually have settled down as a country gentleman, as his father wished him to do, but for the discovery of “Hertzian Waves” in 1888. Prof Hertz’s demonstration, that a disruptive electrical discharge causes electromagnetic waves to radiate through the ‘Ether’(the air) with the velocity of light set Marconi thinking. In the end he conceived the idea of Wireless Telegraphy by means of “Hertzian Waves,” and spent several years quietly experimenting at his home until in 1896, he Patented his famous system. The same year, that is, 1896, Marconi went to London and astonished it and General Post Office officials by successfully Telegraphing without wire between St Martin’-Le-Grand and the Embankment. Like every inventor, Marconi met with great opposition and disbelief at first, but to date his work is widely embraced as the work of an absolute genius” (Ulster Herald, 1912). At the same time the Irish independent gave prominent position to another praising editorial regarding the “wonderful Wireless”; the time is fast approaching when Mr Marconi’s wonderful invention will be extensively used in the everyday transactions of big commercial undertakings. Already, of course, many business messages are transmitted by Marconi, and a great extension of its use in connection with the Telegraph may soon be expected. Arrangements have been made by which telegrams handed in at any Telegraph office in the United Kingdom can be transmitted by Wireless across the Atlantic instead of by cable. With the increased popularity and efficiency of the Marconi system and comparatively cheap rates the operators at Clifden may anticipate a busy time” (Irish Independent, 1912).
The Southern Star newspaper had something to add as well; “with all its gruesome details and its conflicting accounts, the fatal day on which the sad news of the sinking of the great ship Titanic was flashed to the world by the Wireless, will still be firmly implanted in the minds of many whose dear ones are no more. Mrs Jermyn of Ballydehob, is one of those who is not likely soon to forget the disaster, even though, happily for her, she is not to be reckoned amongst the big list of the afflicted. Her daughter, Annie, it is true, was amongst the Titanic’s passengers on the dreadful April night when the White Star leviathan struck the fatal iceberg and Mrs Jermyn was for many anxious hours naturally grief-stricken at the thought that she might be amongst the lost. On the Titanic, too, were Bridget Driscoll and Mary Kelly, also of Ballydehob, whose rescue we were glad to report last week. But, unhappily, Andy Keane, also Ballydehob was lost. But to return to Mrs Jermyn, on the day after the first tidings of the loss of the Titanic were received, it having been erroneously reported that Miss Jermyn had been a victim of disaster, Mrs Jermyn became almost delirious with grief. The neighbours collected around her house to offer her words of consolation and hope. The hours went on, but not a reassuring message arrived. To their amazement, in the evening, Mrs Jermyn announced to friends that she had seen her child, that she was in the yard, and out into the yard she went in ecstasy of joy. Presently she returned and declared a voice had told her “your daughter is saved” This cam to Mrs Jermyn considerably, and early on the next day she got a telegram which put the question of her daughter’s safety beyond all doubt. The extraordinary presentiment, coupled with the mysterious voice, has been the subject of general gossip in Ballydehob ever since” (Southern Star, 1912).
The Irish Independent had even more good news to report; “Wireless Telegraphy is now at the disposal of everybody in every Telegraph office of the United Kingdom at rates considerably below the cable standard. Four Marconi operators have been added to the staff of the Dublin Telegraph Department to deal with messages for dispatch to Clifden, which is the transmitting station from Glace Bay. During commercial hours in the day it has been decided to keep a clear through wire to Clifden from Dublin, and at night there is through communication between Clifden and London. The Post Office authorities already report a large increase in the number of American and Canadian telegrams handed in for dispatch. Mr Webb, of the firm of Goodbody and Webb, stockbrokers, Dame Street, said they have been using the Marconi system since April 23 last year with great advantage. The Marconi Company had lately been able to increase to speed of transmission, with the result that they had been gradually diminishing the number of their “cables” and adopting “Wireless” almost exclusively; “On one occasion they communicated with a client at sea in the Mediterranean, and the only delay was in finding him among the rest of the passengers” (Irish Independent, 1912).
The following day the Sunday independent reports; “One outcome of the Titanic disaster must be the advancement of Wireless Telegraphy, for human progress is too often based on our misadventures – indeed, trouble appears to be the motive power of progressive action. America is the first to wake up. Uncle Sam intends to make more use than ever before of the powers of the air to safeguard the interests of his people on land and sea. At his office in Washington he will soon be able to receive instant warning information concerning anything that goes on in all sections of the Atlantic Ocean, from the North Pole to the Equator, and even beyond – all this to be accomplished through the powers of the air, or, in order words, the Wireless Telegraph and some gigantic Towers near Washington. Through his Navy Department at Washington, it is reported by Mr William L Altdorfer, to whom we are indebted for the information, he has decided to build three gigantic Towers, one of them is to be 600 feet high and the other two 450 foot each. Towers of this great height, situated on the highest point near Washington, Uncle Sam will be able to direct the movements of his Wireless war vessels anywhere on the Atlantic Ocean within 3000 miles of Washington, and perhaps further, if the possibilities of the towers come up to expectations. Not only will he be able to issue instructions direct to his watchdogs of the deep by means of this powerful station, but he also plans to have sent ships scattered all over the Atlantic – from coast-to-coast and from as far North as the icebergs will permit, to as far South as the electric waves of the Wireless may be for forced to penetrate” (Sunday Independent, 1912).
“The lecture on Wireless Telegraphy which is to be given tonight by Fr Gill, SJ., At Belvedere College, promises to be of unusual interest, both on account of the circumstances which have occasioned it and because of the interest attaching to all connected with the name of Marconi at the present time”
(Freemans Journal, 1912)
Reports are now arriving in Ireland that Mr Melville Stone, General Manager of the Associated Press, has given evidence before the Senate committee and questioned about the dispatches received by the Associated Press on Monday, April 15, the day of the Titanic disaster. He gave a full history of each dispatch received and of its source, Mr Stone testified that a dispatch was recovered from the “Montréal Star” to the effect that passengers had been transferred and were en route to Halifax. Later this same Montréal message having been cabled to London was given out there by the Exchange Telegraph Company, and the Associated Press, London, repeated it back to New York, giving credit for the message to the Exchange Company. Mr Stone further stated that the “Montréal Star” primarily and the Exchange Telegraph Company’s secondary were responsible as the sources of the dispatch in question. The London office of the Associated Press was wholly free from criticism. During the inquiry Mr Stone had been asked a number of questions. What part of the Titanic story had he handled personally and he replied he had general supervision of the entire work. He was then asked how you obtained such information as you sent out on Monday. And what was the exact source of each message? Mr Stone replied the “Montréal Star” received the message to the effect that passengers had all been transferred and were being brought to Halifax. This message we sent to Mr Franklin’s office. He issued a reassuring bulletin saying that there was no cause for alarm. At 10;10 AM(3.10 PM London time) we received a dispatch from the London repeating practically the “Montréal Star’s” story. Later from all parts the same dispatch began to be reported. We received some news automatically through our general system of newsgathering and some in response to personal enquiries. From the Marconi Wireless station at Cape Race we received two messages on Sunday evening, and early on Monday. They came from the Virginian, and stated that she was 170 miles from the Titanic and expected to come along side at 10.00am on Monday morning. Mr Stone read these messages and then stated; “From midnight Sunday we had no trustworthy telegrams until 11;23 AM(4;25 PM London time). Then a dispatch was given out from the White Star offices by Mr Franklin to the effect that the Virginian had reported the transfer of the passengers, was underway, 20 boatloads being aboard the Carpathia. Mr Franklin, who gave out the telegram declined to give the full text” He was then asked was he aware of any attempt to suppress news. He replied I have no knowledge of any such thing. Do you approve of the Wireless operator selling their news to the newspapers? He replied no. He then added at 12;07 AM on Monday afternoon the Canadian press sent out the following telegram; “Norton Davidson, one of the Titanic’s passengers, has sent to the local office of his firm here stating all passengers are safe. The Titanic is now in tow of the Virginian” That was the last of the conspicuous fakes (Reuters Telegram, 1912).
As a result of the coverage now being given in New York and Washington to the “Big Money” telegrams the Irish media continue to support Marconi with favourable editorials; “Wireless Telegraphy fell under some undeserved disgrace and the first shock of the Titanic disaster. There was some confused idea, apparently, that it was ‘maid of all work’, when the great ship went down with all those lives, people scarcely remembered that of the hundreds saved all owed their rescue from the icy sea to the Carpathia, brought on the rescue by the Marconi message. This aspect of the case was brought into vigorous relief by Fr Henry Gill’s lecture last night in Dublin at the Belvedere College. There was a true touch in the reflection that but for the Wireless mystery the fate of the Titanic, with all its population, might have been a mystery, too, for all time. A few years ago there could have been no word of explanation; all might have been drowned and the great ship need not have left a trace; a couple of days might have wiped away the last vestige of the boats that put off from the wreck, the icebergs would have shifted away on their own journey and the wonder would have remained how the vessel could have disappeared on a quiet night. The anguish of the long waiting for news, with the doubts still lingering in many minds long after hope had lost all ground; this, too, must be counted in, and very seriously to the credit of the wonderful invention of our time which all but annihilates space as far as communication is concerned, raying information, warning, alarm, and need over thousand miles. At present it is mentioned with some enthusiasm that certain Government have made the Wireless installation compulsory on passenger vessels; the time will not be long in coming when the Wireless will be installed on every ship. The age before the Wireless was seen to ourselves as strangely ill-equipped and handicapped as the age before the railroad. It may well be that the change in the world’s ways to be brought about by means of this wonder of today would be greater than those produced by the railroad itself. As the lecturer of yesterday observed, this knowledge is as yet only on the threshold of the cave in which it lay hidden; it has scarcely taken the air; a few years and will be active in ways we no more foresee than our fathers foresaw the immeasurable work in front of the steam engine, the vast novelties and materials that would come into human life from that humble beginning, mocked by the thoughtless and by the old-fashioned. We at lEast, in our age of many inventions, have learned not to be scornful of the new, scarcely even to be surprised that any promise, even though now and then we have been deceived. Often enough inventions are announced that do not appear, but often on the other hand there springs up suddenly wonder unannounced and works swift miracles over the face of the Earth. We of this age therefore take all these announcements without emotion, with a grain of salt and also with a large grain of expectation, as belonging to a generation accustomed to the new thing. At the rate at which we go now, we may feel sure that the world of our grandchildren will bear little resemblance to which we see. There will be the sky above us and the soil beneath us, and Tulips was still flower proudly in May; but in nearly everything else of the environing things, we should be at a loss in the world of our great-grandchildren. For thousands of years little altered except in the realm of ideas and in the fashion of clothes. Suddenly in one century there came the railroad train and the electric Telegraph and Telephone, monstrous and delicate machinery, great ships, the vast trade and the worldwide communication, almost instantaneous; hosts of discoveries and devices with results that have made Peking practically near and far more important to Dublin than once Paris was. To our heirs we, so well satisfied with ourselves, shall seem to have lived the strangest dull lives among quaint old makeshifts; we will amuse them when they think of us with our queer pride in childish beginnings and ways so cramped by unconquered nature. It will be well for us if our amused grandchildren can find, as an offset to all our simplicity in matters of practical science, that we had at lEast, like the ancients of our thought, some nobleness of the mind and soul to save us from appearing imbecile and ridiculous in a world full of the working of astonishing powers (Freemans Journal, 1912).
The events of the recent past would severely tarnish the reputation of Marconi and his Company and he would do all in his power to limit the damage he was interviewed by a ‘Daily News’ representative on the subject of the Titanic disaster and its relation to Wireless Telegraphy. “The system of Wireless control in America is undoubtedly currently bad, he said. At present any one can put up a station for sending or receiving, and these amateurs, I find, receive all sorts of messages, which they misconstrue owing to the fact that they have not had a proper knowledge of the Morse system, and because their systems are imperfect. That is undoubtedly what took place in the present instance, and the Press, being extremely anxious to get news, did not take sufficient pains to verify the early messages” Asked if any developments were contemplated in connection with Wireless Telegraphy which could be used in similar circumstances in future, Mr Marconi said, “the only practical thing to do at the present moment was to have two operators on every ship. After all, even a Wireless man must have some sleep. There is absolutely no reliable way at present of arousing a sleeping operator by apparatus. Nor has any recording instrument yet been discovered that will give a faithful record of a message while the operator is absent. “I am working hard upon the subject, however, and have every hope that I shall be able to perfect an apparatus that will automatically give warning on the receipt of a message, and draw attention by means of a bell or other device” Asked if he would give evidence at the British Inquiry he replied, “I have not yet been asked to do so, but I am quite prepared to go before the court and tell them all I know. Then I think the truth will come out, and that is what I want” (Marconi, 1912). Mr Marconi is full of confidence as to the outcome of his great schemes for encircling the globe with a great system of Wireless. “We are proposing to erect very soon big stations for communicating direct between England and America, or rather between the vicinity of London and the vicinity of New York. I hope this service will be in operation within 12 months” He continued, “the messages will go through within a very few minutes, practically instantaneously. Time is at present occupied in transmitting messages to Clifden and repeating them on the other side from Glace Bay to New York by our arrangement with the Western Union on the other side the messages will be delivered as quickly as any cablegram” (Marconi, 1912)
It seemed almost as if shares in Marconi could not be excited as trade was “severely depressed” although trade in general was tolerably brisk on the Dublin Stock Exchange but an unsatisfactory tone pervaded the markets. The Wireless market was not so busy with shares starting badly and continuing to slump as the day progressed. In London, the “Financial Times” publishes a report of a meeting of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, in which the authorised capital stock of the Company was increased and the value of the shares was dramatically reduced. Arrangements are also made for entering actively into the business of transatlantic Wireless service between the United States and Great Britain, and the Company is about to erect high power stations in New York City. It was also confirmed at the meeting that the Marconi Company are proceeding against a firm of members of the London Stock Exchange for libel in respect of statements contained in a recent weekly report. The Company also explains that the Boston circuit court of appeals is now preventing the sale of the United Wireless Telegraph Company’s assets, but merely requires the trustees in bankruptcy of that Company to defer for the present the actual transfer of title. This would not in the lEast affect the sale to, nor the position of, the American Marconi Company, who were not parties to this motion. The report complained of allegations that the Marconi Company did not send their messages across the Atlantic by their own system, but by cable and debited the loss created by the difference in price to ‘advertisement account’. Mr Isaacs’s, Managing Director of the Marconi Company stated to an interviewer that the Company’s business continues in every way highly satisfactory, and “nothing has happened of an unfavourable nature, but rather the reverse, since our last communication to the shareholders” (Irish Independent, 1912).
New problems are starting to develop for Wireless operators, legitimate and otherwise, in the United States of America. Giving false alarms by Wireless Telegraphy is the neWest form of the practical chalk in the USA. Government aid was dispatched to a supposed shipwreck as the consequence of the “Wireless joke” The result of these “jokes” is that a Bill has been brought before the Senate insisting upon the licensing of all Wireless installations and their operators. By this means interference is controlled and secrecy insured for the Government’s stations in time of crisis. The installation and use of a private Wireless station in Britain is not possible without its detection by the controlling authorities. The moment and new Wireless station of any power comes into operation either the Post Office are one of the Marconi stations receives the signal. Steps are immediately taken to ascertain its whereabouts (Leitrim Observer, 1912). Other Irish newspapers were more focused on the new reality of “Wireless telephone”; if the report from Rome that messages sent by Wireless telephone have been distinctly heard at a distance of 160 miles are correct, a new development in the use of “Wireless” may be expected. 160 miles is but a little short the distance between Dublin and Cork, so that one can realise what a saving in the working of the telephone system in remote districts could be affected by the use of Wireless. It was, of course, known for some years past that Wireless telephone messages could be heard at distances of 20 or 30 miles, and a couple of years ago two French battleships were able to keep up communication by this means when 70 miles apart. But that conversation can be carried on at more than double that distance is something new and very exciting” (Irish Independent, 1912).
On May 20th 1912 the Postmaster General, Herbert Samuel, in his annual statement on the work of his Department outlines new proposals for reforms for extensions in the future; but the Irish Times is not very happy of a Government profiteering at the expense of controlling communications and make no attempt to conceal this fact in their Editorial. “The answer to the question whether Mr Samuel’s statement can be regarded as satisfactory depends entirely upon the standpoint from which the work of this particular department of state is considered. We may adopt the argument of Sir George Doughty, who expressed his belief that a Department of this character should not be run with the object of making a profit. The revenue, he believed, should be applied to the purpose of promoting the efficiency of the service. We do not think that this position is tenable. The Post Office is one of the few Government departments in which the ideal of a “business Government” is capable of application, and, at the same time, desirable. To turn it into a kind of bureau of National philanthropy is to defeat its best purposes. We have no doubt that the adoption of such a system would prove a useful vote-catching measure for the Government, and on that ground, if no other, we applaud Mr Samuel’s refusal to accept it. He spends the public money upon improving the service under his control, and looks for another dramatic rise in custom which will maintain the Department as a paying concern. It is a policy which has so far been justified by its success. In the year which Mr Samuel reviewed yesterday the increase in expenditure has been very considerable. This is partly explained by the normal growth of the service, which must necessarily expand from year to year, but it is mainly due to the transfer of the telephone system to the state. It is now possible to form a fair estimate of the value of the charges levelled against the telephone service at the beginning of the year. The truth probably is that the same grievances, such as they were, existed under the old regime, but the public, apparently, looked for a miraculous change when the Post Office took over the business. Any change must, of necessity, have been temporarily for the worse, and we have to thank the Postmaster General that this vast transaction which was completed with so little discomfort to the public. Mr Samuel hints at a rate reduction as soon as the Royal Commission has fixed transfer price. We note that the “farmers’ telephones” system is gaining in popularity. This is a proposition which Irish farmers would be well advised to consider in a favourable light. Another reform which will prove welcome is the proposal that telephone subscribers should be allowed to use the numbers as telegraphic addresses. Mr Samuel is doing his best to facilitate telegraphic communication abroad as well as at home. We’re promised reduced charges to the continent when the laying of the landlines is completed, and, possibly, a further reduction of cable rates to the Colonies. To the progress of the automatic telephone experiments we have already referred, as also to the progress of the Imperial Wireless scheme. Wireless, naturally, bulks largely in Mr Samuel’s statement. The important question of continuous communication between ships at sea, a matter whose urgency has been emphasised by the evidence at the Titanic enquiry, will be considered next month by an international conference. Mr Samuel’s statement, as a whole, is a worthy record of a hard and businesslike endeavour” (Irish Times, 1912). But the Imperial Wireless Scheme, as proposed by Samuel’s, would mean greater profits for Marconi as reported in the London times on the following day. “The Imperial Wireless Scheme of Communication is continuing to make progress. Six stations have been arranged for, one in England, two between England and India, one in India, one at Singapore, and one in South Africa. The Marconi Company guarantee apparatus capable of covering intervals of 2000 miles, and even more. The cost, in round figures, is £60,000 per station without sites and buildings. These stations, to be supplemented later by others, will do something to keep the remotest parts of the Empire in close touch with the Imperial capital, though we cannot regard the Wireless system proposed as a satisfactory substitute for a much greater reduction of ordinary cable rates that has yet been achieved. The details of this great scheme will in due course come before the House of Commons, but in bare outline it makes a powerful appeal to the imagination” (London Times, 1912). In addition to all of this by the end of May 1912 the only American Marconi Company announced that they are about to equip stations at New Orleans, that’s one island in the Caribbean Sea, and at Santa marked the, Colombia, providing direct Wireless communication between the two American continents (Irish Times, 1912). It seemed as if prosperous times were ahead again for Marconi.
Adding further to Marconi’s business restoration is news from Washington in the form of an announcement by Senator Smith delivering his speech on the report of the Sub-Committee which investigated the wreck of the Titanic. Smith states, “We absolutely recommend that all ships should have a continuous equipment of Wireless telegraphy and this is a reform upon which public opinion is already agreed” (Irish Times, 1912). But what Smith gives in one hand to Marconi he takes with the other and condemns the Company as agents of prostitution of talents or offices or services for reward. As if it was not enough for Smith to simply advocate the installation of Wireless telegraphy itself but to also suggest that such work should not be done by Marconi’s Company. In a well crafted speech he states, “By the aid of the Marconi genius, a gentleman sitting in his office in the capital of the Argentina Republic Road as in an open book a Wireless message direct from the coast of Ireland. When the world weeps together over a common glass, when nature moves in the same direction in all spheres, why should not the nations clear the sea of its conflicting idioms, and wisely regulate this new servant of humanity. To that end wages must be increased in proportion to the responsibility assumed; and the service to be useful must be made continuous night and day, while this new profession must rid itself of the spirit of venality to which, in my opinion, the world is in deficit for the systematic reign of silence concerning the details of this disaster” (Irish Times, 1912). As far as the American’s were now concerned Marconi’s Company was entirely responsible for the failure of adequate news supply in the days after the sinking of the Titanic. His Company are depicted as profiteers, at all costs, even in the time of enormous tragedy. Fortunately Marconi had a some influential friends in London who were about to change the course of history for the Italian inventor. One of these, a middle aged conservative politician was infuriated by the American senator’s comments and during what became known as the ‘Marconi Scandal’ Winston Churchill used a speech to mount an impassioned defence of Marconi and two embattled ministers David Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs, asserting that there was “no stain of any kind” upon their characters.
“The committee does not believe that the Wireless operator of the Carpathia was duly vigilant in handling messages after the accident, and declares that the practice of allowing Wireless operators to sell their stories should be stopped.”
(Titanic Disaster American Inquiry Report, 1912)
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