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Just how much of a Prophet was Morgan Robertson?, by guest contributor Senan Molony.
||Modern myth has it that Morgan Robertson was the man who foretold the Titanic disaster. His book, Futility, published in 1898, famously recounted the wreck of the mighty Titan, which struck an iceberg on her way to New York and was lost with many lives.
But what if the wreck of the Titan, or something very like it, was widely told long before Robertson set pen to paper? How much of a Seer is he then?
Senan Molony tells in the following research of no fewer than three cases of vessels named Titania that encountered disaster in the North Atlantic many years before Futility was written. At least one crashed into an iceberg with another believed lost from the same cause.
Each forgotten Titan can now be restored to history and to Morgan Robertsons contemporary times.
This article was first published in the Irish Titanic Societys quarterly publication, The White Star Journal.
1865: The Atlantic Sinking of the Titania
Survivors Landed at New York
From the Times of London, November 2, 1865.
The brig Titania, Captain G. W. Frame, which left Philadelphia on the morning of the 9th ultimo (October, 1865) , with a cargo of coal and hay for Mobile, encountered a severe gale on the night of Friday the 13th, which caused her to spring a leak not long afterwards.
Both pumps were at once manned but it was discovered that, despite every effort, the water was gaining steadily. To lighten the vessel as much as possible of the cargo on deck was thrown overboard, but on sounding the pumps again 5ft of water was found in the hold.
All on board now went to work with redoubled energy with the hope of keeping her afloat until the arrival of succour. The water still gained, but not so rapidly as on the first night. Two days passed in this incessant labour, when on sounding the pumps it was discovered that the water was 11ft deep.
As the vessel in this condition was liable to sink at any moment, it was decided to abandon her without delay, and accordingly a raft 10ft square raft was constructed and launched, and on the 16th the crew and passengers, ten persons in all, entered upon it. The party consisted of nine men and one woman.
Leaving the ship, which went down two hours after being abandoned, they drifted at the mercy of winds and waves. The weight of the persons on the raft sank it one foot below the surface of the water which thoroughly saturated their clothes. In this wretched state, without food or water, they floated for about 24 hours until on the 17th, in latitude 32 degrees 20 min, longitude 74 degrees, they were discovered by the United States gunboat Florida, acting volunteer lieutenant Maies commanding, which immediately on sight of the raft, steered for it and took on board the famished voyagers, whom the exposure of their situation had rendered helpless and almost lifeless.
On board the Man of War they received every tenderness and comfort at the hands of Lieutenant Maies and his officers and crew. The Florida, in addition to her own complement, had on board as passengers 115 sailors and marines of the Pacific squadron en route from their station for discharge, who, in combination with the officers and crew of the vessel raised the huge sum of $361 which was presented to the shipwrecked voyagers, who had lost everything on their ill-fated brig.
This sum the Captain with great generosity and magnanimity divided by giving one third of the amount to the female passenger and the remainder to the crew.
The Florida, which left Aspinwall on the 10th arrived at New York on the 19th ult. with the rescued crew and passengers.
1880: Eighteen years before Futility:
SS Titania Sunk By An Iceberg!
The New York Herald of yesterday - according to a telegram received through Reuter's agency, reports that the ship Titania, while on her voyage from St John's for Miramichi, in ballast, came into collision with an iceberg and sank shortly afterwards. The crew were saved, but the owner, who was on board, is believed to have perished.
(The Times of London, July 10, 1880, p. 12, Col f.)
Accusation Against a Captain and Crew
Our Cork correspondent telegraphed last night: - "A despatch from St. John's, dated July 9, states that the British ship Titania, Captain Lloyd, bound from that port for Miramichi, struck an iceberg on the 6th inst. during a dense fog, and sank in three hours.
The crew were all got safely out of the ship and available provisions and stores were secured. It is alleged that Mr. Rees, the owner, who was on board and had a considerable sum of money in his possession, got in a smaller boat and placed away aft in her his money and personal property, but that having forgotten something of importance, he again boarded the sinking ship, when he was deserted by the crews of the two boats and left to sink with the vessel.
No coherent story of the desertion is told by the captain or crew. The sea was almost tranquil, a brisk breeze had recently sprung up, and the distance from St. John's was barely 40 miles. The next morning the fishing schooner P.L. Whitton, bound from St John's to the Grand Banks, fell in with the crew, all well, took them on board, and brought them in safety to St John's. No trace of the money of Mr. Rees has been found. When Captain Lloyd was interrogated as to his reason for not waiting or attempting to rescue Mr. Rees, he replied that Mr. Rees was a very powerful man and he feared to board the ship lest he should fling him overboard. No two individuals from the Titania gave the same or even a consistent account of the occurrence. The judicial authorities of Newfoundland will investigate the affair.
(The Times of London, July 21, 1880, p. 5, Col d.)
Could Morgan Robertson have read of this intriguing tale? Certainly there are parallels with his story of the Titan, Captained by a man named Bryce, and with a hero named Rowland who is rescued by a ship named the Peerless. But there are also odd resonances with the sinking of the Titanic. Both real life wrecks happened off Newfoundland, and sank in a similar timeframe on a tranquil sea. In both cases the owner was aboard and both Ismay and Rees got into a lifeboat. Rees got out again and returned to the ship however, thereby losing his life. It is interesting that Captain Lloyd of the Titania was self avowedly afraid of his owner, whereas it has often been speculated that Captain Smith of the Titanic might have felt intimated by the brash confidence of his owner, the White Star managing director Mr. J. Bruce Ismay.
The sinking of the Titania by an iceberg off Newfoundland in July 1880 has never been known about since the 19th Century, and the White Star Journal is pleased that this strange parallel has now been restored to Titanic lore.
Titania was by no means a common name for a ship, yet the name of the Queen of the Fairies in Shakespeares Midsummer Nights Dream has sometimes led only to mid-Atlantic nightmares.
Third Titania Unluckiest
1880: She's Towed to Halifax.
1882: Founders With All Hands.
Owners Attribute the Loss to "Meeting With Ice".
Particulars have now been received of the disastrous voyage of the steamer Titania which left Dundee for New York on the 11th ult. It seems that the vessel was on the 22nd of the same month overtaken by a strong S.S.E. gale, which increased into a terrible hurricane, with tremendous seas, causing the vessel to labour heavily.
After blowing for five hours the wind changed to the eastward with terribly high seas. About two hours later the after-hold was found full of water, and all pumps were got to work. An examination showed that the spare propeller in the 'tween decks had broken all its ring bolts, had been violently hurled about, and had made breaches in both sides of the vessel. The cargo also got adrift in the hold, and a portion of it had to be thrown overboard.
Next morning the Bel Air hove in sight and bore down on the Titania, which was then in a very critical condition. The Bel Air came as near the Titania as she could with safety, and an attempt was made to lower the boats from the latter vessel, but they were smashed against the side.
Seeing that no communication could be established by this means, the mate of the Titania plunged into the sea and boldly struck out for the other steamer, and succeeded in gaining the deck of the Bel Air. After making all arrangements for the Bel Air to accompany his ship to the nearest port for fear anything should happen to her, the mate again sprang into the water and swam back to the Titania.
(The Times of London, November 13, 1880, p.5, Col f.)
Wreck Commissioners Court
(Before Mr. H.C. Rothery, the Wreck Commissioner, with assessors.) Case of The Titania.
This was an inquiry into the supposed loss of a missing vessel called the Titania, with 27 hands. She sailed from New York on the 27th January of the present year for Newcastle, with 2,100 tons of general cargo, and was spoken the next day, but neither the ship herself nor any of the men who sailed in her have since been seen or heard of.
The Titania was an iron screw steamer, of 1,961 gross, 1,272 net register, 270 ft long, 35 and a half feet broad, 24 and a half feet deep. She was built in November 1879 for Messrs. Raylton, Dixon & Co., of Middlesbrough, for Messrs. Angier & Co., of London, but after the building had reached a certain point, the benefit of the contract for the ship was acquired by the Titania Steamship Company Ltd, the managers of which are Messrs. C.T. Bowring of Liverpool. It is becoming a common practice to register ships in this way as the property of "single ship companies," with the view of limiting risks, attaining simplicity of accounts, and the means of giving the officers a small interest in their vessel.
The Titania was built under special survey of Lloyd's officers, additional strengthening was ordered by the managers of the company which acquired her, and she was employed in the Dundee, Newcastle and America trade.
She made ten voyages, carrying iron and chemicals from Newcastle, and paper stock and bagging from Dundee outwards, and bringing back grain and other provisions from the United States.
She gave satisfaction on these voyages and only had one disaster, when a spare screw which she carried broke loose, tore a hole in her side, and she had to be towed to Halifax.
Before proceeding on her last outward voyage, she was repaired at a cost of £596. Her draft on leaving New York on the 24th of February was 21ft 11in aft, 20ft 5in forward, mean draft 21ft 2in. Her Plimsoll disc was at 22ft 2in. Her clear side was 5ft 9in, or about 2.8in to each foot depth in her hold. She had previously been more deeply laden. Her market value was £35,000, and she was insured for £29,000 on hull and £2,200 on freight. Her owners attributed the loss to meeting with ice.
For the Board of Trade, the question was suggested as to whether she was over-laden, whether her stability was sufficient, and whether a certain mode of construction with water-ballast tanks, capable of carrying cargo or ballast, was safe.
The Court held that there was nothing in the mode of construction which at all imperiled the safety of the vessel, and found on the evidence in favour of the stability and proper loading of the vessel. It was impossible that she could have been better loaded. The Court could not offer any suggestion as to the cause of the disappearance of the vessel. She might have come into collision with another vessel or an iceberg or have met with a gale. There was nothing to lead to the supposition that the loss was due to unseaworthiness or to being over-laden or improperly stowed.
Mr. Danckwaerts appeared for the Solicitor to the Board of Trade (Mr. W. Murton); Mr. Bucknill for the owners.
(Times, Wednesday July 5, 1882.)
Dozens of ships were lost to collisions with icebergs in the 19th Century. British records alone specify a list that includes the Byron, the Mary Morris, John Rutledge, Eastward Ho, the Arbitrator, the Arizona, Cordelia, Birdstow, Cape Race, Wilhelm, Alma, Thingvalla and Portia of 1890, and the Vancouver.
But for two vessels of the name Titania to have been sunk by icebergs would surely defy belief. And yet one, and very possibly both, did indeed succumb in this way in the North Atlantic long before Morgan Robertson wrote Futility.
So was Morgan Robertson a prophet?
Or did he just profit from a litany of ill-luck?