When we visited Southampton last month we did the Jane Austen Heritage Tour, and of course, the Titanic Trail Tour. We started the Titanic tour at the SeaCity Museum located at the back of the Southampton Guildhall. The exhibition at the museum tells the Titanic’s story in a highly impressive visual way that offers visitors into the sights and sounds of April 1912. The exhibit starts with the historical background of the city, from the bustling docks of poverty stricken Southampton and concludes with a reconstruction of the court room where the British Inquiry took place.
The story begins by leading the visitors past a mosaic of pictures of crew members who died. Their names (some with photos while others don’t), age and job descriptions only give hints as to what their lives might have been like on board the ship. Their job titles range from plate stewards, coal trimmers to First Officers.
The exhibition continues with the information showing visitors what the pre-launch preparations were like through interactive displays and photographs of the Titanic moored at White Star Dock – Gate 4 Berth 43.
There’s a large section of the Titanic’s hull, which reveals that the ship was carrying an enormous amount of food and everything else that the passengers might require, including 411 cases of shelled walnuts, 1750 quarts of ice cream, three cases of window frames, 25,000 towels, two cases of tennis balls and four cases of opium, tons of flowers, cigars, and many other things, both edible and inedible.
There were pictures and memorabilia of the passengers and crew being a part of a single floating world when Titanic left Southampton, yet their experiences within that world, as the photographs show, were very different. While a few enjoyed luxury, a majority of them did some back-breaking work. One crew member recounted his memories of the first-class passengers’ balls: “It was one merry party…oh, they had a fine time.”
And as we all know, the Titanic sank on its first and only voyage with the loss of more than 1500 lives. You can just imagine the shock and panic that went through Southampton when news arrived on 14 April 1912 that the ship had sunk.
There’s a wall filled with newspaper clippings, original letters and photographs of people waiting to hear the news about their loved ones who were on the Titanic. There is a gallery of photographs that capture the Southampton survivors who returned home like this picture below.One room has a print on the floor of a town map with a red stamp on every household who lost a family member in the disaster.
The graphics help make the Titanic Story more enjoyable for adults and children alike. There are small porthole-type doors/windows at a range of different eye levels for visitors to open and view. There’s a lot of interesting objects on display that include rescued artefacts such as this pocket watch preserved exactly as it stopped, minutes before the Titanic sank.
The Titanic’s tragic final hours are told through a series of audio interviews with local survivors. Edith Hainman, one of the survivors, gives an account from her memories as an eight-year-old, and it is particularly horrifying to listen to . . . she says: “You could see the ice for miles across the sea. I thought it was wonderful to see the ice like that.” And when remembering the events with her mother, Edith would recall the sound of the exploding boiler room, “I always said how awful that sound was but Mother replied, ‘Remember the silence after!’”
Account of Wages, Certificate of Efficiency, set of cufflinks, a button and charm bracelet with hazelnuts — they all belong to 2nd Class Stewart Walter Nichols when he was rescued. His descendants loaned them to the museum.
There’s a quiet room in the museum filled with voiced memories from the sound of the suction of the ship as it went down; the panic heard across the icy sea by passengers on retreating lifeboats; to how children had to be lifted onto rescue boats in mail sacks because they couldn’t climb the rope ladders — all particularly chilling to listen to.
The British Inquiry was held in London, but the court room was reconstructed in the penultimate room of the museum.
The Museum has an excellent and well-conceived interactive exhibition. And the visual installation was breathtaking in its simplicity.
There’s another room called, “Southampton Gateway to the World” and it tells the story of Southampton before it became a well-known city. Overall, SouthCity museum is clean, spacious and thoughtfully designed.
Visiting other historical sites related to the Titanic Story
After visiting the SouthCity Museum, we went to the Southampton Guildhall, just behind the museum, to see the ‘Titanic Book of Remembrance’ and the ‘Officers Memorial Plaque.’
We walked across the street to see the ‘Musicians Memorial’ — it is dedicated to the musicians who continued to play their instruments on deck in an attempt to keep the passengers calm as they are being loaded into the life boats. There were accounts of the survivors hearing the band playing “Nearer, My God, To Thee” until the ship disappeared.The “Engineer Officer’s Memorial” erected in 1914, pays tribute to the men who kept the ship’s power going until her final moments.We walked further to find ‘The Grapes’ – the famous pub where the officers of the merchant ships were usually seen drinking and chasing women. This is where the crew of the Titanic were seen hanging out a few days before the ship left Southampton.Canute Chambers, the office building of The White Star Shipping Company, owners of RMS Titanic. It was here that hundreds of local people waited for news of their loved ones.One the corner of Canute Road and Terminus Terrace is Southampton Terminus where the passengers would have disembarked on their journey from London.
Built in 1872, South Western Hotel was the most luxurious hotel in town catering to first class passengers who stayed in Southampton. The ship designer, Thomas Andrews, and J Bruce Ismay, owner of White Star Line both stayed here. Check-in for the ship took place within the hotel.
Right across the street from South Western Hotel was Gate 4 Berth 43 where Titanic was docked. No longer in existence today but a memorial plaque was placed where the gate used to be.It was a lot of walking but Jared and I really enjoyed it. Southampton has done an excellent job preserving the historical sites associated with the ill-fated ship. It was an incredibly fitting tribute to the Titanic and those who sailed on her. Indeed, there can be no better place than Southampton to remember those who died as well as those who survived RMS Titanic’s maiden and final voyage.
Did you know that a new ship called Titanic II is being built right now? It’s a replica of the original liner, and is set to sail in 2018. Like the original, Titanic II will offer first, second and third class tickets. And if you wish to be one of the first 2400 passengers on it’s historic maiden voyage, I suggest you quickly secure a booking now. And be not alarmed. The new ship will have ‘state-of-the-art’ communication system, and enough ‘lifeboats’ — just in case it strikes a massive iceberg! 😉 I certainly do not wish for that to happen but if it does, can you just imagine for a moment what the passengers and crew will do? I bet some, if not all, will hurriedly take their phones out, take a picture (more likely a selfie), and post them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. It’s not just the social media, I imagine, but the television, radio and everything will be flooded with ‘newsfeed’ about the event, and people will be talking about it for days, months and even years to come. That would definitely be one for the books, wouldn’t you say? Of course, a few years later a “Titanic II Museum” will be set up somewhere, and I don’t think it will be in Southampton or any other location in the U.K. I suspect it will be somewhere in China where the ship is currently under construction. 😉