The owners of the doomed Titanic luxury ocean liner, history’s most famous sunken ship, knew more than they were saying about the immediate danger to the ship after it struck an iceberg and began to sink on April 15, 1912. New evidence unearthed by a collector shows that the ship’s crew sent a desperate plea for help to the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic.
But, when asked by United States congressional investigators whether he knew this company’s crown jewel of a ship was in trouble, White Star Line boss Philip Franklin pleaded ignorance.
“Not a word or communication of any kind or description,” reached his office by wireless or any other means during the nearly three hours that the Titanic was sinking in the northern Atlantic Ocean, Franklin claimed.
The wreckage of the Titanic was not discovered until 73 years later, in September of 1985, when a joint team of American and French researchers finally located the remains of the legendary ship more than two miles below the surface of the Atlantic, south of Newfoundland. The Titanic was bound for New York City and had set sail from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912.
Now, a new discovery appears to prove that Franklin was lying — or at the very least, that he should have known what was happening to his company’s $7.5 million investment ($180.2 million in 2015 currency) in a lonely stretch of icy ocean more than 1,000 miles away.
A telegram that until now had been hidden in the collection of an unnamed seller — who reportedly inherited the artifact from his uncle, a collector not of Titanic artifacts but of vintage telegraphy items — came to light this week when it was listed for sale by Heritage Auctions.
The telegram goes up for auction in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday and is expected to carry a price tag upwards of $40,000.
A telegram from the Titanic in 1912 would have cost about three bucks to send.
Cost was clearly not an issue to the anonymous sender of the telegram, which was sent to the New York office of White Star Line, addressed specifically to Franklin himself.
“We have struck iceberg. Sinking fast,” the telegram reads. “Come to our assistance. Position: Lat 41.46 N. Lon 50.14 W.”
Here is the actual telegram as it appears today.
“The sinking of the Titanic is an event cemented in history and there are very few things about it that are unknown. But this telegram is one of those rare items that no-one knew existed until now,” Heritage Auctions consignment director Don Ackerman said in a statement. “It was sent from the Titanic to the New York offices of White Star Line as the liner was sinking, something the company later denied.”
White Star Lines chief Franklin claimed that he learned of the sinking later, from his company’s general manager Bruce Ismay who was aboard the ship and was among the survivors; only 20 percent of the men on board the Titanic survived, compared to 74 percent of women and 52 percent of children.
Rare footage from on board the Titanic can be viewed in the video above.
The Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 2012, and finally sank at 2:20 a.m. the next morning. The exact time that the newly discovered telegram was sent has not been determined.
While the existence of the telegram does not prove beyond all doubt that Philip Franklin knew about the Titanic disaster as it was happening and took no action to respond, the arrival of a desperate telegram at his office would appear to indicate that someone at the White Star Line would have known and would have presumably alerted Franklin immediately.
The sinking of the Titanic has become one of the most legendary incidents in American history, the subject of numerous books, songs, stage plays and films. Most famously, the 1997 Hollywood blockbuster Titanic remains the second-highest moneymaking movie of all time.
[Photo via Paramount Pictures]