To honour the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic this month, our Curator of Transport and Industry, Clare Ablett takes us on a ‘behind the scenes tour’ of highlights from our Titanic collection.
The most interesting aspect to me of the Titanic story is the local shipyard workers in Belfast whose skill and expertise created arguably the most famous ship ever to have been built. 19,000 men were employed at one time during the building of the Olympic and Titanic
H&W employees like William Bell, a fitter who worked on all three Olympic class liners; Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. William, known as 'Dinger', purchased his own tools for £50, and they are on display in our Titanica exhibition.
William Bell was still fitting out Titanic as it sailed from Belfast to Southampton. He had been hoping to travel on to New York but the decision to send him back to Belfast probably saved his life. Handwritten on the reverse of this photo "William Bell born 16 Jan 1894".
Another shipyard worker who was also lucky enough to get a ticket for the launch was David Moneypenny, a painter who worked on the First Class accommodation. The creases in this ticket, which is on display in our Titanica gallery, suggests he kept it folded in his pocket.
Titanic’s First Class accommodation was the height of luxury and images like these demonstrate the wealth of those who could afford to stay in one of these rooms. The talent of local men like David Moneypenny working on these ships in H&W is both humbling and inspirational.
We can see more examples of the range of craftspeople who worked on Titanic from some of the wood carvings we have in the collection. Although this wall frieze came from the 2nd Class dining saloon of Titanic’s sister ship Olympic, it would have been almost identical to those used on Titanic.
Unfortunately not all of those who worked on the ship lived long enough to see it launch. Johnny Kelly was one of the first men to die on the Titanic. He died after accidentally falling from the ship while at work June 23rd 1910. He died of shock following injuries.
In this photograph taken by Robert Welch, we can see the great heights the men were working at. Five people in total lost their lives in its construction. Titanic is on the left and Olympic on the right. The gentleman standing at the front just to the left gives you an idea of scale.
Robert Welch was born in Strabane in 1859 and was an accomplished outdoor photographer. We have a large collection of his work dating from c.1880 - c1935, but of particular interest are his images of the H&W shipyard. Here we see Titanic’s last funnel leaving the shop.
We have reached the end of our tour and as we leave the shipyard behind, it’s time to catch the tram home. This little token would have entitled Harland & Wolff/Belfast Corporation Trams staff to a single journey along Queens Road.
Thanks so much for coming on this journey back in time having a closer look at our Titanic collection. I hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about the people who built this ship and many others. Farewell from me, Clare Ablett, and take care!