'Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story' at Merseyside Maritime Museum
You would be forgiven for thinking that you knew everything about the RMS Titanic, the fabulously opulent, supposedly unsinkable passenger ship that sank on 15 April, 1912. There have been countless books, documentaries and, of course, James Cameron's eponymous film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, which almost became as big as the ship itself.
However, if you visit the Titanic and Liverpool exhibition at the city's Maritime Museum, you'll find that there is still much – tons, in fact – to learn about the most infamous ship in history. The exhibition was opened in 2012, to commemorate the centenary of the Titanic, and runs through to the end of 2013, and it really is a must-see.
The great British writer A.A. Milne once said it is the small things that fill our hearts, and it would be hard heart indeed that wasn't moved by one of the smallest, yet most significant items I spotted in the exhibition; an item that didn't even make it onto the Titanic itself: a first class ticket. Just looking at the ticket takes your breath away, and that's before you read the astonishing story behind it. It belonged to the Reverend Stuart Holden, whose wife fell ill the day before he was due to sail, forcing him to cancel his trip – and saving Rev. Holden from almost certain death (remember it was women and children first in the Titanic's lifeboats). Apparently, Rev. Holden had his ticket framed and kept it on his desk until he died in 1934. As if that wasn't jaw-dropping enough, a note informs us that this is only First Class ticket still in existence.
The exhibiton is home to the only remaining first class ticket in exsitance.
The exhibition boasts countless items like this; a pair of “prince-nez” glasses; a set of gentlemen's tie pins, and perhaps best of all, a third class White Star Line cup and dish that are so beautiful your mind boggles to think what the first class cup and dishes looked like. My favourite item – if “favourite” is the right word, because truth be told it sent shivers down my spine – is a simple wristwatch. The hands have stopped at 10:45. At 11:40, just under an hour later, the Titanic struck the iceberg that would fatally breach five of the ship's watertight compartments. Just two hours and forty minutes later, the Titanic broke in half and sank completely. Had the owner of the wristwatch passed his timepiece to a loved one, perhaps one of the lucky 705 who made it to the lifeboats, knowing he had, unfortunately, ran out of time? Again and again, the exhibition excels in making history that is a hundred years old come alive through such tiny items.
Equally moving – and simple – is the list of passengers and crew, 1,502 in all, who died in the tragedy. There are so many names, and you can't help but search for your own surname amongst those on display. For me, this is why the Titanic disaster still fascinates people over a century later; the Titanic may have represented the very best England had to offer (in terms of engineering, luxury and innovation) at a time when England pretty much ruled the world, but it wasn't just the elite of England who perished in the disaster; it was a cross-section of England; the working classes; Irish immigrants hoping to start a new life in America; the crew – ordinary people travelling on the “ship of dreams,” as the Titanic was called – all in search of their own dreams.
The list of passengers and crew, 1,502 in all, who died in the tragedy can be seen at the exhibiton.
This really is an unmissable exhibition, and I've barely touched upon the wealth of multimedia (films, displays, audio guides) that enhances the whole experience. Also, space doesn't permit me to mention the abundance of links the ship had with Liverpool. I'll mention just three: the ship was registered here, and bore the words Liverpool on its stern; and Captain Smith, who valiantly went down with his vessel, hailed from nearby Crosby. It really is fascinating to find these great slabs of history on your doorstep.
So, whether you're stuck for somewhere to take the kids over the holidays; or if you want to take your partner to see something that is both moving and strangely romantic, or if you just fancy a lunchtime stroll around the most famous ship in history, check out the Titanic and Liverpool today.
The Titanic and Liverpool: the Untold Story at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
Open daily from 10am-5am
Running to the end of 2013.
Entry is free (£3.50 for audio guides, £6 for two)