The Titanic has always held me in its thrall. The ill-fated voyage of the most famous ship in history is a story that you could not make up – complete with villains, heroes and ultimately tragedy. So when the Titanic Expo sailed into Cape Town this month, I was first in line to snap up a ticket.
Held at the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront, the exhibition is running until March next year and takes you back in time to that fateful day in April, 1912 when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, eventually coming to rest in two pieces on the ocean floor.
Before entering I was handed a replica boarding pass, complete with a real passenger’s details on the flip-side, which immediately brought a human element to the proceedings. Did the 18-year-old Hanora Hegarty survive the voyage? Did her cousin, Jeremiah Burke, who accompanied her on the trip perish or live? They had been travelling Third Class, so chances were slim that they ever stepped foot on New York soil, but I was hopeful that when I checked the board at the final exhibit, I would find their names amongst the survivors.
The replica boarding pass for the Titanic.
The individual stories of Titanic have always been the hook for me. Some of the world’s richest and most powerful families were on board when the ‘unsinkable’ ship vanished beneath the ice-cold water of the North Atlantic Ocean, but they were certainly not alone, and their stories were no more important than those lodging in Second and Third Class quarters. This is something the expo really captures well with short biographies of a number of passengers coming from all walks of life, detailing their backstories, reasons for making the trip, and what happened to them on the night of the disaster, and for the survivors, beyond.
Amongst the relics from the ship – ranging from old crockery and porthole covers to the clothes passengers wore and the games they played – it is the recreations of the opulent First Class and incredibly cramped Third Class quarters that really paint the true picture of the Titanic. Not just illustrating the massive divide between the classes, but also just how terrifying their final moments must have been.
A recreation of the First Class cabins on the Titanic.
A recreation of the Third Class cabins on the Titanic.
Being something of a Titanic buff, I didn’t expect to find anything new to sink my teeth into, but the depth of information on hand is impressive. At the end of the day, however, there was only one thing I wanted to know – did Hanora and Bruce survive the trip? Of the 2 224 people on board the ship, 1 514 died. And 529 of those that died were housed in Third Class, so I wasn’t holding out much hope for ‘my’ two.
Unfortunately both Hanora and Bruce died on the voyage, going down with the ship along with the other victims of what is arguably the most notorious maritime disaster. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was pretty torn up about it, making my final turn at the Titanic Expo a somewhat sombre one.