17 April 2012
The Bodleian Libraries mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic with a series of outreach activities including a display, a lecture and a newly-released publication.
Drawing on the Marconi Archives of Wireless Communications held in the Bodleian Library, both the display and the book capture the unfolding drama as recorded in the unique radio operatorsí logs and messages between the ship and shore wireless stations involved.
Wireless telegraphy was a relatively new technology in 1912. The Titanic was equipped with the most powerful equipment available, enabling it to communicate over several hundreds of miles. Wireless communications was crucial to the saving lives during this tragic event on the night on 14/15 April 1912, but its efficacy was not without controversy.
On display will be messages exchanged before, during and after the emergency between Titanic and the other ships in vicinity. The earliest distress signals to be heard from the Titanic were received by The Mount Temple, some fifty miles away. Its response could not be heard because of its less powerful wireless equipment. Nevertheless, the captain reversed the ship to go to the aid of the stricken vessel. The last known signals from the Titanic were documented in the Virginian operatorís log.
After the tragedy messages to and from survivors on the Carpathia were sent to the shore, a selection of these being on display. Among the survivors was Harold Bride, one of the operators on the Titanic. His experience is described in a report submitted to the U.S. Inquiry explaining what he remembered of the disaster. He appeared to find his earlier oral evidence an ordeal, and had difficulty in articulating his story under cross-examination. He describes the particularly dramatic moment when, having been washed overboard, he managed to clamber onto an upturned lifeboat from which he was rescued some hours later by the Carpathia.
The new book tells this compelling inside story of the Titanic tragedy. Using complete transcripts of the distress messages, Titanic Calling vividly brings to life the voices of the individuals in this drama, retelling the legendary story as it was first heard.
Fully illustrated throughout, the editors set the scene with an introduction to the development of maritime wireless telegraphy and a full commentary on the messages. The directness and brevity of which gives the narrative both impact and immediacy, bringing home the full force of the tragedy in a format more familiar to us today through twitter feeds.
The Marconi Collection was donated to the University of Oxford by Marconi plc in December 2004. As well as documents relating to Marconi and his Wireless Telegraph Company, there are records of numerous other electronic and electrical engineering companies, all of which were ultimately absorbed into the General Electric Company (GEC) which in 1999 changed its own name to Marconi. A catalogue of the archive, funded by the Wireless Preservation Society, is available online from the Bodleian Library (www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/modern/marconi/marconi.html). A catalogue of the objects can be found on the website of the Museum of the History of Science (www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/marconi/collection/).