The Fiction that came true

The strange case of the two ‘Titanics

In 1898, a ‘floating palace’ sailed from Southampton on her maiden voyage. She was the biggest and grandest liner ever built, and wealthy passengers savored her luxury as the journeyed to America. But the great ship never reached her destination- her hull was ripped apart by an iceberg and she sank, taking down with her hundreds of passengers.

That grand liner existed only on paper, thanks to the imagination of a novelist called Morgan Robertson. The title of the book was Futility and the fictional ship was given the name Titan.

Unfortunately, both the fiction and the futility would turn into a terrifying reality.

Fourteen years later, a real luxury liner, laden with rich passengers, set out on a similar maiden voyage. She too struck an iceberg and sank, and, as in Robertson’s novel, the loss of life was significant because there weren’t enough lifeboats. It was the night of April 14, 1912. And you must have already figured out that the ship was the RMS Titanic.

The preview of doom

Apart from the similarities of their names, there are so many ways the fictional ship Titan of Robertson’s novel was a near duplicate of the real Titanic. They were roughly the same size, had the same speed and the same carrying capacity of 3000 people. Both ships were described to be “unsinkable”. And both sank after ramming an iceberg, in the exact same spot in the North Atlantic (400 nautical miles (740 km; 460 mi from Newfoundland)!

But the coincidences don’t end there. The famous journalist William Thomas Stead published, in 1892, a short story which proved to be an uncanny preview of the Titanic tragedy.

Stead, a spiritualist, was also one of the 1513 people who went down with the Titanic!

Sadly, it was widely believed that he was due to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.

A second disaster averted

Neither Robertson’s horror novel nor Stead’s prophetic account served as a warning to Titanic’scaptain Edward Smith. But a backward recollection of that appalling tragedy on that fateful night did save another ship in similar circumstances 23 years later.

William Reeves, a young seaman was standing watch in the bow of a tramp steamer carrying coal, Canada-bound from Tyneside in 1935. It was April-the month of the iceberg disasters, real and fictional-and young Reeves had brooded deeply on them. His watch was due to end at midnight. This, he knew, was the time Titanic hit the iceberg. Then, as now, the sea had been calm making it even more difficult to spot icebergs.

These thoughts took shape and swelled into omens in the seaman’s mind as he stood his lonely watch. His tired, blood-shot eyes strained ahead for any sign of danger, but there was nothing to be seen; nothing but a horizonless, impenetrable gloom. He was scared to shout an alarm, fearing his shipmates’ ridicule. But he was also scared not to.

Then suddenly he remembered the exact date the Titanic went down-April 15, 1912. The coincidence was terrifying- it was the same day he had been born. Reeves’ mounting sense of doom flared into panic-stricken certainty. He shouted out a danger warning, and the helmsman rang the signal: engines full astern. The ship churned to a halt-just yards from a huge iceberg that towered menacingly out of the blackness of the night, unnoticeable due to the calm waters.

More deadly icebergs crowded in around the tramp steamer, and it took nine days for Newfoundland icebreakers to smash a way clear.

The name of this little ship that came so close to sharing Titanic’s fate? She was called the Titanian!

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