Does anyone know when the news of Titanic´s sinking arrived in Belfast ? I would be very interested in the first reactions of Harland and Wolff´s chairman Lord Pirrie,the workers of the shipyard and Thomas Andrews´s family.
Probably the best Titanic on the Titanic and Belfast is...well....Titanic: Belfast's Own by Stephen Cameron (Wolfhound Press, 1998, ISBN 0-86327-685-7).
Amongst a good deal of other information, Cameron relates how Thomas Andrews Sr gathered the staff at the Andrews family home of Ardara in Comber and read a telegram he had recieved from James Montgomery of New York, his wife's cousin:
Interview Titanic's Officers. All unanimous that Andrews heroic unto death, thinking only safety others. Extend heartfelt sympathy to all
Cameron states that Thomas Andrew's fate finally became known to his family on 19 April when a telegram from NY was delivered to the offices of Harland and Wolff, and was taken to Comber by the man who had been in charge of the horse-team that had taken Titanic's great anchor to the shipyard. As Cameron says, 'The news devestated the Andrews family and the town of Comber'.
Among the poignant message of condolance Cameron mentions the Andrews family receiving are those from Ismay and Pirrie. Pirrie's letter of 30 May in particular mentions how 'I miss Tommy at every turn and it is hard to realise that I must do without his assistance just when I have come to rely upon him most.'
I believe that Pirrie was very ill when the Titanic sank and that the news of her loss and the death of his nephew was kept from him for some time until he had recuperated.
It seems he was one of the last people in Belfast to hear the news.
Lord Pirrie had prostate cancer and underwent surgery in February 1912. He was too ill to attend the sea trials or the maiden voyage of Titanic. He spent part of the next three months on his yacht SY Valiant cruising the Baltic and he attended the Kiel regatta in July 1912.
Lady P. is reported to have written to Lady Aberdeen that she and her husband “were most wishful to travel on the Titanic on her maiden voyage” . Lord P’s doctors forbade the trip.
I can find no record that the news of the sinking of Titanic was kept from him.
I have looked a little deeper into whether the news of Titanic’s sinking was withheld from Lord Pirrie. I don’t believe so.
Lord P was at the launching of Titanic and he was on the maiden voyage of Olympic to Southampton, on the same day, with J. Bruce Ismay and J. Pierpoint Morgan. So he was reasonably well.
From, “Titanic - Belfast’s Own”, we read that Lord P had received a letter from David Galloway on board the SS Lapland, en-route to Southampton from New York, describing how Thomas Andrews was last seen helping people into the remaining lifeboats.
Lord P wrote to Thomas Andrews’ mother (Lord P’s sister) “A finer fellow than Tommie never lived, and by his death - unselfishly beautiful to the last - we are bereft of the strong young life upon which such reliance had come to be placed by us elders who loved and needed him".
From its tone, this letter appears to have been written after Galloway’s letter and Lord P seems to have known of the sinking as soon as anyone else.
I'm wondering if you ever found anything out about Lord Pirrie's firing of naval architect Edward Wilding. There's a tale that's been put out that he did it in retaliation for Wilding's testimony at the British Board of Trade hearings, or alternatively, because he blamed Wilding for the loss of his beloved Thomas Andrews. Actually, Wilding was around for some time, and purportedly wasn't fired until the 1920s.
The story of Pirrie sacking Wilding has, I believe, nothing to do with the sinking of Titanic. Lord Pirrie seems to have kept his financial dealing very much to himself. Olympic and Titanic were both built on a cost + 5 % basis. Ismay trusted Pirrie and vice versa. A handshake completed the deal for the Olympic class. Nowadays, it seems to be pretty casual, but at the time it worked. It appears that in 1921 Wilding told a client of the actual costs of a ship being built by H & W for him, and Lord Pirrie sacked him.
Lord Pirrie was not a man to be crossed! His control over Harland & Wolf was absolute. Alexander Carlisle who designed the Olympic class and was at one time Managing Director of H & W, took “early retirement” in 1910 after suddenly standing for election to Parliament in 1906 and splitting the Unionist vote. Lord P was married to Carlisle’s sister, but Carlisle, being his brother-in-law didn’t protect him!
Thomas Andrews who was Lord P’s nephew replaced Carlisle and completed the designs of Olympic and Titanic.
Lord P had a notable ancestor, his grandfather.
Lord P’s grandfather was captured by the French during the Napoleonic Wars while crossing the Atlantic, He escaped, rowed in an open boat across the English Channel and returned to Belfast where he started to dig out what is now Belfast harbour. He was, I believe, the first of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and his portrait hangs in their office in Belfast. My father sold the picture to the Commissioners in the 1950’s.