Lighting Conditions

Kyle Naber

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Oct 5, 2016
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All Titanic movies and paintings seem to have much added ambient light as if it's sinking towards the crack of dawn. Also, the lights on the ship appear to be a bit too bright and white.

There are accounts of the Titanic ranging from "blazing with light" to it becoming almost impossible to see anything after the lights went out just before the final plunge. Is this because of the progression of the sinking affecting the electrical system?

Also, floodlighting on the funnels is EXTREMELY popular in Titanic artwork and film productions. In my opinion, it would look something like this:

IMG_6987.JPG


(Edited screenshot from Titanic: Honor and Glory)

IMG_6986.JPG


(Edited screenshot from Titanic: Honor and Glory)

I feel like this may have put a major impact on eyewitness accounts and misinterpretations.
 
May 3, 2005
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I think this would be more realistic. The lighting would have been very dim - reddish orange. And there were reports that the sinking ship could be seen only as as a silhouette blanking out the stars in the sky. And any dawn light would be far away from about 2:00 AM in the night.
 
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Aaron_2016

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Survivors could read the time on their watches after the Titanic sank. The brightness of the stars probably glared off their wrist watches. Helen Candee said: "An effulgence glowed like a halo over the ship and around it." Jack Thayer said: "The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare and stood out of the night as though she were on fire. I watched her. I don’t know why I didn’t keep swimming away. Fascinated, I seemed tied to the spot." Philip Mock said: "After the noise I saw a huge column of black smoke slightly lighter than the sky rising high into the sky and then flattening out at the top like a mushroom."

The above gives us an idea of an atmospheric bubble around the ship. The enormous heat expelling out of the ship in such a cold environment may have created a localised atmospheric event that absorbed everything inside. Compressing sights and sounds within the bubble or "halo" around the ship.

It may simply have been the intensity of the stars which illuminated the enormous new metallic structure. Helen Candee described the starlight: "It was a marvellous sight all emphasized by a more than twilight and a heaven full of such stars as only an arctic cold can produce. They actually lighted the atmosphere. The sea with its glassy surface threw back star by star the dazzling array, and made of the universe a complete unity without the break of a sky-line. It was like the inside of an entire globe. We both gasped at such beauty and for a moment forgot the menace still unexplained but deeply real, wildly impressive......No officers were about, no one had given any explanations which would have elucidated. Woolner and I fell under the spell of the marvelous stars......Talking was a little assurance of the normal. So I chatted about the stars, foolishly. 'If you will pick for me three of four of the brightest,' I said, 'I will put them in my hair.' Woolner's response was only a sort of grunt, by which I knew I had offended his taste."


I believe some of the survivors swam for the collapsible boat, thinking it was a funnel. Mr. Clench could see the white paint of the collapsible boat and said - "I saw a boat in the way that appeared to be like a funnel. We started to back away then. We thought it was the top of the funnel."

Mr. Collins was on the collapsible boat and could also see "the white of the funnel". Perhaps he was looking at the other collapsible boat and mistook it for an actual funnel, then again, maybe he was looking at the starlight shining off one of the freshly painted funnels as the ship went down? He said - "We were not too far off. I saw the white of the funnel. Then she turned over again, and down she went."

One main factor is the direction in which the Titanic sank. Survivors saw the stern turn around before it sank. It would hide her lights from their view as the ship turned and showed her keel. Here is a lengthy account by survivor Jack Thayer who described the lights and position of the ship:



"........It was now about 2:15 am......As I recall it, the lights were still on, even then. There seemed to be quite a ruddy glare, but it was a murky light, with distant people and objects vaguely outlined. The stars were brilliant and the water oily. Occasionally there had been a muffled thud or deadened explosion within the ship. Now, without warning, she seemed to start forward, moving forward and into the water at an angle of about 15 degrees. This movement, with the water rushing up toward us was accompanied by a rumbling roar, mixed with more muffled explosions. It was like standing under a steel railway bridge while an express train passes overhead, mingled with the noise of a pressed steel factory and wholesale breakage of china......The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare and stood out of the night as though she were on fire. I watched her. I don’t know why I didn’t keep swimming away. Fascinated, I seemed tied to the spot. Already I was tired out with the cold and struggling, although the life preserver held my head and shoulders above the water.

She continued to make the same forward progress as when I left her. The water was over the base of the first funnel. The mass of people on board were surging back, always back toward the floating stern. The rumble and roar continued, with even louder distinct wrenchings and tearings of boilers and engines from their beds. Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split, well forward to midship, and blow or buckle upwards. The second funnel, large enough for two automobiles to pass through abreast, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks. It looked as if it would fall on top of me. It missed me by only 20 or 30 feet. The suction of it drew me down and down, struggling and swimming, practically spent............There was the gigantic mass, about 50 or 60 yards away. The forward motion had stopped. She was pivoting on a point just abaft of midship. Her stern was gradually rising into the air, seemingly in no hurry, just slowly and deliberately. The last funnel was about on the surface of the water. It was the dummy funnel, and I do not believe it fell.

Her deck was turned slightly toward us. We could see groups of the almost 1,500 people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, 250 feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a 65- or 70-degree angle. Here it seemed to pause, and just hung, for what felt like minutes. Gradually she turned her deck away from us, as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle.

We had an oar on our overturned boat. In spite of several men working it, amid our cries and prayers, we were being gradually sucked in toward the great pivoting mass. I looked upwards — we were right underneath the three enormous propellers. For an instant, I thought they were sure to come right down on top of us. Then, with the deadened noise of the bursting of her last few gallant bulkheads, she slid quietly away from us into the sea.

There was no final apparent suction, and practically no wreckage that we could see. I don’t remember all the wild talk and calls that were going on on our boat, but there was one concerted sigh or sob as she went from view. Probably a minute passed with almost dead silence and quiet. Then an individual call for help, from here, from there; gradually swelling into a composite volume of one long continuous wailing chant, from the 1,500 in the water all around us. It sounded like locusts on a midsummer night, in the woods in Pennsylvania.

This terrible continuing cry lasted for 20 or 30 minutes, gradually dying away, as one after another could no longer withstand the cold and exposure. Practically no one was drowned, as no water was found in the lungs of those later recovered. Everyone had on a life preserver.

The partially filled lifeboats standing by, only a few hundred yards away, never came back. Why on earth they did not come back is a mystery."


(Note - He believed the fourth funnel did not fall. Yet Mr. Dillon said the fourth "funnel seemed to cant up towards me....it seemed to fall up this way." Maybe the 4th funnel fell when she broke and the 3rd funnel remained intact, which made some survivors mistake that funnel to be the 4th funnel? Thayer would then look up and mistakenly think it was the fourth funnel. Mr. Scott may have thought something similar. He said: Q - Where did she break? - A The after-funnel. Do you mean between the third and fourth funnels? A - No, the after-funnel. From the after-funnel to the stern of her. Q - Do you mean the break was aft of her last funnel? A - Yes, just aft of the last funnel. She did not break behind the fourth funnel, but if it had already fallen and the 3rd funnel was still intact, then Scott would think she had actually broke aft of the 4th funnel and Thayer would think the 4th funnel did not fall when in reality they were looking at her 3rd funnel.



.
 
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Kyle Naber

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(Note - He believed the fourth funnel did not fall. Yet Mr. Dillon said the fourth "funnel seemed to cant up towards me....it seemed to fall up this way." Maybe the 4th funnel fell when she broke and the 3rd funnel remained intact, which made some survivors mistake that funnel to be the 4th funnel?
I think the third and fourth funnels were ripped from their bases as a result of the breakup. Because of the violent list to port after she settled, the fourth funnel would fall to the port side because of the inertia of the 60' mass, opposite of Thayer. After this, it would be instantly concealed, giving him the impression that it simply went under the water without him actually witnessing the collapse.

As for mistaking the boats as funnels, I think that they really were mistaken because I feel like, given the weather conditions and sheer darkness, that the funnels were just black silhouettes throughout the sinking because of the unpopular floodlighting method of the time.
 
May 3, 2005
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Perhaps conditiions were very much different during the Titanic sinking, but on several occasions where I have been I could not read my watch by the starlight. These occasions were at a parking lot on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park ; at Big Bend National Park ; and at Mc Donald Observatory. These were on moonless nights with a clear sky in very little light pollution.

Could it be the lights from Titanic, the haze mentioned, or other conditions could have contributed to the brightness of the light reported bt the survivors in the lifeboats.

I rarely had occasion to be topside on deck after dark during my Navy service at sea, but I do not recall any conditions as to the brightness by starlight as reported. The sky on cloudless and moonless nights was pitch black and the sky was full of bright stars, bit I do not remember very much, if any, light. But conditions were said to very unusual on "that night" so maybe that was what they actually saw.

Maybe some of our true old salts would have a different view point.
 
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Mar 18, 2008
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Actually there is no big mystery behind reading the watches. There were "lights" of different kinds in the boats, a few boats had a lantern also people had pocket light, torches, cigar lighter etc.
 

Ricky B

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Apr 22, 2015
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Hi again!

Were the red oil lamps used within the corridors and outside decks at night-time diminished during the evacuation of the ship, and emergency lighting used within the whole of the ship? Or did all events that occurred after Titanic hit the iceberg, happen with just the red oil lamps on?

Surely, it would have been quite hard to investigate the damage to the ship, etc by walking through areas that have a faint red glow? As well as scary. I thought, if there was emergency lights used, that would have lit all the rooms up in the ship and that's why we see this in visual representations when the ship is sinking. Or was emergency lighting only used many years later in future ship designs?

Many thanks
 

Rancor

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Jun 23, 2017
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Hi again!

Were the red oil lamps used within the corridors and outside decks at night-time diminished during the evacuation of the ship, and emergency lighting used within the whole of the ship? Or did all events that occurred after Titanic hit the iceberg, happen with just the red oil lamps on?

Surely, it would have been quite hard to investigate the damage to the ship, etc by walking through areas that have a faint red glow? As well as scary. I thought, if there was emergency lights used, that would have lit all the rooms up in the ship and that's why we see this in visual representations when the ship is sinking. Or was emergency lighting only used many years later in future ship designs?

Many thanks
Hello Ricky,

The entire ship was electrically lit during normal operations, though there were a few oil lamps I believe in some spots.

There were two electrical systems, the main system and an emergency system. The emergency system consisted of a relatively small number of lights placed in critical areas such as stairwells and in corridors so should the main system fail you would still be able to see enough to get around inside the ship.

It is likely that both systems were running during the sinking and the ship was well illuminated until the breakup. A very impressive effort from the engineers.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Paraffin once used as fuel for oil lamps was also known as "red oil" in Titanic's era due to the addition of a red dye to the liquid. Although the oil was red, it burned with a bright yellow-white flame. Clear paraffin was also available with the same burning characteristics, but some people preferred the dyed version. My uncle started on his way to becoming a millionaire by selling "red oil" to farmers and claiming it produced better light. Profits from that business were reinvested into automotive and clothing ventures. His brother took his half of the family inheiritance, purchased a calliope, and ran away with the circus. True story.

Anyway, my goal was to point out that "red oil lamps" in the early 20th century should not be confused with modern battle lanterns intended to preserve night vision of navy crews. Some oil lanterns were used aboard Titanic, particularly during the electric lighting failure inside the ship's boiler rooms. However, these were emergency devices only and, as far as we know were dowsed when the electric lights came on again.

-- David G. Brown
 

Jim Currie

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Actually, ship's oil lights were fueled with colza oil... a derivative of rape seed. Paraffin evaporated too easily. Colza could also be used in lifeboat sea anchors.

In my day, paraffin was used as a paint thinner and to clean paint off contaminated surfaces,
 
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No snake oil in my uncle's bottles. Just red dye and ordinary paraffin (or coal oil) and good salesmanship.

My point was to show how language changes over time. What was "red oil" then may be something completely different now. The colza oil (yes, I've seen this term, but never the product) mentioned by Jim is now an ingredient in the household cooking oil known as "Canola" on this side of the Atlantic. It cooks wonderfully, but the manufacturers feared women would avoid the product under the name "rape oil."

Paraffin in the U.S. is two different products. One a white wax often used for sealing jam and jelly jars. The other is a liquid more commonly called "kerosene" in trade. It was also known as "coal oil" 'way back in the day. Both terms are still in use, although "coal oil" is somewhat uncommon these days.

-- David G. Brown
 

Seumas

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Do we have an idea of where exactly and how many lanterns that the lamp trimmer had to hang up during his rounds of the ship at approx 22:00-23:00 ?
 

Seumas

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Nae bother Jim.

The lamp trimmer's rounds intrigue me because of these wee snippets from Samuel Hemming's evidence at both the American and British inquiry's .

USA - TIP | United States Senate Inquiry | Day 7 | Testimony of Samuel Hemming (Lamp Trimmer, SS Titanic)

Senator SMITH.
What were your duties?

Mr. HEMMING.
To mix the paint, and all that kind of thing for the ship, and to look after all the decks, trim all the lamps, and get them in proper order. That is all, I think. To put the lights in at nighttime and take them off at daybreak.

UK - TIP | British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry | Day 15 | Testimony of Samuel Hemming (Lamp Trimmer, SS Titanic)

17703. Do you remember the evening of Sunday, the 14th?
- Yes.

17704.
Do you remember reporting to Mr. Murdoch, the first Officer, that all the lights had been placed?
- Yes.


17705. About what time was that?
- I think about a quarter-past 7.

Of course I'm only making a presumption here, that these were oil lamps and either Hemming or other members of the crew lit them when it got dark. I was way off the mark in assuming they were put up at 22:00-23:00

Dr Paul Lee, who's research I'm a big fan of, mentions in his critique of the Honour and Glory live stream that


The corridors would not have been completely blacked out. In addition, the regulations stipulates that red oil lamps were hung in key locations in passageways and at the foot of each staircase and were kept burning until sunrise.

Could you shine any light on this Jim ? (pardon the dreadful pun !)
 

Jim Currie

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Very illuminating, Seamus... can it get any worse?

Hemmings talks about "putting the lights in". He was probably talking about putting a lit oil lamp in each of the emergency boats... 1 and 3.
He would not light any of the red lanterns... the evening Deck Steward would do that. Hemmings would simply see that the lamps were kept full and the wicks properly trimmed...as well as seeing that the lamp globe was kept free of soot (a real problem with improperly trimmed or almost finished wicks.)
 
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