In January of 2020, this author penned an article entitled The Mystery of March 22, 1909 and Titanic’s Keel-Blocks.1 The date of March 22nd is alternatively given as to the date for the laying of Titanic’s keel, which is more commonly accepted to have occurred nine days later on March 31st. To explain the date of March 22nd, it is often referred to as the date in which Titanic’s keel-blocks were laid, and it was the attempt of the previously mentioned article, to debunk such explanation. Without going into too much detail, all available data has Titanic’s keel-blocks being laid in January of 1909, which corresponds nicely with the timeline established in the paper for the period between the laying of Olympic’s keel-blocks2 and keel.3
Figure 1: Keel-Blocks
(Weekly Telegraph, October 3rd, 1908)
In the previously mentioned article, though debunking the said explanation, this author could not verify what the date of March 22nd stood for, and even made a hypothesis that showed it could merely have been clerical error. But was it? As with every instance for which there seems to be a lack of information, it is important to look at the data itself and to question it. The first question that needs to be answered is where do these two dates originate from?
The date for March 22nd comes from a Harland and Wolff record book held in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.4 A picture of the page to which pertains to Titanic, is reproduced here (Fig. 2), courtesy of Mark Doherty. The date of March 22nd can clearly be seen, and is the only date considered to be incorrect. The date of March 31st comes from another Harland and Wolff source entitled, ‘List of Particulars.’5 This author has never seen any image or reproduction of this source, and as such, unfortunately cannot provide any additional information.
Though both dates originate from sources linked to Harland and Wolff, it is the latter date to which history took hold, with the earliest publication to quote it, as far as this author has been able to find, being the 1911 Midsummer special edition of the Shipbuilder.6 It was subsequently repeated in the 1912 book, ‘The Loss of the Titanic, by Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley. As for March 22nd, this date seems to have become popular in the late 1990s (again as far as this author can find), possibly due to the document not being known until then, though this author cannot say for sure. However, even some of these publications from the 90s, in various later editions, recant the date of March 22nd in favor of March 31st.
Figure 3: This photo from the The Weekly Telegraph, October 3, 1908, is captioned as, "Above the cross-logs shown above have since been laid the keel blocks, and on those, of course, the keel and keel-plate will subsequently rest....The white X in the photograph shows the cross-logs lying in position."
But are there any publications closer to one or both dates that may help shed some light on the matter? In fact, there are, in the form of newspapers. The following list of newspapers7 gives the date of Titanic’s keel being laid as March 22nd, 1909.8
- Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Tuesday March 23, 1909: The keel of the Titanic, the second of the two 45,000 ton steamers, which Messrs. Harland and Wolff are constructing, for the White Star Line, was laid at Belfast yesterday.
- London Daily News, Tuesday March 23, 1909: Yesterday the keel of the Titanic, second of the two 45,000 ton steamers which Messrs. Harland and Wolff are constructing for the White Star Line, was laid at Belfast.
- Lloyd's List, Tuesday March 23, 1909: Messrs. Harland and Wolff yesterday at Belfast laid down the keel of the Titanic, the second of the big White Star liners which they are constructing.
- Manchester Evening News, Tuesday March 23, 1909: The keel of the Titanic, the second of the two 45,000-ton steamers which Messrs. Harland and Wolff are constructing for the White Star Line, was laid at Belfast yesterday.
- Western Times, Wednesday March 24, 1909: The keel of the "Titanic," the second of the two 45,000-ton steamers which Messrs. Harland and Wolff are constructing for the White Star Line, has been laid at Belfast.
- Irish Times, Friday March 26, 1909[ix]: Messrs. Harland and Wolff (?) engaged laying down the keel of (?) White Star Liner Titanic, a [sister to the] Olympic. The operations, which (?) extensive, have been carried out (?) week.
- Oxford Times, Saturday March 27, 1909: Messrs. Harland and Wolff on Monday at Belfast laid down the keel of the Titanic, the second of the two 45,000-ton White Star liners which they are constructing.
- Northern Constitution, Saturday March 27, 1909: The keel of the Titanic, the second of the two 45,000 ton steamers which Messrs. Harland and Wolff are constructing for the White Star Line, was laid at Belfast on Monday.
- The People, Sunday March 28, 1909: The keel of the Titanic, the second of the two 45,000-ton steamers which Messrs. Harland and Wolff are constructing for the White Star Line, has just been laid at Belfast.
What is possibly even more relevant, is the fact that this author could not find any newspaper articles on, or around, the date of March 31st10 that gives such date, or indication of such date, as to being when Titanic’s keel was laid. In fact, as far as this author could find, there is nothing to indicate any relation to this date and the Titanic in the press.
Figure 5: Keel of the Olympic with the Atlantic Transport liner Minnewaska in the background.
(Belfast Evening Telegraph, February 25, 1909)
So, what does this mean? Are all the Titanic books from the Shipbuilder to modern times mistaken? This author would be hesitant to say such, however, it was once stated by a well-respected Titanic historian, that, “…any information relating to Titanic, unless there are numerous references to the same fact - absolutely NOTHING is carved in stone.”11
- Subsequent research has shown that newspaper accounts agree with the date for Olympic’s keel-blocks being laid on September 10th, 1908, with the ‘official announcement’ being made the same day as the launch of the Laurentic.
- This author pointed out in his previous article, that some period sources give the date of December 15, 1908 as the date the Olympic’s keel was laid, while it is considered fact that the date was December 16th. The publication ‘The Engineer’ (December 3, 1909; pg. 585) would state that on the 15th a commencement was held. If a commencement were held, but the keel was not laid until the next day, could some publications have confused this commencement with the laying of Olympic’s keel? Oddly, this author could not find any newspapers on or immediately around either date that mentions anything of Olympic’s keel being laid.
- Titanic the Ship Magnificent, Vol. 1 Design and Construction, 5th Edition; Bruce Beveridge, Scott Andrews, Steve Hall, Daniel Klistorner, Art Braunschweiger; The History Press October 2016 (pg. 67)
- This author could not find any American newspapers around the two dates that mention the laying of Titanic’s keel.
- There are a few other newspapers, but the information is redundant. The ones shown here, though relaying mostly the same information in some cases, differ, even if slightly.
- This paper has portions that are unreadable.
- This author looked as far as three weeks past March 31st, 1909.
- This quote is in relation to a brief article about the Olympic. Though slightly used out of context, the meaning still applies. https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/community/threads/mystery-or-history.3750/