Unsinkable Thinkable – The Titanic, The Olympic & The Britannic

Early in the morning of 15th April 1912, the unthinkable happened to the unsinkable, it sank. The maiden voyage of the White Star Lines Fleet ship “Titanic” was forebode as a disaster even before this trip.   Everyone knows more or less the story of the sinking, so I am taking a different tack on its origins, construction, associations and sinister rumors, which abound regarding the lesser-known aspects of the White Stars 3 Olympic class ships.


In 1907 a discussion was had between two very successful J’s, the White Star Lines chairman J. Bruce Ismay and the American financier J. Pierpont Morgan.  Ismays Company was owned by Pierponts Mother Company and as result both were losing out to the faster passenger ships of the Cunard line, notably the Lusitania (my grand uncle actually went down with this ship in 1915).  Instead of trying to compete for speed they changed the playing field and opted for size.  Three ships were to be constructed in a new Olympic size class, which would offer the most sumptuous luxury crossing of the Atlantic to those who could afford it.

This tender went out to the Belfast shipbuilding firm of Harland & Wolff who had been building ships since 1861.  No expense was to be spared in the most innovative construction and fittings; 3 million pounds sterling was allocated for the first two of the three vessels.  Everything about the magnitude of these ships was innovative, the two slips to release them had to be specifically made from three regular slips.   They all employed a combination of reciprocating engines with a centre low-pressure turbine, as opposed to the steam turbines used on the Cunard vessels.

Hull 400 – The Olympic Ship

The Olympic ship was the lead ship of this triumvirate and construction began three months earlier than the Titanic to accommodate the pressure the shipyards would be under from such an order.   It was hull no. 400 built by Harland & Wolff.  She was launched on October 20th 1910 with an id no.131346.  Her maiden voyage began on June 14th 1911 at which time she was the largest ocean liner in the world.

Her first mishap occurred on September 20th of the same year when she collided with the British warship HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight causing two of her compartments to flood (a bleak forewarning perhaps).  At the time the ship was under the command of Captain Edward Smith, one of the most experienced seafaring men in the world.  He later transferred to the Titanic.  Violet Jessop was also on board as a stewardess.

The Olympic had an illustrious career being the scene of mutiny in 1912 and the only merchant ship to engage and sink a German U Boat during WW1.   Being identical to the Titanic it attracted many passengers to sail as a way of vicariously experiencing the voyage of its ill-fated sister ship until it was finally scrapped in 1937.

Hull 401 – The Titanic Ship

The Titanic ship was the second ship to be completed albeit a little later than originally planned (due to the mishaps of the Olympic).  It was yard no. 401.   She was launched on May 31st 1911 with an id no. 131428.  The mythical id no 3909 0N never existed (NO POPE backwards).  Her maiden voyage began on April 10th 1912 at which time she became the largest ocean liner in the world.  It sailed out of Southampton (England) to Cherbourg (France), to Cobh (Ireland) with its final destination being New York (USA).

Her mishaps were numerous prior to this maiden voyage.  During construction, 6 workers died, 246 injuries were recorded, and 28 of them “severe”, such as severed limbs.  On the launch day a piece of wood fell from the ship and killed a worker.  There was a near collision with the docked S.S New York as the suction snapped the tie ropes from its mooring.  Tugboats acted quickly to avert any danger.  It is ironic that it never reached either the ship New York or the port of New York.

She sank when five of her sixteen watertight compartments flooded when they were ripped asunder by a glancing iceberg (4 and it would have stayed afloat).  There have been some suggestions that if the other compartments had been opened it would have staggered the listing rather than let the water flood in from the top.

The Titanic had the capacity to carry 64 wooden lifeboats with a capacity for 4000 occupants but the White Star Line decided that 14 lifeboats (65 people) and 4 collapsibles (47 people) and 2 cutters (40 people) would suffice (accommodating 1178 people).  Board of Trade regulations stipulated that all vessels over 10,000 tons had to carry 16 lifeboats with a capacity for 990 occupants.  Out of the 2, 224 people on board only 710 survived partly due to the lifeboats being launched only partially full.  Those that foundered in the water were not due to a lack of lifejackets but rather hypothermia.  The captain of the Titanic Edward Smith went down with his ship.  Violet Jessop was on board as a stewardess and survived.

Hull 433 – The Britannic Ship

The Britannic ship was the final Olympic class liner to be built, partly due to cost, WW1 and new safety improvements being implemented as a result of the Titanic sinking.  She was launched in February 26th 1914 but never got to make her maiden voyage as a luxury liner.  WW1 interrupted her fitting and she was requisitioned on 13 November 1915 as a hospital ship from her storage location at Belfast. Repainted white with large red crosses and a horizontal green stripe, she was renamed HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) and armed with four anti torpedo guns. After completing five successful voyages to and from the Middle East transporting the sick and wounded.  The Britannica was steaming at full speed into the Kea channel with 1066 people on board when it was hit by a torpedo on November 21st 1916 taking only 30 lives.  It was the largest ship lost during WW1.  Violet Jessop was on board as a nurse and survived.

Ships are referred to in the feminine because they are traditionally the name of the boat’s owner loved one (wife, daughter, mother). It has also been surmised that all ships were once dedicated to goddesses.  If they were still dedicated to the female deities they may not have sunk, perhaps Violet would have been a lucky name.  Interestingly enough none of the three vessels were ever christened.  Whether the new or old Gods were displeased with the White Star Line or a mixture of arrogance and inadequacy were the cause of the failure of the first Olympic class liners we will always surmise but never really know.  One thing is for sure you cannot avoid your fate, whatever it may be.

Pearse Fee



The Birth of Cinema – A History of Film

The History of Film

Throughout history people have claimed to have invented and reinvented everything.  I personally invented water but I don’t like to brag about it.  If you have ever stood at a bar waiting to order and the bar person has taken someone else’s order before you then you can get a sense of prospective on how unfair life can be.  Now multiply that by a google and you can see how inventors feel when someone else got to the patent office first (supposedly).

On 19th March 1895, two French brothers unknowingly made history by people watching with a new device, which they personally under rated as a popular medium.  Their achievement has had a profound effect upon every aspect of how we perceive governments, each other and ourselves through the glamour of the movies.  There were as always some pretty close runners up so let us applaud them in this article.

Everyone in this blog and countless others not mentioned have all contributed significantly to the subject examined.  I simply draw attention to a few and hopefully inspire others to be inquisitive on their own.


California Connection 1878 – Etienne Jules Marey

Etienne Jules Marey was an instrumental innovator in early cinematography.  His published “La Machine Animale” (1873) prompted California governor and horse owner Leland Stanford to employ Englishman Edward Muybridge’s photographic investigation of a horse in motion (1877). This is now lost, but his second experiment of “Sallie Gardner at a gallop” in Palo Alto, California is arguably the first motion picture which employed 12 individually triggered stereoscopic cameras in 1878.

This was viewed through a zoopraxograph and had its first public viewing 15 years later during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  As the public had to pay for this it is in essence the first commercial movie theater.

Death Through The Lens 1888 – Louis Le Prince

The first single lens camera celluloid film was used in Yorkshire, England in 1888 by French man Louis Aime Augustin.  Known as Louis Le Prince he had as a child studied under the tutelage of his father’s friend Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (Daguerrotype).   During a trip to the USA in the early 1880’s he built and patented his first invention, a camera that used sixteen lenses.  Although the camera was capable of ‘capturing’ motion, it needed adjusting to prevent the image from jumping.  On his return to Leeds, England he built and then patented, a single-lens camera.  It was on 14 October 1888 that he shot what would become known as the world’s first motion picture “Round Hay Garden Scene” using a single lens camera.  He also shot several other movies that were projected on a screen in Leeds, making it the first motion picture exhibition, but they were not distributed to the general public.

The same year Le Prince was granted an American dual patent on a 16-lens contraption combining a motion picture camera and projector.   However, a single-lens type patent was refused in the USA because of an interfering patent.  Interestingly though there was no such opposition a few years later when American Thomas Edison applied for the same patent.  This may be due to the disappearance of Le Prince on September 16th 1890, which could be a coincidence.  Unfortunately such patent battles mar motion pictures early history in the United States and Europe.

Birth of Cinema – The Lumber Brothers

The French brothers Auguste  & Louis Lumiere patented the cinematographe on February 13 1895.  Even though they did not invent the term they obtained it from the unfortunate Emile Bouly’s lack of finances to pay the patent fees.  He had held the patent from February 12th 1892.

The first footage being recorded on March 19th of workers leaving the factory was titled “Exiting the Lumiere Factory”, (46 seconds) it was privately screened two days later.  It was publicly screened on December 28, 1895, at Salon Indien du Grand Cafe in Paris along with the first comedy ”The Gardener” (49 seconds) and several other shorts. This screening is considered by film historians to be the true birth of the cinema as a commercial medium.  Ironically the Lumiere brothers placed no great faith in the future of cinema and refused to sell their camera to other filmmakers.  They preferred to concentrate on photography.  With a name like Lumiere you would think they would have been brighter.

Father of Special Effects – George Melies

The first horror movie ever made was ”Le Manoir du Diablo” (1896) by George Melies.  Affectionately known as the “Father of Special Effects” it is obvious why George Melies has been given this accolade when you view his wonderfully mesmerizing “Un homme de tetes”  (1898).

Melies was an illusionist and early filmmaker famous for leading technical and narrative developments in early cinema. He was a prolific innovator of special effects, accidentally discovering the substitution stop trick in 1896.  He was one of the first filmmakers to make use of dissolves; multiple exposures, time-lapse photography and hand color in his work. He is also referred to as the first “Cinemagician” due to his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through the camera.  He is also the maker of the famous “Trip to the Moon”.


Regardless of who claims the accolade of being the father of cinema the Lumiere brothers combination device of a camera, printer and projector has to be considered the most worthy.   Other illustrious contenders such as Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique (perforated projector), Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope (viewing), William Dickson’s vitascope (producing), Kazimerz Proszynski’s Pleograph (photographing & projecting) and the Sklandanowsky brothers Bioskope (projector) have not been forgotten or disregarded.  All have their respective place in history and it is merely conjecture as to who is right.

This does not even bring us up to the 20th century, which sees even more fantastic developments within the industry from sound, to Technicolor and on to animatronics.

It is ironic that the earliest form of cinematography would have its roots in the same region as it is now headquartered very far away from the early innovators.   It is quite poignant also that the biggest winner at this year’s academy award was based on a cinematographic style, which was deemed obsolete over 80 years ago.   Whoever was first let us celebrate the endeavors of all who have strived to make a difference in the movie industry from the A of Augustin to the Z of up and coming film maker and good friend Zach Wright.

Pearse Fee


Nutmeg for New York

New York History

On February 2nd 1653 New Amsterdam received municipal rights thus becoming a city.   We at present affectionately refer to it as New York.  The original span  (acquired by a wily Dutchman, Peter Minuit) was only a section of Lower Manhattan, but has throughout its tumultuous past been known as Fort Amsterdam, New Orange, Capitol City, Gotham and of course the Big Apple.

Purchase Price

During May 24th 1626 in order to legally safeguard the settlers’ investments, possessions and farms on Manhattan island, Minuit negotiated the “purchase” of Manhattan from the Lenape band of Manahatta Indians for 60 Dutch guilders worth of trade goods, which equates to just over $1000 today. Another popular version in this story of Manhattan claims that Minuit actually purchased the island from the wrong tribe (the Canarsee actually living in Brooklyn) while the true local people, the Weckquaesgeeks, were excluded from the transaction. This transaction is often viewed as beneficial only for the Dutch (the trading benefits were great for both parties) however it was not viewed this way at the time. This was the first legal change of name and possession for New York.

Fort Amsterdam

When originally settled in 1624 the area was claimed as a Dutch colony (New Netherlands).  To ensure its survival a fort was built to house the new inhabitants and protect them from harsh conditions and the Mohawk wars in the north.  This fortified town at the south end of Manhattan became New Amsterdam.

New York

Ceded by the Dutch Director General Peter Stuyvesant in 1664 to British warships it was renamed in June of 1665 in honor of the Duke of York and Albany.  The Dutch brokered a deal with the English that sought to guarantee New Netherlanders liberties, including religious freedom along with the nutmeg negotiation.  In 1667 when peace was brokered in the Treaty of Breda the Dutch were granted the tiny spice island of Run in the Banda islands, rich in nutmeg (and consequently mace) as long as they did not press their claim to New York.  A great deal for the British until you realize the wily Dutch once more obtained millions in the highly prized nutmeg.

In July 1673 the Dutch occupied the city and renamed it New Orange, but by November 1674 it was back to New York.  Ironically the Duke it was named after, reigning as James II of England would cede his crown and country to the Prince of Orange within 25 years and broker no deal in return.

Capitol City

New York was the U.S capital under the Articles of Confederation (1785 to 1788) and remained the first U.S capital under the Constitution until 1790.  It was an obvious choice due to its proximity to Europe, its naturally deep harbor and defenses started by the Dutch and re-enforced by the English.  Again, New York changed hands but not name.


Gotham derives from an article by Washington Irvine (in 1807) that lampoons New York culture and politics as being base and uncouth.  Gat (Goat) ham (Home) is a place in Nottinghamshire England, which means homestead where goats are kept (in Middle English).

The Five Boroughs of New York

Manhattan named after the Manahatta Indian bands (Lenape & Canarsee) who had inhabited this land prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Brooklyn named after a Dutch town called “Breukelen”. The Dutch people established the city in 1634.

The Bronx named after Jonas Bronck, a farmer, brokered a treaty in 1642 with the Weckquaesgeek Indians.

Queens named for Catherine of Braganza, the Queen of England (Charles II wife).

Staten Island or states island (Staaten Eylandt) was named in honor of the Dutch parliament known as the Staten General in 1609 by the ironically English explorer Henry Hudson sailing for the Dutch.

In 1898, New York (Manhattan), Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island all merged together forming Greater New York, which is the total area of the city we know today.

The Big Apple

New York’s most famous nickname is the Big Apple. Several theories abound, so you can decide which suits the cities profile best on this one, if any.

It was first popularized in the 1920s by a New York Morning Telegraph sports writer by the name of John J Fitzgerald.  He references it but does not give its origins.  The Big Apple was referred to (by a disgruntled Kansas City representative) as a city that received a disproportionate percentage of the national sap (regarding government funding).

Having been previously known as New Orange the loyal English would refer to it as an apple to simulate the stark difference between the English apple and the Dutch orange and further their claim to the territory. (The differences between apples and oranges)

In the early 19th century a Quaker nurseryman Jonathan Jessop (also Jessup) developed a variety of apple on his springwood farm near York, Pennsylvania.  Although lopsided it was tart and sweet with resilience for freshness and tasted better over time, a bit like the city itself.

Claimed by all and owned by none the myths surrounding the city that never sleeps are as varied and enigmatic as the inhabitants of the boroughs themselves.  Throughout its existence in any name it has been both reviled and attracted by the rich and poor alike, it accepts everything and everyone.  Still, it is ingrained in the heart of history by all as NEW YORK.

by Pearse Fee


Raise a glass to Prohibition


What is Prohibition?

On January 16th 1919, Prohibition was instituted with ratification of the 18th Amendment to the States Constitution.  Its primary objection was to prohibit the “…manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States…”  Congress enforced this law by passing the “Volstead Act” on October 28, of the same year and the legislation was enforced one year later to the day.  Major influences in its induction were evangelical Protestant churches, (Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Disciples and Congregationalists), Womens Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the Anti Saloon League (first world war prohibition, political corruption of saloons, reduce domestic violence at home).

Although alcohol consumption did initially decline, there was a dramatic rise in organized crime that fuelled the demand for good and bad alcohol alike.  Since the twenties were a boom economic period there were innovative ways around prohibition and money was in abundance as were, the lack of morals.  Casting aside the restrictions and sorrow concordant with the first world war a very Carpe Diem attitude was developed which gave rise to innovative and experimental music, dress styles and inventions which, although synonymous with the roaring 20’s are still with us today.

Jazz Music:  

Even though jazz music had been around since the 1890’s it had been largely localized (New Orleans, Memphis, St Louis & other southern cities) as ragtime.   Social barriers had crumbled during the Great War and new values were transported with returning dough boys from a newly liberated Europe.  The jazz age took off in lively illegal venues of an era when popular music included current dance and novelty songs, and show tunes.   Due to its denigrating disregard for social conformity and physical proximity jazz started to get a reputation as being immoral promoting the new decadent values of the 1920’s.


The slang use of the word describing a “young woman”, supposedly refers to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly, although earlier references are abundant in use with prostitution.  Origins are most likely found in Paris during the socially and politically turbulent period of Liberalism during and after WW1.  During the 1920s the term applied to a “new breed” of young woman who wore short skirts, bobbed hair, listened to Jazz music, and flaunted their disdain for socially acceptable behavior.  Flappers were considered brash for their smoking, drinking, immoral sexual proclivity, wearing excessive makeup and the provocative flapper dress.

Bathtub Gin:

The term first appeared in 1920, in reference to the poor-quality alcohol that was being made, but not because it was made in a bath.  Gin was the predominant drink of the 20’s and, as a result, many variations were created by mixing cheap alcohol with water, extracts and flavorings (juniper berry juice and glycerin).  The term refers to the fact that the usual tall bottle could not be filled up using a sink tap but, rather had to use the bath tap, as well as sometimes distilled from and fermented in a bathtub.

Many other cocktails owe their existence to bathtub gin, as they were also created in order to mask its awful taste. Concoctions such as the Barbary Coast were born from desperation (scotch and gin) during Prohibition, along with the Colony cocktail (for the rich) and the Bees knees are prime examples of results from the cocktail shaker.

The Speakeasy (AKA Blind Pig):

Supposedly the term “speakeasy” originated in Pennsylvania during the 1880’s as a result of the Brooks High-License Act , decreasing the number of licensed bars but causing an increase in illegally operated ones.  Kate Hester, who ran a saloon for years outside of Pittsburgh refused to pay the new license fee and wanted to keep from drawing attention to her illegal business.  When her customers got too rowdy, she would hush them by whispering, “Speak easy, boys! Speak Easy!”

The more popular theory (albeit incorrect) is that during prohibition barkeeps would encourage the ordering of illicit liquids in his establishment by patrons in a hushed or speak easy volume, especially since many saloons were underground.

The Blind Pig name supposedly comes from a slang term used to refer to police officers who had been bribed to ignore illegal establishments in the days of prohibition.

The Real Mc Coy:

During this era, it was common for rumrunner captains to water down alcohol or re-label bottles in order to increase profits.  One American rumrunner captain and boat builder, William S Mc Coy, became famous for never watering his booze, selling only the best real top-quality products.  As a result, McCoy according to some is the source of the term “the Real McCoy”.  Other origins pre date this suggestion but few suit it as well.

However, Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression. The repeal movement ironically was started by a wealthy female Republican, Pauline Sabin,. The Repeal of Prohibition in the United States was accomplished with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5, 1933.   Perhaps we should raise a glass on this date!

Pearse Fee


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