Building of the Titanic

Shan Bullock


Happily, there is no need in these pages to attempt any minute estimate of the share Andrews had in building the Titanic. Such a task, were it feasible, would offer difficulties no less testing than those met courageously by half the world’s journalists when attempting to describe the wonders of that ill-fated vessel—her length that of a suburban street, her height the equivalent of a seventeen story building, her elevator cars coursing up and down as through a city hotel, her millionaire suites, her luxuries of squash racquet courts, Turkish and electric bath establishments, salt water swimming pools, glass enclosed sun parlours, verandah cafes, and all. Probably no one man, was solely responsible for the beautiful thing. She was an evolution rather than a creation, triumphant product of numberless experiments, a perfection embodying who knows what endeavour, from this a little, from that a little more, of human brain and hand and imagination. How many ships were built, how many lost; how many men lived, wrought, and died that the Titanic might be?

So much being said, it may however be said further, that to her building Andrews gave as much of himself as did any other man. All his experience of ships, gained in the yards, on voyages, by long study, was in her; all his deep knowledge, too, gathered during twenty years and now applied in a crowning effort with an ardour that never flagged. It was by the Titanic, “her vast shape slowly assuming the beauty and symmetry which are but a memory to-day,” that Mr. Childers met Andrews and noted in him those qualities of zest, vigour, power and simplicity, which impressed him deeply. Yet Andrews then was no whit more enthusiastic, we feel sure, than on any other day of the great ship’s fashioning, from the time of her conception slowly down through the long process of calculating, planning, designing, building, fitting, until at last she sailed proudly away to the applause of half the world. Whatever share others had in her, his at least cannot be gainsaid.As Lord Pirrie’s Assistant he had done his part by way of shaping into tangible form the projects of her owners. As Chief Designer and Naval Architect he planned her complete. As Managing Director he saw her grow up, frame by frame, plate by plate, day after day throughout more than two years; watched her grow as a father watches his child grow, assiduously, minutely, and with much the same feelings of parental pride and affection. For Andrews this was his ship, whatever his hand in her: and in that she was “efficiently designed and constructed” as is now established* his fame as a Shipbuilder may well rest. As surely none other did, he knew her inside and out, her every turn and art, the power and beauty of her, from keel to truck—knew her to the last rivet. And because he knew the great ship so well, as a father knows the child born to him, therefore to lose her was heart-break.

On Tuesday morning, April 2nd, 1912, at 6 a.m., the Titanic left Belfast, in ideal weather, and was towed down Channel to complete her trials. On board was Andrews, representing the Firm. Her compasses being adjusted, the ship steamed towards the Isle of Man, and after a satisfactory run returned to the Lough about 6 p.m. Throughout the whole day Andrews was busy, receiving representatives of the owners, inspecting and superintending the work of internal completion, and taking notes. “Just a line,” he wrote to Mrs. Andrews, “to let you know that we got away this morning in fine style and have had a very satisfactory trial. We are getting more ship-shape every hour, but there is still a great deal to be done.”

Having received letters and transferred workmen, the ship left immediately for Southampton, Andrews still on board and with him, amongst others, the eight brave men from the Island Yard who perished with him. They were:

William Henry Marsh Parr, Assistant Manager Electrical Department.

Roderick Chisholm, Ships’ Draughtsman.

Anthony W. Frost, Outside Foreman Engineer.

Robert Knight, Leading Hand Engineer.

William Campbell, Joiner Apprentice.

Alfred Fleming Cunningham, Fitter Apprentice.

Frank Parkes, Plumber Apprentice.

Ennis Hastings Watson, Electrician Apprentice.

During the whole of Wednesday, the 3rd, until midnight, when the ship arrived at Southampton, Andrews was ceaselessly employed going round with representatives of the owners and of the Firm, in taking notes and preparing reports of work still to be done. All the next day, from an early hour, he spent with managers and foremen putting work in hand.

In the evening he wrote to Mrs Andrews: “I wired you this morning of our safe arrival after a very satisfactory trip. The weather was good and everyone most pleasant. I think the ship will clean up all right before sailing on Wednesday”: and then he mentions that the doctors refused to allow Lord Pirrie to make the maiden voyage.

Thereafter from day to day, until the date of sailing, he was always busy, taking the owners round ship, interviewing engineers, officials, agents, managers, sub-contractors, discussing with principals the plans of new ships, and superintending generally the work of completion.

“Through the various days that the vessel lay at Southampton,” writes his Secretary, Mr. Thompson Hamilton, “Mr. Andrews was never for a moment idle. He generally left his hotel about 8.30 for the offices, where he dealt with his correspondence, then went on board until 6.30, when he would return to the offices to sign letters. During the day I took to the ship any urgent papers and he always dealt with them no matter what his business.” Nothing he allowed to interfere with duty. He was conscientious to the minutest detail. “He would himself put in their place such things as racks, tables, chairs, berth ladders, electric fans, saying that except he saw everything right he could not be satisfied.”

One of the last letters he wrote records serious trouble with the restaurant galley hot press, and directs attention to a design for reducing the number of screws in stateroom hat hooks.

Another of earlier date, in the midst of technicalities about cofferdams and submerged cylinders on the propeller boss, expresses agreement with the owner that the colouring of the pebble dashing on the private promenade decks was too dark, and notes a plan for staining green, the wicker furniture on one side of the vessel.

Withal, his thought for others never failed. Now he is arranging for a party to view the ship; now writing to a colleague, “I have always in mind a week’s holiday due to you from last summer and shall be glad if you will make arrangements to take these on my return, as, although you may not desire to have them, I feel sure that a week’s rest will do you good.”

On the evening of Sunday, the 7th, he wrote to Mrs. Andrews giving her news of his movements and dwelling upon the plans he had in mind for the future.

On the 9th he wrote: “The Titanic is now about complete and will I think do the old Firm credit to-morrow when we sail.”

On the 10th he was aboard at 6 o’clock, and thence until the hour of sailing he spent in a long final inspection of the ship. She pleased him. The old Firm was sure of its credit. Just before the moorings were cast off he bade goodbye to Mr. Hamilton and the other officials. He seemed in excellent health and spirits. His last words were, “Remember now and keep Mrs. Andrews informed of any news of the vessel.”

The Titanic, carrying 2,201 souls, left Southampton punctually at noon on April 10th. There was no departure ceremony. On her way from dock she passed the Majestic and the Philadelphia, both giants of twenty years ago and now by contrast with Leviathan humbled to the stature of dwarfs. About a mile down the water she passed Test Quay, where the Oceanic and the New York lay berthed. Her wash caused the New York to break her moorings and drift into the Channel. As the Titanic was going dead slow danger of a collision was soon averted, “but,” as Andrews wrote that evening, “the situation was decidedly unpleasant.”

From Cherbourg he wrote again to Mrs. Andrews: “We reached here in nice time and took on board quite a number of passengers. The two little tenders looked well, you will remember we built them about a year ago. We expect to arrive at Queenstown about 10.30 a.m. to-morrow. The weather is fine and everything shaping for a good voyage. I have a seat at the Doctor’s table.”

One more letter was received from him by Mrs. Andrews, and only one, this time from Queenstown, and dated April 11th. Everything on board was going splendidly, he said, and he expressed his satisfaction at receiving so much kindness from everyone.

Here all direct testimony ceases. Proudly, in eye of the world, the Titanic sailed Westward from the Irish coast; then for a while disappeared; only to reappear in a brief scene of woefullest tragedy round which the world stayed mute. If, as is almost certain, a chronicle of the voyage was made by Andrews, both it and the family letters he wrote now are gone with him. But fortunately, we have other evidence, plentiful and well-attested, and on such our story henceforward runs.

The steward, Henry E. Etches, who attended him says, that during the voyage, right to the moment of disaster, Andrews was constantly busy. With his workmen he went about the boat all day long, putting things right and making note of every suggestion of an imperfection. Afterwards in his stateroom, which is described as being full of charts, he would sit for hours, making calculations and drawings for future use.

Others speak of his great popularity with both passengers and crew. “I was proud of him,” writes the brave stewardess, Miss May Sloan, of Belfast, whose testimony is so invaluable. “He came from home and he made you feel on the ship that all was right.” And then she adds how because of his big, gentle, kindly nature everyone loved him. “It was good to hear his laugh and have him near you. If anything went wrong it was always to Mr. Andrews one went. Even when a fan stuck in a stateroom, one would say, ‘Wait for Mr. Andrews, he’ll soon see to it,’ and you would find him settling even the little quarrels that arose between ourselves. Nothing came amiss to him, nothing at all. And he was always the same, a nod and a smile or a hearty word whenever he saw you and no matter what he was at.”

Two of his table companions, Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. Dick, of Calgary, Alberta, also tell how much they came to love Andrews because of his character, and how good it was to see his pride in the ship, “but upon every occasion, and especially at dinner on Sunday evening, he talked almost constantly about his wife, little girl, mother and family, as well as of his home.”

This pre-occupation with home and all there, was noticed too by Miss Sloan. Sometimes, between laughs, he would suddenly fall grave and glance, you might say, back over a shoulder towards Dunallan and Ardara far off near Strangford Lough.

“I was talking to him on the Friday night as he was going into dinner,” writes Miss Sloan, in a letter dated from the Lapland on April 27th. “The dear old Doctor Was waiting for him on the stair-landing, and calling him by his Christian name, Tommy. Mr. Andrews seemed loth to go, he wanted to talk about home; he was telling me his father was ill and Mrs. Andrews not so well. I was congratulating him on the beauty and perfection of the ship; he said the part he did not like was that the Titanic was taking us further away from home every hour. I looked at him and his face struck me as having a very sad expression.”

One other glimpse we have of him, then in that brief time of triumph, whilst yet the good ship of his which everyone praised was speeding Westwards, “in perfectly clear and fine weather,” towards the place where “was no moon, the stars were out, and there was not a cloud in the sky.” For more than a week he had been working at such pressure, that by the Friday evening many saw how tired as well as sad he looked: but by the Sunday evening, when his ship was as perfect, so he said, as brains could make her, he was himself again. “I saw him go in to dinner,” said Miss Sloan, “he was in good spirits, and I thought he looked splendid.”

An hour or two afterwards he went aft to thank the baker for some special bread he had made for him; then back to his stateroom, where apparently he changed into working clothes, and sat down to write.

He was still writing, it would seem, when the Captain called him.

* Report of Mersey Commission, pp. 61 and 71.

Dr. W. F. N. O’Loughlin, Senior Surgeon of the White Star Line, a close friend of Andrews and his companion on many voyages. Some lines which he helped to write have been quoted. Soon after the ship struck he said to Miss Sloan—“child, things are very bad,” and went to his death bravely. His Assistant, Dr. T. E. Simpson, son of an eminent Belfast physician, and himself a physician of much promise, died with him.

Report of Mersey Commission, p. 29.