Titanic 1912

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Overview of the Songs and Poems in this Category:

The items about the Titanic are of three types. Four are parlour ballads emphasising the heroism of the passengers and crew. Three are poems printed as broadsides which take a more realistic view of the tragedy. And one is an Irish song from the oral tradition that emphasises the fact that many of the passengers were Irish emigrants.

'Nearer My God to Thee'
Several of the items repeat the story that "Nearer My God to Thee." {Roud 2881} was played and/or sung as the vessel sank, as some survivors reported. For example, Violet Jessop said in her 1934 account of the disaster that she had heard the hymn being played; Archibald Gracie IV, however, emphatically denied it in his own account, written soon after the sinking, and wireless operator Harold Bride said that he had heard "Autumn", by which he may have meant Archibald Joyce's then-popular waltz "Songe d'Automne" (Autumn Dream).
The ship's band leader, who went down with the ship (as did all other musicians on board), liked the hymn and had wished to have it performed at his funeral.
George Orrell, the bandmaster of the rescue ship, RMS Carpathia, who spoke with survivors, related: "The ship's band in any emergency is expected to play to calm the passengers. After the Titanic struck the iceberg the band began to play bright music, dance music, comic songs - anything that would prevent the passengers from becoming panic-stricken... various awe-stricken passengers began to think of the death that faced them and asked the bandmaster to play hymns. The one which appealed to all was 'Nearer My God to Thee'."
"Nearer, My God, to Thee" was sung by the doomed crew and passengers of the SS Valencia as it sank off the Canadian coast in 1906, which may be the source of the Titanic legend. [i]

Be British!
The phrase "Be British" - occurring in several items - is of uncertain origin. It may have been in common use before the Titanic disaster but no instance of it has been found in any earlier song or poem.

The Parlour ballads (Bar016; 114; 603 and 770) all emphasise the willingness of the men to sacrifice their lives to save women and children - and attributes their bravery to their Britishness. They also assert that passengers of all classes shared a common fate. 'The Ship That Will Never Return' going so far as to say that "rich man and poor man went down side by side / Where Rank made no difference for Death levelled all" which was an outright lie but which suited the social and political status quo.

The Broadside Poems (Bar067; 653; and 762) while agreeing with the heroic tone of the Parlour Ballads take a more realistic view of the likely reaction of the doomed passengers. Bar762~S.S.Titanic is the only song to imply that that the ship owners bore some responsibility for the disaster

The Irish Traditional Song (Bar595) is the only one to mention the Irish emigrants on board.


All the songs here date from the period immediately following the wreck. A search of the British Newspaper Archive suggests that the first newspaper reports in Britain date from 16th April, four days after the disaster. This impression of the disaster was published in the Aberdeen Press and Journal five days after the sinking. [ii]


Historical Background

The story of the Titanic has been exhaustively discussed and will not be discussed here.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nearer,_My_God,_to_Thee (accessed 03Mar21)
[ii] Aberdeen Press and Journal 20 April 1912 p5


3 across Articles in this Category: click a link

Ship That will Never Return

bar603: Dates 1912~1912|

Falsely claims that rich and poor had equal chance of survival.

Titanic Song

bar595: Dates 1912~----|

An Irish view of the tragedy

Be British

bar114: Dates 1912~1912|

Celebrates the bravery of the men who sacrificed their lives.

Wreck of the Titanic

bar067: Dates 1912~1912|

Mainly about the reaction of the passengers.

Band Was Playing as the Ship Went Down

bar770: Dates 1912~1912|

The self-sacrifice of male passengers and crew

Doom of the Titanic

bar653: Dates ~|

Concentrates on the communications with the Carpathia

S. S. Titanic

bar762: Dates ~1912|

"Epic Poem" telling the story of the fatal voyage

Stand To Your Post

bar016: Dates 1912~1912|

Emphasises the heroism o the crew.

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