The story of RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic which sank in the North Atlantic on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg on 14 April 1912 with the loss of the lives of 1500 of the 2200 people on board, is commemorated in museums in several countries. She sailed from Southampton and called at Cherbourg and Cobh en route for the United States. She belonged to the White Star Company, whose office block in Liverpool, a distinguished building designed by Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) still stands. The story of the great ship is told at Titanic Belfast, close to the shipyard of Harland & Wolff where she was built. The displays are housed within a distinctive building designed by the architect Erick Kuhne (1951-2016), alongside which, berthed in the Hamilton Dry Dock, is the 1272-ton SS Nomadic, the last surviving White Star ship, which was once a tender ship to the Titanic, ferrying passengers between the liner and the shore.
The sinking of RMS Titanic became a cause of scandal. Her owners, the White Star Company, but not her builders, had claimed that she was unsinkable. The number of lifeboats was reduced on the grounds that too many spoiled the appearance of the ship. The displays show the contrast between the first-class areas which accommodated some of the wealthiest people in the world, and the steerage quarters which were largely occupied by emigrants from all over Europe seeking their fortunes in the United States. Steerage passengers were prevented from escaping through the first-class areas which seemed to contemporary commentators as symbolic of the British class system. The displays include images from the wreck of the Titanic, and numerous artefacts relating to the White Star Company, but for ethical reasons no objects from the wreck are displayed.
There are also displays illustrating the fiercely competitive nature of the liner trade across the Atlantic and the history of shipbuilding in Belfast. The former includes the stories of Titanic’s two sister ships. The 46,500 ton RMS Olympic was launched in 1910 and served as a troopship in the First World War. The merger of the White Star line with Cunard in 1934 released funds for the building of the ship that became RMS Queen Mary, and Olympic was scrapped in 1936-37 after making 257 round trips across the Atlantic. RMS Britannic was launched in 1914, was adapted as a hospital ship after the outbreak of war in 1914, and was sunk in the Aegean Sea on 21 November 1916.