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The Titanic and The Herald

George Lansbury

George Lansbury's book The Miracle of Fleet Street: The Story of the Daily Herald has just reappeared after being out of print for many years (price £15 from

This short excerpt records how the Herald broke the news about what really happened when the Titanic went down.

The Daily Herald's report of the Leeds Convention of June 1917, entitled British Labour and the Russian Revolution, is also available from Spokesman, price £3.95.

As the first issue of the Daily Herald went to press on April 15, 1912, the Titanic was sinking. The ship had been pronounced unsinkable. On this first voyage it was trying to make a speed record with the Chairman of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, on board. At first faked messages of 'all's well' were sent out, but it was soon realized that 1,300 persons were drowned. As soon as it realized this, the Daily Herald struck a distinctive note. W. R. Titterton was sent to Southampton to meet the rescued seamen and passengers. On April 18 the following appeared: 'Mr Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line, has been saved … Why is it that so few of the steerage passengers have been saved?'

It was not till the 26th that the full story was known, and then, under the 'streamer': 'Women and Children Last!' the Daily Herald published a biting analysis. It pointed out the 121 steerage women and children were saved, 134 were drowned; 246 first and second class women and children were saved, and only twenty drowned; fifty-eight of the 173 first-class men passengers were saved. More than half the steerage children were drowned. The following biting words were printed: 'Where were those fifty-three steerage children, Mr Ismay, when you saved yourself?' The White Star Line's profits were pilloried as follows: 'They have paid 30 per cent to their shareholders and they have sacrificed 51 per cent of the steerage children. They have gone to sea criminally under-equipped with means of life-saving; they have neglected boat drill; they have filled their boat with cooks and valets, with pleasure gardens and luxurious lounges; they have done all this to get big profits and please the first-class passengers.

And when the catastrophe came they hastened to get their first-class passengers and their Chairman safely away. Fifty-three children remained to die. They were steerage passengers! One hundred and thirty-four women and children were slain. They were steerage passengers!'

Anticipating what was to come, the Daily Herald denounced firstly the Board of Trade for its criminal negligence, and the appointment of Lord Mersey (previously named Bigham) to head the British Inquiry, which was delayed and dragged out interminably. It recalled Lord Mersey's behaviour in the Penruddock case: 'That was a case of infamous cruelty to a child. The cruelty was undoubted, the infamy glaring. The sentence was nominal. The defendant was a woman of good station. A first-class passenger … Here is a case of steerage children dead and a rich company on its defence. What is likely to be Lord Mersey's judgment here?'