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Titanic: One of history’s greatest scoops landed by Belfast Telegraph

By Patrice Dougan

Published 06/04/2012

Reporting history: sub-editor Robert McComb
Reporting history: sub-editor Robert McComb
The telegram sent to the Belfast Telegraph newsroom alerting us of the disaster

Even a hundred years ago, the Belfast Telegraph was first with the news.

In 1912 this newspaper reported the sinking of the Titanic on the same day that the liner went down in the north Atlantic — an amazing feat for the time.

The Tele was the first newspaper in Europe to report the collision with an iceberg, and now the telegram sent to the newsroom alerting us of the disaster has gone up for auction.

The message — on Post Office paper and sent to our Royal Avenue office on April 15, 1912 — was received by sub-editor Robert ‘Bob’ McComb and described the famous luxury liner as ‘sinking in mid-Atlantic’.

The telegram reached the office in time to run the story that afternoon on the front of the second edition of the paper — just hours after the White Star Line vessel sank, in one of the greatest scoops in Irish newspaper history.

The telegram — which was given to legendary journalist McComb as a gift when he retired after 34 years at the Belfast Telegraph — is framed, and is being sold by his family who inherited it when he died in 1932.

It is expected to fetch up to £25,000 when it goes under the hammer on April 21.

The message, in truncated wording, reads: ‘White Star Liner Titanic wh. Reuters states is sinking in mid Atlantic as result of collision wi iceberg left Southampton last Wedy. On maiden voyage to New York. She has lgth of 882 feet wi ninety two feet breadth & was luxuriously fitted up wi especial regard to requirements o wealthy Americans.’

In the pre text message and internet age, the scale of the disaster was underestimated. The front page of the Belfast Evening Telegraph that day read: ‘The Titanic sinking. Collision with iceberg.

‘Disastrous maiden voyage.

‘Passengers transferred to lifeboats. No danger of loss of life.’

And it wasn’t until the next day that the scale of the disaster began to emerge more fully. That night thousands of people gathered outside the Belfast Telegraph building waiting for the names of survivors as they began to trickle through.

And now that first telegram, is at the centre of an auction of Titanic memorabilia at Whytes Auctioneers, Dublin.

For more information visit

Belfast Telegraph

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