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Remarkable moment Titanic was first launched into Belfast Lough in stunning unseen photographs of ship

By Harriet Crawford

These are the astonishing pictures of RMS Titanic as she touched the waters of Belfast Lough for the first time - from a never-before-seen collection.

The series of amazing sepia images were captured by a Harland and Wolff employee as the 'unsinkable' ship moved slowly down the slipway and into the sea on May 31, 1911.

Although snapped more than 103 years ago, the photographs have a remarkable quality and have never been seen in public, until now.

Eerily, the words 'Going', 'going', 'gone' were written as captions beneath the sequence of pictures which ended up in a family photograph album.

The album contains 116 black and white images taken by John W Kempster when he was a director and senior engineer at Harland and Wolff at the time of the construction of Titanic and her sister ship the Olympic. They include the unpublished pictures of Titanic and the Olympic during their launch and departure from Belfast and have now gone on display at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

The album contains 13 photographs from Titanic's launch on May 31, 1911 when her prow kissed sea water for the first time.

They include Lord Pirrie, the Harland and Wolff chairman, returning from inspecting the hydraulic rams and the doomed liner descending the slipway into the water, pursued by thousands of excited spectators. The sequence captures the unique high spirits of the occasion.

Mr Kempster was master of ceremonies on the day of Titanic's launch, hosting a lunch at Belfast's Grand Central Hotel for yard officials and dignitaries.

The departure of Olympic and Titanic from Belfast Lough in 1912 was also photographed by Mr Kempster. Indeed, the Kempster family was on-board the Olympic, then the world's largest liner, for its maiden voyage to the United States in June 1911. Many of the photographs he took give a glimpse of how passengers wiled away the days.

William Blair, head of human history, National Museums Northern Ireland, said: "Part of our fascination with the Titanic is the era – it's like Downton Abbey at sea.

"These photographs are very evocative in that regard because they extend that social context around Titanic to take in the lifestyle of a shipyard director at the time."

This is the most complete album of the Titanic in Belfast in existence, according to Andrew Aldridge of Aldridge Auction House

The album, owned by private collector Steve Raffield, is on loan to the museum until next summer.

The Launch

Thousands of ticket-holding spectators gathered along the shores of Belfast Lough for the launch of Titanic on May 31, 1911. The public jostled for a view wherever they could find one, while dignitaries and Harland & Wolff employees watched from stands in the shipyard. Lord Pirrie made an inspection before giving the signal to launch, shortly after noon. In 62 seconds, Titanic was released down the greased slipway and into the water. Over the next 10 months she received her engines and fittings, transforming her into the ship that would depart Belfast on its maiden voyage.

Titanic was initially the over-shadowed "middle sister" of the three Olympic-class ships commissioned by the White Star Line from Harland & Wolff, according to William Blair, head of human history at National Museums Northern Ireland. Ironically, it was the Olympic that originally had its own commemorative brochure and captured public interest, being eight months ahead of its sibling. When Titanic entered service, she over took the Olympic as the world's largest liner at that time. Of the three ships - including the Britannic - only the Olympic managed to avoid tragedy and was retired after long service. The Britannic was sunk by a underwater mine off a Greek island in November 1916, killing 30 people.

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