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

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

In 1912 the 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, after a telegram was sent to the newsroom alerting it of the disaster in what remains the earliest documented notification of the disaster.

The message — on Post Office paper and sent to the Belfast Telegraph's Royal Avenue office, the largest selling newspaper in Titanic's home city of Belfast, on April 15, 1912. It was received by sub-editor Robert ‘Bob’ McComb. Its author quoted a Reuters report as the source of the news and described the famous luxury liner as ‘sinking in mid-Atlantic’.

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The telegram sent to the Belfast Telegraph newsroom alerting us of the disaster

The telegram sent to the Belfast Telegraph newsroom alerting us of the disaster

The telegram sent to the Belfast Telegraph newsroom alerting us of the disaster

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 had sank, in one of the greatest scoops in Irish newspaper history.

It was given to McComb as a gift when he retired after 34 years at the Belfast Telegraph. His family inherited it when he died in 1932 and auctioned it in 2012.

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Reporting history: sub-editor Robert McComb

Reporting history: sub-editor Robert McComb

Reporting history: sub-editor Robert McComb

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.

On April 16, 1912, "Titanic lost, unparalleled shipping calamity, tragic collapsed of a maiden voyage, reported loss of over 1,600, women and children saved, 675 rescued by lifeboats, graphic details" is how the Belfast Telegraph reported the disaster on its front page.

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Titanic lost: Belfast Telegraph front page on 16/4/1912, one day after the disaster

Titanic lost: Belfast Telegraph front page on 16/4/1912, one day after the disaster

Titanic lost: Belfast Telegraph front page on 16/4/1912, one day after the disaster

That night thousands of people gathered outside the Belfast Telegraph building waiting for the names of survivors as they began to trickle through.

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