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Newspapers in education: Titanic, past and present - week two

This article has been specially written for thousands of pupils from across Northern Ireland who are doing the Belfast Telegraph cross-curricular project on the Titanic (PA)
This article has been specially written for thousands of pupils from across Northern Ireland who are doing the Belfast Telegraph cross-curricular project on the Titanic (PA)

This article has been specially written for thousands of pupils from across Northern Ireland who are doing the Belfast Telegraph cross-curricular project on the Titanic. Over a six week period we will focus on the iconic ship which was built in Belfast.

Orders go out to build three enormous ships

The decision to build the Titanic was made at a dinner in London in 1907 with Harland and Wolff chairman William James Pirrie and Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line company, in attendance.

American financier JP Morgan, pictured, had taken over the famous White Star Line and was keen that his ships would be the finest in the world.

Lord Pirrie and Ismay talked about this objective and decided that they would construct three ships which would be the largest ever built.

These ships would be called the Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic, though the Gigantic was renamed the Britannic after the Titanic tragically sank.

Having received the order to go ahead with the Olympic and Titanic, Harland & Wolff had to build two new slipways with a huge gantry fitted over the slipways for workers to gain access to the ships to build the spine, steel plates and the hull of each ship.

The Olympic was launched in October 1910, and in May 1911 it was the turn of the Titanic, with the public invited to attend by buying tickets for one shilling each. Around 100,000 were present at the dock as the Titanic slid down the slipway. It was brought to a halt by drag chains and special anchors after travelling less than half her length.

Once the chains were taken away, the Titanic was taken to a fitting quay by five tugboats. The fitting out, which would take another 10 months, involved funnels, engines, boilers and propellers being installed.

Also included on board were 20 lifeboats, 48 life buoys and 3,560 lifebelts. Rockets and signalling equipment to attract attention were also on the ship.

The next phase in the Titanic's journey was to leave Belfast.

Each week we will write about various people with a connection to the Titanic

Today we feature William James Pirrie and Thomas Andrews


Born in Canada in 1847, William James Pirrie, the son of Irish parents, was chairman of Harland & Wolff when the Titanic was built at the shipyard.

After his father's death in 1849, the family moved back to Ireland and Mr Pirrie spent his childhood in Co Down. He was part of an extremely well-known family. His nephews included future Prime Minister of Northern Ireland John Miller Andrews and Thomas Andrews, designer of the Titanic.

Pirrie attended school at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and in 1862 joined the Harland & Wolff firm as an apprentice. He rose through the ranks and 12 years later he became a partner, moving to the chairman's position in 1895 following the death of Sir Thomas Harland.

In 1896 he was elected Lord Mayor of Belfast and became the city's first honorary freeman in 1898, serving as High Sheriff of Antrim the same year.

Lord Pirrie was considered a highly influential figure in the shipbuilding industry

He had a close working relationship with Thomas Henry Ismay and then his son, Joseph Bruce Ismay, of the White Star Line, with Harland & Wolff building White Star Line ships to the highest specifications. They included the Olympic, Titanic and the Britannic.

Pirrie was to travel on the Titanic but illness prevented him from going on the ill-fated voyage.

In 1921 he became a viscount and member of Northern Ireland's Senate. He died in 1924 on a business trip to South America. His body was returned to Belfast on the Olympic.


Comber man Thomas Andrews was the managing director of the design department at Harland & Wolff when the Titanic was built.

Mr Andrews, who was born in 1873, had a love of cricket growing up as a boy. He entered Harland & Wolff as an apprentice in 1889, learning the craft of shipbuilding.

His reputation in this field grew quickly and in 1901 he became manager of the construction works as well as a member of the Institution of Naval Architects. Six years later he was made managing director and head of the drafting department.

He oversaw plans to build the RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic. It is said that Andrews wanted the Titanic to have 46 lifeboats, rather than the 20 it carried.

As was normally the case with Harland & Wolff ships making their maiden voyages, Andrews travelled with colleagues from Belfast to Southampton on the Titanic to observe the operation of the ship and consider any improvements needed.

Andrews was also on the Titanic when it set sail from Southampton for America in 1912. After the ship hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and it started to sink, it is well documented that Andrews acted as a hero in tragic circumstances, urging and helping people to leave the ship and board the lifeboats.

It is estimated that he saved many lives, although lost his own as he went down with the ship.

He was married to Helen Reilly Barbour and they had one daughter, Elizabeth Law Barbour Andrews.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph