“Come as quickly as possible old man: the engine-room is filling up to the boilers”: wireless messages from the Titanic’

Wednesday 11 April 2012, 4pm – 5pm

The talk will be given by Elizabeth Bruton, a third-year PhD student in history of science at the University of Leeds studying the early history of wireless communications. She previously worked at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford where she worked with the Marconi Collection. She was recently featured on ‘Shock and Awe: the History of Electricity’ on BBC Four.

Abstract: The sinking of RMS Titanic early in the morning of 15 April 1912 less than three hours after hitting an iceberg in the middle of the cold North Atlantic ocean is considered one of most dramatic events of the twentieth-century. The sinking of the Titanic and the subsequent rescue of passengers, due in most part to the use of wireless, is considered a seminal moment in history and one which propelled wireless into public consciousness. Of the 2224 passengers and crew, 710 survived and were rescued by the RMS Carpathia who had responded to the Titanic’s wireless distress calls. The dramatic maritime disaster along with the subsequent publicity and national inquiry elevated the status of the Marconi Company, who owned and operated the wireless sets onboard the Titanic. During the inquiry it was declared, ‘Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi … and his marvellous invention.’ Using surviving wireless messages from the Titanic, this lecture will discuss the use of wireless during this early period in its history. Liz will also show how in the aftermath of the tragic sinking of the Titanic, wireless came to be seen as a necessary tool of modern communication, especially in relation of maritime use.

The talk will be preceded by a short presentation on the introduction of wireless telegraphy on ships and what can be seen in the Science Museum. This will be given by John Liffen, the Science Museum’s curator of communications.

The event will be in the Science Museum’s Lecture Theatre on the ground floor of the museum. It is open to all and is free to attend. No booking is necessary and seats are available on a first come first serve basis.