Everyone would be familiar with the story of the wreck of this great ship and the stories of personal tragedy attached to the event, but as with all great disasters there were financial and political consequences. Indeed there are sure to be such results from the pandemic we are experiencing at present; winners and losers will emerge from this current event as well as all the human tragedies much the same as happened in 1912.
At that time Radio Telegraphy was in its early stages of development and introduction. Communication was via the dots and dashes of Morse code rather than by the now common voice transmission. Viewers of the movies depicting the wreck will also remember that some nearby ships that picked up the Titanic’s frantic signals were only ‘on air’ for limited hours each day so were deaf to signals outside those times, all of which contributed to the dreadful outcome
What wasn’t explained in the movie stories was that ships of the time didn’t own their own radio equipment or in fact hire their own radio operators. ‘Marconi men’ together with Marconi equipment were provided at cost from the Marconi Company. This organisation was founded by Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian born inventor who, dismissed by his native land, took his work to Britain where he achieved great success, culminating in the award of a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909
At the British court of enquiry on the sinking a public statement was made by the Postmaster General that those who had been saved owed their lives to ‘Mr Marconi and his marvellous invention’. Strange to relate is that Marconi and his daughter Degna were offered free passage on the Titanic for the voyage but had taken the Lusitania instead because he preferred working with a public stenographer, whom he knew well, who worked on that other ship. Yet again another quirk of fate attached to the disaster.
One of the radio operators survived the Titanic sinking, Bride by name. Marconi personally met Bride when the Carpathia that had rescued him docked in New York. I have personally seen a copy of a signal sent to Bride by Marconi that said “Keep your mouth shut”. Bride did as he was told and spoke to no reporters or officials. He was indeed shipped back to Britain on the immediate first return sailing.
Marconi had realised the potential for business for his company from the disaster and wanted to control all the fallout from the news.
Prior to this very public sinking each ship owner decided whether or not to install radio communication equipment and Marconi men aboard their ships; plus they decided the number of hours per day these should operate. After the findings of the much publicised court of enquiry far more pressure from authorities was made to have sufficiently manned Marconi equipment installed in all ships.
Political manoeuvring and positioning took place to avoid blame for the sinking. New regulations and recommendations were proposed. A scandal looked to be brewing implicating the then British Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Prime Minister David Lloyd George. He was accused of having made a fortune from the increase in the share values of the Marconi Company. The company had benefitted from the new huge volume improvements in their business that had come about from the recommendations from parliament. Lloyd George had himself been involved in bringing in regulations concerned with radio communication aboard British registered ships. Remember at this time that 60% of the world’s merchant marine was British registered. As a result of the insinuations and innuendo in the press and elsewhere there was an insistence made that there be a question raised in parliament to which he should provide an answer to assuage the rumours. Being the wily politician he was he organised that one of his own men in the house posed the direct question to which he must provide answer. Lloyd George was asked, by the ‘plant’ the question “Did you make a profit on shares you bought in the Marconi Company” to which he replied, “I did not”. This answer effectively closed the matter. However the truth was that Lloyd George had not bought the shares, he had been given them!
Now to bring such matters into the present day it will be interesting to find out, if ever we will, who or what organisations prosper and profit from the present day Pandemic. Of course we all know that modern day politicians are not as duplicitas as they were of old! There could be winners financially and or politically who walk away from human suffering with advantage. Sad to relate but it’s the way of the world – we don’t see much change as history unfolds.