Sunday, April 15, 2012

The White Star Line: in a class of its own

Image from the Titanic Letterpress blog

The class differences on board the RMS Titanic have been pointed out before. Hell, even the movie Titanic focuses on this feature. But a little known letter that surfaced a few years back highlights the typical relationship between the RMS Titanic's management and their employees.

In 2008, a letter sent to Alexander Littlejohn—steward on board the RMS Titanic—from the White Star Line shipping company, was up for auction. The letter was sent as soon as news of the ship's sinking reached the company. While survivors were still struggling in the icy seas, the White Star Line 'sacked' all of its employees in order to save paying thousands in wages to survivors. Staff like Littlejohn, who were struggling to paddle life rafts of 'posh first-class ladies', were said in the letter to have 'disembarked on the high seas' on 15 April 1912—the day the ship hit an iceberg and sank with 1,500 people. 'Disembarked' was a polite company term to describe being thrown into the icy Atlantic.

In an ironic twist, the letter—designed to avoid paying out any money to the surviving workers—was valued at over £1m.

With all the hype today on the Titanic, I think it's important to recognise alternative narratives around this disaster, and remember its class element.

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