Water World as Another Home for the English Nation

: 5/11

PORTENTS OF DISASTER

Great pains are taken when first launching a vessel so as to ensure good fortune, and one of the most important portents is the ritual bottle of champagne which must break first time ( the liquid may be a substitute for the blood of a sacrifice ). It is interesting that the various ships to bear the name Ark Royal have always been lucky; for example when the World War 11 vessel sunk there was minimal loss of life. The original ship dated from Elizabethan times and had a crucifix placed beneath the mainmast by the captains mistress; this apparently secured the good fortune for all her successors. On the other hand there are vessels which seem perpetually unlucky, some even jinxed and quite incapable of escaping misfortune.

Brunels fine ship the Great Eastern was launched in 1858 after several ominously unsuccessful attempts. She ruined the man in whose yard she was built, and caused a breakdown in Brunels health he died even before her maiden voyage. And despite her immense technical advantages, she was never successful as the passenger - carrying vessel.

In 1895 she was in port in Holyhead. When the Royal Charter sailed by, homeward bound from Australia, the passengers expressed a desire to see her and their captain was only too pleased to oblige. However, the ship strayed off course and a wild storm blew up. The ship was wrecked, with great loss of life. Some of the trouble was attributed to the story of a riveter and his boy who were said to have been accidentally sealed to the famous double hull. Unexplained knockings were heard at various times but although searches were made, nothing was found. When the vessel was broken up at New Ferry, Cheshire, in 1888 it was rumoured that two sceletons were discovered, their bony fingers still clenched round the worn down hammers which had beaten in vain for rescue.

The Victoria was commissioned on Good Friday, the thirteenth of the month and if this were not ill-luck enough, the fact that her name ended in a was considered another bad sign. In 1893 she sank with heavy losses after a collision during the manoeuvres in the Mediterranean off Beirut, and interestingly, various things happened which indicated calamity: two hours earlier a fakir had actually predicted disaster, and at the time of the collision crowds had gathered at the dockyards gates in Malta, drawn by an instinctive apprehension of impending doom. At the same time during lunch at a Weymouth torpedo works the stem of a wine glass had suddenly cracked with a loud retort; and in Londons Eaton Square the ships Admiral Tryon was seen coming down the stairs at his home. He was in fact aboard the Victoria, where he survived the impact but made no effort to save himself. As he sank beneath the waves he is said to have lamented: It was all my fault and so it was, for he had given the incorrect order which led to the collision.

Generations after her loss the Titanic is still a byword for hubris. In 1912 the unsinkable ship struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage and went down with 1 500 passengers and crew. Again, a variety if omens anticipated the disaster: a stewards badge came to pieces as his wife stitched it to his cap, and a picture fell from the wall in a stokers home; then aboard the ship a signal halliard parted as it was used to acknowledge the bon voyage signal from the Head of Old Kinsale lighthouse and the day before the collision rats were seen scurrying aft, away from the point of impact. After the calamity Captain Smith, who went down with the ship, is rumoured to have been seen ashore.

One cause of the Titanic disaster is said to have been an unlucky Egyptian mummy case. This is the lid of an inner coffin with the representation of the head and upper body of an unknown lady of about 1000 bc. Ill-fortune certainly seemed to travel with the lid first of all the man who bought it from the finder had an arm shattered by an accidental gun shot. He sold, but the purchaser was soon afterwards the recipient of the bad news, learning that he was bankrupt and that he had a fatal disease. The new owner, an English lady, placed the coffin lid in her drawing room: next morning she found everything there smashed. She moved it upstairs and the same thing happened, so she also sold it. When this purchaser had the lid photographed, a leering, diabolical face was seen in the print. And when it was eventually presented to the British Museum, members of staff began to contract mysterious ailments one even died. It was sold yet again to an American, who arranged to take it home with him on the Titanic. After the catastrophe he managed to bribe the sailors to allow him to take it into a lifeboat, and it did reach America. Later he sold it to a Canadian, who in 1941 decided to ship it back to England; the vessel taking it, Empress of Ireland , sank in the river St Lawrence. So runs the story, but in reality the coffin lid did not leave the British Museum after being presented in 1889.

: 20/10/2006