Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive
Extract (Some Reflections on the Loss of the Titanic)

Danger of Big Ships: Mr Joseph Conrad on the Lesson of the Titanic

in The Poverty Bay Herald (Poverty Bay, New Zealand) Vol. XXXIX, No. 12790 (Jun 15, 1912): (Page imagery not yet available)

View in Internet Archive BookReader (experimental).
Available online at Papers Past, the digital archive of New Zealand newspapers. Text reads:



Mr Joseph Conrad, the noyelist, who holds a master mariner's certificate, and has more experience of the sea than almost any living writer, has an article, entitled "Some Reflections, Seamanlike and Otherwise, on the Loss of the Titanic," in this month's number of the English Review. Mr Conrad does not hesitate to declare that the Titanic was too large for safety. He writes:--

"You can't, let builders say what they like, make a ship of such dimensions as strong proportionately as a much smaller one.

"For my part I could much sooner believe in an unsinkable ship of 3000 tons than one of 40,000 tons. It is one of those things that stand to reason. You can't increase the thickness of scantling and plates indefinitely. And the mere weight of this bigness is an added disadvantage.

"In reading the reports, the first reflection which occurs to one is that, if that luckless ship had been a couple of hundred feet shorter she would have probably gone clear of the danger.

"We shall have presently, in deference to commercial and industrial interests, a new kind of seamanship. If you see anything in the way, by no means try to avoid; smash at it full tilt. And then--and then only, you shall see the triumph of material, of clever contrivances, of the whole box of engineering tricks.

"Doubtless the Board of Trade, if properly approached, would consent to give the needed instructions to its examiners of masters and mates. Behold the examination room of the future. Enter to the grizzled examiner a young man of modest aspect: 'Are you well up in modern seamanship?' 'I hope so, sir.'

"'H'm, let's see. You are at night on the bridge in charge of a 150,000 tons ship, with a motor track, organloft, etc., etc., with a full cargo of passengers, a full crew of 1500 cafe waiters, two sailors, and a boy, three collapsible boats as per Board of Trade regulations, and going at your three-quarter speed of, say, about forty knots. You perceive suddenly right ahead, and close to, something that looks like a large ice-floe. What would you do?'

"'Put the helm amidships.' 'Very well. Why?' 'In order to hit end on.' 'On what grounds should you endeavor to hit end on?' 'Because we are taught by our builders and masters that the heavier the smash the smaller the damage, and because the requirements of material should be attended to.'"

Writing of the Board of Trade, Mr Conrad says:--

"An office with adequate and no doubt comfortable furniture. A lot of perfectly irresponsible gentlemen, who exist packed in its equable atmosphere softly, as if in a lot of cotton wool, and with no care in the world; for there can be no care without personal responsibility--such, for instance, as the seamen have--those seamen from whose mouths this irresponsible institution can take away the bread--as a disciplinary measure.?'"