Tag: Titanic

Whispers through Time-Tilbury Docks

Whispers through Time-Tilbury Docks

The world has always been on the move. The Romans, the Vikings and the Polynesians all set off for new lands across the seas. Humans throughout history travelled to explore new territory, wage war, colonize or establish trade routes for exotic goods. Only in recent times has sea travel been about pure pleasure.

In the 12th century, Christian soldiers set off on crusades to the Holy Land from Dartmouth in Devon. Did you realize that all the towns ending in ‘mouth’ have the river name as their prefix? So, Dartmouth is on the mouth (i.e. the opening to the sea) of the river Dart. Similarly, Plymouth is on mouth of the river Ply and Bournemouth on the mouth of the river Bourne. You get the drift. It’s fun discovering word origins.

Near ancient Dartmouth Castle on the west bank of the river Dart is a tidal inlet called Warfleet Creek. It makes for a peaceful site today for a Devon picnic but in 1147 and 1190 it was the spot for the gathering of hundreds of ships and thousands of keen crusaders eager to sail to and claim the Holy Land.

Similarly, centuries later, the Tilbury Docks became the launching point for many British and Europeans to emigrate to places as far away as Australia.

The Tilbury Docks replaced the original East and West India Docks that operated close to London. The coming of the railways and the increased size of ships prioritized deep water over closeness to the city because now the railway could bring people from inner London to the Thames estuary. Tilbury in Essex on the north shore of the Thames was an excellent site. Here, downstream from London Bridge, the river looped southwards through the river estuary marshlands. Here also there was land available and the convenient South end railway that linked the Tilbury Ferry.

At the dawn of the steam ship era in 1886, Tilbury was a progressive project to connect Britain to its Empire. But like any project, there were issues. The freemasons employed went on strike in 1889 citing hard work for little pay. Indeed, their pay seems incredible to a modern reader- just 6d or 5c an hour. Some concessions were made and work continued but workers again went on strike in 1912.

The year 1912 is an interesting year as in April that year the unsinkable Titanic set forth on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York. But the world’s most splendid liner never reached American shores but sunk beneath the waves of the icy Atlantic near Newfoundland taking the bulk of the passengers with it.

Also in 1912, my grandparents, Winifred and Walter, set sail on the SS Rangatira steam ship, a far less splendid craft. Despite the sinking of the ill-fated Titanic and family concern, they still travelled all the way from Tilbury Docks to Sydney Harbour. I fictionalized their meeting and romance aboard the Rangatira in my historical fiction novel, Whispers through Time.

For many Australians Tilbury Docks were the point of embarkation to Australia for either themselves or their forebears. Before World War II,  Ten Pound Poms as they were called at the time, came in their thousands on this assisted passage scheme to start a new life. Later after the war, Europeans came too, escaping war ravaged Europe, to work as skilled migrants on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.

The traffic was not just one way. Tilbury not only farewelled but welcomed people. The current multi-cultural population of Britain is due to these arrivals. Caribbean migrants in the late 1940’s, travelled on the SS Empire Windrush to start a new life, lured by the offer of work and housing. Other nationalities also arrived from the outposts of the British Empire such as Africa and India.

Tilbury Docks may not be as exotic a location as the Taj Mahal or as steeped in history as The Tower of London but the docks have established their place in history.

Like other iconic sea ports, Tilbury Docks have also established their place in film. Wikipedia informs me that John Wayne’s smuggling operation in the movie Branigan took place at Tilbury. Also, the boat chase scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed not in Venice as suggested in the plot but at Tilbury. The docks also feature in the Jude Law film, Alfie (2004), Batman Begins (2005) and as the arrival point for Paddington Bear in the 2014 film, Paddington.

Just another slice of history to add to my growing history blog. Thank you for reading.

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Whispers through Time-The Titanic

Whispers through Time-The Titanic

Even after its sinking on an icy cold April night long ago in 1912, the Titanic has proved to be an unsinkable story of human tragedy.

Indeed, The RMS Titanic lives on as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when ego and greed overpower responsibility and safety concerns. This tragic tale is endlessly fascinating despite the ship’s loss to the icy depths of the Atlantic over a century ago. The ill-fated Titanic is the subject of many books such as the definitive A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (1956) and Titanic, An Illustrated History by Don Lynch (1992). The ship features in Stephen Weir’s book, History’s Worst Decisions and is even the inspiration for a children’s book called Polar, the Titanic Bear, about the actual teddy bear of a little boy who survived the sinking. Speaking of which, there is one last book I just have to mention that is also a fascinating read. Shadow of the Titanic follows the lives of the survivors of that terrible night. Interestingly, most of them had sad lives and many died young and even quite soon after the event. The little boy who owned the teddy bear died in a family car crash within a year and is just one example of the long shadow that the Titanic cast over people’s lives. Some folk never recovered from family losses while others bore survivor’s guilt that prevented their happiness.

Yes, the Titanic story is one that keeps on giving. There is so much to fascinate, so many lessons about human nature to appreciate.

As a long-time enthusiast of all things Victorian, the story interested me long before the blockbuster 1997 Titanic film produced by James Cameron. I had already watched the earlier film starring Barbara Stanwick and seen and read films and books where the Titanic had sailed in, including my own, creating a setting for many tragic storylines. I confess to Titanic jigsaws and scale models as well.

But all the tragedy could have been averted if someone like Bruce Ismay, Captain Smith or the ship builder, Thomas Andrew had read another book by a little-known author named Morgan Robertson. In 1898, he wrote a novel about a transatlantic liner loaded with the rich and famous that hit an iceberg near Newfoundland at similar co-ordinates to the 1912 liner. The ship, eerily called the Titan had very similar specifications to the actual Titanic.

If only someone had read this book, aptly titled Futility.

It is telling of human nature that we are drawn to details of tragedies. Perhaps it is because there is so much to take away and reflect on. The factors that caused the real life Titanic tragedy are themselves endlessly fascinating. In this instance there were a myriad of fateful errors both human and natural. Titanic was steaming ahead in a fateful race with Time itself. Captain Edward Smith confidently ordered her throttled into full steam so she could arrive in New York ahead of schedule. He along with Bruce Ismay, director of White Star Line wanted to showcase her capabilities as the biggest ship ever to sail the seas. It was Smith’s last commission at sea so this would be a fitting end to his career. A timely six day crossing of the Atlantic was important for both men. But thousands of others would have preferred to just arrive.

Neither man seemed concerned by reported ice warnings in the ocean ahead, nor overly mindful of his responsibility to the cargo of 2240passengers, despite the paucity of lifeboats. The Titanic had everything anyone could want on board a ship except lifeboats. Even at two thirds capacity of its possible number of passengers there were only enough for 1178 people, leaving 1023 others stranded. That is only too if the lifeboats were fully loaded which was definitely not the case. Many that could take 65 people, left with less than twenty aboard. Some of these fortunate were extremely wealthy and influential women along with children and even first-class men.  Most second and third-class passengers went down with the ship.

If it were not for the speed, the inattention to ice, the lowered bulkheads, the limited life-boats, the missing binoculars on the watch deck, the steel, the pop rivets, the last-minute attempt to swerve around the iceberg…. So may ‘ifs, so many factors that coalesced to cause tragedy.

Then apart from the ship’s construction, the speed and human factors there was the bad luck that the only nearby ship, the Californian turned off its telegram service and retired all staff to bed, even after sighting a flare rocket. ‘We thought it was a just a party,’ the captain claimed in defense.  Words that went down in history like those of Captain Smith. ‘I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.’

There is so much more I could write about this Titanic subject. Many have. Instead, I chose some human-interest snippets to include in two chapters of my historical fiction novel, Whispers through Time. This book is based on my grandparent’s journey from London to Australia on a steamer ship, the Rangatira in June 1912, just months after the sinking of the ill-fated liner. The tragedy was recent news. It is a wonder they still travelled into the ice infested waters of the southern oceans. But they did and even retraced the journey two years later through U boat infested waters to return to England as grandfather was called into military service. He was still part of the British Army, having served already in the Boer Wars when he was just sixteen. Their story continues on in the sequel released this year, Time, Heal my Heart.

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Whispers Through Time-My Ancestry

Whispers Through Time-My Ancestry

My Ancestry

Ancestry is defined as one’s family origins and ethnicity. With the advent of home computers, this process of finding one’s ancestry or self discovery is now within an individual’s reach thanks to such sites as Ancestry.com. Anyone with a keyboard, misplaced enthusiasm and a roaring internet can collect details of dead relatives and occasionally locate a live cousin. But it takes time and patience. You need to scroll through endless electoral rolls, censuses, ship manifests, birth, death and marriage entries, many hand-written not typed. In addition to this frustrating and time consuming process, you come across many, many dead ends and bum steers wherein you were chasing the wrong great grandparent for weeks or months on end.

This time consuming hobby does not appeal to me at all. I would rather make up the story and all the dead relatives and cousins. But my older sister is a family tree enthusiast. Just as well, every family needs one member to keep track of us all. My sister, Heather has spent 15 years researching our lot, discovering in the process a lot of fascinating people , places and assorted facts. She calls it going down the rabbit hole. A bit like Alice, you pop down supposedly for a moment and emerge days later having learnt a lot.

That is how big sister, Heather found a little, but unfortunately not a lot, about our maternal grandmother, Winifred. Most grannies born in the time of Queen Victoria did predictable things like stay in their home town, marry and raise a bunch of kids. But not Winnie. No, she, as a young woman, took off from London supposedly alone to hop on a liner bound for Sydney just months after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. My sister located her name on the ship (SS Rangatira) manifold and traced her arrival in Sydney six weeks later.

When I read all these fascinating facts that my sister had unearthed, I was like in a ‘wow’ state. I was also on holidays at a beach resort where it rained for two weeks solid. Having finished the books and jig saw, I had brought along ‘just in case’ it rained, I came up with the idea of entertaining myself with a spot of writing. Having just finished reading Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden about a grand-daughter exploring her grandmother’s past, I felt inspired to give my Nana a similar treatment. As most of the research was done by my big sis, How hard could it be to write it into some sort of story? Heather’s 70th birthday was looming and what can you get a gal who has a house and wardrobe full of stuff? A story, I decided. She likes stories and this one seemed a cracker, a bit of a mystery.

Although I am a math and science teacher, I have had to write a few things in my time. So I started to write about Winifred one rainy February afternoon in 2019. I only had a school exercise book with me, no computer, so it was a little arduous and scribbly at first. But I kept going for the week despite my husband’s lack of encouragement.

‘You’re writing a book?’ he scoffed.

‘Yep, sure am,’I replied.

Undeterred, I wrote away and when we returned home, I kept writing and writing. I wrote in my spare moments for five whole months, filling in the gaps and silences of Winifred’s story with the magic of fiction. By the time Heather’s birthday came around, I was able to present her with a ‘book’, all wrapped up with a pink satin bow. It had no cover, just numbered typed pages printed off at the local Officeworks for $25.

She was very surprised but delighted and read it in record time. Then she surprised me by sending it off to publishers unbeknown to me and by the time my birthday arrived she presented me with a letter of offer from Austin-Macauley, London for a contract to publish my little book, Whispers Through Time. The sequel, Time, Heal my Heart is at the same publisher now awaiting publication this year. In the meantime, I wrote another book, The Last Hotel published March 2020. But that is another story for another day, found on another of my blogs.

I retired from teaching and now write fulltime. You never know what you can do until you try!

P.S Heather found us a live cousin we didn’t know about! He lives in Norway and always wondered who he was until we found him. He and his family came and spent Christmas with us in 2019. Just as well as the Covid broke out just a month later and we would all still be waiting to meet each other, if he had not seized the moment to come to Australia. He looks just like our grandfather. Read all about our story and his in Time, Heal My Heart, released this year, 2022. But to prepare for this second installment read the first part, first !

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Whispers through Time- Joni Scott, author meets her book.

Whispers through Time- Joni Scott, author meets her book.

Finally, A book in hand.

After a year in production, Whispers Through Time is now an actual physical book. These sixty thousand words were initially just an idea, then over months, they became a manuscript. In this new form, they travelled across the world to London to be renamed again as a first, then second edit, then an inner proof. Yes, my Whispers Through Time has taken many forms, but here it is finally as a book in my hand.

What is it about? Why did you write a book at your age, especially as you are a math/science teacher? Fair questions which I will answer below.

My sister, Heather has spent 15 years researching our lot, discovering in the process a lot of fascinating people , places and assorted facts. She calls it going down the rabbit hole. A bit like Alice, you pop down supposedly for a moment and emerge days later having learnt a lot.

That is how Heather found a little, but unfortunately not a lot, about our maternal grandmother, Winifred. Most grannies born in the time of Queen Victoria did predictable things like stay in their home town, marry and raise a bunch of kids. But not our granny, Winnie. No, she, as a young woman, took off from London supposedly alone to hop on a liner bound for Sydney just months after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. My sister located her name on the ship, Rangatira’s manifold and traced her arrival in Sydney six weeks later.

When I read all these fascinating facts that my sister had unearthed, I was like in a ‘wow’ state. I was also on holidays at a beach resort where it rained for two weeks solid. Having finished the books and jig saw, I had brought along ‘just in case’ it rained, I came up with the idea of entertaining myself with a spot of writing. Having just finished reading Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden about a grand-daughter exploring her grandmother’s past, I felt inspired to give my Nana a similar treatment. Just for fun. Why not? As most of the research was done by my big sis, how hard could it be to write it into some sort of story? Heather’s 70th birthday was looming and what can you get a gal who has a house and wardrobe full of stuff? A story, I decided. She likes stories and this one seemed a cracker, a bit of a mystery.

Although I am a mathematics and science teacher, I have had to write a few things in my time. So I started to write about Winifred one rainy February afternoon in 2019. I only had a school exercise book with me, no computer so my writing was a little arduous and scribbly at first. But I kept going for the week despite my husband’s lack of encouragement.

‘You’re writing a book?’ he scoffed.

‘Yep, sure am,’ I replied.

Undeterred, I wrote away and when we returned home, I kept writing and writing. I wrote in my spare moments for five whole months, filling in the gaps and silences of Winifred’s story with the magic of fiction. By the time Heather’s birthday came around, I was able to present her with a ‘book’, all wrapped up with a pink satin bow. It had no cover, just numbered typed pages printed off at the local Officeworks for $25.

She was a little surprised but delighted and read it in record time. Then she surprised me by sending it off to publishers unbeknown to me and by the time my birthday arrived she surprised me with a letter of offer from Austin-Macauley in London for a contract to publish my little book, Whispers Through Time.

Thank you all at Austin Macauley!