105th Anniversary of the sinking of Titanic & death of Joseph Bell

April 14, 2017 by

A wreath of blue & gold flowers, representing the blue & gold of the the uniform of the engineers, was placed at the Joseph Bell memorial in St. Thomas a Becket Churchyard, Farlam, Cumbria, to mark his death and those of his fellow engineers in the sinking of    R M S Titanic on 15th April 1912.


“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone”

Icebergs still threaten shipping

April 7, 2017 by

As we approach  the 105th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic, and the death of Joseph Bell and his engineers, it is interesting to note that the threat posed by icebergs is still as evident to shipping as they were in 1912 for Titanic.

This piece by Jennifer McDermott appeared in the ‘I’ newspaper today:

“An unusual number of icebergs – more than 400 have drifted into the North Atlantic shipping lanes over the past week, forcing vessels  to slow to crawl or take detours of hundreds of miles.

In the waters close to where the Titanic went down in 1912, the huge number of ice floes is forcing ships’ captains to be on their guard.

Experts have blamed strong counter-clockwise winds that are drawing the icebergs south, and also global warming, which is accelerating the process by which chunks of the Greenland ice sheet break off and float away.

On Monday, there were about 450 icebergs near Newfoundland’s Grand Banks, up from 37 a week earlier, according to the US Coast Guard’s International Ice Patrol in New London, Connecticut. The average for this time of year is about 80.

Commander Gabrielle McGrath, who leads the ice patrol, said she had never seen such a drastic increase in such a short time.  Adding to the danger, three icebergs were discovered outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid, she said.

Ms McGrath is predicting a fourth consecutive “extreme ice season” with more then 600 icebergs in the shipping lanes.  Transatlantic vessels are being forced to take detours that can add about 400 miles to the trip”




Apprenticeships 1876-1912: Harland & Wolff & R & H Stephenson

March 11, 2017 by

Joseph Bell, aged 15 began his apprenticeship in 1876 with R & H Stephenson & Co, Shipyard, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne as an ‘engine fitter at works apprentice’. He completed his apprenticeship in 1881, aged 20.

Amongst the conditions of indenture were, not to damage or waste materials or goods belonging to his employers, neither was fornication, getting married, playing cards, dice, or any other unlawful games were not allowed. Beyond the pale were visits to taverns, alehouses or playhouses.

The first year apprentices were paid 8 shillings a week with an annual increase of 2 shillings if they had been diligent and until the five years indenture was completed. Lastly there was to be no liquor or smoking on the premises – it was pretty tough going for ten bob a week I think.

Thirty-one years later in 1912, Francis [Frank] Bell followed in his father’s footsteps by joining Harland & Wolff, probably as a premium apprentice. Being a premium apprentice would be as a ‘shipyard pupil’. Frank’s father. Joseph, would have made a payment to Harland & Wolff for Frank to be indentured by them.

Thomas Andrews, the Titanic naval architect, who was aged 16 on the 1st of May 1889, began his premium apprenticeship at the Harland Wolff shipyard. This was the period of huge ships construction by the White Star Line for their Atlantic service. As a sixteen year old, the change from school and home to the exacting discipline of the shipyard must have been hard. Living in Belfast, he would have been awakened at ten minutes to five and had to be in the shipyard promptly at six o’clock.

The first three months would be spent in the joiner’s shop, followed by a month in the Cabinetmakers, there then would be two months or so working in the ships followed by two months in the main store; then five with the Shipwrights, two in the Moulding loft, two with the Painters, eight with the iron Shipwrights, six with the fitters, three with the Pattern-makers, eight with the Smiths. Finally a period of eighteen months to be spent in the Drawing office completed his five years as an apprentice in 1894.

SS Britannic & SS Oceanic

March 3, 2017 by

Joseph Bell’s second and third Engineering appointments were to Britannic & Oceanic respectively.  For those who are interested, here are detailed descriptions of these ships.

SS Britannic the transatlantic screw steamer was built of iron and launched in February 1874, by Harland & Wolff in Belfast, and making her maiden voyage to New York from Liverpool on the 25th June 1874 the service provided by the Ocean Steam Navigation Co Ltd., or White Star Line.  On her maiden voyage, she broke both the eastbound and westbound records with passages of less than 7.5 days at an average speed of 15.7 knots. She held the Blue Riband from 1876 – 1879.  She remained in the service of the White Star Line until 1899, after which she was requisitioned  by the Royal Navy and converted for use as a Troopship taking soldiers to the Boer War in South Africa.  Until the war ended in 1902, she had transported around 37000 troops to and from the conflict.

The Britannic and her sister ship, the Germanic [1875], were a great advance on the six mail steamers which preceded them in the fleet.  Their small ratio of beam to length, characteristics of the early White Star liners, was at first criticised , but the public soon patronised the ‘narrow ships’.  The main saloon was placed amidships, an innovation introduced by Mr Thomas H Ismay.  Accommodation was provided for approx. 1200 passengers, and the crew consisted of around 130 men.

The Britannic was rigged as a four-masted barque.  She had two funnels, and was propelled by inverted compound-expansion engines of 4970 h.p.  These were constructed by Messrs Maudslay, Sons and Field, at Lambeth, as the Belfast yards were unable to produce heavy machinery.  The two high-pressure cylinders 48″ diam., and two low-pressure cylinders 48″ in diam., and the two low-pressure cylinders 83″ in diam., were arranged in tandem pairs with the former on top; the stroke was 60″.

Steam at a pressure of 70 lbs per sq. inch was supplied by eight double-ended oval boilers, with a total heating surface of 19,500 sq. ft.  The screw propeller, which rotated at 52 revs per min, was 23.5 ft diam., and 28 to 31.5 ft pitch.  The normal speed of the vessel was about 15 knots.

Principle dimensions of Britannic were as follows:  Gross register, 5004 tons; displacement, loaded, 9100 tons;  length over all, 468 ft; length between perps, 455 ft; breadth, 45.2 ft; depth to main deck, 33.7 ft.

SS Oceanic being Joseph Bells third appointment, was the last British transatlantic liner to be launched in the 19th century.  She was launched on the 14th of January 1899 by Harland & Wolff in Belfast  built of steel and engined there,  making her maiden voyage  from Liverpool to New York on the 6th of September 1899.  She was fitted with electric lights and had the facility of refrigeration.  This was the first White Star ship to experience a mutiny on board.  The event resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of thirty-five coal stokers who were very unhappy with the commanding officers about their working conditions.

The hull was subdivided by 13 transverse water-tight bulkheads about 49ft apart, while a longitudinal bulkhead, 97 ft long, divided the port and starboard engine-rooms.  There was a cellular double bottom, which extended the whole length of the ship, and included nine longitudinal girders.  The double bottom was 5.1 ft deep, except in the vicinity of the engines, where its depth was increased by 2 ft.  The frames, for about two-thirds of the length amidships, were of channel section 9″ by 4.5″ by 4″ spaced 31.5 in apart; but towards the ends, these were replaced by frames of angle and reverse-angle riveted to each other.  The plating, which was of steel, varied from 1″ to 1.4 “.  There were seven plated decks, five of which were continuous from stem to stern.  Accommodation was provided for 410 first-class, 300 second-class, and 1000 third-class passengers; a total compliment of 390 officers and crew were carried.

The vessel was propelled by two sets of triple-expansion engines, which indicated 28000 total h.p.  Each set had four cylinders, one high-pressure 47.5 in diam., one intermediate 79” in diam., and two low-pressure each 93 in diam., all with a common stroke of 6 ft.  The reversing was effected by combined steam and hydraulic power.  Steam at a pressure of 192 lb per sq. in, was supplied by 15 return-tube boilers, 12 of which were double-ended, and three single-ended.  The larger boilers were 16.5 ft diam, and their total weight 1100 tons.  The twin-propellers, 22.2 ft diam, had gun-metal bosses and three manganese bronze blades, and were fitted very close together; an aperture in the stern frame allowed for this.  The propeller shafting was of hollow steel and 25.2 in diam.  On trial, the vessel attained a speed of more than 20 knots.

The Oceanic had bunker accommodation for 3700 tons of coal, sufficient to enable her to steam 24000 miles at a speed of 12 knots, and was built under Admiralty supervision for use as an auxiliary cruiser if necessary.  The vessel was wrecked off the north of Scotland in September 1914.

Principle dimensions of the Oceanic were as follows:  gross register, 17040 tons; displacement at load draught, 28500 tons; length over all 704 ft; length between perps., 685.7 ft; extreme breadth, 68.4 ft; depth, 49 ft.





















Titanic & National Coal Strike 1912

February 21, 2017 by

In April 1912, the effects of the coal strike were felt in the coaling of Titanic prior to her departure from Southampton. In order for Titanic to have sufficient supplies of coal for the voyage, Oceanic was laid up in the Port to facilitate this.

The average working man’s week in 1912 would consist of 56 hours. A skilled workingman in a full year would earn around £100 a year being just enough to raise a family. By contrast a crewman on Titanic would hope, with good health and regular work to earn about £60 a year enabling him to survive. It is also interesting that in 1900, 40% of recruits to the armed services were rejected on grounds of ill health.

The Poor Law introduced in 1834 was a last desperate means of assistance and in 1912, 780,000 in England & Wales were receiving relief. Over half were inmates in residential institutions as in hospital, asylum or workhouse where they were clothed and fed. Children would receive some schooling and in return for this care, all workhouse paupers would have to work for several hours each day. The poor themselves hated and feared the threat of the workhouse so much that there were riots in northern towns.

The growth of Trade Union membership accelerated between 1900 and 1913 from two million to just over four million. In 1912 over 40 million days were lost through strikes. The coal strike of the hard winter of 1912 that lasted from February to April impacted on thousands who died from hypothermia, and resulted in over one million to be out of work. Merchant seamen were affected too as a consequence of ships being laid up.

Dockworkers and seafarers in this period were casually employed, and had to routinely queue at the Dock gates each morning for work. Despite the poverty and unfairness in 1912, employment opportunities in the service sector and new industries were expanding, offering more reliable sources of employment leading up to the outbreak of WW1.

2016 Joseph Bell website Review

December 31, 2016 by

During 2016 the website had over 2000 visitors, being a small increase over the the previous year and sustaining the continuous interest in the Titanic Chief Engineer, Joseph Bell,  the visitors viewed just over 4700 items and were from 80 countries.  The following are the top ten countries who used the website during the year:











Thanks to all visitors for their continue interest during 2016 and wish all

a Happy New Year.

Did Coal Fire Sink Titanic?

December 31, 2016 by

“A new theory that a fire in a coal bunker on the liner RMS Titanic contributed to its sinking has been put forward, as the fate of the liner remains a subject of much debate.

Ray Boston, who has devoted 20 years to researching the subject, said the reason Titanic was travelling so quickly through dangerous waters was because of an “uncontrollable” coal fire on board which began during speed trials in Belfast 10 days before it left Southampton.

The fire was still burning when the liner set off, creating a floating time bomb which had the potential to cause “serious explosions” below decks before it reached New York.

Mr Boston cites the testimony of Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line, which owned Titanic, to an inquiry into the catastrophe in which he told investigators he was forced by John Pierpont Morgan, the ultimate owner of the ship, to instruct the crew to cross the Atlantic at full speed.

“Morgan thought it was necessary, in order to justify his gamble, that they should reach New York and unload all the passengers before the inevitable explosions occurred,” he said.

Fireman J Dilley, a stoker aboard Titanic who survived to give evidence to the inquiry, added weight to the suggestion of an uncontrollable fire in coal bunker six of the ship.

“We didn’t get that fire out and among the stokers there was talk that we’d have to empty the big coal bunkers after we’d put the passengers off in New York and then call on the fireboats there to help us put out the fire,” he said.

“But we didn’t need such help. It was right under bunker number six that the iceberg tore the biggest hole in the Titanic.”

At 11.40pm on April 14, 1912 Titanic struck an iceberg while travelling at high speed through the icy waters of the Atlantic, and by 2.20am she had sunk beneath the waves with the loss of nearly 1,500 passengers and crew. Just 711 people were saved.

An inquiry into the disaster, presented to Parliament in the summer of 1912, described the ship as travelling at “high speed” through the dangerous ice-filled waters, giving the crew little opportunity to avoid a fatal collision with an iceberg.

The inquiry found that Titanic’s speed, of about 22 knots, was “excessive” considering where it was, off the coast of Newfoundland, and that additional look-outs should have been posted on all sides of the liner rather than just in the crow’s nest.

When the look-out spotted the approaching iceberg, he sounded the warning and the vessel was immediately turned hard to starboard and the engines put into full reverse, but it was already too late to avoid disaster.

Mr Boston said it was clear that Morgan was aware of the fire before the ship set sail but that the news was hushed up so as not to alarm passengers.

It was, perhaps, for this reason that Morgan quietly cancelled his ticket on the maiden voyage the day before the ship set sail, said Mr Boston.

“The crew, who had been sworn to silence, knew very well he was not [on board] because they had watched him, late on the night before his ship was due to sail… carrying his own luggage down to his Rolls-Royce on the quayside,” he said.

“Why? Because he knew there was an uncontrollable fire down in coal bunker number six.”

But not all experts on the disaster agree with Mr Boston’s assessment. Geoff Pattison, a member of the American and British Titanic Societies and lecturer at Northumbria University, is sceptical.

“The Diana inquiry took 10 years and millions of pounds to decide that it was an accident, and this is how I view the Titanic,” he said.

“I think this is a case of conspiracy after the fact, like the Kennedy assassination. It was just a simple twist of fate.”


S S Ionic March 1894

November 8, 2016 by

This account from the Auckland Star, illustrates the passage and procedure of a voyage from the London Victoria Docks to New Zealand in 1894.

Joseph Bell was appointed Chief Engineer to S S Ionic in 1894, and over the subsequent period of five years, 1894-1899, he sailed on S S Ionic for fourteen voyages to New Zealand that took an average 122 days to complete.


“The Shaw, Saville, and Albion Company’s steamer lonic, from London, arrived here at 6.55 a.m. today. She left the Royal Albert Docks, London, on Thursday, March 22nd, at 0.47 p.m., and calling at Plymouth on the 24th and taking passengers and mails on board the lonic proceeded on her way, meeting with fresh S.E. breezes across the Bay of Biscay, from thence strong S.W. to westerly winds until arrival at Tenerife on March 29th. After coaling here she proceeded at 10.32 a.m. the same day for Capetown, experiencing moderate variable breezes to the line, which was crossed on Wednesday, April 4th, at 5 p.m., thence until arrival in Table Bay on Thursday, April 12th, at 10 p.m., moderate to fresh S.E. Trades. The voyage was resumed on April 13th after having embarked a few passengers. Light to moderate variable winds were encountered to long. 50deg E., thence strong breezes to an occasional moderate gale, wind varying from N.N.W. to S. W., to long. lOOdeg E. ; from thence to port, rainy, dull and overcast weather was experienced, high following sea and squalls of wind, being principally from W. to N.W. The Mewstar was passed at 6.38 a.m., and lonic arrived at Hobart Wharf at 1.20 p.m. After landing about 140 tons of general merchandise, and passengers, the lonic left at 6.25 a.m. on 2nd May for Auckland, experiencing on the voyage across S.W. to westerly winds and weather squally and rainy until the coast of New Zealand was sighted. The run down the coast was particularly fine, wind S.S.W. and sea smooth, arriving as above. Capt, Kidley, R.N.R., who is in command, is assisted by the following officers:—Chief officer, W, L. Dangerfield Chapman (Lieut. R.N.R.): second, R. W. James; third, E. Crosby Roberts: Joseph Bell, R.N.R., chief engineer; G. R. McMahon, second engineer; W. Reid, third engineer; Walter S. Inm, purser. Since her last voyage to New Zealand the lonic has undergone extensive alterations at the hands of her builder, Messrs Harland and Wolff. She has been fitted with new quadruple expansion engines of the largest type. Her passenger accommodation has, been entirely re-arranged on the lines of the new twin-screw steamship Gothic belonging to the White Star line, and she has been provided with new refrigerating apparatus—Hall’s system—capable of dealing with 36,000 carcasses and 217 tons dairy produce. The lonic leaves for Wellington probably tomorrow evening.”



£85,000 for Titanic Locker Key

October 24, 2016 by

The key, that was attached to a brass tag stamped “Locker 14 F Deck’ was sold for £85,000 pounds sterling, which was anticipated to fetch £50,000 at auction, together with other items from Titanic yesterday

The key was used by Sidney Sedunary aged 23, from Shirley, Southampton – a third class steward who died on April 15th 1912 as a consequence of the sinking of RMS Titanic.

The key was sent to Mr Sedunary’s pregnant wife Madge after his body was recovered and remained in the family until the sale.

One of the other lots sold, included a postcard written on board the Titanic by the chief wireless operator Jack Phillips that sold for £19,000.


Family Farm Cumberland 1896

September 13, 2016 by

PARK HOUSE 1913: Frank Fisher.  This record of past times written by Frank Fisher on the 3rd December 1913 about Park House Farm, Wreay, must also be very typical of the family farm that was home for Joseph Bell in Farlam prior to leaving home aged 15, to begin his apprenticeship in 1876 with R & H Stephenson & Co, Shipyard in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Frank’s essay which was carefully written in clear cursive writing with few corrections and only a few spelling mistakes gives fascinating insight into farming life in Cumberland just prior to the 1st World War.

“It is not a very large one, being about one hundred acres. Most of the land is used for grazing. About thirty acres of it is hilly ground. We have about three hundred sheep and about seventy cattle. Having not much ploughing, the most we do is about forty acres. We have four horses to do the ploughing and a trap horse. We use the hilly ground for grazing the sheep and cattle.

 We have a self-binder, a machine which is a great important reaper, it binds the corn as it cuts and so saves all the trouble of binding the sheaves, we also have a mowing machine.

 My father gets two servant men and one servant girl. We have two sheep dogs. The land is well watered by the river Peteril. We have about one acre of potato land. We have two meadows. We grow about twenty acres of turnips. The corn we grow is cut by the self-binder. We have a corn-crusher to crush the corn for the horses.

 The cows have the hilly land to graze in. The milk we get from the cows is separted and the separated milk is given to the calves. We have twelve cows. The cows stop in on winter nights and go out through the day. In summer the cows are out day and night.

 There is a dutch barn joying to the buildings. In the dutch barn the corn in kept. We grow about twenty cares of corn. Most of the corn we grow is put in the dutch barn. What we can’t get into the dutch barn is put into stacks. All the hay is put in the dutch barn. We sometimes make two stacks if we have to feed the sheep away in the fields. We get the steam thresher to thresh the corn. After the corn is threshed we take it to the mill to get it made into otemeal.

 There is a quary in our land and we have to rail it off to keep the sheep and cattle from falling in. Before we did this one of our best bullocks fell in and got its neck broken. We sent for the butcher right away and he butched it. Last summer we lost three of our sheep in the flood. They were found at Carlisle in the Eden. We buy black cattle in the winter and fatten them and sell them in the spring. We generally have about one hundred lambs. We get an extra man to look after the lambs in lambing time, because the other men have no time.

 I hope that I have been able to give you some idea of the usual size of a Cumberland farm which has about one to two hundred acres of ploughing, grazing and meadow land”

This Frank Fisher essay appeared in’Pine Cone’ the Newsletter of The Friends of St Mary’s Church, Wreay, Cumbria in May 2016.  The researcher Adrian Allan discovered the Frank Fisher essay at the Carlisle Archive Centre.