SOS indicates Titanic owners may have lied about not knowing the ship was sinking

The long held claim by the owners of the Titanic that they had heard nothing of the ship's problems on the day it sank has been dramatically challenged by the discovery of an SOS telegram sent on that night.

A model of the Titanic which sank after hitting an iceberg in April 1912

A model of the Titanic which sank after hitting an iceberg in April 1912 Image by Les Chatfield / CC BY 2.0

The boss of the shipping company the White Star Line, Philip Franklin, swore on oath at the 1912 tribunal into the sinking that he hadn’t heard anything from the ship after it hit an iceberg crossing the Atlantic on its maiden voyage.

The Titanic was built in Belfast and was said to be "unsinkable' but went down on its maiden voyage

The Titanic was built in Belfast and was said to be "unsinkable' but went down on its maiden voyage Image by Leslie Shaw / CC BY 2.0

He told a US Congress hearing days after the tragedy - which saw 1,523 passengers and crew lose their lives - that “not a word of communication” had been sent from the stricken ship. The MailOnline reports that Franklin’s version was that he only found out about the catastrophe from the general manager of the line, Bruce Ismay, who was on board and had been rescued by the Carpathia liner.

However the recent discovery of a distress telegram addressed in person to Franklin at the White Star Line’s offices in New York is at total odds with his denials. In the message sent through Western Union, the writer says that the ship has “struck iceberg.” The SOS goes on to say that the Titanic was “sinking fast. Come to our Assistance,” before giving their position in the ocean.

While it is unknown exactly when the telegram was dispatched, the ship hit the iceberg at 11.40pm on April 14 and sank within three hours, on April 15, 1912. Experts now believe the owners would have known that the “unsinkable ship” was in the process of sinking.

There was no knowledge of the new document until it was listed by a seller for auction. He said he had inherited the telegram from a cousin whose dad had a hobby of collecting old telegrams. No one knows how many telegrams got sent on the night as the ship’s log was destroyed in the sinking.

Up to now it was understood that about 15 telegrams sent from the Titanic were still in existence. The new document will sell for up to US$40,000 according to experts when it is sold at Heritage Auctions this weekend in the USA.

Related content