The RMS Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, four days after the ship’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York went sour. The White Star liner had an estimated 2,224 people on board when it struck an iceberg at around 11.40pm, and her sinking two hours and 40 minutes later resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people. But it was also holding some valuable cargo.
As part of the 100th anniversary commemorating the sinking of the vessel, a spectacular collection of priceless jewels recovered from the bottom of the ocean went on public display.
Mark Lach, Creative Director of ‘Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition’ said in 2012: “We are fascinated 100 years later with this story, it’s almost the perfect story.
“It was the largest moving vessel ever made by the hands of man, practically unsinkable that met its fate in 1912.
“For the first time, we are bringing all the jewels of Titanic together in one exhibition.
The Titanic sunk with a treasure trove of items
Titanic sunk in 1912
“25 years ago, most of these were recovered in one single leather bag.
“In this bag, there were documents, banknotes and also these jewels belonging to the rich and famous of the Titanic.
“Some of the jewellery we know who they belong to, some we don’t, but each piece has a story to tell.”
Fast-forward more than six years and the collection of 5,500 artefacts discovered from the wreckage over the years went on auction.
It was sold to satisfy the bankruptcy debts of Premier Exhibitions, the company that collected them from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and mounted exhibitions around the world to show them off.
More than 1,500 people lost their lives
Appraisers valued the Titanic items at £200million and the salvage rights to the ship were also up for grabs, but the winning bid was actually made by a group of investors for £19.5 million.
But explorer David Gallo, who led the 2010 Titanic expedition, believes there is a lot more waiting to be discovered.
He said in 2017: “Personally, I’ve got this thing for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which is a book of Persian poems, and the binding is jewel-encrusted.
“It’s somewhere on that ship at the bottom of the sea.”
RMS Titanic, a unit of Premier, has been the only company legally permitted to collect artefacts from the Titanic wreck since 1994.
Captain Smith was in charge of the ship
Items went on display in 2012
According to the company, it conducted eight dives between 1987 and 2010, during which more than 500,000 digital images and more than 1,570 hours of video were shot.
In January 2020, the UK and US governments signed a treaty designed to protect the wreckage of the Titanic from damage by those wishing to remove artefacts.
Announcing the ratification of the agreement by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the UK maritime minister, Nusrat Ghani, said the agreement would ensure the site was “treated with the sensitivity and respect owed to the final resting place of more than 1,500 lives”.
The news came as the US company RMS Titanic Inc revealed plans to use underwater robots to “surgically remove” a roof on the ship so it could retrieve items including a Marconi wireless system used to make the ship’s final distress signals.
The UK Department for Transport says the treaty means the British and US governments have the power to grant or deny licences to enter the ship and remove items, and that unauthorised activity will be punishable by large fines.
A watch was uncovered in the search
Binoculars were uncovered in the hunt
But RMS Titanic Inc has reportedly argued the new treaty has “no teeth” in US law, and has filed a notice of intent to retrieve items from the ship at the US district court in eastern Virginia.
They announced this week that it has developed a special robot to reach in through a deck house roof and extract the Marconi without the need to cut into the wreck.
The company has partnered on the project with Guernsey-based deepwater specialists Magellan Limited.
Originally scheduled to occur this summer, the expedition has been moved to 2021 to abide by travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Marine archaeologists are planning to return
The Titanic was built in Belfast and set off on its maiden voyage from Southampton on 10 April 1912. It struck an iceberg five days later, broke apart and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic.
The ship was discovered in 1985 lying in international waters about 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, two and a half miles below the ocean’s surface.
Dozens of expeditions to the wreck have been carried out since it was discovered, and some experts claim this is causing it to deteriorate more quickly.