Even though it’s a century ago, passengers on the Titanic weren’t too dissimilar to us. Class was much more important to them and their religious faith was stronger, but otherwise they were recognisable characters you might meet today. They smuggled their mistresses on board; reprimanded young people for being too noisy; argued with their spouses; stewards mucked around in the pantry; and some of the officers were blinkered job’s-worths while others went out of their way to be kind. During the two hours and forty minutes the ship took to sink, some people behaved with great courage, some were fearful, several made foolish misjudgements and a few were downright selfish. I read recently about Lucile Carter, who divorced her husband after finding out that he had got himself onto a lifeboat before her, leaving her to save their children on her own. When she bumped into him on the Carpathia the next morning, he commented that he’d just had a jolly nice breakfast and he’d never thought she would make it. Grounds for divorce in any country, surely?
Each of the 2,224 people on board had a unique and extraordinary story to tell, but tragically only 711 of them would live to tell it. Analysing what happened on the Titanic gives a fascinating glimpse into the belief systems and moral values of that era, just before the First World War. And for anyone who is interested in psychology, there’s a wealth of insights into the way human beings behave in the most extreme circumstances.