In 2012, it will be 100 years since the sinking of RMS Titanic. The last survivor died a few years ago, aged 97. It is through reading up on local history that I have learned that the sinking of the Titanic need not have been as catastrophic in terms of loss of life as it turned out to be. Eight years before the Titanic sank, the emigrant ship SS Norge struck Hazelwood Rock, just east of Rockall in the Atlantic. The Norge went down in 20 minutes, taking 700 to the bottom with her.
Not all eight of the lifeboats launched from the Norge stayed afloat; some sank at the moment of launch, but a handful were spotted by fishermen and taken to the United Kingdom. One lot of survivors was put ashore at Stornoway, and treated at the local hospital. Nine succumbed to their ordeal and lie buried at Sandwick Cemetery, a 15-minute walk from my position. One boat is thought to have drifted northeast to and beyond the Arctic Circle; but there is no confirmation of her fate.
Nobody has heard of the Norge. No rich and famous on board that ship. Just dirt poor emigrants from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Russia. In particular the Russian emigrants were the undesirables of that country. Jews, who had been packed away onto the western fringes of the Tsarist realm, and generally hated and detested in many circles of the Russia of 1904. The board of inquiry into the sinking of the Norge found that there were insufficient lifeboats for the number of people on board. A recommendation was issued that laws should be introduced, requiring ships to carry sufficient lifeboats, -rafts and other craft to accommodate all on board in the event of abandon-ship. This was not followed through.
This negligence was catastrophic for the passengers on board RMS Titanic on 14/15 April 1912.