Thomas Andrews (shipbuilder)

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Thomas Andrews (shipbuilder) : biography

7 February 1873 – 15 April 1912

Andrews headed a group of Harland and Wolff workers who went on the maiden voyages of the ships built by the company (the guarantee group), to observe ship operations and spot any necessary improvements. The Titanic was no exception, so Andrews and the rest of his Harland and Wolff group travelled from Belfast to Southampton on Titanic for the beginning of her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912. During the voyage, Andrews took notes on various improvements he felt were needed, primarily cosmetic changes to various facilities. However, on 14 April, Andrews remarked to a friend that Titanic was "as nearly perfect as human brains can make her."

On 14 April at 11:40 PM, the Titanic struck an iceberg on the ship’s starboard side. Andrews had been in his stateroom, planning changes he wanted to make to the ship, and barely noticed the collision. Captain Edward J. Smith had Andrews summoned to help examine the damage. Andrews and Captain Smith discussed the damage to the ship shortly after midnight, after Andrews had toured the damaged section of the ship and received several reports of the vessel’s damage. Andrews determined that the first five of the ship’s watertight compartments were rapidly flooding. Andrews knew that if more than four of the ship’s compartments flooded, it would inevitably sink. He relayed this information to Captain Smith, stating that it was a ‘mathematical certainty’, and adding that in his opinion, the vessel had only about an hour before it completely sank. He also informed Smith of the severe shortage of lifeboats on board the ship.

As the evacuation of the Titanic began, Andrews searched staterooms telling the passengers to put on lifebelts and go up on deck. Fully aware of the short time the ship had left and of the lack of lifeboat space for all passengers and crew, he continued to urge reluctant people into the lifeboats in the hope of filling them as fully as possible.

One of the most famous legends of the sinking of the Titanic is that of Thomas Andrews standing in the first–class smoking room staring at a painting, "Plymouth Harbour", above the fireplace, his lifejacket lying on a nearby table. The painting depicted the entrance to Plymouth Sound. The painting is often incorrectly shown on television and in movies as depicting the entrance to New York Harbor. But this story, which was published in a 1912 book (Thomas Andrews: Shipbuilder) and therefore perpetuated, came from John Stewart, a steward on the ship who in fact did leave the ship in boat n. 15 at approximately 1:40 a.m.ON A SEA OF GLASS: THE LIFE & LOSS OF THE RMS TITANIC" by Tad Fitch, J. Kent Layton & Bill Wormstedt. Amberley Books, March 2012. pp 321-323

There were testimonies of sightings of Andrews after that moment. It appears that Andrews stayed in the smoking room for some time to gather his thoughts, then he continued assisting with the evacuation. Another reported sighting was of Andrews frantically throwing deck chairs into the ocean for passengers to use as floating devices. Andrews was last seen leaving the ship at the last moment. His body was never recovered.

Finally, on 19 April 1912, his father received a telegram from his mother’s cousin, who had spoken with survivors in New York, searching for news of Andrews. The telegram was read aloud by Andrews Sr. to the staff of the home in Comber: "INTERVIEW TITANIC’S OFFICERS. ALL UNANIMOUS THAT ANDREWS HEROIC UNTO DEATH, THINKING ONLY SAFETY OTHERS. EXTEND HEARTFELT SYMPATHY TO ALL."

Legacy

Newspaper accounts of the disaster labelled Andrews a hero. Mary Sloan, a stewardess on the ship, whom Andrews persuaded to enter a lifeboat, later wrote in a letter: "Mr. Andrews met his fate like a true hero, realising the great danger, and gave up his life to save the women and children of the Titanic. They will find it hard to replace him." A short biography was produced within the year by Shan Bullock at the request of Sir Horace Plunkett, a member of Parliament, who felt that Andrews’ life was worthy of being memorialised.

In his home town, Comber, one of the earliest and most substantial memorials for a single victim of the Titanic disaster was built. The Thomas Andrews Jr. Memorial Hall was opened in January 1914. The architects were Young and McKenzie with sculpted work by the artist Sophia Rosamond Praeger. The hall is now maintained by the South Eastern Education Board and used by The Andrews Memorial Primary School.

Today, the SS Nomadic is the sole surviving ship designed by Andrews. She was the tender to Titanic and Olympic, and is also the last White Star Line ship afloat. Nomadic is currently preserved in Belfast, where she has been fully restored, since the centenary of Titanic’s maiden voyage. By February 2012, Nomadic’s superstructure (with the exception of lifeboats, davits, and a covered bridge) was completely rebuilt and the ship was repainted in her original White Star Livery. Nomadic is the centerpiece of Titanic Quarter, a previously-derelict section of Belfast now rebuilt and filled with monuments and buildings to honour the Titanic.