Did This Book Predict The Titanic Disaster?


While researching deep-sea submersible systems for his film “The Abyss”, film maker James Cameron met undersea explorer Robert Ballard, leader of the crew that had located the Titanic wreckage off the coast of Newfoundland.  This chance meeting would turn out to be the inspiration for Cameron’s idea for a movie that would feature a British luxury liner that collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic early in the morning on April 15, 1912. 

On April 10, 1912 the real RMS Titanic slipped away from Berth number 44 at the White Star Line dock in Southampton and into history.  Considered the pinnacle of naval architecture and technological achievement, Titanic was thought to be “practically unsinkable”.  The first class passenger list for its maiden voyage featured some of the richest and most prominent people in the world.  It included John Jacob Astor IV, Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy’s department store owner Isidor Straus, socialite Molly Brown, journalist William Thomas Stead, and American silent film star Dorothy Gibson.

Because the Titanic was considered unsinkable it carried the miniumum number of lifeboats.  The great ship, at that time the largest and most luxurious afloat, was designed and built by William Pirrie’s Belfast firm Harland and Wolff to service the highly competitive Atlantic Ferry route. It had a double-bottomed hull that was divided into 16 presumably watertight compartments.  She sank on that “Fatal Night” at 2.20 a.m. on Monday April 15th, 1912 on her maiden voyage with the loss of 1,523 lives after she brushed against an iceberg.

 Uncanny, but true!

At the moment the Titanic hit the iceberg, the silent version of the film The Poseidon Adventure was being screened aboard ship. 

In 1898 (14 years before the titanic sunk), American author Morgan Robertson published a short fictional novel named “Futility”.  The novel featured the misadventure of a British ship named “Titan”.

Did the book predict the Titanic disaster?

The fictional ship Titan is eerily similar to the yet-to-be conceived Titanic in size, speed, equipment, numbers of passengers (both rich and poor), and those lost.

Both ships were British and sailed in April with a top speed of 24 knots. They had the same passenger and crew capacity of 3,000 but sailed with a little over 2,000. Also they were between 800 and 900 feet long and driven with triple propellers. Each also sank 95 miles south of of Greenland.  Here’s the most astonishing fact: both ships sank after being pierced by an iceberg on their starboard side.

Robertson’s book tells the story of a large triple-screw luxury ocean liner named the Titan. The Titan was the largest ship afloat with the best in modern technology, including 19 watertight bulkheads, causing it to be widely regarded as unsinkable. The Titan was also the largest ocean liner built, at a length of 800 feet, a weight of 45,000 gross tons, and a capacity of 3000 people. It had just set off on a voyage across the North Atlantic, carrying many wealthy and affluent passengers.

Moving at her full speed of 24 knots through cold waters on an icy April night, the Titan collided with an iceberg on the fore-starboard side close to midnight, tearing gashes in the ship below the waterline. The Titan lacked enough lifeboats for all of those aboard, and eventually sank resulting in a tremendous loss of life, despite the watertight compartments.  There were few survivors.

The fictional Titan was an 800 foot-long triple-screw steamer, while the Titanic was 882.5 feet long, also a triple screw steamer. Both had a capacity of 3000 people.  The Titan weighed about 45,000 gross tons, and the Titanic weighed in at 46,328. The Titan had 19 watertight compartments, and the Titanic had 15.  Because of these compartments, both ships were regarded as unsinkable. The Titan and the Titanic carried wealthy and well known passengers.  Both the Titan and the Titanic struck an iceberg on a cold April night while crossing the North Atlantic, causing damage to the forward starboard section.  The Titan hit the iceberg “close to midnight”, while the Titanic collided with its iceberg at 11:40pm.  Both ships lacked enough lifeboats to save all aboard, causing great loss of life. 

With all of these obvious similarities, you might think that Robertson ‘borrowed’ the story of the Titanic for his book, but in that theory there is just one problem:

“Futility” Robertson’s fictional account of the Titan was written in 1898 – fourteen years before the Titanic sank in 1912!!!  

The coincidences do not end there:

The year 1998 marked both the 100th anniversary of Morgan Robertson’s novel and James Cameron’s film of the Titanic.

Dorothy Gibson, the 28-year-old silent screen actress, was the resident movie star for the Titanic. She would later star in “Saved from the Titanic”, a movie made one month after the disaster. Her costume was the dress she wore on the night of the sinking.

On April 15, 1913, one year after the sinking of the Titanic, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and Time Ball, mounted atop the Seamen’s Church Institute in New York, were dedicated to honor the passengers, officers, and crew who perished in the sinking.  The plaque on the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse reads:

This lighthouse is a memorial to the passengers, officers and crew who died as heroes when the steamship Titanic sank after collision with an iceberg.



APRIL 15, 1912

The lighthouse memorial stood above the East River on top of the old Seaman’s’ Church Institute at the corner of South Street and Coenties Slip From 1913 to 1967.  In July 1968 the Seaman’s’ Church Institute moved to its present quarters at 15 State Street.  That year the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse was donated by the Kaiser-Nelson Steel & Salvage Corporation to the South Street Seaport Museum where it can be viewed today by visiting the South Street Seaport or by using Google Earth (Clue: find the corner of Fulton St. & Pearl)