Titanic Survivors, www.EFLsuccess.com
Teachers: This lesson can be used after watching a Titanic film, film clips, or without using a movie. See Titanic page for vocabulary, and more about the disaster.
In 1912, the Titanic was the largest, most luxurious ocean liner of her time. On April 14, on its first voyage, it hit an iceberg and sank. Of the 2231 people on board that night, two-thirds (1517 people) tragically died.
If we have time, we’ll talk later about the disaster. But first, before we look at two remarkable survivors, please answer these discussion questions:
1. How much older than you should your spouse be?
2. What would you do if you suddenly became rich?
3. Would your answer change if you (or your daughter) was 19?
Maggie Brown is one of Titanic’s famous survivors. She was born poor, and was part of a large family. As a teenager she decided to marry a rich man, so she moved to a town where they mined silver. At age 19 she married a man in his 30s, and though he was not rich he worked hard and became a leader in a mining company.
Not long after that the price of silver dropped, and times got very hard. But the Browns didn’t give up—they moved to a gold-mining area. The Browns didn’t own the mine, but Mr. Brown worked hard and his bosses liked him. When his company’s mine struck gold, the owners rewarded the Browns with both money and shares in the company, and they became VERY wealthy.
Maggie (often called Molly) used her money to educate herself and others. Outspoken and popular, she also liked to travel and to learn foreign languages. Her main role in the Titanic disaster was to use her five languages to help third class passengers. She also “adopted” several Titanic widows, and testified to Congress about the disaster.
4. What were Molly’s natural “gifts”? (e.g., integrity, generosity, authentic, curious, loyal, skeptical, protective…)
5. What do you think your “gifts” are?
6. How can you best use your “gifts” to help others?
Molly’s Christian faith made her generous, with a deep desire to help others.
7. Which is more common: finding a selfish person or a generous person? Why?
Now let’s look at a remarkable story about another one of the survivors.
The Titanic was one of three “sister ships”: Titanic, Olympic and Britannic.
The Olympic was launched before Titanic, and sailed until 1935 (in between, it survived a collision with the Hawke). The Britannic was launched in 1914 (two years after Titanic sunk), but immediately was changed into a hospital ship (in World War 1). It sank in 1916, probably because of a mine or torpedo.
Violet Jessop had been a stewardess on the Olympic when it collided with the Hawke. Then she transferred to the Titanic, and was among the survivors. Finally, she was a nurse on the Britannicwhen it sank. Her lifeboat was sucked into the Britannic’s still-turning propellers. She jumped into the water but hit her head on the bottom of the lifeboat. Fortunately, someone grabbed her and she was eventually pulled into another lifeboat!
8. How would you have felt if you were Ms. Jessop? Can you explain her good fortune?
Even the Bible never explains good and bad fortune. But Christians believe that our lives are in God’s hands—whether good or bad things happen. We believe that we should always be thankful, and believe that the most important thing is not what happens, but God’s offer to be with us no matter what. (That was always a comfort to me when I was taking exams or facing other difficulties, and when I got disappointing results!)
This piece of history is powerful because it confronts us with things that many people don’t like to think about: responsibility; humility before God/nature; the temporary value of riches; life and death.
The shocking truth is that over 1500 souls suddenly entered eternity on the terrible night of April 14, 1912, and many of them were not ready! Are you ready?
One of my students once summarized the cause of the disaster like this: “Too many people put their faith in the wrong thing.” Another student said: “The people should have listened to the warnings because people don’t risk sounding crazy unless the situation is really serious.”
Indeed, faith and warnings are very important in life.
Last questions: (ask yourself) What are you putting your faith in? What warnings are you ignoring? (ask your partner) What “disasters” might the world be heading for, and why? What can we learn from the past, that can help us live in the future?
More about the Titanic
In 1912, The Titanic was the largest, most luxurious ocean liner of her time. On April 10, it sailed from England, bound for New York City. The crew was proud to be on board; poor emigrants pursuing the American dream boarded her decks, as did some of the world’s richest people. For several days of smooth sailing, her wealthy passengers enjoyed elegant dinners and non-stop festivities in surrounding fit for royalty.
On the evening of April 14, the Titanic ignored numerous warnings of icebergs ahead. At 11:40 pm, the ship hit a huge iceberg. Warm and comfortable in their rooms, many passengers initially refused to believe disaster was upon them. By the time the truth was clear, there simply was not enough room on the ship’s few lifeboats. Of the 2231 people on board that night, two-thirds (1517 people) plunged to an icy, watery grave.
Why did Titanic sink? There were many reasons. It was going too fast, the rudder was too small, the telegraph operator was too busy to pay attention to ice warnings… One of my students once summarized it like this: “They had too much faith in something that didn’t deserve it.” Some say the root cause was “arrogance”: they wrongly believed their technology had “mastered” nature. That should be an eternal lesson for us; no matter how “advanced” we become, we should still have respect for the unknown—for “acts of God” and the mysteries of nature.
9. If you could contact the people in England one week before the Titanic sailed, what would you tell them? (list at least five things, and use English for making suggestions; for example: You should look out for icebergs all night. Tell the captain that he ought to…)
10. Everyone thought the Titanic was unsinkable. If you tell them it is going to sink, do you think they would believe you? Why or why not? If not, would you try to convince them anyway?
11. Some of the passengers had nightmares predicting the disaster, but no one listened. In your real life (today) have you ever had someone try to convince you of something you did not believe? What was it? How did it make you feel, especially if you thought he/she was crazy? Why do people try so hard to convince others about “unbelievable” things?
(One possible answer is that we know there is a risk of being seen as foolish. But we try because we love them, and because we know they are in more danger than they can see.)
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