Previously unpublished photographs of the launch of the Titanic have gone on display in Northern Ireland.


Previously unpublished photographs of the launch of the Titanic have gone on display in Northern Ireland.

The album includes an image of the famous vessel going down the slipway in the Belfast shipyard where it was constructed, with excited spectators chasing behind.

The liner hit an iceberg in April 1912 on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. More than 1,500 passengers and crew drowned.

The prints were taken by a director at the Harland and Wolff yard in Belfast. The owner of the album purchased it at an auction two years ago and decided to put it on public display.

William Blair, a human history expert, said: “The ship seems to be a perfect mirror reflection of society, you learn the class distinctions, the social codes of that era. It is almost Downton Abbey at sea.”

The photo album, containing 116 prints, has gone on display at the TITANICa exhibition at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum near Belfast.

Visitors will not be able to leaf through it because of the danger of damage but visual displays will show and explain the photographs, Mr Blair said.

The photos belonged to John W Kempster, who was a director and master of ceremonies at Harland and Wolff in east Belfast at the time of the Titanic and its sister ship the Olympic. They were acquired by Steve Raffield at an auction two years ago.

Mr Raffield said: “I am of course thrilled and delighted that these wonderful photos will now go on public display at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.”

The Titanic was launched in May 1911, setting out from Belfast for Southampton a year later. The Olympic was floated earlier.

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Among the prints are 13 pictures from the launch of the Titanic, including chairman of the shipyard Lord William Pirrie returning from an inspection.

Mr Kempster managed the electrical department at Harland and Wolff in the early 1900s.

Many of the photos feature his family on board the Olympic on its maiden voyage, one showing two boys having a pillow fight and ladies taking part in an egg and spoon race on board.

Mr Blair added: “This is an important addition to our exhibition because the album has previously unpublished images, including of the Titanic. There are a limited number of photos in existence, any new ones are important and here we have a dozen or more.”

He said they captured the sense of euphoria at the time as well as social history, crowds milling around the docks.

The historian said Mr Kempster had privileged access to the ship and the photos were taken from insider angles.

“We have an album that reflects the lifestyle of a Harland and Wolff director at that time.”

He said it was very evocative of the Edwardian era, the world of 1911/1912 and its status norms, showing a motorcar coming off a ferry.

“The Titanic is like a portal through which you can discover a range of different aspects of social history.”

Whilst on display the album will be closed due to its sensitivity to light but visitors will view it though an audio-visual display which shows the pages turning. Enlargements of some of the photos will feature in the display.



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