A newly discovered SOS telegram from the Titanic challenges the owners’ claims that they heard nothing from the ship on the day it sank.
In the inquiry into the 1912 tragedy, Philip Franklin, the boss of shipping company White Star Line, swore on oath he had not received any word from the ship after it had hit an iceberg.
Franklin declared to a US Congress hearing held just days after the catastrophe which claimed the lives of 1,523 passengers and crew that not a word or communication of any kind or description’ had come from the stricken liner.
Instead he insisted he had only heard the news from Bruce Ismay, general manager of White Star Line, who had been onboard but was saved by rescue ship the Carpathia.
But a newly discovered distress telegram which was directly addressed to Franklin at White Star Lines’ New York office appears to dispel his denials for the first time.
The desperate message, sent via communications company Western Union, reads: ‘We have struck iceberg. Sinking fast. Come to our assistance. Position: Lat 41.46 N. Lon 50.14 W.’
It is not known exactly when the SOS was sent but Titanic struck the iceberg at 11.40pm on April 14, 1912 and sank at 2.20am on April 15.
Experts say the telegram proves that White Star Line bosses would have known that Titanic, which they had billed as the ‘unsinkable ship’, was going down.
The document was completely unknown until it was listed for auction by a seller who inherited it from his cousin whose father was a collector of old telegraphic equipment.
It is not known exactly how many telegrams were sent from the Titanic after it struck the iceberg because the log was destroyed when the liner sank.
There are believed to be around 15 telegrams in existence, two of which were sent to the US and UK postal services to explain why the mail the liner was carrying would not be delivered.
The sensational document is now tipped to fetch $40,000 (£26,000) when it goes under the hammer at Heritage Auctions in the US.
Don Ackerman, consignment director at Heritage Auctions, said: ‘The sinking of the Titanic is an event cemented in history and there are very few things about it that are unknown.
‘But this telegram is one of those rare items that no-one knew existed until now.
‘It was sent from the Titanic to the New York offices of White Star Line as the liner was sinking, something the company later denied.
‘Almost immediately after the Carpathia docked in New York carrying the rescued passengers there was a Congressional hearing about what had happened.
‘Philip Franklin, the head of White Star Lines, vehemently claimed he had not received any word directly from the Titanic as it was sinking and that he had been unaware it was going down until he was told by White Star Line general manager Bruce Ismay, one of the survivors.
‘But it makes perfect sense that if your ship is going down one of the first telegrams you’d send is to the company that owns it.
‘We’re not sure exactly how many emergency telegrams were sent from the Titanic because the log went down with the ship.
‘The only way we have of knowing what was sent is to look at the telegrams in existence, of which they are around 15.
‘We know the Titanic sent telegrams to the UK and US postal services because they were carrying letters and parcels.
‘But this particular one has spent the last 103 years ‘lost’ – no-one knew it existed until the consignor came to us with it.
‘We can’t 100 per cent say that Franklin saw this telegram but its emergence challenges his claim that no message was sent to White Star Line.
‘The ship went down in the early hours of the morning up near Newfoundland so it’s not like Franklin could have acted to save it from sinking.
‘However the fact that this telegram is addressed to him at his office seems to contradict what he and White Star Line claimed.
‘Titanic was supposed to be the unsinkable ship and it was almost like they struggled to come to terms with the fact that it had actually gone down.
‘This is the only telegram in existence sent from Titanic to White Star Line so its significance is enormous.
‘Memorabilia from the Titanic goes for a lot of money and we are expecting a lot of interest in this telegram.’