Is This the Final Photograph of the Titanic?

The image holding the "final photograph of the Titanic" title comes down to a matter of minutes.

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A viral photograph features the final glimpse of the Titanic before it sank.
Image via Reddit

Claim

A viral photograph features the final glimpse of the Titanic before it sank.

Rating

What's True

This is a genuine photograph of the Titanic that was taken a few days before the ship sank. However...

What's False

While it is one of the final photographs of the Titanic currently known to exist, it is not the final photograph of the ship.

Origin

A photograph is frequently shared online along with the claim that it provides the final glimpse of the Titanic before it struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean in April 1912. 

This is a genuine photograph of the Titanic that was taken on April 11, 1912. While this is truly one of the final pictures to show the Titanic afloat before its ill-fated journey, it isn’t quite the “final picture” of the Titanic. Another photograph taken by first class passenger Kate Odell appears to have been snapped a few minutes after the above-displayed image. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of these photographs, let’s set the scene.

The Titanic’s maiden voyage started on April 10, 1912, in Southampton, England. The ship stopped in Cherbourg, France and then set sail for Queenstown (currently known as Cobh), Ireland, where it arrived around noon on April 11. The ship would remain off the coast of Queenstown for less than two hours as a couple tender boats transferred boarding and disembarking passengers to and from the ship. It was during this time period that the last photographs of the Titanic were taken. The Titanic was spotted once more by a passing vessel after it left Queenstown for its main journey to New York, but no photographs were taken during this sighting.

Titanic Belfast writes:

On 11th April 1912 at 11.30am RMS Titanic dropped anchor in Queenstown, Ireland at Roches Point outer anchorage. Today named Cobh, the port was the luxury liner’s final port of call on its maiden journey, before setting sail on the longest leg of the voyage to New York, USA.

Tenders PS Ireland and PS America were waiting in the dock to transport 123 passengers out to board – 63 men and 60 women, for many of whom Queenstown was the gateway to a great new world. Several of the crème de la crème passengers had boarded at Cherbourg, therefore passengers boarding at Queenstown consisted of only 7 Second Class and 113 Third Class ticket-holders.

The above-displayed photograph, referred to as the “Morrogh Image,” was taken by John Morrogh during this brief stop in Queenstown on April 11, 1912. Morrogh, an alumni of Ireland’s Castleknock College, was reportedly on holiday with his wife and younger brothers, two students at the Irish school, when they spotted the Titanic. Morrogh’s brothers would take the photo back to school where it would be published in the Castleknock College Chronicle. 

The claim that this is the final photograph of the Titanic stems largely from an article published by Encyclopedia Titanica in 2004. This article, however, appears to be a mixture of anecdotal assumptions (entire conversations are reproduced without any source material) and factual information. The majority of this article is spent detailing the life of Morrogh. When it comes to providing evidence that the “Morrogh Image” was the final photograph of the Titanic (and not one of the photographs from Browne or Odell), only a few brief sentences are given stating that this “appears to be the last known authentic snap of the RMS Titanic on the surface of the ocean.”

We asked Ken Marschall, a Titanic expert and the visual historian for the James Cameron movie, “Titanic,” for his opinion on the Morrogh Image. Marschall told us that while the Morrogh Image is real and that it is truly one of the last photographs of the Titanic, a photograph taken by Kate Odell was the absolute final (known) photograph of the storied ship. 

Marschall provided us with a detailed analysis of the Morrogh Image which involved a close examination of the visible sunlight on the ship’s deck, the cloudy sky, the presence (or lack there of) of smoke billowing from the Titanic, and the presence / absence of a wake. The most important detail of Marchall’s analysis, however, deals with the smaller boat that can be seen in front of the Titanic in the Morrogh image.

The Encyclopedia Titanica claims that this smaller boat is a pilot boat that was used to carry the harbor pilot back to Queenstown. If that was the case, then the Morrogh Image would truly be the final photograph of the Titanic. However, Marschall’s analysis indicates that this boat is too large to be the pilot boat and that it is actually one of the tenders that carried passengers, including Odell, back to the mainland. 

The proximity of this tender to the Titanic provides another clue as to when it was taken. In the Morrogh Image, the tender is relatively close to the ship. A few minutes after the Morrogh Image was taken, as the tender carried passengers away from the ship and back to Queenstown, Odell looked back at the magnificent ship and snapped what became the final photo of the Titanic before it sank. 

Marschall said: 

In my opinion, the last image of the ship that is currently known is the one taken by first-class passenger Kate Odell as she and her party were on the tender “Ireland” heading toward Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, after disembarking. You can see the wake of the tender at right. Titanic is underway, has turned from her anchorage, and is heading roughly southward.

This means that the Morrogh photo, in which a small vessel is clearly at Titanic’s side, had to have been taken several minutes earlier.

We reached out to Günter Bäbler, the president of the Swiss Titanic Society, who agreed with Marschall’s analysis. Bäbler said that he was able to rule out the possibility that the Morrogh Image was the final photograph of the Titanic. Instead, Bäbler agreed that Odell’s photo is the final photograph of the Titanic. 

I did a lot of research on the various photos and can definitely rule out that the [Morrogh Image] is the last photo known of Titanic before the sinking. I was able to figure out the exact location from where it was taken, and yes, it is absolutely a genuine Titanic photo. I discussed things with Ken as well, and we agree that Kate Odell’s photo is the last one until another surfaces.

So what was the final photograph of the Titanic? Here’s the image from Marshall’s Facebook page:

See more about the Titanic from Snopes:

Recent Updates
  1. CORRECTION [17 August 2021]: Article updated to note that the Titanic was seen, but not photographed, once after leaving the port of Queenstown.
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