Titanic - Food for all Classes

by Paul Louden-Brown FRSA

Olympic Menu Cover

Titanic was the epoch of her era, a veritable city afloat and for many a wonderland to explore and enjoy on their first journey across the Atlantic Ocean. 
 
Dining at sea has traditionally been the highlight of any passenger’s day and for all classes of passenger Titanic offered something new and different. Printed menu cards overflowed with the latest French cuisine for 1st Class passengers. Those in 2nd Class had selections that rivaled most regional hotels and in 3rd Class plain simple food and lots of it were the order of the day.

What is perhaps hard to appreciate today is the high standards of service experienced by all passengers in 1912. For 1st Class passengers dining in Titanic’s Restaurant and paying extra for this exclusive dining experience, service and cuisine was on a par with the finest European hotels like the Ritz or Hotel Cecil in London. Unlike the many hotels that sprang up in Britain and across Continental Europe during the great expansion of the railways in 1890s and early 1900s, meals for each class of passenger had always been included in their contract ticket.

Dining, particularly in hotels, was frowned upon by the upper classes in the 1890s. Many old established families simply did not dine out in public. A new King and the new Edwardian era changed attitudes, particularly amongst the younger members of the gentry. Modern industrial wealth of America and the many millionaires this created, also helped change attitudes towards dining in public.

The ocean liners played their part too in the effective democratization of dining. The class system became more defined and on a person's financial status, rather than their social position, following the structures set in place by the railway companies with their three class system. Before this, in the 1880s and 90s, there were two classes - Cabin (1st) and Steerage (3rd) - the differences between the two were huge. Cabin was luxurious, even by today’s standards. The finest food served at table by uniformed stewards with crested china, silver-plate and glassware. By comparison in Steerage basic meals, mostly consisting of boiled meats and vegetables cooked in a single pantry with passengers serving themselves cafeteria style and eating their meals next to where they slept; until the early 1890s they even had to provide their own eating utensils.

Steerage accommodation in White Star liners in the 1880s
Above, Steerage accommodation in White Star liners in the 1880s was failrly basic compared with the accommodation provided for 3rd Class passengers in Titanic. Single men and women were segregated, forward and aft; the midships of the vessel reserved for families. All Steerage passengers took their meals below deck and next to their bunks. The bunks and tables were designed in such a way as to be portable. At the end of the voyage to New York, the accommodation was turned over for the carriage of frieght or livestock. In this way White Star was able to off-set the costs of the largely one-way emigrant traffic and increase its profits per voyage. (Click on images to enlarge)

Food was cooked and served to Steerage passengers from a small pantry on the same deck as their sleeping accommodation
Above, food was cooked and served to Steerage passengers from a small pantry on the same deck as their sleeping accommodation.

The emergence of a new middle-class of white collar worker - teachers, factory managers, lawyers - meant Cabin was simply too expensive and too exclusive, but travel in Steerage was similarly out of the question. The solution was initially to create a small 2nd Cabin, as this new class was eventually styled, in a section of a vessel's existing passenger accommodation. The first White Star liner to trial this accommodation, for just 50 'intermediate' passengers, was Adriatic (Yard No. 77) in 1883.

As the middle-classes rapidly expanded so the need for purpose built accommodation to satisfy this demand. By the early 1900s the three class system on the North Atlantic was firmly established with the big four operators, Hamburg-Amerika, North German Lloyd, Cunard and White Star all operating large modern fleets of vessels able to cope with this new class of passenger.

By the late 1900s, in comparison, the provision of 1st Class dining for many wealthy passengers was just not good enough. New money had to an extent created a democracy where if you could afford to travel in 1st, despite your humble origins, you could dine next to a duke. For the social elite of the time, this presented a terrible social dilemma.

The solution in part was to further divide 1st Class by offering in the ‘Olympic’ class an extra charge Restaurant and other special dining areas. Initially this was conceived by J. Bruce Ismay and the senior management of the company as a small experiment in the first of the new ‘Olympic’ class liners, based in part on the lead made by the Hamburg-Amerika Line in this area. Had Olympic and Titanic been planned for the Liverpool to New York service it is unlikely this type of dining experience would have been incorporated in the planning of their 1st Class passenger accommodation. The transfer of the company’s express steamers to the Southampton-New York service, a direct challenge to the German, French and Dutch lines and an attempt to gain a larger proportion of the premium 1st Class business, meant these ships had to offer similar or enhanced facilities in order to entice passengers away from the competition. The extra charge Restaurant in Olympic and Titanic was an important part of this plan.

The Restaurant was only available for 1st Class passengers. They dined à la carte and were required to book tables in advance, sometimes described as an ordeal by those not used to the snobbish attitude of restaurant staff towards customers they considered of lower social rank, regardless of their financial standing. Despite some passenger reservations the experiment was such a success that the next Restaurant in Titanic was expanded to meet demand and included an adjoining café.
 
The Restaurant in Titanic. Located on B Deck the room was exquisitely decorated and furnished in the French Louis XVI or Louis Seize style with seating for upwards of 150 customers
Above, the Restaurant in Titanic. Located on B Deck, the room was exquisitely decorated and furnished in the French Louis XVI or Louis Seize style with seating for upwards of 150 customers.

The Restaurant in Titanic was a very special place. The Restaurant had its own kitchen and preparation areas, used a different pattern of china and silver-plate and the bill of fare each day printed on a special design of menu card. Operated as a private concession and managed by A. P. Luigi Gatti, an Italian restauranteur who owned several establishments in London, he also operated the Restaurant in Olympic. Over 60 staff, mostly French and Italians, were employed and paid directly by Gatti, but overall control of both these Restaurants remained with White Star. For Titanic’s first voyage, Gatti brought over Pierre Rousseau, his head chef in Olympic. Rousseau, aged 49, was born in France but had worked for many years in Britain. Highly experienced, he had become a chef at the prestigious North British Station Hotel in Edinburgh opened in 1902 as well as in one of Gatti’s London establishments. 

Located on B Deck the room was exquisitely decorated and furnished in the French Louis XVI or Louis Seize style with seating for upwards of 150 customers. Compared with Titanic’s 1st Class Dining Saloon, the Restaurant was small, but had been expanded in size from the original design in Olympic to incorporate a reception room for pre-dinner drinks and an adjoining Café Parisien. The Restaurant was panelled from floor to ceiling in beautifully figured French mahogany of a delicate fawn colour, the carvings and other ornamental details highlighted with gold leaf.
 
At the end of a voyage passengers, along with their drinks account, had this card slipped under their cabin door on the last night outAbove, at the end of a voyage, passengers, along with their drinks account, had this card slipped under the door of their suite of rooms on the last night out.

Meals in the Restaurant cost 3/- for breakfast, 3/6- for lunch and 5/- for dinner (in today’s money £7.20; £8.40 and £12). If a passenger elected to take all his or her meals in the Restaurant an allowance of between £3-5 (£144-£240) was made off the ocean fare depending on the price paid for their ticket. This rather anomalous arrangement was allowed under Atlantic Conference rules (the body put in place by the shipping lines to agree and set fares on the North Atlantic) but on one occasion resulted in an amusing incident.

In the early 1920s White Star received a request from one of their long standing agents in Scandinavia for a complimentary return ticket for his daughter to travel to the US. The agent had booked large numbers of passengers and therefore the company was happy to oblige. A 1st Class ticket for Olympic was duly issued and the young lady, by all accounts a great beauty, boarded the White Star Flagship at Southampton. On that first day, she met and fell into conversation with a young man who suggested they take luncheon together in the Restaurant rather than the ordinary 1st Class Dining Saloon - he would pay and the young lady agreed. From then on the couple spent every meal dining in the Restaurant, or taking afternoon tea or supper in the Café Parisien. Her new acquaintance also suggested she order breakfast in her suite of rooms which she duly did, all added to the account of her devoted admirer. On the morning of Olympic’s arrival, the young lady, who by now was a seasoned traveller and dining alone, was reminded that if all meals were taken in the Restaurant she was entitled to a refund. She duly went to the Purser’s Office and on checking receipts and seeing these were under another passenger’s name duly issued her with a cash refund. Fortunately the company saw the funny side, recording in their boardroom minutes that in future complimentary tickets should not include cash bonuses!

For those passengers wishing to dine in private, suites of room were provided with their own separate dining area. Menus were arranged and cards printed for special occasions if required. Breakfast served in cabins was another hotel innovation introduced onboard and made possible by the use of food warmers. These covered dishes were divided into three segments, the food keep piping hot by a hot water jacket beneath on the sometimes lengthy journey in Titanic from the serving rooms to a passenger’s suite.
 
Silver-plated food warmer
Above, a silver-plated food warmer designed by Elkington but made under license by Goldsmiths’ & Silversmiths’ Co. Ltd and bearing their trademark Regent Plate. Elkington & Co. had received such a large commission from White Star, for the new ‘Olympic’ class liners, that it simply could not fulfill the order unless other makers were involved. Goldsmiths’ & Silversmiths’ also provided the unique design of silver-plate for Olympic and Titanic’s Restaurants.
 
Passengers’ servants were provided with their own Maids & Valets Dining Saloon located on Titanic’s C Deck, the entrance to which was to the side of the bottom of the Grand Staircase. They were served at table by uniformed White Star stewards, but their silver-plated napkin rings had no decoration and bore the engraved word ‘SERVANTS’. In this strange in-between world, they had neither the rights nor privileges of 1st or 2nd Class passengers but were still considered more important than the ship’s crew and therefore dined apart. Their employers paid £15 10/- for their single passage in a four berth room; traveling in a three berth the cost rose to £20 and in a two berth to £25 (about £1,200 in today’s money) and equivalent to the average 2nd Class fare but three times that of a 3rd Class fare.
 
For Titanic three distinct types of silver-plated napkin ring were designed
Above, for Titanic three distinct types of silver-plated napkin ring were designed. L-R - 1st Class pattern used in the Restaurant and Café Parisien, designed by Goldsmiths’ & Silversmiths’ Co. Ltd and part of their Regent Plate range. Servants were provided with a plain ring marked with the word ‘SERVANTS’ and manufactured by Elkington & Company. 1st/2nd Class passengers used the same design of ring again made by Elkington as part of their ‘Olympic’ pattern specially designed for the new ships, but the rings for 2nd Class carried a small Maltese cross for identification. Lastly a printed tissue napkin was provided for 3rd Class passengers.
 
3rd Class passengers were provided with printed tissue napkins
Above, 3rd Class passengers were provided with printed tissue napkins.

In Titanic’s 2nd Class the same design of ‘Olympic’ silver-plate and fine bone china was used, but unlike 1st Class the range of tableware was significantly reduced. In 1st grape scissors were provided, in 2nd Class passengers had to pull grapes from the bunch. Apart from the indignity of having to handle grapes in such a manner much of the service was put on a par with the 1st Class Dining Saloon.
 
Silver-plated knife and fork in Elikington’s ‘Olympic’ pattern
Above, a silver-plated knife and fork are in Elikington & Company’s ‘Olympic’ pattern; part of the enormous service of plate specially designed for the new class of vessels.

Because the Titanic and his sister Olympic offered such enhanced facilities for passengers in 1st and 2nd Class tickets for 2nd Class were equal to that charged by other shipping lines for 1st Class.

The Hart family, emigrating to Winnipeg in Canada, originally booked passage in 1st Class in the American liner Philadelphia. A coal strike in Britain resulted in a number of vessels, including Philadelphia, being laid up and their passengers transferred to additional steamers. In the case of the Harts they were fortunate. The American Line belonged to the International Mercantile Marine Company, the same business that owned White Star and arranged for their transfer to Titanic. Under Atlantic Conference rules the Harts 1st Class ticket was downgraded to 2nd Class in the new liner. But any disappointment, the family might have felt travelling in 2nd Class, was more than made up by the extra facilities provided in Titanic.

Meals for both 1st and 2nd were prepared in the same culinary departments described at the time as being ‘among the most complete in the world’. The main kitchens, serving rooms, pantries, bakeries sculleries were located on the Saloon Deck between the 1st and 2nd Class Dining Saloons.

Constructed on a vast scale the huge cooking ranges were manufactured by Henry Wilson & Co. Ltd., of Liverpool. Coal fired, the two ranges had a frontage of 96ft and incorporated 19 ovens, reckoned at the time to be the largest ever constructed. Elkington & Co. supplied the enormous range of cooking pots, all made in copper, zinc lined with heavy brass handles.

Wilson’s advertisement for their ranges published at the time Olympic entered service
Above, Henry Wilson & Co. Ltd. received a special commission from Harland & Wolff to design and build the cooking ranges for Olympic and Titanic. This advertisement was published in June 1911, shortly after Olympic entered service.

Wilson’s was a leading manufacturer of cooking ranges and pioneered the introduction of electrical equipment such as toasters, ovens and potato peeling machines
Above, Wilson’s was a leading manufacturer of cooking ranges and pioneered the introduction of electrical equipment such as toasters, ovens and potato peeling machines resulting in more efficient and cleaner kitchens like those fitted in the new White Star liners Olympic and Titanic.
 
One of the enormous zinc lined copper cooking pots supplied for Olympic and Titanic
Above, one of the enormous zinc lined copper cooking pots supplied for Olympic and Titanic. This particular example is capable of holding ten gallons of water.

A White Star Line cooking pot recovered from the wreck site of Titanic
Above, another White Star Line cooking pot. This one recovered from the wreck site of Titanic. The combination of zinc and copper in salt water and in contact with iron has resulted in the copper of the pot being eroded away over time.

Although no record survives in the form of menu cards for what was served to 1st and 2nd Class passengers at breakfast on 14 April menus for other days survive. From these examples, it is possible to gauge what was served in each class on the last day.

On 11 April, as Titanic approached Queenstown, her 1st Class passengers were served the following:
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1st Class Breakfast


Baked Apples 1                Fresh Fruit                    Stewed Prunes
Quaker Oats 2                    Boiled Hominy 3                    Puffed Rice 4
Fresh Herrings
Findon Haddock 5                                                                                Smoked Salmon
Grilled Mutton    Kidneys & Bacon
Grilled Ham                                            Grilled Sausage
Lamb Collops 6                                                                            Vegetable Stew
Fried, Shirred, Poached & Boiled Eggs 7
Plain & Tomato Omelettes to Order
Sirloin Steak & Mutton Chops to Order
Mashed, Saute & Jacket Potatoes
Cold Meat
Vienna & Graham Rolls 8
Soda & Sultana Scones                                          Corn Bread9
Buckwheat Cakes 10
Black Currant Conserve 11                    Narbonne Honey 12
Oxford Mramalade* 13
Watercress 14

*The printer’s error in typesetting the word marmalade has been retained.
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Breakfast, often described as the most important meal of the day, for Titanic’s 1st Class passengers was of truly gigantic proportions. Unlike today, most passengers had at least three courses. Breakfast served to 2nd and 3rd Class passengers on 14 April was in many respects similar to what most people would expect to see on the menu in an average hotel today.

Menu selections for all classes, excluding the Restaurant, were the responsibility of Titanic’s 2nd Steward Andrew Latimer. Working together with the heads of the various culinary departments each day’s menu, was planned according to the ingredients available and when food was in season. Advances in refrigeration, cold storage and a faster supply chain from slaughter houses, fish markets and fruit and vegetable suppliers offered a far greater variety of food for all passengers than had previously been available.

Latimer was another of the senior staff transferred from Olympic to Titanic. His reference book of recipes, published in 1911, was left behind at Southampton and provides a wealth of information in order to decode many of the menu selections published onboard Titanic. The following is the descriptions of some of the lesser know dishes reprinted for 1st and 2nd Class.
 
1. Baked Apples - served with a sugar and cinnamon glaze.

2. Quaker Oats - an American brand of breakfast cereal which first went on sale in 1901. By the mid 1900s the brand was firmly established across the US and began to appear regularly on the menus of transatlantic steamers.

3. Boiled Hominy - dried corn, boiled and combined with condensed milk, vanilla and nutmeg making a kind of porridge.

4. Puffed Rice - also made by the Quaker Oats Co.

5. Findon Haddock - produced by a cold-smoking method using a combination of green woods and peat from Findon, near Aberdeen. The smoking process gave the fish a distinct flavour that was appreciated not only in Scotland but in London thanks to the expansion of the rail network.

6. Lamb collops - tenderized lamb steaks with salt and black pepper coated in flour and fried in butter along with mushrooms and onions.

7. Eggs - before advances in refrigeration and cold storage chickens were carried onboard. Shirred Eggs are eggs baked in a flat-bottomed dish, called a shirrer, with butter and seasoning.

8. Vienna & Graham Rolls - Vienna rolls, known as Kaiser rolls, but not on British ships, is a crusty round shaped roll the top divided with a five pointed symmetrical patterns. Graham rolls - made with Graham flour and baked onboard. All bread was baked fresh each day.

9. Corn Bread - popular in the Southern States of the US, cornbread started to appear regularly on steamship menus from the 1890s.

10. Buckwheat Cakes - were more like a crepe than a pancake with a nutty flavour often served with butter and maple syrup.

11. Black Currant Conserve - made by Wilkin & Sons Ltd., in Essex and part of their ‘Tiptree’ brand was also served in Cunard Line vessels.

12. Narbonne Honey - produced in the Aude district of south-western France, was an expensive product in 1912 and seldom available onboard steamers. The honey was very light in colour, described as white or ivory, with the strong scent of rosemary.

13. Oxford Marmalade, made by Frank Cooper in the town of the same name was very popular with consumers despite its relatively high cost. By the early 1900s it was a well established brand helped to a great extent by the factory’s proximity to stations on the London & North Western and Great Western Railways making both the delivery of ingredients and distribution of the finished product as efficient as possible. The L&NWR had direct links to Liverpool and Cooper’s largest customer the White Star Line for Titanic’s 1st Class passengers.
Cooper’s marmalade had another icy connection when it was taken to Antarctica as part of the provisions on Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

14. Watercress was considered a health food and eating it at the end of the meal was believed to aid digestion.
 
Such was the continued popularity of the marmalade with passengers and the close business connection with White Star, in the early 1920s advertisements for it appeared on company issued postcards, the only business allowed to promote its product like thisAbove, such was the continued popularity of the marmalade with passengers and the close business connection with White Star, in the early 1920s advertisements for it appeared on company issued postcards, the only business allowed to promote its product like this.
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2nd Class Breakfast


BREAKFAST.
Fruit
Rolled Oats 1                                                                Boiled Hominy
Fresh Fish
Yarmouth Bloaters 2
Grilled Ox Kidneys & Bacon
American Dry Hash au Gratin 3
Grilled Sausage, Mashed potatoes
Grilled Ham & Fried Eggs
Fried Potatoes
Vienna & Graham Rolls
Soda Scones
Buckwheat Cakes, Maple Syrup
Conserve                                                            Marmalade
Tea                                                                                    Coffee
Watercress
 
 
1. Rolled Oats - also made by the Quaker Oats Co.

2. Yarmouth Bloaters - is wholly cold smoked herring from Great Yarmouth. Salted and lightly smoked, without having been gutting, the results gave a characteristic slightly gamey flavour.

3. American Dry Hash au Gratin - is corned beef served on a bed of potatoes, butter and cheese.
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14 April

1st Class Luncheon


LUNCHEON.
Consommé Fermier                            Cockie Leekie
Fillets of Brill
Egg À l’Argenteuil

FROM THE GRILL.
Grilled Mutton Chops
Mashed, Fried & Baked Potatoes

Custard Pudding
Apples Meringue                                                                            Pasty

BUFFET.
Salmon Mayonnaise                        Potted Shrimps
Norwegian Anchovies            Soused Herrings
Plain & Smoked Sardines
Roast Beef
Round of Spiced Beef
Veal & Ham Pie
Virginia & Cumberland Ham
Bologna Sausage                                                                                            Brawn
Galantine of Chicken
Corned Ox Tongue
Lettuce                                    Beetroot                                    Tomatoes

CHEESE.
Cheshire, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Edam,
Camembert, Roquefort, St. Ivel.1
Cheddar

Iced draught Munich Lager Beer 3d. & 6d. a Tankard.
 
1. St. Ivel was a kind of mild flavoured cheddar cheese, introduced in 1909 and quickly became an established favourite under the brand name St. Ivel Lactic Cheese.  Made at Yeovil in Somerset the makers Aplin & Barrett Ltd. claimed ‘Its lactic cultures act as a corrective after rich Christmas fare, by keeping the system sound and healthy.’
 
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1st Class Dinner


Hors d’Œuvre Variès
Oysters

Consommé Olga        Cream of Barley

Salmon, Mousseline Sauce, Cucumber 1

Filet Mignons Lili 2

Sauté of Chicken Lyonnaise 3

Vegetable Marrow Farcie

Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce
Sirloin of Beef    Chateau Potatoes 4

Green Peas    Creamed Carrots
Boiled Rice
Parmentier & Boiled New Potatoes

Punch Romaine 5

Roast Squab & Cress 6

Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

Pàte de Foie Gras 7

Celery

Waldorf Pudding

Peaches in Chatreuse Jelly 8

Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs 9

French Ice Cream 10
 
1. Salmon, Mousseline Sauce, Cucumber - mayonnaise sauce, whipped aspic and cream.

2. Filet Mignons Lili - is accompanied by a wine butter sauce, topped with a piece of pàte de foie gras and truffles on a bed of buttery potatoes Anna.

3. Sauté of Chicken Lyonnaise - is tomato sauce with Portugal onions and chopped parsley.

4. Chateau Potatoes - are potatoes cut in oval shapes and fried.

5. Punch Romaine - is Roman punch - a lemon water ice with whipped whites of eggs and rum. Served as a palate cleanser after or before a roast main course. Modern recipes include Champaign in the recipe but in 1911 this was not included by White Star.

6. Roast Squab & Cress - young pigeon served on a bed of wilted watercress.

7. Pàte de Foie Gras - goose livers, cut in slices and set in a mould of aspic.

8. Peaches in Chatreuse Jelly - in a mould ornamentally lined with pieces of peaches and filled with peach marmalade (jelly).

9. Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs - unlike eclairs today these were filled with custard, flavored with vanilla pods, instead of fresh cream.

10. French Ice Cream - made with eggs a much heavier and richer version than American ice cream.
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2nd Class Dinner


DINNER.
Consommé Tapioca
Baked Haddock, Sharp Sauce
Curried Chicken & Rice
Spring Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce
Green Peas                                                                        Purée Turnips
Boiled Rice
Boiled & Roast Potatoes
Plum Pudding
Wine Jelly                                        Cocoanut Sandwich
American Ice Cream
Nuts Assorted
Fresh Fruit
Cheese                         Biscuits
Coffee
 
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3rd Class


BREAKFAST.
Oatmeal Porridge & Milk
Smoked Herrings, Jacket Potatoes
Ham & Eggs
Fresh Bread & Butter
Marmalade                    Swedish Bread
Tea                Coffee

DINNER.
Rice Soup
Fresh Bread                Cabin Biscuits
Roast Beef, Brown Gravy
Sweet Corn    Boiled Potatoes
Plum Pudding, Sweet Sauce
Fruit

TEA.
Cold Meat
Cheese    Pickles
Fresh Bread & Butter
Stewed Figs & Rice
Tea

SUPPER.
Gruel            Cabin Biscuits            Cheese

Any complaint respecting the Food supplied, want of service
or incivility, should be at once reported to the Purser of Chief
Steward. For purposes of identification, each steward wears a
numbered badge on the arm.
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The daily menu for 3rd Class passengers was provided on a single card that also doubled as a postcard. The note published on the bottom of every menu card assured passengers that the company took their welfare very seriously.

The use of a postcard was also a clever marketing ploy. Postcards cost on average 1d (about 50p in today’s money); the reverse listed the company’s routes and with enough space for a short message, family and friends at home received both an advertisement as well as a note on the progress of their loved ones journey.

A large proportion of those travelling to the US was termed chain migration, young, independent travellers going out to join family members already established in the US. The second largest group was the first time migrant. Again travelling alone, once established in the US, for example, they would save up money for other members to travel across to join them. These patterns of migration were identified by the company and menu cards played their part in ensuring that whole families travelled by the same line.

3rd Class stewards number identification badge
Above,
3rd Class stewards number identification badge. This particular example belonged to a steward serving in Titanic named Thomas Mullin.
 
The badges worn by stewards in 1st Class were enameled
Above, in comparison the badges worn by stewards in 1st Class were enameled. This example is believed to have belonged to Thomas A. Whiteley a steward working in the 1st Class Dining Saloon. Whiteley had a remarkable escape from the sinking vessel, swimming around for five hours in the freezing waters before he was rescued. In remembrance of that terrible night he had the reverse of the badge engraved ‘TOMMY “TITANIC” 14th. April 1912.’

The White Star line was at pains to impress would-be immigrants that their comfort was one of the company's most important considerations: 'the steamers have a Dining and Social Hall, fitted with a piano... At meals, tables are properly laid and served by the ship's stewards.' As far as food was concerned the company policy of providing the best applied in equal measure to the cost of each passenger's contract ticket: 'only the best supplies the market afford find their way on these steamers... meals are wholesome and varied.' Examples of what was provided for breakfast included various types of smoked fish, ham, sausages, eggs and different types of cereals and breads. Unlike the meals served to 1st and 2nd Class, the main meal of the day for 3rd Class was at midday and called dinner (lunch for 1st and 2nd was generally a lighter meal, their main meal, dinner, served in the evening). On offer at dinner was soups, roast meats, curries and various kinds of dessert ranging from plum pudding to American ice cream. At teatime, there were selections of cold meats, cold pies (mutton and potato), cheese, pickles and more bread and butter. For supper gruel, cabin biscuits and cheese. During every meal tea and coffee were served.

3rd Class Dining Room in Oceanic
Above, the 3rd Class Dining Room in Oceanic. In many respects the service for passengers travelling in this vessel from 1899 onwards, when she entered service, was similar to Titanic. The notable difference between this vessel and Titanic was the type of seating; in Titanic chairs were no longer bolted down to the deck in 3rd Class. A contemporary White Star promotional brochure boasted of the improving standards in 3rd; ‘The Dining Room is now what its name signifies, a room specially set apart in which one may dine or partake of food; and not merely a certain space on the ship which may serve the various purposes of a sleeping apartment, a refectory, or a sitting room.'

At the other end of the scale from the meals prepared by Pierre Rousseau in the 1st Class Restaurant was Charles Kennell, the Hebrew or kosher cook working in 3rd Class. Like Rousseau he too had been transferred from Olympic. Virtually nothing is known about Kennell apart from his age of 30 years and that he was born in South Africa. We can assume he was an experienced kosher cook because this was an important part of the food service provided for Jewish passengers.

Before White Star transferred its express steamers from Liverpool to Southampton the numbers of Jewish passengers and those from eastern Europe leaving via Liverpool was tiny in comparison with the numbers embarking from ports from northern Europe. Therefore kosher food service was not a priority and those Jewish passengers that did take passage to the US from Liverpool often brought their own food with them or in a number of cases chose to fast during the passage.

The company stated the reason from transferring the express service from Liverpool to Southampton was to it make easier for 1st and 2nd Class passengers to embark or disembark from English Channel ports and in order to reduce their rail journey times between various ports and cities like London and Paris. The actual motivation behind the move and the only one that justified the enormous financial outlay in constructing and operating vessels like Olympic and Titanic was migrant traffic.

British and Irish migration had remained steady for a number of years, whilst migration from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe in particular had dramatically increased. White Star’s main Liverpool rival was Cunard. Their new express steamers Lusitania and Mauretania from 1907 posed a significant threat on the Liverpool to New York service. Faster, larger and built and operated on a British Government low interest loan and annual subsidies, in order to keep the company British, White Star were competing with a business that had a significant financial advantage over them.

Despite the best efforts of White Star’s American owners, the International Mercantile Marine Company, to monopolise 3rd Class traffic across the Atlantic by the late 1900s White Star was trailing in forth place behind Hamburg-Amerika, North German Lloyd and Cunard in terms of numbers of 3rd Class passengers carried. Decisive action was required beginning with the transfer to Southampton and the building of vessels capable of challenging the numerical passenger carrying supremacy of the German lines and the financial advantages enjoyed by their British rival Cunard.

Following the company’s transfer to Southampton many more Jewish passengers travelled by White Star and therefore the need to provide kosher service on an established basis and rival the service already established by the German lines was obvious. Migrants of all races and religions were so important that without this traffic vessels like Olympic and Titanic would never have been completed.

Although no menu exists for the types of meals provided for Jewish passengers in Titanic, the company’s specimen bill of fare printed on sailing schedules in 1913 noted; ‘Kosher Meat supplied and Cooked for Jewish Passengers as desired.’ In 1906 one White Star Line surgeon noted ‘In certain companies carrying third-class passengers across the Atlantic - the White Star, for example - special kosher cooks are provided for the Hebrew element among the passengers. Kosher-killed meat, too, is supplied. The same provision is made for most of the other nationalities carried in large numbers by the company.’

Further underlining the importance of this particular group of migrants, a Rabbi was invited onboard the vessel to check that the kosher food was correctly prepared and served on separate dishes from those provided for other passengers use. Tableware was suitably marked with the words ‘MEAT’ or ‘MILK’ in both English and Hebrew. Initially older silver-plate from 1st and 2nd Class, worn and past its best used and stamped accordingly. After the 1st World War china and silver-plate was specially made to cater for the growing numbers of Jewish passengers.

The bill of fare as published on a 1913 White Star Line sailing bill
Above, the bill of fare as published on a 1913 White Star Line sailing bill. 

3rd Class Dining Room in Titanic
Above, world's apart from Steerage of the 1880s was Titanic's 3rd Class Dining Room. Irish linen tablecloths, monogrammed tableware and uniformed stewards were the order of the day for White Star's most important passengers.
 
There was sound reason for the spartan accommodation provided for 3rd Class passengers. The cost of furnishing these spaces to a similar level as in 2nd Class was never considered, not because the company wished to economize on an area of the vessel they considered unimportant, quite the opposite. Soft furnishings such as carpet, curtain, carved panels and other decorative surfaces could potentially harbour germs. Lice, fleas and other parasites were an ever present problem among the emigrant population and often difficult to detect at medical inspection before boarding a vessel. The same applied to passengers’ baggage. A number of ports such as Queenstown employed steam cleaning equipment but without modern insecticides the problem of infestation of a vessel’s passenger and crew accommodations remained a serious problem. Each port of call had its own sanitary inspector and if any infestation in the vessel, or disease in a passenger was detected, a vessel was liable to be detained in port or worse its passengers refused permission to land. Many of these precautions were a legacy from the sailing ship era and Steerage accommodation that was poorly ventilated and where passengers were berthed together in open dormitories. However, as vessels became larger and more emigrants were carried, the problems to a certain extent became greater. Fumigation of an infected area, use of strong disinfectants and the steam cleaning of passengers and crews baggage were all employed in the never ending battle against disease carrying parasites.

Marshall Sanitary mattresses were provided for all classes in Titanic
Above
, Marshall Sanitary mattresses were provided for all classes in Titanic.
 
In order to reduce the problems of infestation wherever possible all surfaces were white enamel painted. Floors were laid with linoleum tiling and furniture made from close grained hardwoods, stained and varnished in order to seal the surfaces. No soft fabrics or cushioning were provided. Bedding was another issue. At the end of every voyage, all these items were sent to the White Star Laundry for disinfection or steam cleaning. Mattresses, manufactured by the Marshall Sanitary Mattress Co. Ltd., were specially designed to allow for steam cleaning and were provided in various standards from their Vi-Spring designs for 1st and 2nd Classes to the simple sprung and horse hare filled variety for 3rd Class.

Titanic can truly be described as a city afloat. Each class of passenger in the new White Star liner experienced higher standards of service and food provision than had been available just a decade before. Titanic is remembered as a terrible tragedy and it certainly was. The loss of the vessel shaped our understanding of safety at sea, changed the design and methods of ship construction and overhauled outdated British Government legislation. Nevertheless, the most important aspect of Titanic, as an emigrant ship, is practically overlooked. Emigration shaped the liners of the Edwardian era. The First World War and the virtual collapse of the passenger business, combined with the restrictions on the numbers of emigrants permitted into the US after the war, signalled the end of this era. Titanic stands, as a memorial as much for disaster but the end of an extraordinary period in human history.

Text and images © Paul Louden-Brown/White Star Line Archive
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Titanic Belfast offer a number of special food tasting events giving visitors an opportunity to sample the types of the dishes served on board Titanic or from the shipbuilding era such as our special Afternoon Tea by the Grand Staircase each Sunday inspired by Titanic's menus. Stay up to date with all of our Upcoming Events for further information.