Titanic sinking foretold in fictional accounts years before disaster

The Titanic's plunge into the frigid Atlantic on April 15, 1912, was predicted several years before the disaster — not by an oracle or in a conspiracy theory but in seemingly innocuous works of fiction about shipwrecks on the high seas.
In this April 10, 1912, file photo, the Titanic leaves Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage to New York City. Five days into its journey, the ship struck an iceberg and sank, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 people. (Associated Press)

The Titanic's plunge into the frigid Atlantic was predicted several years before the disaster — not by an oracle or in a conspiracy theory but in seemingly innocuous works of fiction about shipwrecks.

The most striking and prophetic example is The Sinking of a Modern Liner, written in 1886 by English journalist W.T. Stead.

The story is eerily similar to the actual Titanic's ill-fated demise. In Stead's book, an ocean liner leaves Liverpool and while on a journey to New York City, becomes involved in a collision. In the ensuing panic, many passengers drown because there are too few lifeboats.

In a strange twist of fate, Stead inadvertently foretold his own death in the book: he was onboard the Titanic when it sank in April 1912.

It would appear his own work didn't dissuade him from embarking on long ocean journeys across the Atlantic. 

The captain of the ship in Stead's book brandishes a revolver to keep steerage passengers from storming the lifeboat deck, a detail that some have chalked up as another similarity with the real-life disaster but that historical accounts like A Night to Remember by Walter Lord have debunked.

It was, however, picked up by James Cameron, who used a similar revolver scenario in his 1997 film rendition of the Titanic disaster.


Stead's book was not the only pseudo-supernatural foretelling of the Titanic tragedy. There was also Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, written in 1898 by American author Morgan Robertson.

A girl looks at a sculpture by Irish artist Ross Wilson honouring the workers who built the Titanic in east Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March, 28, 2012. A crane from the Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built can be seen in the background. (Peter Morrison/Associated Press)

Here, a ship called the Titan is also deemed "unsinkable" but hits an ice shelf and does just that, sinking off the coast of Newfoundland, much akin to the Titanic.

Strangely, the Titan is described as having almost the same dimensions as the Titanic and also carries too few lifeboats — a running theme in nautical literature of the time. Stranger still, this ship slams into the ice shelf almost at the same speed at which the Titanic was travelling when it hit the iceberg that inflicted the lethal damage that caused it to sink.

References to the book have since popped up quite a bit in fiction, from the Alan Moore graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to the Doctor Who audio drama The Wreck of the Titan, which was partly based on Robertson's story.

The Ship's Run

Then there is The Ship's Run, written in 1908 by detective scribe M. McDonnell Bodkin. The ship in this story is called the Titanic and is described in similar terms as the famous liner would be four years later: Bodkin calls his fictional vessel "the largest and fastest passenger boat afloat."

This similarity is a little too precise and indicates that Bodkin may have read about plans for the real ship's construction when he was researching his book. The ship treads a similar path as the doomed liner of the same name but, mercifully, doesn't hit anything at sea on its voyage.

The White Ghost of Disaster

This short story by Thornton Jenkins Hains (writing under the pen name Mayn Clew Garnett) was published in 1912 just as the Titanic was setting sail.

Hains's story is about a ship called the Admiral, an 800-foot ocean liner that strikes an iceberg at a speed of 22.5 knots in the North Atlantic and sinks. A large number of passengers die, as there aren't enough lifeboats to go around.

While the story was still appearing on newsstands in the pages of Popular Magazine, the 882-foot Titanic struck an iceberg at exactly the same speed.