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Significant Scots
Joseph William Bell

Joseph William BellAt 23.40 on Sunday 14th April 1912, SS Titanic hit the fatal iceberg that sank her some three hours later at 02.20 on Monday 15th April. Joseph Bell the son of John and Margaret, farmers at Farlam in Cumbria, was the White Star Line Chief Engineer and had served his apprenticeship at the Stephenson Works in Newcastle upon Tyne. He was a well respected and very capable engineer at the top of his trade and was appointed to Chief Engineer of the Titanic, the most celebrated job in engineering at the time. Titanic had 29 huge boilers and 159 furnaces to drive the 50,000 horsepower engines that turned the triple screws attaining a speed of 22.5 knots.

When the disaster struck, Joseph Bell was at his post in the boiler rooms. As the ship slowly foundered, he gathered his engine room crew into boiler rooms 2 and 3 to keep the boilers going to maintain power for the pumps and lights to give the ship the best possible chance of staying afloat long enough for the "California", who was 4 hours steaming away, to reach them.

Unfortunately, the Titanic was foundering faster than any rescue ship could reach it and at 02.18, it was reported by a eye witness that the great ship having foundered by the bows with the stern high in the air above the freezing Atlantic, the ships lights blinked once and were extinguished when she broke in two between Boiler room 1 and 2. At this exact time, Joseph and his crew died as the Atlantic gushed into the broken ship. It is certain that without the power generated by Joseph and his crew throughout the death throes of the ship, that even more people would have died.

He is commemorated on the plaque in the old White Star building in Liverpool and also on his Mother’s tombstone at Farlam Church with the epitaph …"greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…"

Thanks to James Bell for sending us this account.

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