A £15.2 million bid to bring over 5,500 artefacts from the Titanic back to British shores has been launched following the collapse of the U.S. based Premier Exhibitions, the sole legal guardian of the collection under the RMS Titanic Inc subsidiary. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy, filed in the United States last June, leaves the collection in danger of being broken up and sold to innumerable private collectors.
Titanic Belfast, the Titanic Foundation, National Museums Northern Ireland and the National Maritime Museum have launched a joint endeavour, the Titanic Artefacts Collection Campaign, to ensure that the trove returns to the United Kingdom, where the Titanic was built, and equally to ensure the collection remains intact and held in public ownership
“These artifacts, which are of great historical significance, are at risk of being spilt up, sold to private collectors and lost as an identifiable collection, therefore, we are campaigning to bring these artifacts home, where they will be protected and preserved, through public ownership and on display for the world to enjoy.” – Conal Harvey, vice chairman of Titanic Belfast
Premier Promotions, who toured with the artefacts in a number of “blockbuster exhibitions” was for years the centre of controversy over what Boston University’s Ricardo Elia once called “the crass commercialization of history,” including selling of Titanic Coal on its website for $25 and attempting to secure the rights to auction the collection.
“In early 2017, when I heard the news of the current owner’s bankruptcy, I felt it was our duty to try to save the collection as a whole.Alongside our partners, we will ensure that the collection is protected and preserved for generations to come.” – Kevin Fewster, director of the National Maritime Museum
Launched this Tuesday in Belfast, the campaign looks to raise enough funds to support a bid for the collection and is backed by National Geographic (who have donated $500,000) as well as film director James Cameron, the man ultimately responsible for 1997’s Titanic, alongside his noted work in underwater documentaries and technology. The campaign is also being significantly backed by former US naval commander Dr. Bob Ballard, who was led the discovery of the wreck in 1985 and diving exhibitions from 1987.
“I’m lending my voice to this campaign as it is the right thing to do, this bid is the only viable option to retain the integrity of the Titanic collection. The collection deserves to be returned home to where its journey began.” – Dr. Bob Ballard
The 5,500 artefacts in question, which range from parts of the vessel, fittings and furnishings to personal possessions of the victims and everything in-between, were recovered from the wreck site during the course of seven exhibitions between 1987 and 2004 by RMS Titanic Inc. The now bankrupt company gained exclusive salvage rights over the discovery after Ballard’s original exhibition chose not to raise any artefacts for reasons of respect. The artefacts have since travelled around the world to serve as centerpieces to museum exhibitions and private exhibits.
The campaign says that, if the bid to return the relics to Belfast is successful, Titanic Belfast will be the principal venue for the public display of artefacts. The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which will be joint custodian of the collection alongside National Museums Northern Ireland, will also host a selection of the artefacts on display. Artefacts not on display will be cared for and stored at the National Maritime Museum’s Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre which provides state-of-the-art conservation and storage facilities for artefacts. The campaign will also seek responsibility for the preservation of the wreck itself.
The involvement of a plethora of respectable institutions alongside that of Dr. Ballard, who spoke of his own misgivings surrounding the commercial endeavours that followed his own photographing expeditions, will hopefully ensure a dignified and respectful home being found for the collection.
“The Titanic lives on in our imaginations, not because of a slew of artifacts brought back to daylight but because her story is universal. I still cherish the hope that the wreck our Franco-American team found and photographed will someday be turned into an internationally protected memorial. But protected or not, the Titanic will always stand as a haunting monument to the heavy price of human arrogance.” – Dr. Bob Ballard, 1995
Michael East is a writer with a wide variety of eclectic tastes including politics, history, archaeology, professional wrestling and British science-fiction. A former Students' Union President and newspaper editor, he has studied at a variety of institutions and graduated in both history and politics.
He is interested in truth, justice and the unAmerican way. Named as TIME Person of the Year in 2006 and 2011, he is known variously as a rake, a libertine and as the King in the North... if to nobody else but himself.