Titanic immigrants

09 May, 2010

Titanic docked in Southampton.
Titanic docked in Southampton.
Source: Premier Exhibitions, Inc

Question: I’ve heard that the Titanic also had immigrant passengers. Is this true? I thought it was just a cruise ship for wealthy passengers.

Answer: Titanic’s story is not just one of the rich and famous, but is also one of immigration. Like other liners of the day, she carried passengers from all walks of life. Beyond simply cruise ships, these vessels served a practical function as the only means of transport over the ocean. In the early 1900s large numbers of immigrants were entering the US, and the transport of these passengers was a lucrative trade for shipping companies.

Many of Titanic’s passengers were setting out to make a new life for themselves in the US or Canada. Most immigrants on the ship were third-class (or steerage) passengers, who paid a low fare for simpler quarters and amenities than those in first and second classes. Despite this comparative simplicity, Titanic’s steerage passengers had much better accommodation and food than those on other liners of the day and, for many, far greater comforts than they had been used to at home.

Steerage passengers made up over half the passengers on the ship – approximately 710 of over 1300 people – and the majority of them were immigrants.  They were also those with the greatest loss of life, with over three quarters of third-class passengers killed when Titanic sank en route to New York on 14 April, 1912.

On arriving in New York after their rescue by the Carpathia, surviving passengers were spared the usual immigration process. Third-class immigrants normally went to the famous Ellis Island to be processed before entering America. However, those on Titanic were sent immediately to hospital, immigrant hostels and other facilities, with their paperwork processed later.

For some of the immigrants, the disaster changed their plans completely. A number abandoned their dream of living in a new country, choosing instead to return to their homes. Second-class passenger Argene del Carlo was emigrating from Italy with her new husband but, with his death, was left destitute and set sail back to Italy a month after arriving. Others, such as Emily Goldsmith and her son Frankie, forged on with their intended journey and settled in America.

Comments (9)

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Agnes 23 February, 2012 15:36
hi immigrants are very common could you answer my question? where their pigs on the titanic? seriously need to know. thanks! agnes
Discovery Centre 23 February, 2012 15:56

Hi Agnes,

Please refer to our Titanic animals webpage. Apparently there was a pig on the Titanic - a toy pig!

Jade 3 December, 2013 04:52
Why were most of the stow a ways from Hongkong?
Discovery Centre 4 December, 2013 14:26

Hi Jade, thank you for your enquiry about Chinese stowaways on the Titanic. We are unable to ascertain why the stowaways came from Hong Kong, however you might find the following information of interest, Chinese Stowaways on the Titanic

Lydia 10 May, 2014 06:35
So, just to be clear, was the Titanic going to stop at Ellis Island? I had never heard that, but not I"m curious.
JAZSMINE 22 January, 2015 03:20
Discovery Centre 22 January, 2015 15:18

Hi Jasmine,

More than half the passengers on the Titanic were immigrants; among them were 113 Irish in third class (or steerage), 41 of whom survived and 72 who died.  This website has a very thorough breakdown of the passenger demographics if you are interested.  This paper also offers a lively personal account of the Irish on board.

Maegaen 23 April, 2015 05:00
Sam Stern 26 September, 2016 11:11
I know that there were many immigrants aboard the Titanic and other large ships of its day. Many of these immigrants had to pass through Ellis Island before entering America. Where would a ship the size of Titanic dock at Ellis Island? Were the island's dock/piers large enough and deep enough to accommodate such a ship?
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