Trying to escape the wet and cold of a Christchurch winter by going to Melbourne, Australia  possibly wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve had. In fact, if I’d asked an Australian at the time, they’d have probably told me the idea was just plain dumb. Melbourne’s winter, it turns out, isn’t any less wet or cold than Christchurch’s winter.

But Melbourne did have one thing that Christchurch didn’t – a chance to experience the Titanic’s 1912 Maiden Voyage through an interactive exhibit being held at the Melbourne Museum. For this, I’d happily suffer through the wet and cold.

Featuring over 280 authentic objects – including sections of the ship’s opulent interior – from the doomed ship,  Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition follows the ship journey from it’s construction to it’s destruction.

Just prior to entering, we were each handed a boarding pass with the name of one of the original passengers printed on it and advised to take on that person’s identity while wandering through the exhibit.

So I became ‘Mrs Claus Peter Hansen (Jennie L. Howard) from Racine, Wisconsin, travelling third class (what’s new!) with my husband and brother-in-law.

As Mrs Hansen, I walked through the departure gallery and straight into the First Class Hallway, past the First Class Staterooms, and the ship’s Grand Stairway, all the while highly aware that the real Mrs Hansen, travelling in Third Class, probably never got to see any of the opulence and comfort that First Class travellers experienced.

Instead, Mrs Hansen would have been herded straight into the Third Class area, where there were basic but cramped facilities close to the boiler room.

With cruise ships no longer so rigidly divided into class levels, it was fascinating to see all the different features from the three classes of travel. And it wasn’t just cabin size and comfort that was affected – dining rooms, promenade decks, and even libraries were also segregated by class.

Wandering through, you could almost forget the disaster that awaited them all. But this quickly changes as you turn the corner and the eerie creaking and groaning and darkness reminds you that for the Titanic and it’s passengers and crew, things don’t end well.

A sense of urgency develops as you hear the radio operator calling for help and voices pierce through the darkness. You stand and listen to chilling accounts of the night of the sinking, of stories of courage and despair. The walls are lined with photographs of passengers and crew, display cabinets house clothing and diaries, personal effects that tell of happier times.

On display are portions of the Titanic, rusted and damaged from year’s lying on the sea bed, and a real iceberg that everyone is encouraged to touch.

It’s a moving display and tribute to the over 2200 people who died the night that the Titanic sunk.

The names of all who died are listed on the memorial wall at the end of the exhibit. A quick search revealed that my passenger persona, Mrs Jennie Hansen, survived. Sadly, her husband and her brother-in-law did not.

Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition at Melbourne Museum (from May 14-October 17) is one of six titanic exhibitions currently happening around the world.

 

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Liz Lewis is a New Zealand based writer who favors wine tasting and food markets over bungy jumping and mountain climbing.