In April of 1912, the unsinkable ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank with an enormous loss of life. At the time, it was the greatest maritime disaster in history. Never before had there been such a large loss of life from a single disaster. It is a familiar story, particularly since the release of the blockbuster movie Titanic by James Cameron in 1997.
Fourteen years before this event, in 1898, a merchant seaman called Morgan Robertson wrote a novel titled “Futility”. The story featured an ocean liner called Titan, which sank, in very similar circumstances to the Titanic. Robertson's opening description of the Titan could have been taken from news clippings written before the Titanic's maiden voyage. The opening words in Morgan Robertson's story read,
"She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men. In her construction and maintenance were involved every science, profession, and trade known to civilization".
The ships are approximately the same size, with the Titanic being only 80 feet longer than the Titan's 800 feet. Both were capable of achieving speeds of over 20 knots, and both carried only the minimum number of lifeboats for the thousands of passengers and crew on board.
Apart from the similarities with the ships names and physical features, the story of the sinking of the Titan and that of the Titanic were similar in many details. For instance, both ships sank after hitting an iceberg causing damage to their starboard sides. The Titan in the story carried 3000 passengers, as did the Titanic and both vessels sank in the early hours of a cold April morning in the North Atlantic.
Had it not been for the Titanic tragedy, Morgan's "Futility" would have become no more than a footnote in literacy history. It lacked literary merit with improbable situations and poor character developments.
A more striking example is The Sinking of a Modern Liner, written in 1886 by English journalist William Thomas Stead.
The story once again is similar to the actual Titanic ill-fated voyage. In W.T. Stead's book, an ocean liner leaves Liverpool on a journey to New York and becomes involved in a collision. In the panic that ensued, many passengers drown because there are too few lifeboats. What makes this story more eery is the knowledge that W. T. Stead died on the 15th April 1912. He was a passenger on board the Titanic.