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April 16, 2021

Fascinating Story Behind the Last Photo of the Titanic Before the Sinking, April 1912

This photograph is the last known picture of RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage. It was taken at Crosshaven, Co Cork, Ireland, just after the vessel departed Queenstown.

The photograph shown here, which only came to light in 2001, appears to be the last known authentic snap of the RMS Titanic on the surface of the ocean. It is thus very probably the valedictory vision prior to her rediscovery on the seabed in September 1985.

The last photograph of the Titanic was published in the Castleknock Chronicle, a yearbook for Castleknock College on the west side of Dublin. It was taken by a man named John Morrogh, and rediscovery of the “Morrogh Image” might be said to be an important development in the story of an ill-starred liner.

John Morrogh, a past pupil of Castleknock College, was a 28-year-old newly-married British Army officer when his Titanic picture was taken. From a well-to-do Cork family whose wealth derived from a woollen mills and a share in De Beers diamonds, Morrogh very likely drove out to Crosshaven with his wife, Aileen, and some of his younger brothers for a glimpse of the passing leviathan.

Morrogh’s younger brothers, Vincent and Stephen, were boarders at Castleknock College, and home on their Easter holidays in April 1912. It is probable the lads were excited beyond belief at the prospect of catching sight of the largest moving object ever made by man. Only the previous December, pupils at Castleknock had been treated to a slide show of the White Star giants.

The college yearbook gives the observations of one young boarder:
December 20 (1911). - The term is almost over - tomorrow is Vacation Day… At the beginning of the term it looked as far off as if we were looking through the large glass of a telescope, now it looms up in its full proportions. We had the usual raffle in the Play Hall before tea, and it is to be hoped that everyone minded the Dean's instructions to be sure to leave ourselves our train fare. I know of one unfortunate who was fourpence short of it, and had to go into debt possibly for the rest of his natural life… Father Campbell showed us some very fine slides of different parts of the country, and some good views of the building of the monster liners Olympic and Titanic
Moustachioed John Morrogh climbed from the charabanc with his camera. His younger brothers were out before him, running down toward the cliff. “There she is! Look at her!”

As Morrogh and his wife followed, fresh excited cries reached his ears: “She’s moving! She’s going away!”

He walked briskly to where they were standing and verified that the RMS Titanic was indeed executing a slow wide turn to bring her head out towards Ringabella Bay. They watched for a while, then Stephen urged: “Let’s chase her!”

Back in the car, they followed along the headland. It was a day of clear skies and perfect visibility.

At Red Bay, the Titanic had slowed to a stop. She was dropping her pilot, White Star shiphandler John Cotter, who had guided her out from Queenstown. Cotter climbed down a Jacob’s ladder from a gangway door in the starboard side. He was the last man to alight before tragedy descended, a fact confirmed by the surviving harbour pilot’s book from 1912.

It was about 2pm. John Morrogh had hastily erected his tripod on the bracken-covered slope as Stephen and Vincent cooed and gave admiring whistles. He then fired off the last known photograph of the RMS Titanic.

The developed print was given to the boys and brought to Dublin. Its historical interest meant it was destined to appear in the Castleknock Chronicle for 1911/12, labelled “A pathetic picture.” While taken from a considerable distance, the quality is such that the covered A-deck windows immediately confirm that this is indeed the RMS Titanic, with the contemporary caption expressly declaring that the Morrogh Image was taken after the vessel left Queenstown.


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