Mark Chirnside Interview, January 2005


At Jens Ostrowski’s request, in January 2005 I answered a few questions about my RMS Olympic book. The original interview appeared in the May 2005 issue of Der Navigator – the official magazine of the Titanic Information Centre, Germany. Although a few changes have been made to the original German text to correct a few minor errors, there have been no changes that would alter the meaning of any statements in the original.

Question 1. Your newest work is your Olympic book. How long did you research it?
A. I spent four years researching the Olympic’s history for the book, and two-and-a-half of those years writing it.

Question 2. I think the history of Olympic never finds an end for authors and historians. How long before the publication date was the book completed?
A. The book itself was delivered to my publisher in January 2004, and then published eleven months later. I don’t think the process of research ends, as I will always be searching for new information.

Question 3. What is the (in your opinion) most exciting information about Olympic you found?
A. It is hard to decide. I will list four points. I think that Leonard Peskett’s 1911 report about his voyage on the Olympic, and Cunard’s correspondence about the Olympic in 1911, were of great interest; these documents show how Cunard felt that they needed to respond to the White Star Line’s new ships, in the new Aquitania. As you know, these are recorded in detail in the book.

From a technical point of view, it was interesting to find that Olympic’s engines could develop 59,000 horsepower, according to her Chief Engineer in 1911, because most sources have a much lower figure.

Some sources seem to imply that Olympic was only carrying an average of 200 passengers on each voyage in 1930-35, but in fact her passenger listings show that she averaged more than 600 passengers in 1930, and then over 430 passengers per voyage until 1933. Even in 1932 and 1933, she was carrying over 1,000 passengers occasionally. While the Olympic suffered from the depression, she did not suffer as badly as people often seem to have thought.

It was interesting to find that it had been considered possible to use Olympic as a floating hotel, in 1935, because most people appear to have felt that the idea of a floating hotel did not arrive until the 1960s and the Queen Mary.

Question 4. Is there a detail which you would gladly have published, but there was no time to integrate it before the printing?
A. Yes, there are a number of details, although nothing that would change what I have already written, but rather details that would add to it. I would like to give one example: in the book, I wrote that I did not think it was correct that Olympic was limited to 21 knots after 1932. After the book was written I discovered a log extract from 1933 which showed that Olympic achieved, for a day, an average speed through the water of 23.3 knots – an average speed over the ground of 22.8 knots, westbound. [Note: This estimate assumes that there was a current averaging half-a-knot working against the ship.] This is one of several examples of how fast the Olympic continued to be.

Question 5. Have a look in your book! There are many unknown photos in it. It has the appearance that one of your goals was to show the Olympic from a side, which only a few have seen so far. That succeeded, I think. What reactions did you receive after the publication?
A. Thank you. Although it is ‘early days,’ as the book has been on sale since November [2004], I have been pleased to receive a number of compliments on the book. It is pleasing that a number of people have been interested in the new information. I was pleased to be able to publish new photographs, and use my editor’s photographic collection in the book.

Question 6. Would you say the Olympic’s history is more interesting than the short histories of her ill-fated sister ships?
A. It is hard to say. Personally, I think it is. There are many people who became interested in the Titanic because of the disaster, and in a small way the same thing could be considered true with the Britannic and the 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2003 expeditions to the wreck, but the Olympic is known for succeeding at what she was built for. She proved a very popular ship and was in service for a quarter of a century. It is unfortunate that this fame does not seem to be found outside ocean liner enthusiasts.

Question 7. Are you an Olympic collector? Did you use memorabilia for the book?
A. I do try and collect the occasional rare photograph, postcard or brochure of the Olympic. Unfortunately it is an expensive hobby! I am lucky that my editor, Campbell McCutcheon, has such a good collection, which helped make the book what it is.

Question 8. It is often said that Titanic enthusiasts quickly discover their passion for Olympic, so that the Titanic recedes into the background. Have you felt it?
A. I became interested in the Titanic at a young age, and although I am still interested in the ship, the Olympic has become my main interest, yes.

Question 9. Have you ever met an Olympic passenger? If so, please tell us about that meeting.
A. I have never met anyone who sailed on the Olympic, although when I was writing the book I did try to find people – with the help of Daniel Klistorner – who had sailed on the ship. There was an 89-year old gentleman in Southampton in 1998 – according to a newspaper –  who had worked on the Olympic, but I did not succeed in contacting him. I hope to correspond with a gentleman in America, through a mutual friend, who sailed on the Olympic as a first class passenger, over the next few months.

Question 10. How and in which countries did you find the information for your book? Where did you search?
A. With the help of friends and researchers from around the world, who generously shared material and offered their opinions, information has come from many countries: from Canada to Australia, America to Ireland, Germany, Greece and the United Kingdom. I also visited and corresponded with many archives in the United Kingdom, and especially Canada for wartime memories of the Olympic.

Question 11. I think you found friends all over the world within your search, because everywhere live Olympic lovers.
A. I’ve certainly corresponded with people from all over the world, and sent books to a number of countries. It feels remarkable. Thank you.

Question 12. Is a revised version planned?
A. It would be nice to complete a second edition sometime in the future, but that would be a number of years ahead and we’ll have to see what happens. I am confident that there will be a reprint of the book soon, but there will not be any significant changes.

Question 13. What is your next project?
A. After my book projects that came to life in 2004, I think I will have a bit of ‘breathing’ space. I have almost finished another book, but I don’t want to say what it is about publicly yet. [Note: Since this interview that book was publicly announced and went to print; it was RMS Majestic: The ‘Magic-Stick’.]