Was there toilet paper on the Titanic? Or any boat of its era?
One of the fun parts of writing historical fiction is researching some of the everyday details you normally wouldn't think about. Setting a story on a ship makes it just that little bit harder. Was there toilet paper? Or plumbing? Or electric lights?
Now, my Turbulence and Triumph series involves the Trevessa, a steam-powered cargo ship built in 1909, which makes it Titanic‘s contemporary. Still, a huge luxury cruise ship built in the UK is still very different to a cargo ship built in Germany, even if they travelled the same shipping lanes.
Yes, there most certainly was toilet paper on the Titanic – and on the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the survivors from that disaster. The captain of the Carpathia confiscated all stationery from the ship's staterooms and banned Carlos F Hurd, a reporter who was holidaying with his wife on the Carpathia at the time, from using the ship's telegraph. He interviewed the Titanic survivors in secret, scribbling notes on toilet paper and any other paper he could get, and his was the first in-depth article on the sinking of the Titanic.
The Scott Paper Company was making toilet paper on rolls in the 1890s, twenty years before the Titanic sailed. By 1910, these were perforated – like what we have today.
Did many people make use of it on the Titanic or the Trevessa?
I suspect not…
Speaking of little-used amenities aboard a ship, here's another one:
Were there washbasins, baths and toilets aboard?
The Titanic, like many ships of that time, had a washbasin with running water in even the lowest class cabins. First class and the captain's cabin had proper plumbing for their private bathtubs, too.
However, cargo ships, much like naval vessels up to and including the present day, didn't have these sorts of luxuries. Instead, they had communal washrooms. Water in rooms was a basin of water on a timber washstand, much like houses in Fremantle in the 1920s.
In Ocean's Justice, Maria watches a man shave off his beard for the first time in her life – as William McGregor uses the modern conveniences at his disposal.
With no running water, he has a washbasin on a locker by the window and a shaving mirror. A shaving brush and soap serve to help him work up a lather – no aerosol cans of shaving cream in 1923. Back home in Scotland, he owned a safety razor, but not knowing whether he could get the blades at the remote colonial outpost of Christmas Island, he uses his grandfather's ivory-handled cut-throat razor instead.
The Titanic had electric lights, because these were left on to illuminate the evacuation, flickering out only as the ship sank. I was surprised to discover that the Trevessa also had electric lighting. After the crew of the Trevessa had evacuated to the lifeboats, they stayed nearby to see what would happen to the ship. They didn't have to wait long – they watched the Trevessa for half an hour, as her navigation lights slowly sank beneath the waves, followed by the masthead lights.
With a storm running, the lifeboats drifted west of the wreck site. The captain and the wireless operator knew that the only other vessels who might have received their distress signal were several days away, so Captain Foster made the difficult decision to head for Mauritius.
If you're looking to find out why I needed to know about toilet paper, plumbing, lighting and other minutiae of ship life, look no further than Ocean's Justice – which you can get FREE HERE.