Melbourne Museum

Sunken treasure

By Alex Millmow - SMH

The RMS Titanic sails out of Port Phillip Heads this week. More than 300,000 Melburnians have visited Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition since it opened in April at the Melbourne Museum.

It's apparent we can't get enough of the legendary ship, nor can the rest of the world; some 22 million people worldwide have seen the exhibition.

Last week an original promotional poster of the famous ship celebrating its maiden voyage sold for £67,000 ($A109,000) in London. 

The artefacts exhibition featured various odds and ends retrieved from the debris marking the site of the shipwreck. It also included a 16-tonne section of the hull salvaged from the wreck. Hoisting it up from four kilometres down would have taken some doing.

Titanic's rediscovery 25 years ago launched a debate over ownership of the wreck and the artefacts around it.

The American company presenting the exhibition in Melbourne, RMS Titanic Inc, was granted salvor-in-possession rights by a US federal court in 1994. It began sending down manned submersibles to retrieve artefacts from the wreck and the field of debris.

The company mounted six long and arduous expeditions to amass a collection of relics including pieces of china, ship fittings and, movingly, the personal effects of passengers and crew.

The items were subsequently displayed in galleries to tell the history of the ship from genesis to construction and destruction.

You could say that the RMS Titanic's time in Melbourne has been a doubly profitable one. Initially, the American court stipulated that RMS Titanic neither owned the artefacts, nor the wreck itself.

Now a court decision has given RMS Titanic the right to own what it has brought up from the depths. That is, RMS Titanic can now sell artefacts to other galleries and private collectors.