Edward Smith (sea captain)

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Captain
Edward John Smith
R.D. R.N.R.
Edward J. Smith.jpg
Captain E.J. Smith
Born (1850-01-27)27 January 1850
Hanley, Staffordshire, England
Died 15 April 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 62)
Atlantic Ocean
Cause of death
Sinking of the RMS Titanic
Resting place
41°43′32″N 49°56′49″W / 41.72556°N 49.94694°W / 41.72556; -49.94694
Nationality British
Occupation Ship Captain
Employer White Star Line
Known for Captain of RMS Titanic
Spouse(s) Sarah Eleanor Pennington (m. 1887–1912)
Children Helen Melville Smith
(1898–1973) (aged 75)
Parents Edward Smith
Catherine Hancock (nee Marsh)
Notes
"Be British"
(Popularly believed to be Captain Smith's last words to the crew)

Ranks:

CommanderRNR

Captain – White Star Line

Honorific Rank of Commodore, because of his being the White Star Line's most senior Captain

Edward John Smith, RD, RNR (27 January 1850 – 15 April 1912) was an English naval reserve officer. Raised in a working environment, he left school early to join the Royal Naval Reserve. After earning his master, he entered the service of the White Star Line, a prestigious British company. He quickly rose through the ranks, and graduated in 1887 his first command aboard the SS Celtic. He served as commanding officer of numerous White Star Line vessels,[1] including the Majestic '​, which he commanded for nine years. Smith gradually acquired a strong following because of his pleasant character and imposing, which earned him the affection of many passengers. He is best known as the captain of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on 15 April 1912; Smith and over 1,500 others perished in the sinking. There is a statue of him in Beacon Park, Lichfield, England.[2]

Early life[edit]

Edward John Smith was born on 27 January 1850 on Well Street, Hanley, Staffordshire, England[3] to Edward Smith, a potter, and Catherine Hancock, born Marsh, who married on 2 August 1841 in Shelton, Staffordshire. His parents later owned a shop.

Smith attended the Etruria British School until the age of 13, when he left and operated a steam hammer at the Etruria Forge. In 1867, aged 17 he went to Liverpool in the footsteps of his half-brother Joseph Hancock, a captain on a sailing ship.[4] He began his apprenticeship on Senator Weber, owned by A Gibson & Co. of Liverpool.

Marriage and children[edit]

On 13 January 1887, Smith married Sarah Eleanor Pennington at St Oswald's Church, Winwick, Cheshire. Their daughter, Helen Melville Smith, was born in Waterloo, Liverpool on 2 April 1898. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house, named "Woodhead", on Winn Road, Highfield, Southampton.

Career[edit]

Early commands[edit]

Edward Smith joined the White Star Line in March 1880 as the Fourth Officer of SS Celtic. He served aboard the company's liners to Australia and to New York City, where he quickly rose in status. In 1887, he received his first White Star command, the Republic. In 1888, Smith earned his Extra Master's Certificate and joined the Royal Naval Reserve, receiving a commission as a Lieutenant, which entitled him to add the letters "RNR" after his name. This meant that in a time of war he could be called upon to serve in the Royal Navy. Later, after he had been promoted a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve, Smith's ship had the distinction of being able to fly the Blue Ensign of the RNR; British merchant vessels generally flew the Red Ensign.

Bigger commands[edit]

Smith was Majestic '​s captain for nine years commencing in 1895. When the Boer War started in 1899, Majestic was called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony. Smith made two trips to South Africa, both without incident, and in 1903, for his service, King Edward VII awarded him the Transport Medal, showing the "South Africa" clasp. Smith was regarded as a "safe captain". As he rose in seniority, he gained a reputation amongst passengers and crew for quiet flamboyance.[clarification needed] Some passengers[who?] would sail the Atlantic only in a ship he captained. He became known as the "Millionaires' Captain" because England's upper class usually chose to sail on ships that he commanded.

From 1904 on, Smith commanded the White Star Line's newest ships on their maiden voyages. In 1904, he was given command of what was then the largest ship in the world, the Baltic. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, sailing 29 June 1904, went without incident. After three years with Baltic, Smith was given his second new "big ship," the Adriatic. Once again, the maiden voyage went without incident. During his command of Adriatic, Smith received the long service Decoration for Officers of the Royal Naval Reserve (RD) along with a promotion to Commander.[citation needed]

Olympic class command[edit]

As one of the world's most experienced sea captains, Smith was called upon to take first command of the lead ship in a new class of ocean liners, the Olympic – again, the largest vessel in the world at that time. The maiden voyage from Southampton to New York was successfully concluded on 21 June 1911, but as the ship was docking in New York harbour, a small incident took place. Docking at Pier 59 under the command of Captain Smith with the assistance of a harbour pilot, Olympic was being assisted by twelve tugs when one got caught in the backwash of Olympic, spun around, collided with the bigger ship, and for a moment was trapped under Olympic '​s stern, finally managing to work free and limp to the docks.

Photograph of a bearded man wearing a white captain's uniform, standing on a ship with his arms crossed.
Edward J. Smith, on Olympic, in 1911
From left to right: First Officer William M Murdoch, Chief Officer Joseph Evans, Fourth Officer David Alexander and Captain Edward J. Smith, all as seen on the Olympic.

The Hawke incident[edit]

On 20 September 1911, Olympic '​s first major mishap occurred during a collision with a British warship, HMS Hawke, in which the warship lost her prow. Although the collision left two of Olympic '​s compartments filled and one of her propeller shafts twisted, she was able to limp back to Southampton. At the resultant inquiry, the Royal Navy blamed Olympic, alleging that her massive size generated a suction that pulled Hawke into her side. Captain Smith had been on the bridge during the events.

The Hawke incident was a financial disaster for White Star, and the out-of-service time for the big liner made matters worse. Olympic returned to Belfast and, to speed up the repairs, Harland and Wolff was forced to delay Titanic '​s completion, in order to use one of her propeller shafts and other parts for Olympic. Back at sea in February 1912, Olympic lost a propeller blade and once again returned to her builder for emergency repairs. To get her back to service immediately, Harland and Wolff again had to pull resources from Titanic, delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March to 10 April.

RMS Titanic[edit]

Despite the past trouble, Smith was again appointed to be in command of the newest ship in the Olympic class when the RMS Titanic left Southampton for her maiden voyage. Although some sources state that he had decided to retire after completing Titanic '​s maiden voyage, an article in the Halifax Morning Chronicle on 9 April 1912 stated that Smith would remain in charge of Titanic "until the Company (White Star Line) completed a larger and finer steamer."

On 10 April 1912, Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, took a taxi from his home to Southampton docks. He came aboard Titanic at 7 am to prepare for the Board of Trade muster at 8:00 am. He immediately went to his cabin to get the sailing report from Chief Officer Henry Wilde. After departure at noon, the huge amount of water displaced by Titanic as she passed caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the maiden voyage.

Illustration of the sinking of the Titanic

The first four days of the voyage passed without incident, but shortly after 11:40 pm on 14 April Smith was informed by First Officer William Murdoch that the ship had just collided with an iceberg. It was soon apparent that the ship was seriously damaged; designer Thomas Andrews reported that all of the first five of the ship's watertight compartments had been breached and that Titanic would sink in under two hours. During the evacuation, Captain Smith, aware that there were not enough lifeboats for all of the passengers and crew, did all in his power to prevent panic and did his best to assist in the evacuation; Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club said "He was doing everything in his power to get women in these boats, and to see that they were lowered properly. I thought he was doing his duty in regard to the lowering of the boats".[5] Robert Williams Daniel, a first class passenger also said:

Captain Smith was the biggest hero I ever saw. He stood on the bridge and shouted through a megaphone, trying to make himself heard.':[6]
Smith was seen walking onto the bridge of the Titanic at 2:10 a.m., ten minutes before the ship sank. His fate is unclear

Just minutes before the ship started its final plunge, Smith was still busy releasing Titanic's crew from their duties; he went to the Marconi operators room and released Junior Marconi Officer Harold Bride and senior wireless operator John "Jack" Phillips from their duties. He then carried out a final tour of the deck, telling crew members: "Now it's every man for himself."[7] At 2:10 a.m., Steward Edward Brown saw the captain approach with a megaphone in his hand. He heard him say "Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves.” He saw the Captain walk onto the bridge alone.[5] This was the last reliable sighting of Smith. A few minutes later Trimmer Samuel Hemming found the bridge apparently empty.[8] Five minutes later, the ship disappeared beneath the ocean. Smith perished that night along with around 1,500 others, and his body was never recovered.

Death[edit]

There are conflicting accounts of Smith's death. Some survivors[9] said they saw Smith enter the ship's wheelhouse on the bridge, and die there when it was engulfed.[10] The New York Herald in its April 19, 1912 edition quoted Robert Williams Daniel, who jumped from the stern immediately before the ship sank, in its April 19, 1912 edition as have claimed to have witnessed Captain Smith drown in the ship's wheelhouse. "I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him. The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and was now to the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith's waist. I saw him no more. He died a hero."[11] Captain Smith himself made statements hinting that he would go down with his ship if he was ever confronted with a disaster; A friend of Smith's, Dr. Williams, asked Captain Smith what would happen if the Adriatic struck a concealed reef of ice and was badly damaged. "Some of us would go to the bottom with the ship." was Smith's reply. A boyhood friend, William Jones said: "Ted Smith passed away just as he would have loved to do. To stand on the bridge of his vessel and go down with her was characteristic of all his actions when we were boys together."[12] Because of these factors as well as the accounts of Smith going inside the wheelhouse; this has remained the iconic image which has remained of Smith and has been perpetuated by film portrayals.

Initially, rumors that Smith was the officer who committed suicide by shooting himself in the last minutes of the sinking, an incident that was reported by several survivors, were reported by the Washington Times and the French paper L'Excelsior based off the survivor accounts of Ms. Gretchen Longley and Mrs. Washington Dodge;[13] a boy who was one of the last to leave the ship also told Dr. J.F. Kemp, a passenger on the Carpathia, that "Captain Smith put a pistol to his head and then fell down."[citation needed] Surviving crewmen, however, vigorously denied this rumor. Also, Smith's appearance, with a full white beard, would have made him stand out, whereas not one of the witnesses described the officer concerned as having a beard. There is also no evidence of Smith ever having possession of a revolver or ever having fired a gun.[citation needed]

When working to free Collapsible B, Junior Marconi Officer Harold Bride said he saw Captain Smith dive into the sea from the bridge just as Collapsible B was levered off the roof of the officers' quarters,[14] a story which was corroborated by first class passenger Mrs Eleanor Widener, who was in Lifeboat No.4 (the closest to the sinking ship) at the time.[15] Also second class passenger William John Mellors, who survived aboard collapsible B, stated that Smith jumped from the bridge.[16] It has been affirmed that the witnesses could here be mistaking Captain Smith for Second Officer Charles Lightoller, who was known to have done exactly this at this time, first swimming towards the crow's nest.[17]

Several accounts say that Smith may have been seen in the water near the overturned Collapsible B during or after the sinking. Colonel Archibald Gracie reported that an unknown swimmer came near the capsized and overcrowded lifeboat, and that one of the men on board told him "Hold on to what you have, old boy. One more of you aboard would sink us all,"; in a powerful voice, the swimmer replied "All right boys. Good luck and God bless you.".[18] Gracie did not see this man, nor was able to identify him, but some other survivors later claimed to have recognised this man as Smith.[19][20] Another man (or possibly the same) never asked to come aboard the boat, but instead cheered its occupants saying “Good boys! Good lads!” with “the voice of authority”.[21] One of the Collapsible B survivors, fireman Walter Hurst, tried to reach him with an oar, but the rapidly rising swell carried the man away before he could reach him.[21] Hurst said he was certain this man was Smith.[21] Some of these accounts also describe Smith carrying a child to the boat. Harry Senior, one of Titanic's stokers, and second class passenger Charles Eugene Williams, who both survived aboard Collapsible B, stated that Smith [16] swam with a child in his arms to Collapsible B, which Smith presented to a steward, after which he apparently swam back to the rapidly-foundering ship. Williams' account differs slightly, claiming that, after Smith handed the child over to the steward, he asked what had become of First Officer Murdoch. Upon hearing news of Murdoch's demise, Smith "pushed himself away from the lifeboat, threw his lifebelt from him and slowly sank from our sight. He did not come to the surface again." These accounts are almost certainly apocryphal, according to historians featured in the A&E Documentary Titanic: Death of a Dream. Lightoller who survived on Collapsible B never reported seeing Smith in the water or receiving a child from him. There is also no way in which survivors on Collapsible B would have been able to verify the identity of the individual concerned under such dimly lit and chaotic circumstances. It is more likely based upon wishful thinking that the person they saw was indeed the Captain.[22] Captain Smith's fate will probably remain uncertain.

For many years, there were also conflicting accounts of Smith's last words. Newspaper reports said that as the final plunge began, Smith advised those on board to "Be British boys, be British!" Although this is engraved on his memorial and portrayed in the 1996 TV miniseries, it was just a myth popularised by the British press at the time; Smith was an experienced transatlantic captain and a cosmopolitan, sophisticated man. Had he been prone to this type of jingoistic statement, he certainly wouldn't have been so popular with the prominent Americans and Canadians who preferred to travel on ships he captained and to dine with him while on board. If he said these words to anyone, it would have been to the crew, but not one of the surviving crew members claimed he said this. Since Steward Brown's account of Smith giving orders before walking onto the bridge was the last reliable sighting, this would make Smith's last words simply "Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves.”[17]

Legacy[edit]

The statue of Captain Smith in Beacon Park Lichfield, Staffordshire, England
The detail of the statue of Captain Smith in Beacon Park Lichfield

A statue, sculpted by Kathleen Scott, wife of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, was unveiled in July 1914 at the western end of the Museum Gardens in Beacon Park, Lichfield. The pedestal is made from Cornish granite and the figure is bronze.[23] Lichfield was chosen as the location for the monument because Smith was a Staffordshire man and Lichfield was the centre of the diocese.[24] The statue originally cost £740 (£60,000 with inflation[25]) raised through local and national contributions.[24]

The plaque below his memorial statue states;[26]

Capt. of R.M.S. Titanic
COMMANDER
EDWARD JOHN SMITH R.D. R.N.R.
BORN JANUARY 27 1850 DIED APRIL 15 1912
BEQUEATHING TO HIS COUNTRYMEN
THE MEMORY & EXAMPLE OF A GREAT HEART
A BRAVE LIFE AND A HEROIC DEATH
"BE BRITISH"

In 2010, as part of the 'Parks for People' programme, the statue was restored and the green patina removed from its surface at a cost of £16,000.[24] In 2011 an unsuccessful campaign was started to get the statue moved back to Captain Smith's home town of Hanley.[27]

Smith had already been commemorated in Hanley's Town Hall with a plaque reading:

This tablet is dedicated to the memory of Commander [sic] Edward John Smith RD, RNR. Born in Hanley, 27th Jany 1850, died at sea, 15th April 1912. Be British.

Whilst in command of the White Star SS Titanic that great ship struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean during the night and speedily sank with nearly all who were on board. Captain Smith having done all man could do for the safety of passengers and crew remained at his post on the sinking ship until the end. His last message to the crew was "Be British."[28]

The plaque was removed in 1961, given to a local school and then returned to the Town Hall but remounted in the interior of the building in 1978.[29]

Decorations[edit]

As a member of the Royal Naval Reserve, Smith wore his two decorations when in uniform: the Decoration for Officers of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Transport Medal.

Royal Naval Reserve Decoration.PNG  Reserve Decoration
Transport Medal BAR.svg  Transport Medal

Family[edit]

Smith’s half-sister Thyrza died in 1921 and his widow, Sarah Eleanor Smith, was hit and killed by a taxi in London in 1931.[30] Their daughter, Helen Melville, married and gave birth to twins, Simon and Priscilla. Simon, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, was killed in World War II. Priscilla died from polio three years later; neither of them had children. Helen died in 1973.[3]

Portrayals[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Titanic Captain: The Life of Edward John Smith, G.J. Cooper ISBN 978-0-7524-6072-7, The History Press Ltd, 2011

References[edit]

  1. ^ birth/death dates and parents at the International Genealogical Index
  2. ^ "Smith information at". Titanic-titanic.com. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  3. ^ a b "Plaque for Titanic captain's house in Stoke-on-Trent". BBC News. 20 March 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Emma Kasprzak (15 March 2012). "Titanic: Captain Edward John Smith's legacy". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Testimony of Arthur G. Peuchen at Titanic inquiry.com
  6. ^ Robert Williams Daniel, first class passenger
  7. ^ Butler 1998, p. 130.
  8. ^ Testimony of Samuel Hemming at Titanic inquiry.com
  9. ^ Ballard, pp. 40–41
  10. ^ Daniel Allen Butler writes: "if Smith did indeed go to the bridge around 2:10 a.m. as Steward Brown said, and took refuge inside the wheelhouse, that would explain why Trimmer Hemming did not see him when he went onto the bridge a few minutes later. Earlier, at nightfall, the shutters on the Titanic‘s wheelhouse windows would have been raised, to keep the lights of the wheelhouse from interfering with the bridge officers’ night vision: Trimmer Hemming would have been unable to see Captain Smith had the captain indeed been inside the wheelhouse, awaiting his end". (website)
  11. ^ Spignesi, Stephen (2012). The Titanic for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. p. 207. Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  12. ^ ON A SEA OF GLASS: THE LIFE & LOSS OF THE RMS TITANIC" by Tad Fitch, J. Kent Layton & Bill Wormstedt. Amberley Books, March 2012. pp 329-334
  13. ^ http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/edward-john-smith.html
  14. ^ Testimony of Harold Bride at the US Inquiry
  15. ^ Mrs Eleanor Widener, first class passenger
  16. ^ a b Shots in the dark
  17. ^ a b 101 Things You Thought You Knew about the Titanic - But Didn't! at Google Books.co.uk
  18. ^ The Truth About the Titanic
  19. ^ Cries in the Night
  20. ^ Captain Edward John Smith
  21. ^ a b c A Night to Remember
  22. ^ Charles Eugene Williams, second class passenger
  23. ^ Noszlopy, George T. (2005), Public Sculpture in Staffordshire & the Black Country, Liverpool University Press, ISBN 978-0-85323-999-4 
  24. ^ a b c Kerr, Andy (3 November 2011). "Captain of the Titanic is here to stay despite no local connection". Lichfield Mercury (Lichfield). p. 29. 
  25. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2014), "What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  26. ^ "Photo of Plaque: Commander Smith of The RMS Titanic". Panoramio. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  27. ^ Titanic Captain Smith statue Hanley move campaign, BBC News, retrieved 26 August 2011 
  28. ^ Barczewski 2011, p. 172–3.
  29. ^ Barczewski 2011, p. 175.
  30. ^ Gary Cooper (31 October 2011). Titanic Captain: The Life of Edward John Smith. History Press Limited. pp. 300–. ISBN 978-0-7524-6777-1. In 1931, Eleanor was ... knocked down by a taxi cab in Cromwell Road, dying a short while ... A verdict of accidental death was returned by the coroner. 
  31. ^ "The Time Tunnel: Rendezvous with Yesterday" at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]