William McMaster Murdoch
William McMaster Murdoch
Photograph taken before 1911, and published in accounts of the sinking of the Titanic at the end of 1912
28 February 1873|
|Died||15 April 1912
RMS Titanic, Atlantic Ocean
|Cause of death||Unconfirmed; body never recovered; possibly suicide|
|Education||Dalbeattie High School|
|Occupation||Ship's First Officer|
|Spouse(s)||Ada Florence Murdoch (née Banks) (m. 1907–12)|
Born from a family of sailors, he was employed by the White Star Line in 1900 and quickly became an officer. In 1903, his leadership became recognized when he avoided a collision with the Arabic. In April 1912, he served as First Officer aboard the RMS Titanic. He is notable as the officer in charge on the bridge the night when the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. He was one of the 1,500 people who died in the disaster.
Murdoch became an iconic Scottish hero, a status that is maintained and reflected by the memorial in his hometown. However, debate revolves around the adequacy of instructions given to avoid the iceberg.
In two films about the Titanic, Murdoch was portrayed shooting passengers and himself during the sinking; this was based on a number of eyewitness testimonies of a shooting/suicide by an officer during the launching of the last lifeboat. It is possible that Murdoch was the officer. (see Cause of death.) At present there has been no evidence as yet to prove that William Murdoch was not the officer seen committing suicide.
Murdoch has become a figure of controversy, with mystery surrounding the circumstances of his death and actions during the collision with the iceberg.
Life and career
Murdoch was born in Dalbeattie in Kirkcudbrightshire (now Dumfries and Galloway), Scotland, the fourth son of Captain Samuel Murdoch, a master mariner, and Jane Muirhead, six of whose children survived infancy. They were a long and notable line of Scottish seafarers who sailed the world's oceans as early as the 19th century; his father and grandfather were both sea captains as were four of his grandfather's brothers.
Murdoch was educated first at the old Primary School in High Street, and then at the Dalbeattie High School in Alpine Street until he gained his diploma in 1887. Finishing schooling, he followed in the family seafaring tradition and was apprenticed for five years to William Joyce & Coy, Liverpool, but after four years (and four voyages) he was so competent that he passed his second mate's Certificate on his first attempt.
He served his apprenticeship aboard the Charles Cosworth of Liverpool, trading to the west coast of South America. From May 1895, he was First Mate on the St. Cuthbert, which sank in a hurricane off Uruguay in 1897. Murdoch gained his Extra Master's Certificate at Liverpool in 1896, at age 23. From 1897 to 1899, he was First Officer aboard the J. Joyce & Co. steel four-masted 2,534-ton barque Lydgate, that traded from New York to Shanghai.
From 1900 to 1912, Murdoch gradually progressed from Second Officer to First Officer, serving on a successive number of White Star Line vessels, Medic (1900, along with Charles Lightoller, Titanic's second officer), Runic (1901–1903), Arabic (1903), Celtic (1904), Germanic (1904), Oceanic (1905), Cedric (1906), Adriatic (1907–1911) and Olympic (1911–1912).
In 1903, Murdoch met a 29-year-old New Zealand school teacher named Ada Florence Banks en route to England on either the Runic or the Medic. They began to correspond regularly and on 2 September 1907 they were wed in Southampton at St Deny's Church.
During 1903, Murdoch finally reached the stormy and glamorous North Atlantic run as Second Officer of the new liner Arabic. His cool head, quick thinking and professional judgement averted a disaster when a ship was spotted bearing down on the Arabic out of the darkness. He overrode a command from his superior, Officer Fox, to steer hard-a-port, rushing into the wheelhouse, brushing aside the quartermaster and holding the ship on course. The two ships passed within inches of one another. Any alteration in course would have actually caused a collision.
The final stage of Murdoch's career began in May 1911, when he joined the new RMS Olympic, at 45,000 long tons (46,000 t). Intended to outclass the Cunard ships in luxury and size, it needed the most experienced large-liner crew that the White Star Line could find. Captain Edward J. Smith assembled a crew that included Henry Wilde as Chief Officer, Murdoch as First Officer, and Chief Purser Herbert McElroy. On 14 June 1911 Olympic departed on her maiden voyage to New York, arriving there on the 21st.
The first indications of what was to come occurred on 20 September when the Olympic had her hull badly damaged in a collision with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke. Since Murdoch was at his docking-station at the stern during this collision – a highly responsible position – he found himself giving evidence in the inquiry into an incident that turned into a financial disaster for the White Star Line, as the voyage to New York had to be abandoned and the ship taken to Belfast for repairs, which took a good six weeks. It was thus not until 11 December 1911 that Murdoch rejoined the ship. During the time that he served aboard as First Officer (until some time in March, 1912) there were two further – though lesser – incidents, striking a sunken wreck and having to have a broken propeller replaced, and nearly running aground while leaving Belfast. However, upon reaching Southampton, he learned that he had been appointed as Chief Officer of the new Titanic, the Olympic's sister ship and reputedly the largest and most luxurious one afloat. Lightoller later remarked that "three very contented chaps" headed north to Belfast, for he had been appointed First Officer, and their friend Davy Blair was to be the new second officer. Awaiting them would be an old Adriatic hand, Joseph Groves Boxhall, as Fourth Officer, and others who would be familiar colleagues, including the now aging Edward J. Smith as Captain and on the verge of retirement.
Murdoch, with an "ordinary master's certificate" and a reputation as a "canny and dependable man", had climbed through the ranks of the White Star Line to become one of its foremost senior officers. He was selected to be the Titanic's Chief Officer, with 16 years of maritime experience now behind him.
Murdoch had originally been assigned as the ship's Chief Officer, though when the Titanic's skipper, Edward J. Smith, brought Henry Wilde, his Chief from his previous command, Murdoch was temporarily reduced to First while First Officer Charles Lightoller was in turn reduced to Second. The original Second, David Blair, would sit out the voyage altogether while the rest of the ship's complement of officers remained unchanged.
Murdoch was the officer in charge at the bridge when at approximately 11.40pm on 14 April 1912 a large iceberg directly in the Titanic's path was sighted. Quartermaster Robert Hichens, who was at the helm, and Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, who may or may not have been on the bridge during the collision, both stated that Murdoch gave the order "Hard-a-starboard", a tiller command which would turn the ship to port (left) by moving the tiller to starboard (right).
Boxhall also reported that Murdoch set the ship's telegraph to "Full Astern", though his testimony was contradicted by Greaser Frederick Scott and Leading Stoker Frederick Barrett who stated that the stoking indicators went from “Full” to “Stop”. During or right before the collision he may have also given an order (as heard by Quartermaster Alfred Olliver when he walked onto the bridge in the middle of the collision) of "Hard a'port" (moving the tiller all the way to the port (left) side turning the ship to starboard (right)) in what may have been an attempt to swing the remainder (aft section) away from the berg in a common manoeuvre called a "port around" (this could explain his comment to the captain "I intended to port around it"). The fact that such a manoeuvre was executed was supported by other crew members who testified that the stern of the ship never hit the iceberg.
Despite these efforts the ship made its fatal collision at an estimated 37 seconds after the iceberg had been sighted. The starboard side scraped the iceberg, buckling the hull in several places and causing rivets to pop out below the waterline, opening the first five compartments (the forward peak tank, the three forward holds and Boiler Room 6) to the sea.
After the collision, Murdoch was put in charge of the starboard evacuation during which he launched ten lifeboats, containing almost 75% of the total number who survived. He was last seen attempting to launch Collapsible Lifeboat A. He was never seen again after the ship disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of 15 April 1912. His body was never recovered. The effect on his family back home was obviously deeply felt, but also work mates and friends felt his loss. He has false stories about him like his alleged dog Rigel.
In Murdoch's home town of Dalbeattie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, there is a memorial to his heroism and a charitable prize has been established in his name. The charitable prize was given a donation by the James Cameron film for its portrayal of him after the residents of Dalbeattie complained.
Cause of death
Within days of the disaster, several crew members and passengers spoke of an officer committing suicide in the ship's final moments; in one example in a letter reprinted in the London Daily Telegraph, Third Class Passenger Eugene Daly wrote that he had seen an unknown officer shoot two men and then himself; "...an officer pointed a revolver and said if any man tried to get in he would shoot him on the spot. I saw the officer shot two men dead because they tried to get into the boat. Afterwards there was another shot, and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him.". First class passenger George Rhiems also said "While the last boat was leaving, I saw an officer with a revolver fire a shot and kill a man who was trying to climb into it. As there remained nothing else for him to do, the officer told us, 'Gentlemen, each man for himself. Good bye.' He gave a military salute and then fired a bullet into his head. That's what I call a man!"
The officer was variously reported to be Captain Smith, and Chief Officer Wilde. Before long, however, rumour of suicide had a recurring name: William Murdoch. Several survivors disputed this, including the ship's lamp trimmer, Samuel Hemming, Second Officer Charles Lightoller and Colonel Archibald Gracie who said they saw him hard at work attempting to free Collapsible A from the falls on the boat deck just before the bridge submerged in the final stages of the sinking, when a huge wave washed him overboard into the sea. Lightoller described in a letter to Murdoch's wife Ada; "I was then practically looking down on your husband and his men. He was working hard, personally assisting, overhauling the forward boat's fall. At this moment the ship dived, and we were all in the water. Other reports as to the ending are absolutely false. Mr. Murdoch died like a man, doing his duty."
However, it seems that Lightoller may have jumped into the sea and thus been unaware of Murdoch's fate. It is also possible that Lightoller may have wanted to conceal the suicide, if it occurred, from Murdoch's widow. Later in life, Lightoller is said to have admitted that he "knew someone who committed suicide that night," but he never said who.
Responsibility for sinking
The orders Murdoch gave to avoid the iceberg are debated. According to the Quartermaster Alfred Oliver, who was nearby, he immediately ordered the helm "hard to port" to ward off the stern of the iceberg. Hichens and the fourth officer Joseph Boxhall made no mention of this order. However, since the stern avoided the iceberg, it is likely that the order was given and carried out.
Furthermore, the avoidance maneuver was denounced during the United States Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic. The results suggested that if it had collided with the iceberg head on, it may have only damaged two watertight compartments. If this were true, then not only would everyone have been saved, but the ship could have lived a full career.
- Theo Shall (1943) (Titanic)
- Barry Bernard (1953) (Titanic)
- Richard Leech (1958) (A Night to Remember)
- Paul Young (1979) (S.O.S. Titanic) (TV Movie)
- Stan Bocko (1989) (Pilots of the Purple Twilight) (A play by Samuel L. French)
- Malcolm Stewart (1996) (Titanic) (TV Miniseries)
- David Costabile (1997) (Titanic) (Broadway Musical)
- Ewan Stewart (1997) (Titanic)
- Courtenay Pace (1998) (Titanic: Secrets Revealed) (TV Documentary)
- Charlie Arneson (2003) (Ghosts of the Abyss) (Documentary)
- Brian McCardie (2012) (Titanic) (TV series/4 episodes)
- David McArdle (2016) (Pilots of the Purple Twilight) (A play by Samuel L. French)
In the 1996 miniseries and the 1997 film, Murdoch committed suicide. The latter depicted him accepting (and later refusing) a bribe from Caledon Hockley; and shooting two passengers (Tommy Ryan and an unnamed passenger) in a mob on the deck after he presumes they intend to storm one of the remaining lifeboats. After realizing what he had done, he then salutes Chief Officer Henry Wilde and commits suicide by firing the pistol into his temple, his body crumpling backwards into the sea. When Murdoch's nephew Scott saw the film, he objected to his uncle's portrayal as ruining Murdoch's heroic reputation, and studio executives later flew to Murdoch's hometown to issue an apology for this depiction.
According to Cameron, then, his depiction of Murdoch is not of a man ‘gone bad,’ a ‘cowardly murderer,’ but of an “honorable man” who accepts full collective responsibility for the predicament they are in and for the death of 1500 that were shortly to occur. He is overwhelmed by feelings of desperation and makes the ultimate payment by sacrificing his own life. He added, "I'm not sure you'd find that same sense of responsibility and total devotion to duty today. This guy had half of his lifeboats launched before his counterpart on the port side had even launched one. That says something about character and heroism." This is perhaps why Murdoch has the privilege of being among those seen in Rose’s "dream sequence" at the end of the film, implying his heroic reputation. He is standing next to Thomas Andrews, smiling as Rose drifts by and clapping along with the rest of the crowd of happy onlookers as she and Jack kiss.
- Walter Lord (1955), A Night To Remember, Penguin Books
- titanic.marconigraph.com – Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall reported during the Enquiry that upon arriving on the bridge after the fact...
- Encyclopedia Titanica
- "Titanic Inquiry Project – United States Senate Inquiry". Titancinquiry.org.
- "Testimony of Robert Hichens (Quartermaster, SS Titanic)". Titanic Inquiry Project - United States Senate Inquiry.
- titanic.marconigraph.com – STOP Command
- titanic.marconigraph.com – STOP Command / "Porting Around" Maneuver
- ""Last Log of the Titanic" -Four Revisionist Theories – a "port around" or S-curve manoeuvre in which "the bow is first turned away from the object, then the helm is shifted (turned the other way) to clear the stern"". Archived from the original on 28 October 2003. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
- titanic.marconigraph.com – STOP Command / "Porting Around" Maneuver “SENATOR BURTON: Do you not think that if the helm had been hard astarboard the bow would have been up against the berg? QUARTERMASTER GEORGE ROWE: It stands to reason it would, sir, if the helm were hard astarboard.”
- "titanic-model.com, '''Titanic and the Iceberg''' – By Roy Mengot". Titanic-model.com. 1912-04-14. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- "The whole impact had lasted only 10 seconds". Pbs.org. 1912-04-10. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- Charles Pellegrino. "William McMaster Murdoch, Titanic Hero Unstuck in time".
- Winocour 1960, p. 316.
- "Hero dog". Titanic-titanic.com. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- Testimony of Charles Herbert Lightoller
- Gracie 1913, p. 61.
- Charles Herbert Lightoller, Second Officer
- 101 Things You Thought You Knew about the Titanic - But Didn't! at Google Books.co.uk
- (Mark Chirnside 2004, p. 155)
- (Gérard Piouffre 2009, p. 140)
- "UK | Nephew angered by tarnishing of Titanic hero". BBC News. 1998-01-24. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
- "Titanic makers say sorry". BBC News. 15 April 1998.
- James Cameron’s Titanic, p. 129.
- William McMaster Murdoch, A Career at Sea. By Susanne Störmer
- Encyclopedia Titanica
- Dalbeattie museum
- Dalbeattie Town History – Murdoch of the 'Titanic'
- Murdoch -The Man, the Mystery
- Lieutenant William Murdoch at Find A Grave
- William McMaster Murdoch: Women and Children First Order