Copyright 1998 Chris Daino.

Edward John Smith

January 27, 1850 - April 15, 1912
Age at time of disaster: 62
Birthplace: Hanley, Stoke, England
1912 Residence: Southampton, England
Salary/Yearly: 1250 (in English pounds)
Berth before Titanic: Olympic, Captain
Description: "Solidly built, slightly above medium height, he was handsome in a patriarchal sort of way. His neatly trimmed white beard, coupled with his clear eyes, gave him a somewhat stern countenance, an impression immediately dispelled by his gentle speaking voice and urbane manners. Respectfully and affectionately known as 'E.J.' by passengers and crew alike, he was a natural leader, radiated a reassuring combination of authority, confidence, and good humor." (Daniel Allen Butler, "Unsinkable" The Full Story of the RMS Titanic, page 47)

Bernard Hill plays Captain Smith in the movie Titanic
Bernard Hill plays Captain Smith in the movie Titanic

Quote: "I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that . . ." (On the maiden voyage of the Adriatic in New York, 1907)

[Early Life] [Titanic] [The Collision] [What Happened to Smith?]
Early Life and Career

      Born on the 27th of January 1850 at 51 Well Street in the landlocked town of Hanley, Stoke, England, Edward John Smith was an only child. His father was Edward, a potter, and his mother was Catherine. He was a member of the Etruria Methodist Church, which was built in 1805. The church still stands today looking much like it did when Edward John Smith attended it as a boy.

      Smith married Sarah Eleanor, daughter of William Pennington, at St. Oswald's Church in Winwick. They would first live at Spar Cottage in Winwick. They had one daughter Helen Melville Smith born in Liverpool, England in 1898.

      Per his schoolfellow, William Jones, of Edmund-street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Smith was "a genial and good schoolfellow; one always ready to give a kind of helping hand in any way to his mates." He was a scholar at Etruria, the school which the great and the good Wedgwood, the potter of worldwide fame, established and maintained in Staffordshire.

      "My memory," says Mr. Jones, "brings back many happy days spent with him at school, and also many happy hours before and after school time. There were six of us in those days - six firm friends who stuck together, and Smith was the staunchest of us all. I remember how Vincent Simspon used to call on me first, and how we would call for Johnny Leonard. Then the three of us would knock at Ted Smith's door, and having collected the others we would run down Mill-street and Etruria-road to school." "He was a brave soul as a boy. He was always ready to help and give of his best."

      Edward John Smith went to sea at age of thirteen. He became an apprentice on a clipper ship, the Senator Weber, in 1869, an American built sailing vessel owned by A. Gibson & Co of Liverpool. He served as the Fourth Officer on the Celtic in 1880.

      Joining the White Star Line in 1886, Smith served aboard the company's major vessels - freighters to Australia, liners to New York - he quickly assumed command. In 1887, he was appointed the captain of the Republic.

      As the ships grew in size, so did the importance of Captain Smith. He was the Majestic's captain for nine years starting in 1895, during which period he made two trooping voyages to South Africa during the Boer War. For this service he was awarded the Transport Medal. In addition, he was an honorary commander of the Royal Naval Reserve and, as such, had been granted warrant number 690 allowing him to fly the Blue Ensign on any merchant vessels he commanded. His career would lead him to command 17 more White Star vessels.

      Among these ships was the Adriatic. In 1907 having brought her safely to New York on her maiden voyage, he confidently spoke to the press, "When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experiences in nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course, there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like, but in all my experience I have never been in any accident of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea - a brig, the crew of which were taken off in a small boat in charge of my third officer. I never saw a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort. You see, I am not very good material for a story."

      Little did Captain Smith know that his photograph would one day make the front pages of newspapers around the world.

      A friend of Smith's, Dr. Williams, related a conversation with Captain Smith when he commanded the Adriatic. The Captain had said "We do not care anything for the heaviest storms in these big ships. It is fog that we fear. The big icebergs that drift into warmer water melt much more rapidly under water than on the surface, and sometimes a sharp, low reef extending two or three hundred feet beneath the sea is formed. If a vessel should run on one of these reefs half her bottom might be torn away."

      According to Williams, he pointed out the inadequacy of the Adriatic's lifeboats and 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 the captain's whimsical reply.

      Smith was ranked highly by the White Star Line. Since the Baltic of 1904 he had taken out the company's newest liners on their maiden voyages. After Baltic came Adriatic in 1907, then Olympic in 1911.

      Captain Smith was regarded as a "safe Captain" and, for the period, he probably was. Yet he had been in command of the Germanic when on 16 February 1899, she capsized at her New York pier from ice accumulations in her rigging and superstructure. There was a fire aboard the Baltic in 1904 as well as this same ship running aground in 1909. Although, the report of this was in the New York Times, the officers denied that it happened. They had insisted it must be some other ship. In June 1911 while maneuvering the Olympic into her New York Pier, the ship had damaged a tugboat with the thrust from one of the its propellers. It seemed that Captain Smith - along with most contemporary liner captains - had much to learn about the displacement effects of the ship's huge hulk. The incident was therefore written up as a minor scrape, although the tug's owner did sue White Star for $10,000, prompting a counter suit from the company. Ultimately, both cases were dropped because of lack of evidence.

      It was not the only mishap with the Olympic. On Wednesday, 20 September 1911, the Olympic set off from Southampton on her fifth voyage, under the command of Captain Smith. As she made her way down the Solent and headed out to pass the east end of the Isle of Wright, she got up to a speed of 18 knots. She was nominally under the direction of George Bowyer, a very experienced Trinity House Pilot. As she turned to starboard to round the Bramble bank, speed was reduced to 11 knots but the wide radius of her turn surprised the commander of the HMS Hawke, a 7,000 ton cruiser, who was unable to take sufficient avoiding action.

      The two ships collided, the cruiser's steel and concrete bow ram burying itself deep into the starboard quarter of the great liner. Baggage stowed in the hold of the Olympic spilled out onto the deck of the Hawke.

      Fortunately nobody was killed and both ships remained afloat, the Olympic making it back to Southampton on one engine, despite two major watertight compartments being completely flooded. Although the blame was legally placed on the Olympic, and the White Star Line faced with large legal costs as well as the costs of repairing the ship and the losses resulting form the disruption of services, the solace was that the ship had survived a major collision (the Hawke, after all, was designed to sink enemy ships by ramming them) and had remained a float and stable despite serious flooding.

      "The commander of the Hawke was entirely to blame", a young officer on board the Olympic had complained, "He was 'showing off' his war ship before a throng of passengers and made a miscalculation." Captain Smith probably smiled enigmatically at the theory advanced by his subordinate, but made no comment as to this view of the mishap. Declared Captain Smith,

"The Olympic is unsinkable, and Titanic will be the same when she is put in commission." He continued, "either of these two vessels could be cut in halves and each half would remain afloat almost indefinitely. The non-sinkable vessel has been reached in these two wonderful craft." "I venture to add," concluded the Captain, "that even the engines and boilers of these vessels were to fall through their bottoms, the vessels would remain afloat."

      Smith had also been quoted as saying "I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that."

      A friend of Captain Smith's, Glen Marston, said that while returning from Europe on the Olympic, he remarked to the Captain on the small number of lifeboats carried by such a large passenger steamer. It was then that the Captain spoke of the life preserving equipment on the Titanic, which was then under construction. Marston quoted Smith as saying he thought the lack of equipment for saving lives was not due to a desire of the steamship owners to save money, but rather because they believed their ships to be safe. Lifeboats were thought to be required only in cases in which passengers were to be landed." It was the Captain's opinion, according to Marston, that enough lifeboats and rafts should be carried to insure safety to every passenger in case of an accident.

      Over the years, White Star Line had built up a clientele of passengers who would not dream of crossing the Atlantic on a liner commanded by anyone other than Edward John Smith. In later years, the description of Smith would be an avuncular man with a gray beard and a barrel chest, he was the epitome of an old sea dog. He may have looked fearsome, but in truth he was soft-spoken, gentle and a leader in whom passengers and crews had great confidence. He had a pleasant, quiet voice and a ready smile. A natural leader and a fine seaman, Captain Smith was popular alike with officers and men.

      Charles Lightoller, one of his officers, related, "I had been with him many years, off and on, in the mail boats, Majestic, mainly, and it was an education to see him con his own ship up through the intricate channels entering New York at full speed. One particularly bad corner, known as the South-West Spit, used to make us fairly flush with pride as he swung her round, judging his distances to a nicety; she heeling over to the helm with only a matter of feet to spare between each end of the ship and the banks."

      "Though I believe he's an awful stickler for discipline he's popular with everybody." wrote Titanic's Sixth Officer James Moody to his sister.

      "The crew knew him to be a good, kind-hearted man," a steward shared, "and we looked upon him as a sort of father."

      Among the passengers, the veterans of the smoking room swore by him. He enjoyed the confidence alike of millionaires and bishops ('he never took a risk, was the considered opinion of the Bishop of Willesden). Children, too, adored him, and were sure of being noticed by him. He was known affectionately as "E.J." among more than a generation of ocean travelers.

      On account of E.J.'s popularity it became a custom for the company to appoint him to the command of each of their finest ships as it came into operation. A maiden voyage without Captain Smith in command was almost unthinkable.

      U.S. Congressman, William Alden Smith and his son had made a North Atlantic voyage aboard the Baltic in 1906. The American congressman, six years later, would lead the US Inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic. As a U.S. Congressman, he had been invited to dine at the captain's table, Captain E.J. Smith. The conversation had turned from railway regulation to steamship safety. Subsequently, EJ had invited him to the bridge, where he viewed the mechanism that activated the watertight doors. The captain had then conducted the Congressman and his son on a tour through the ship, explaining everything in detail. William Alden was duly impressed - as impressed as he was later dumbfounded - "EJ was no fool, nor was he "reckless" as some editors would suggest after the Titanic disaster.

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The Titanic

      The Titanic's maiden voyage, his last voyage as commodore of the line, would be a fitting end to a long and distinguished career. Smith was 62. But Smith, for all his experience, was still learning the fine points of seamanship required to navigate this new breed of superliner.

      The night before Captain Smith left New York for Europe to take command of the Titanic, he dined with Mr. & Mrs. W.P. Willie of Flushing, Long Island, New York. It was later reported to the press in NY that at that dinner, Captain Smith was according to Mr. Willie, enthusiastic over the prospects of his new command. He said he shared with the designers of the vessel the utmost confidence in her seagoing abilities and told Mr. & Mrs. Willie that it was impossible for her to sink. He looked forward then to the most successful days of his seagoing career, and especially dwelt upon the idea that the Titanic's appearance on the Atlantic marked a high point of safety and comfort in the evolution of ocean travel. He regarded that vessel as one that would stay above water in the face of the most unexpected trials. Even if a part of the hull should be seriously damaged, he said, there need be no doubt that she would reach port.

      And so, Smith handed over the Olympic to Captain Herbert James Haddock and arrived in Belfast on 1 April to take the new ship, the Titanic. Her sea trials were the next day.

      In Belfast, the ship's officers had already spent the previous few days ensuring that everything was ready. Captain Smith put the ship through her tests: engines put to high speed for the first time, allowing her to drift into a full stop were a few examples. Various maneuvers were conducted; port and starboard turns using only the rudder, slowing down and speeding up; turning with first the port and then the starboard propeller assisting. There was even a major stopping test where Officer's Moody & Murdoch measured the distance after the Titanic at full speed was put at full astern. At a twenty-knot speed - Titanic took a bit less than half a mile - about 850 yards - to come to a complete stop.

      With the sea trials quickly over, the Titanic sailed at midnight from Belfast to Southampton to take it's maiden voyage. Mr. Kempster, a director at Harland and Wolff, the company that built the Titanic, stated that before the ship left Belfast, Captain Smith was asked if courage and fearlessness in the face of death existed amongst seamen as of old. Captain Smith declared if any disaster like the Birkenhead happened, they would go down as those men went down.

      When Smith arrived at Southampton, his first problem was that of the coal miner's strike. Coal was in very short supply. The Titanic had 1880 tons aboard and took additional supplies from the Olympic as well as other ships such as the Majestic, Oceanic, Philadelphia, New York & St. Louis. All this was not helped by the fact that there was a fire in Number 10 bunker on the starboard side of Boiler Room 6. This had started as the ship left Belfast and would not be extinguished until Saturday, the 13th of April at 12 Noon, the day before Titanic stuck an iceberg.

      Henry Tingle Wilde was transferred from the Olympic to the Titanic on 9 April to be the Chief Officer at Captain Smith's request. This caused a reshuffle amongst the deck officers.

      Wednesday, 10 April , Sailing Day. Shortly before 7AM, Captain Smith, left his home at Woodhead, a red-bricked, twin-gabled home on Winn Road in Southampton. Smith was wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat. The local newspaper boy Albert "Ben" Benham remembers him coming out and saying to him, "'Alright son, I'll take my paper.'" The boy gave the departing captain his paper.

      Smith turned around to wave good-bye to his wife Eleanor and twelve-year old daughter, Helen, who stood in the doorway. He then entered his waiting taxi. His ride from Westwood Park took him through the center of Southampton and down the hill to the docks.

      Boarding the vessel at about 7:30AM, he went directly to his cabin to receive the sailing report from his Chief Officer Henry Tingle Wilde. At 8AM the Blue Ensign was hoisted at the stern and the crew under direction of petty officers, began to assemble on deck for muster. The ship's articles - the 'sign on list' - for each department was distributed to respective department heads.

      Smith's occupation this morning was to meet and assist the various officials whose approval would permit the vessel to go to sea. Captain Benjamin Steele, White Star's marine superintendent, supervised the muster as each man was scrutinized by one of the ship's doctors. A company representative further examined each department's final rosters, then handed them to Captain Steele who in turn, took them to Captain Smith for examination and approval.

       Even as the passengers were boarding, the local Board of Trade inspector, Captain Maurice Harvey Clarke, was making the final check. Despite a rigorous inspection that included the crew to operate and lower two of the ship's lifeboats, he did not notice, or was not advised of the bunker fire raging below. Captain Smith had been assured by Chief Engineer Joseph Bell that the situation was under control, and that if there was damage - and he doubted there was - it would be confined to a small portion of the transverse bulkhead and would in no way damage the hull's soundness. On the chief engineer's assurance, Captain Smith assumed the risk.

      While he signed the final documents, Captain Steele received the formal Captain's Report from Captain Smith, stating "I hereby report this ship loaded and ready for sea. The engines and boilers are in good order for the voyage, and all charts and sailing directions up-to-date. Your obedient servant, Edward J. Smith." There were handshakes all around, offers of congratulation and 'good voyage' as the two officials left the bridge.

      There were so many visitors. Roy Diaper, the son of a mariner and then a child was brought on board and remembers "Captain Smith didn't speak to me but he bent down and shook me by the hand, there was a tremendous bustle going on and Captain Smith was surrounded by people." Mrs. Smith, and their daughter Helen, also boarded the ship briefly, visiting the bridge before leaving again.

       As the midday sailing time approached, the officials took their leave and all gangways except one were landed. Already aboard was the pilot. Two new figures dressed in civilian clothes entered the bridge. Thomas Andrews, managing director of Harland & Wolff, and J. Bruce Ismay, president & managing director of the White Star Line, exchanged greetings and best wishes for a good voyage with Smith & Wilde before leaving the bridge. Pilot George Bowyer who had been piloting the Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke, now had his red and white striped flag flying at the masthead. Bowyer now conferred with Smith about the draughts, turning circles and maneuverability of the immense liner.

      On the stroke of 12 Noon, Captain Smith gave the order to sound the ship's horns and the traditional triple blast echoed across Southampton. As the officers confirmed that all was ready, the Captain ordered the lines cast off. As the thick hawsers splashed into the water, the Titanic was freed from the land, and the same five tugs that brought her into the dock now edged her out into the newly dredged turning circle and maneuvered her bow into a position facing down the River Test. The tugs cast off. The telegraph now rang down to start the ship's propellers turning. The two mighty bronze propellers began to turn slowly. Against the incoming tide, Titanic's bow knifed ahead, slowly at first, then faster as more power reached her propellers.

      At that time, the New York was moored along side the Oceanic at Berth 38. The Oceanic tied to the quay, both ships facing downstream. They were both temporarily out of service due to the coal strike. What this meant was that the deep channel which the Titanic was obliged to follow, was slightly obstructed. By the time she passed the two moored ships, the Titanic was traveling fast enough to generate a suction force (known as the canal effect) as she was drawing water behind her with considerable force. The New York's mooring lines snapped under the strain and her stern began to drift out into the path of the Titanic. The quick action of the master of the tug Vulcan, who managed to get a line aboard the New York, prevented the collision. Although a quick action aboard the Titanic also helped as "Full Astern" was ordered and the starboard anchor was lowered to the water line, ready to act as a brake if required. As the Titanic slowed and then reversed, the gap between the two ships was a matter of feet. The New York was brought under control and the Titanic was again able to proceed after a delay of nearly an hour. Not a good start to the voyage.

      As the Titanic finally steamed past the lawns of the Royal Yacht Squadron at West Cowes, telescopes, and binoculars where leveled as the people lined the railings to see the Titanic go by. Seated in a boat, in readiness to take a photograph, was a local pharmacist who had recently given evidence in connection with the Hawke's collision with the Olympic. Captain Smith on the bridge high above, recognizing the photographer, saluted him with four blasts of the liner's siren.

      Now under way, things settled down and after disembarking the pilot on the Nab Light Vessel, the Titanic turned south and set her course for her short run across the English Channel to Cherbourg. This part of the voyage was uneventful as both passengers and crew began to settle into the routine, which would occupy their next seven days.

      The Titanic dropped anchor at Cherbourg at 6:30PM. She remained for only an hour and a half embarking passengers from the tenders, but also dropping off thirteen first class and seven second class passengers. Just before 8PM, a triple blast from the horns announced that Titanic was about to sail and minutes later the anchor was aweigh as the Titanic turned under her own power and edged slowing out of the harbor before gathering speed and setting off westward into the night towards Ireland.

      On the way, Captain Smith did some more testing. The compasses needed adjustments. The Titanic began a series of lazy "S" turns as the Captain continued to educate himself on his new command.

      Late in the forenoon of Thursday, April 11th, the Titanic came within sight of the Irish Coast. The ship rounded Land's End and turned northwest to cross the St. George's channel before arriving off of Queenstown (now known as Cobh) on the south coast of Ireland at 11:30AM. Here the Titanic anchored some two miles offshore of Roche's point while two tenders, the Ireland and the America, steamed out with more passengers.

      As in Southampton and in Cherbourg, the local presses were welcomed aboard and around the liner. Here Captain Smith and Purser McElroy posed for their photographs.

      Captain Smith then sailed the Titanic west from Ireland and started her journey across the North Atlantic to New York.

      While the passengers relaxed, the crew busied themselves with the ship's routine. Captain Smith would make his rounds of inspection every day at 10:30AM, following a daily meeting at 10AM with the various heads of departments. This was ordained by the White Star Line regulations and was meticulously carried out by the captain.

      Dressed in full uniform with medals, he made his way through all parts of the ship including public areas of all three classes, the dining rooms and galleys, the bakery, the hospital, workshops, and stores until finally he worked his way down to machinery spaces where he was met and escorted by the Chief Engineer.

      With his inspection of the ship complete, Captain Smith would return to the bridge where he would call the attention to his officers to any points arising from his tour of the ship. He would also update himself on the ship's progress, poring over the charts and checking the ship's position. He might also receive and read the various radio messages directed to the ship or himself, or checked over general messages broadcast by other vessels within range.

      Contrary to popular belief, Captain Smith did not preside over the head of a large table filled with prominent passengers. Rather, he most frequently occupied a table for six at the forward end of the first class dining saloon's center section. In bad weather, or when entering or leaving port, he did not dine in public, preferring to take his meals on the bridge or in his own quarters, served by his personal steward, Arthur Paintin.

      On Saturday, the 13th of April, Elizabeth Lines, whose husband was medical director of the New York Life Insurance Company, stopped for coffee after lunch, as was already her custom, in the reception room on D-deck. Soon after she had taken a seat, Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay entered and sat down at a table only a few feet from hers. She stated that she heard the two men discussing the latest day's run and that the Titanic still had over three days in which to increase her speed and to cross the ocean in less time than her sister ship. Ismay was confident that this could be done and had insisted that the Captain speed up the ship. Later, Ismay would deny that this conversation ever took place.

      On Saturday, the troublesome fire in number six boiler-room had finally been extinguished. The ship now sailed into Sunday, the 14th of April.

      Sunday was the one day of the week that the captain was not required to make a detailed tour of inspection. But any thoughts of a quiet morning, however, was ruined as early as 9AM when the ship received a two day old wireless message from Captain Barr of the Cunarder Caronia, which was journeying east from New York to Liverpool. It read: "Captain Titanic - Westbound steamers report bergs, growlers, and field ice in 42 degrees North from 49 degrees to 51 degrees West. April 12. Compliments, Barr". A growler is a nautical term for a small iceberg.

      After reading the message, which was delivered to him on the bridge, Captain Smith had it posted for his officers. Then at 10:30AM he led a religious service in the first-class dining saloon. The service was not from the Church of England's "Book of Common Prayer", but rather, from the company's own prayer book. All present joined in the hymn "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" which ends with "Oh hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea." The service ended at 11AM.

      At 1:40PM, an incoming message from the Baltic said "Captain Smith, Titanic, have had moderate variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving. Greek liner Athinai reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 North, longitude 49.52 west." The Baltic's message was immediately given to Captain Smith, who rather than turn it over to the officers on watch, carried it with him as he headed to A-Deck.

      As Smith walked aft along the promenade, he encountered Bruce Ismay, who was conversing with George and Eleanor Widener. According to Ismay's later testimony, Smith handed him the ice warning from the Baltic without comment. Ismay merely glanced at it, put it in his pocket, and a moment later went below.

  At 5:50 PM, the Titanic reached the "Corner". In order to avoid the ice found each spring near the Grand Banks, the ships took a more southerly route than at other times of the year. This meant they normally steamed southwest until reaching forty-two degrees north latitude and forty-seven degrees west longitude - a location known as "the corner". From there they steamed nearly due west on the course for Nantuket Lightship. Although the Titanic reached the corner around 5PM, Sunday, Captain Smith had ordered a delay in changing the course until 5:45, causing the ship to travel an additional 16 miles southwest. Third Officer Herbert Pitman calculated that when the Titanic turned the corner, the ship was ten miles south of the normal shipping route. Smith's decision was likely due to the ice warnings the ship had been receiving.

      Bruce Ismay would later testify that at 7:10PM, as he sat in the smoking room, Captain Smith approached and asked, "By the way, sir, have you got that telegram which I gave you this afternoon?" He explained, "I want to put it up in the officer's chartroom," Smith got the message and left.

      That night in the crowded a la carte restaurant on B-Deck, Captain Smith lingered over dinner with several of the ship's more prominent passengers. The party had been organized by George & Eleanor Widener. Their guests were their son, Harry, the Thayers, the Carters, and Major Archibald Butt, President Taft's aide-de-camp. The gathering was quiet, and pleasant. Seeing Mrs. Harris and her injured arm, the captain came over and congratulated her on her spirit.

      After dinner, EJ settled down for a smoke. He smoked two that night. "Cigars," said his daughter, "were his pleasure. And one was allowed to be in the room only if one was absolutely still, so that the blue cloud over his head never moved." Smith was in no hurry to leave the party. As dictated by White Star Line regulations, Captain Smith did not drink wine or liquor of any kind.

      Later a Elmer Taylor and his friend Fletcher Lambert Williams told how they had come into close proximity to the Captain that evening, and related that they were close enough to hear Captain Smith tell his party the ship could be cut crosswise in three places and each piece would float. "That remark confirmed my belief in the safety of the ship," said Taylor. Shortly before nine o'clock Smith excused himself for the evening and left for the bridge.

      At 8:55 PM Captain Smith arrived on the bridge, remarking to Second Officer Lightoller about the cold. Lightoller agreed and said it was only one degree above freezing. Smith commented that there wasn't much wind and Lightoller responded, "No, it is a flat calm as a matter of fact." They continued to discuss the weather and Lightoller remarked that it was a pity there was no breeze as they were going to be going through ice region. Lightoller later stated, "He would know what I meant, I was referring to the breeze making the waves break on the side of the berg." Eventually they discussed the time they would be reaching the ice and how they would be likely to detect it. Lightoller predicted that in view of how clear it was with so many stars there would be a great deal of reflected light from any icebergs. Smith said that if the weather became the slightest bit hazy, they would have to slow down and that probably even if the blue side of the berg was turned towards us the white outline would give us sufficient warning. He said we shall be able to see it at a good distance.

      There was nothing unusual in Smith's behavior. The majority of captains, faced with increasingly tight schedules preferred to forge ahead in the face of possible adversity. Those who erred on the side of caution were treated with disdain. Captain James Barr of the Caronia was nicknamed "Foggy" because of his tendency to reduce speed at the first hint of haze

 At 9:20PM Smith left Lightoller. Smith retired to his sea cabin immediately abaft the bridge on the starboard side leaving instructions, "If it becomes at all doubtful, let me know, I will be just inside." Smith knew better than anyone that navigationally this was the most crucial period of the voyage. A number of ice messages had been received from the Caronia, Baltic, Amerika and the California - although only the Caronia's was posted in the chartroom, according to later testimony. The officers were therefore ignorant of the others. Lightoller left the Bridge at 10PM and turned over the Captain's instructions to Murdoch - to be notified if there was any doubt about the situation.

The Collision

      The ship was making a steady 22.5 knots and the air temperature was right on freezing (0 C.). Whatever precautions had been considered necessary in view of approaching an ice field, a reduction in speed was obviously not given serious consideration. As the ship sped on the temperature dropped a half a degree below freezing.

      The collision occurred at 11:40PM. There was a sudden jar, followed by an ominous grinding noise far below along the ship's side. Fourth Officer Boxhall had arrived on the bridge just as the collision occurred, having been due to take over watch a few minutes later. Almost immediately he was joined by the captain who had heard the warnings and felt the impact.

      Captain Smith came rushing out of his room, "What have we struck?" he asked. "An iceberg, sir," Murdoch replied. "I put her hard a'starboard and run the engines full astern, but it was too close. She hit it. I intended to port around it, but she hit before I could do any more." "Close the watertight doors." Smith ordered. "The watertight doors are closed, sir." Smith then asked Murdoch if he had rung the warning bell, and the first officer replied that he had.

      Both officers strode out onto the bridge wing to look aft for the iceberg and on reentering the bridge the captain told Boxhall to inspect the forward area of the hull below decks and to report back as soon as possible. Smith moved the engine telegraphs to "half Ahead" but then rang down "Stop" shortly afterwards. The Titanic slowed and then stopped dead in the water. Smith now faced the horrible fact that his ship had been damaged, how seriously he did not yet know. Furthermore, he had not been present on the bridge during this most critical part of the voyage.

      Boxhall worked his way down into the bow, going as low as he could in the passenger areas and finding no sign of damage. He returned to the bridge and reported this to the Captain who ordered, "Go down and find the carpenter and get him to sound the ship." Boxhall had just begun to descend the staircase leading down to A-deck when he met Carpenter John Hutchinson. "The captain wants you to sound the ship", Boxhall told him. "The ship is making water", Hutchinson replied breathlessly. He continued onto the bridge while Boxhall headed below. There Boxhall met Jago Smith, one of the mail clerks, who wanted to know where the captain was. "The mail hold is filling rapidly!" he told Boxhall. "Well, you go and report it to the captain, and I will go down and see", Boxhall replied. Boxhall went down to the mailroom and then returned to the bridge and reported the grim news to Captain Smith. The water had risen to within two feet of the top of the stairs.

      The Chief Officer then hurried to the bridge and asked the Captain whether he thought the damage was serious. "Certainly", was the reply, "I'm afraid it's more than serious." During this time, Captain Smith had been to the wheelhouse to look at the commutator, which was a small instrument mounted in front of the compass for indicating how the ship was listing. He observed to his consternation that it already showed a list of five degrees to starboard. "Oh, my God!" he muttered. The Captain then ordered Fourth Officer Boxhall to establish the ship's exact location so that it could be included in any subsequent wireless messages. Chief Officer Wilde and Thomas Andrews inspected the damage. Carpenter Hutchinson had taken a draft of the water and there was no question that the Titanic was continuing to sink.

      Bruce Ismay then appeared donned in his pajamas and overcoat to ask Captain Smith what had happened. "We have struck ice", he explained. "Do you think the ship is seriously damaged?" Ismay asked. "I am afraid she is." was Smith's reply.

      Thomas Andrews had arrived and he explained to Smith the full seriousness of the Titanic's situation. It was clear that the iceberg had ruptured the first six watertight compartments. The first five were cargo or storage areas and the sixth was boiler room #6. Over two hundred feet had been opened up to the sea. It did not take Andrews long to reach the unpalatable conclusion that the ship was mortally wounded and estimated that it would sink an hour and a half, or two hours on the outside - a remarkable accurate assessment in the circumstances. It was now up to Smith and his officers to organize evacuation of the ship and save as many people as possible.

      Smith now faced the worst. His ship was sinking fast and the more than 2200 people on board were in extreme peril. The job was difficult not only because there were too few lifeboats for the number of passengers, but also because there had been no lifeboat drill. Captain Smith then made a decision that would significantly add to the legend of the disaster. He clearly made up his mind that it was crucial there should be no panic. He advised the crew that the ship struck an iceberg, to wake the passengers and prepare the lifeboats for lowering. What he apparently did not do was make it clear to the crew who were responsible for evacuating the ship that the Titanic was actually going to sink. From the onset the tone was set that women and children were to get into the boats as a precaution. The passengers were left to speculate as to what was happening.

      The captain and the officers on the bridge knew it was only a matter of time before the Titanic sank. At 12:05 AM, he ordered the crew to be mustered and for them to stand by to uncover the lifeboats and the crew and passengers to be rounded up.

      Three French passengers who survived the disaster said that there was momentary panic as they saw ice rubbing against the ship's sides:

"Confidence was quickly restored, all being convinced that the Titanic could not founder. Captain Smith nevertheless appeared nervous; he came down on deck chewing a toothpick. 'Let everyone,' he said, 'put on a lifebelt, it is more prudent.' Soon after midnight, Captain Smith gave the order to prepare the boats, but still no general alarm was raised."

      At approximately 12:10AM, after Boxhall estimated the Titanic's position, Smith stepped into the wireless room for the second time after the collision. The first time he had informed Harold Bride and Jack Phillips that he was having an inspection made to determine the extent of the damage. He had told the two to prepare to send out a distress call. Now he gave the order "Send the call for assistance" handing Bride the Titanic's estimated position. Phillips inquired, "What call should I send?" "The regulation international call for help, Just that," Smith replied and then disappeared. At 12:15AM the first wireless call for help went out.

      The lifeboats were being prepared. Third Officer Pitman waited the commander's orders to load them. He was queried as to why he had not begun to fill the lifeboats. He walked forward to the Bridge, where the Captain was standing. He informed him that the person he suspected was Bruce Ismay wanted him to get the boats away. "Go ahead, carry on." Smith replied. It was approximately 12:25AM.

      Lightoller now appeared before Captain Smith. He had been readying lifeboats on the port side. Chief Officer Wilde had ordered Lightoller to uncover the boats but not to swing them out. Seeing the Captain, Lightoller repeated the request, "Yes, swing out, " Smith ordered. Wilde said nothing.

      Phillips sent Bride to tell Smith that the Cunard ship the Carpathia was on its way. It was the closest, 58 miles to the southeast. It would take four hours to get there.

      At 12:30AM, Captain Smith ordered Second Officer Lightoller to fill lifeboat #4 from the promenade deck (A deck) instead of the boat deck as it would be less exposed for the women and children. One of the passengers then reminded Smith that the glass windows on the promenade deck were closed. Smith, who had been confusing the ship with her sister ship, the Olympic, where the promenade deck was open, immediately ordered a return to the boat deck. By the time the passengers had climbed back up, the lifeboat had been lowered, as originally ordered, to the promenade deck. Lightoller then decided that it would be easier to have the windows opened then to haul the boat up again and so passengers were again sent down to the promenade deck. It was another hour before boat #4 was finally lowered to the sea.

      As they worked the deafening noise caused by the release of steam suddenly stopped, at last allowing the men to communicate more easily. Soon a very different sound could be heard as Titanic's musicians came up from the lounge, assembled on the deck and began to play cheerful ragtime numbers. Apparently the Captain had told them to play in order to keep the passengers calm.

      Fourth Officer Boxhall waited for Quartermaster Rowe to arrive with rockets. The reason for his impatience lay roughly ten miles away from the Titanic off the port bow. Peering through binoculars he could see the lights that winked at him telling him there was a steamer approaching. She was close enough to read a morse lamp and Captain Smith gave the order to try contacting the vessel with the morse lamp, and they did so in between firing rockets. Smith ordered them to "fire one every five or six minutes." The first rocket shot up at 12:45AM. They thought the ship to be 5 to 6 miles away. Boxhall immediately began signaling in morse. Smith approached. "Call that ship up and when she replies, tell her. 'We are Titanic sinking; please have all your boats ready. Tell him to come at once," he ordered. "We are sinking." Boxhall never got a response.

      At 12:55 AM, Boat #6, was being loaded and launched. Major Peuchen watched. Per his later testimony he says as he watched he heard a man's voice coming from the disappearing lifeboat. "I can't manage this boat with only one seaman." "Can I be of any assistance? I am a yachtsman", Peuchen said to Captain Smith. Smith told Peuchen to go down to A deck, break one of those lever windows specially built for the Titanic, and get into the boat through a broken pane." Of this Peuchen said "The captain was not quite himself; his idea was impractical, if not downright dangerous." Instead, Peuchen grabbed a loose rope from the davit and lowered himself, hand-over-hand, into the boat.

      Watching the loading of the lifeboats, Smith saw Lightoller sending only two men in each boat. For Lifeboat number 10, Smith ordered Steward Alfred Crawford and a cook to join them. "Row straight for those ship's lights over there," Smith ordered Seaman Thomas Jones. "Leave your passengers on board of her and return as soon as you can." Captain Smith felt that the steamer he saw was that close.

      As boat #2 was being loaded, the captain ordered Boxhall into the boat. He told quartermaster George Rowe to continue to signal in morse, but his efforts proved no more successful than Boxhall's.

      Lightoller all along maintained the policy of assuring passengers that loading lifeboats was a precautionary measure and explaining to them that the steamer still plainly visible was only a few miles away. At this point Chief Officer Wilde interrupted Lightoller's work to ask where the firearms were stored. Lightoller had stowed the guns, as he was originally the First Officer before the change in responsibilities with Wilde taking over as Chief Officer and all the other officers being moved down a notch. Lightoller led Wilde, Murdoch, and Captain Smith to the locker in Murdoch's cabin where the guns were kept.

      At 1:10AM, a Mrs. J. Stuart White observed that the captain seemed to be in a hurry to have the boat leave. Boat #8 was loaded with all the women and children he could see, there were still about 30 empty places. The wives began begging Captain Smith, who was standing nearby, to let in some of the husbands to row. But the captain backed Lightoller to the hilt - the rule was "Women and children only."

      At well past 1:30AM, the strains of music still drifted across the placid ocean to the passengers who were now in lifeboats. The decks were still brightly lit. An officer's whistle blew and Captain Smith shouted, "Come alongside" to the boats already away. He did this several times. These orders were not obeyed. None returned.

      Periodically, Bride left the wireless cabin to report their work to the captain, and occasionally Smith would stop in personally to check on them. During one visit he told them the engine room was flooded and the ship was sinking and that she could not last longer than half an hour.

      It was now 2AM and the Titanic's last rockets had been fired. All but Collapsibles C & D had left on the ship. Collapsibles A & B were still lashed upside down on the roof of the officer's quarters. The Titanic's bow was now well submerged, with her mast and rigging rising from the sea. Most of the remaining third class passengers had retreated to the stern with the first and second class staying on the boat deck.

      Frederick Hoyt, First Class Passenger, later reported "I knew Captain Smith for over fifteen years. Our conversation that night amounted to little or nothing. I simply sympathized with him on the accident; but at that time, as I then never expected to be saved, I did not want to bother him with questions, as I knew he had all he wanted to think of. He did suggest that I go down to A deck and see if there was not a boat alongside. This I did, and to my surprise saw the boat "D" still hanging on the davits and it occurred to me that if I swam out and waited for her to shove off they would pick me up, which was what happened."

      Collapsible B, on the port side was now being freed from its lashings. On the starboard side, several oars had been leaned up against the deckhouse so that then men could slide Collapsible A down to the boat deck. Due to the underestimated weight of the boat, it came crashing down. The men began attaching it to the davits. Over the forward railing of the bridge in the meantime, the Captain watched the water swirling around the port side of A deck just below. As Samual Hemmings, jumped back down to the boat deck, he was just in time to hear what was probably Captain Smith's last order. Hemming said "The captain was there and he sung out: 'Everyone over to the starboard side to keep the ship up as long as possible.' Hemming followed the captain's orders and went over to the starboard side, soon to work on Collapsible A. Wilde probably went over with him. As they worked, Captain Smith approached with a megaphone and shouted to those on deck. "Well, boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for your selves." Knowing the ship was about to founder, the Captain headed for the boat deck door nearby that led to the wireless office to relieve the operators from their duty.

      Jack Phillips & Harold Bride were in the wireless room when Smith entered. Bride noticed that the Captain still had not put on his own life preserver. "Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Abandon your cabin." They didn't move. "You look out for yourselves," the captain continued. "I release you. That's the way of it at this kind of time. Every man for himself".

      Now the bow of the Titanic began to plunge swiftly, causing a huge wave to wash aft from the forward end of the boat deck. The moment Captain Smith had feared was at hand - the ignominious end to a previously untarnished career. During the two and a half hours since the collision, he had at times seemed almost in a daze, a strangely passive figure. Boxhall took the initiative to fire the rockets. Lightoller and Pitman approached the Captain for permission to load and lower the lifeboats. Now, with the ship going down, Captain Smith turned and dove into the ocean. Harold Bride said he saw Captain Smith jump into the sea just before the liner sank:

"The last I saw of the captain of the Titanic, he went overboard from the bridge about, I should think, three minutes before I left myself."

What Happened to Smith?

      There are different tales of Smith's death.

      Philadelphia banker Robert W. Daniel who leapt from the sinking ship two minutes before she went down said. "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."

      Another tale comes from Collapsible B. At this time, the boat was overturned in the water, crowded with thirty men standing, sitting or kneeling in all conceivable positions, afraid to move for fear of losing their grip on the boat's hull while also trying to paddle away from the remaining swimmers using a loose board.

      "Look out, or you'll swamp us, someone told A.H. Barkworth, one of the last to climb onto Collapsible B. "Hold on to what you have, old boy. One more of you aboard would sink us all," one of the crewmen called to another man in the water. In a powerful voice the swimmer called back, "All right boys. Good luck and God bless you." Several men would later claim to have recognized the swimmer as Captain Smith. He swam away for a short distance before becoming still.

      Another story from Robert Williams, one of the firemen, says that when he was on the overturned Collapsible B, the captain was swimming close alongside me, and he had a baby in his arms. I saw him swim to one of the boats and hand the baby to someone, and the last I saw of him he was heading back toward the ship."

      H. Maynard, an entree cook, claimed that while aboard a lifeboat, shortly after the sinking, Captain Smith swam up to him handing him a baby before swimming away. Harry Senior, a Titanic fireman, said he saw the captain rescue a child. A passenger, Charles Williams claims he saw "Captain Smith swimming around the icy water with an infant in his arms and a lifebelt. When the small boat Mr. Williams was in, went to rescue Captain Smith, he handed them the child, but refused to get in himself." "Then Captain Smith pushed himself away from the lifeboat, threw his lifebelt from him and slowly sank from sight. He did not come to the surface again."

      Seaman G.A. Hogg said, "I saw Captain Smith in the water alongside a raft. 'There's the skipper,' I yelled. 'Give him a hand'. They did, but he shook himself free and shouted to us, 'Goodbye boys, I'm going to follow the ship.' That was the last we saw of our skipper".

      Another claimed that Smith had shouted, "Be British, boys, be British!" before going under with the ship.

      G.A. Drayton claimed that E.J. had simply been swept off the bridge when it lunged forward: "I saw him swim back into the sinking ship. He went down with it in my sight."

      Dr. J.F. Kemp, a passenger on the Carpathia, raised an ominous possibility. Kemp had spoken to a boy who had been one of the last children to leave the Titanic. The boy had seen "Captain Smith put a pistol to his head and then fell down." Others reported having seen Captain Smith commit suicide; crewmen however, vigorously denied the possibility. The window of a local newspaper in Southampton after the disaster said, "The final scene. Smith remained at his post on the bridge and went down with the ship. There was no panic.' (this last was in immense letters). Seaman stood around and spelt it out to their comrades. "I should think so, shot himself! That wasn't Smith's way. I know what I'd do to the feller that put that in." (here he spat)

      The fate of Captain Smith remains a mystery as his body was never found.

      Of his boyhood friend, William Jones would say:

"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."

      Second Officer Lightoller remembered him decades after the disaster as "the best captain he ever knew."

      A message from Captain Smith's wife was later posted outside the White Star offices in Southampton. It read: "To my poor fellow sufferers - my heart overflows with grief for you all and is laden with sorrow that you are weighed down with this terrible burden that has been thrust upon us. May God be with us and comfort us all. Yours in sympathy, Eleanor Smith."

      Senator Alden Smith paid tribute to the career of Captain Smith, "Captain Smith knew the sea and his clear eye and steady hand had often guided his ship through dangerous paths. For forty years, storms sought in vain to vex him or menace his craft. Each new advancing type of ship built by his company was handed over to him as a reward for faithful services and as evidence of confidence in his skill. Strong of limb, intent of purpose, pure in character, dauntless as a sailor could be, he walked the deck of this majestic structure as master of her keel". Smith added that the Captain's "own willingness to die was the expiating evidence of his fitness to live."

      Perhaps the strangest report was made by a Captain Peter Pryal and was reported in the Baltimore, MD press on 20 July 1912. "Captain Pryal, one of the oldest mariners in Baltimore and well known in shipping circles, who sailed with Captain Smith when he was the commander of the Majestic, made the startling statement today that he saw and talked to Captain Smith at Baltimore & St. Paul Streets. He declares he walked up to Captain Smith and said, 'Captain Smith, how are you?' Then the man answered, 'Very well, Pryal, but please don't detain me, I am on business.' He says he followed the man, saw him buy a ticket for Washington, and as he passed through the gate of the railway station he turned, recognized Pryal again, and remarked 'Be good, shipmate, until we meet again.' 'There is no possibility of my being mistaken,' said Captain Pryal, 'I have known Captain Smith too long. I would know him even without his beard. I firmly believe that he was saved and in some mysterious manner brought to this country. I am willing to swear to my statement. Many persons may think I am insane, but I have told Dr. Warfield of the occurrence and he will vouch for my sanity.' Dr. Warfield said that Captain Pryal was perfectly sane. The captain is well-to-do and is a consistent church member." Memorial to Captain Smith, Lichfield, England

      Edward J. Smith was married to Sarah Eleanor. Eleanor was born 17 June 1861 and was killed in an auto-pedestrian accident (she was knocked down by a taxi-cab) in London on April 28, 1931. They had one daughter Helen Melville Smith born in Liverpool, England in 1898. She married in 1922 Sindey Russell-Cooke. He was an underwriter. Her husband was killed in a hunting accident on 30 July 1930. "Mel" never remarried and died of an intercranial hemorrhage at Pratts, Leafield Oxford, England on August 18 1973. Mel had twins Simon Russell-Cooke born 18 June 1923 at Bellcrorst London and killed in action in World War II on 23 March 1944. He never married. His twin Priscilla was married in 1946 to John Arneal Phipps. She died in Scotland in 1948 of acute paralytic Polio. There were no children.

      A big statue of the captain was put up in Lichfield, England (the diocese where he was born). Many important people attended the unveiling of this statue, including relatives of passengers who perished with the captain.

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Contributing L/F writer: Chris Daino     © 1999. The information presented here may not under any circumstances be resold or redistributed without prior written permission from the respective authors. Please respect our copyrights.

Works Consulted

Don Lynch & Ken Marshall. Titanic: An Illustrated History
Leo Marriott. Titanic
John P. Eaton & Charles A. Haas. Titanic: Triumph & Tragedy
David Bryeson. The Titanic Disaster as reported in the British National Press April-July 1912
Geoff Tibballs. The Titanic: Extraordinary Story of the "Unsinkable" Ship
John P. Eaton & Charles A. Haas. Titanic Destination Disaster: The Legends & the Reality
Wyn Craig Wade. The Titanic: End of a Dream
Geoffrey Marcus. The Maiden Voyage
Walter Lord. A Night to Remember
Walter Lord. The Night Lives On
Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth, Sheila Jemima. Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage
Paul J. Quinn. Titanic at 2AM
Madacy Entertainment Group, Canada. The Captain of the Titanic: The story of Edward J. Smith
Newspaper quotes from "Captain Smith - Overconfidence"

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