William McMaster Murdoch
February 28, 1873
April 15, 1912 (age 39)
Jeanie Murdoch (mother)
Ada Florence Banks
New York, U.S.A.
Officer in the Titanic
William McMaster Murdoch (born February 28, 1873 – died April 15, 1912) was a Scottish sailor and the First Officer on the RMS Titanic.
Murdoch was born in Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the fourth son of Captain Samuel Murdoch, a master mariner, and Jane Muirhead, six of whose children survived infancy. The Murdochs were a long and notable line of Scottish seafarers who sailed the world's oceans as early as the 19th century; William's father and grandfather were both sea captains as were four of his grandfather's brothers and it is little wonder that he followed in the family tradition. Before boarding Titanic, William Murdoch had had 16 years of experience at sea.
In 1901, he received a commission in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) as a Lieutenant and served on the RMS Oceanic during the Boer War.
Lieutenant Murdoch was promoted to Chief Officer on board the RMS Titanic on 3rd April 1912 only to be demoted to First Officer when Lieutenant Henry Wilde was drafted as Chief.
First officer Murdoch was the officer on watch duty on the night of 14th April 1912. He died in the sinking. He left a daughter, Brianna and a widow, Ada. He was 39 years old and one of the finest seamen at the time.
Early life and history[edit | edit source]
Murdoch was educated first at the old Dalbeattie Primary School in High Street, and then at the 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.you good to the Charles Cosworth of Liverpool, trading to the west coast of South America. From May 1895, he was First Mate on the Saint Cuthbert, which was to sink in a hurricane off Uruguay in 1897. Murdoch gained his Extra Master's Certificate at Liverpool in 1896, at the age of 23. From 1897-1899, 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 1900-1912, 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 the Olympic (1911-1912).
In 1903, Murdoch met a 29-year-old New Zealand school teacher named Ada Florence Banks enroute to England on either the Runic or the Medic. William McMaster Murdoch and Ada Florence Banks 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 tonnes) Intended to outclass the Cunard ships in luxury and size Olympic 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, William Murdoch as First Officer, and Chief Purser Henry W. McElroy. On June 14, 1911, Olympic made her maiden voyage to New York.
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 of the ship 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 Olympic taken to Belfast for repairs, which took a good six weeks. It was thus not until 11 December 1911, that Murdoch rejoined his ship. During the time that he served aboard Olympic 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, sister ship to Olympic and reputedly the largest and most luxurious ship 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 ageing Edward John Smith, as Captain, and on the verge of retirement.
Life on RMS Titanic[edit | edit source]
Sailing[edit | edit source]
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 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.
Titanic's sinking[edit | edit source]
Murdoch was the officer in charge at the bridge when the Titanic struck the iceberg on 14 April 1912. There are varying accounts as to what orders Murdoch gave in order to avoid collision with the iceberg. It is generally agreed that he gave an order of "Hard a'starboard" (an order which, through rotation of the ships wheel, would work to move the ship's tiller all the way to the starboard (right) side of the ship) in an attempt turn the ship to port (left). Murdoch is reported to have set the ships telegraph to "Full Astern" by Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, who saw them at that setting when he entered the bridge some time during the accident. Boxhall’s testimony was contradicted by Greaser Frederick Scott, who stated that the engine room telegraphs showed "Stop", and by Leading stoker Frederick Barrett who stated that the stoking indicators went from “Full” to “Stop”.
During or right before the collision Murdoch may have also given an order (as heard by Quartermaster Alfred Oliver 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) of the ship away from the berg in a common manoeuvre called a "port around" (as he explained to the captain "I tried to port around it, but she hit"). 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 berg.
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 the last command Murdoch gave Hichens was "Hard-to-port!" Despite these efforts the ship made its fatal collision at an estimated 37 seconds after the berg had been sighted. The ship's starboard (right) side brushed 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 10 lifeboats, containing almost 75% of the total number who survived. He then attempted to launch Collapsible A while keeping the increasingly desperate passengers at bay with a service revolver. Cal arrived and reminded Murdoch of the money he gave him to secure his passage aboard the lifeboat, but Murdoch angrily threw it back in his face knowing that it was useless; money cannot save anyone from the cold and unfeeling sea.
When an unidentified man tried to charge the boat, Murdoch instinctively shot him. This startled the crowd who accidentally pushed Thomas Ryan forwards. Murdoch panicked and fired at Tommy as well, mortally wounding him. Murdoch then stumbled back in shock as Ryan's friend, Fabrizio, called the officer a "bastardo". A horrified and guilt-stricken Murdoch looked down at the gun in his hand, then caught the eye of Chief Officer Wilde. With a calm expression on his face, Murdoch saluted his fellow sailor and put the gun to his left temple, wanting to die on his own terms. Wilde called out “No, Will!”, but the Scotsman pulled the trigger before anyone could stop him, his body toppling backwards into the ocean.
Murdoch is last seen among those present in Rose’s ‘dream sequence’. 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 Rose and Jack kiss, the stain of his actions apparently gone.
Behind the scenes[edit | edit source]
He was portrayed by Ewan Stewart.
In the movie, Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane) bribes Murdoch to gain a place in one of his lifeboats which Murdoch later throws back in Cal's face. There is no evidence that Murdoch ever took a bribe. James Cameron likely put the bribe in the film to show Cal's lack of integrity rather than Murdoch's.
Controversy[edit | edit source]
Murdoch's nephew Scott objected to the film's portrayal as damaging to his uncle's heroic reputation. Murdoch is highly regarded in his hometown of Dalbeattie, where there is a memorial to him. Studio executives flew to Dalbeattie to apologise for this depiction. They also presented a £5000 donation to Dalbeattie High School to boost the school's William Murdoch Memorial Prize.
Cameron claims his depiction of Murdoch is not a "cowardly murderer" nor even a man "gone bad", but of an "honorable man" who accepts full collective responsibility for the predicament they are in and is overwhelmed by feelings of desperation. He makes the ultimate sacrifice by taking his own life. Cameron's intention was not to portray Murdoch as a "murderer" as many have suggested, but the very opposite. He apologised on the DVD commentary, nonetheless.
In the CBS' 1996 miniseries "Titanic", Murdoch is also portrayed shooting passengers before shooting himself. This did not generate the same level of controversy because it received far less exposure than Cameron's film. This was based on a number of eyewitness reports of an officer's suicide by gunshot during the launching of the last lifeboat. With Murdoch being a prominently portrayed character, the filmmakers could not have left his fate ambiguous. With the exact details of his death uncertain, they went with a depiction which is at least consistent with the known facts. However, the identity of the officer is unknown, and there is no particular evidence for it being Murdoch.
Cameron's high opinion of Murdoch is revealed when he says, “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” (James Cameron’s Titanic, p.129). This is maybe why Murdoch has the privilege of being among those seen in Rose’s ‘dream sequence’ at the end of the film. He is standing next to Brianna and Thomas Andrews, smiling as Rose drifts by and clapping along with the rest of the crowd of happy onlookers as Rose and Jack kiss and implying Murdoch's heroic reputation.