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William McMaster Murdoch
February 28, 1873
April 15, 1912 (age 39)
New York, U.S.A.
Committed suicide by shooting himself in the head
William McMaster 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 Murdoch's 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 recieved 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.
Lieutenant Murdoch was the officer on watch duty on the night of 14th April 1912. He died in the sinking. He left a widow, Ada. He was 39 years old and one of the finest seamen at the time.
CBS' 1996 miniseries "Titanic" and James Cameron's epic "Titanic" portrayed Lieutenant Murdoch shooting passengers and himself during the sinking. This was based on a number of eyewitness evidence of a shooting/suicide by an officer during the launching of the last lifeboat. At present there has been no evidence to be able to disprove Murdoch's alleged suicide.
Early life and historyEdit
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.
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 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, Titanics 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. He is one of the members of the Murdoch family
Life on RMS TitanicEdit
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 Titanics 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 Titanics 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 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”.
At the time of the sighting of the iceberg, Murdoch appears with his back towards the bow (he has turned his back after seeing fictional characters Jack and Rose kissing on the forward well deck below, a sight which causes him to smile warmly to himself!). On hearing the lookout bell ring three times, he swings round to see the iceberg appear through the haze. The rest of the action and dialogue was taken from relevant inquiry transcripts, adhering word-for-word, although showing little extra elements such as Murdoch, in his hurry to enter the bridge and throw the ship full astern, almost knocking a cup of tea out of the hands of Sixth Officer Moody. Murdoch is seen rushing frantically around the bridge, shouting instructions and vigorously switching the engine room telegraph to “Stop” and then “Full Speed Astern.”
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" (this could explain Murdoch's comment 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 attempts to launch Collapsible Lifeboat A while keeping the increasingly desperate passengers at bay with a service revolver. Cal arrives and reminds Murdoch of the money he gave him to secure his passage aboard the lifeboat, but Murdoch throws it back in his face knowing that money cannot save anyone from the cold and unfeeling sea.
When an unnamed man tries to charge the boat, Murdoch shoots him. This startles the crowd who accidentally pull Thomas Ryan forwards. Murdoch panics and fires at Tommy, mortally wounding him. Murdoch then stumbles back in shock as Ryan's friend, Fabrizio, comforts Tommy, calling the officer a "bastardo!". Murdoch looks down at the gun in his hand, then catches the eye of Chief Officer Wilde. With a calm expression on his face, Murdoch salutes his fellow sailor and puts the gun to his left temple, wanting to die on his own terms as well as to erase the two murders from his name. Wilde calls out “No, Will!” on seeing Murdoch with a gun to his head, but the Scotsman pulls the trigger before anyone can stop him, his body toppling backwards into the ocean.
Murdoch is last seen among those seen in Rose’s ‘dream sequence’ at the end of the film. 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 scenesEdit
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 Murdoch after the residents of Dalbeattie complained.
In the CBS' 1996 miniseries "Titanic" and James Cameron's epic "Titanic", Murdoch is portrayed shooting passengers before shooting himself. This was based on a number of eyewitness evidence of a shooting/suicide by an officer during the launching of the last lifeboat. At present there has been no evidence to be able to disprove Murdoch's alleged suicide.
In the movie, Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane) supposedly 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.
When Murdoch's nephew Scott saw the film, he objected to his uncle's portrayal as damaging to Murdoch's heroic reputation, and studio executives later flew to Murdoch's hometown to issue an apology for this depiction.
According to Cameron, 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 people. He is overwhelmed by feelings of desperation and makes the ultimate payment by sacrificing his own life. Cameron’s intention was not to portray Murdoch as a ‘murderer’ as many have suggested, but the very opposite.
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 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.