Captain Smith

Captain Smith

Edward John Smith, 62, was born at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent in January 1850, the son of potter Edward Smith and Catherine Smith. His parents later owned a shop (1).

Edward John Smith attended the Etruria British School until the age of 13 when he went to Liverpool to begin a seafaring career. He apprenticed with Gibson & Co., Liverpool. He joined White Star in 1880 gaining his first command in 1887. Among the ships he would command were the first Republic, the Coptic, Majestic, Baltic, Adriatic and Olympic.

Smith served with distinction in the Boer war by commanding troopships to the Cape.

As he rose in seniority Smith gained a reputation amongst passengers and crew for quiet flamboyance. Some passengers would only sail the Atlantic in a ship commanded by him. After he became commodore of the White Star fleet in 1904, it became routine for Smith to command the line's newest ships on their maiden voyages. It was therefore no surprise that Smith took Titanic in her maiden voyage in April 1912. This responsibility was rewarded with a salary of £1,250 per year and a no-collision bonus of $200. Because of his position as a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve Smith had the distinction of being able to fly the Blue Duster of the R.N.R., most ships flew the Red Duster of the merchant marine.

Smith was married to Eleanor and they had a young daughter Helen Melville. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house "Woodhead" on Winn Road, Portswood, Southampton.

On April 10, 1912 Edward John Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, took a taxi from his home to Southampton docks. He came aboard the Titanic at 7 am to prepare for the board of Trade muster at 8.00. He immediately went to his cabin to get the sailing report from Chief Officer Henry Wilde.

After departure at 12:00 the wash from the propeller caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards the Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the maiden voyage. The unfortunate incident was seem by some as an ill omen and it was reminiscent of the Hawke incident in 1911 when that vessel collided with the Olympic which was under the command of Captain Smith.

During the voyage Smith normally took meals at a small table in the dining saloon or in his cabin, attended by his personal valet, or "Tiger", Arthur Paintin. On the night of April 14, however, he attended a dinner party held in his honour by George Widener and his family. The party was attended by the cream of 1912 society as it was represented on the Titanic. However Smith was possibly concerned that the ship was entering the ice zone about which he had received ample warnings during the weekend. He excused himself early and went to the bridge.

Lightoller was keeping watch and discussed the temperature with Smith far a while. Smith told Lightoller to alert him immediately if he was at all concerned. He then retired to bed.

About 11.40 p.m.Captain Smith was awakened by the collision and rushed to the bridge. He received the report of the accident from Murdoch and then made a quick inspection of the ship with Thomas Andrews. He immediately ordered the boats prepared but wavered when it came to giving the order to load and lower them Lightoller had to approach him for the order which he eventually gave.

Surprisingly little is known about Smith's actions in the last two hours of the ships life. His legendary skills of leadership seem to have left him, he was curiously indecisive and unusually cautious.

He was last seem in the bridge area having given the final order to abandon ship. He appears to have made no attempt to save himself. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

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