Edward J. Smith

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Smith on the Olympic, half a year before the Titanic set sail

Edward John "E. J." Smith (27 January 1850 – 15 April 1912) was an English sea captain. He was the captain of the R.M.S Titanic, which sank when it struck an iceberg. Smith died in the sinking, aged 62. Smith was to retire after the maiden voyage of the Titanic.[1]

Early life[change | change source]

Smith was born on 27 January 1850 in Hanley, Staffordshire, England.[2] He was married to Sarah Eleanor Pennington from 1887 until his death in 1912. Smith had a daughter.

Titanic's sinking[change | change source]

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, Smith knew within minutes that the ship was doomed and that people would die. During the evacuation, Captain Smith failed to manage and coordinate the evacuation effort, and gave ambiguous and impractical orders (an hour after the collision, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall was still unaware that the ship would sink). Smith perished that night along with around 1,500 others, and his body was never recovered.

As the water reached the deck, Steward Edward Brown saw the captain approach with a megaphone in his hand. He heard him say "Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves.” He saw the Captain walk onto the bridge alone just seconds before the ship took its final plunge.[3] This was the last reliable sighting of Smith. Just seconds later Trimmer Samuel Hemming found the bridge apparently empty.[4]

There are conflicting accounts of Smith's death. Some survivors[5][6] said Smith entered the ship's wheelhouse on the bridge, and died there when it was engulfed. Robert Williams Daniel, a first class passenger who jumped from the stern immediately before the ship sank, told the New York Herald in its April 19, 1912 edition how he had witnessed Captain Smith drown in the ship's wheelhouse. "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."[7] These accounts have remained the iconic image which has remained of Smith.

When working to free Collapsible B, Junior Marconi Officer Harold Bride saw Smith dive into the sea from near the bridge just as the final plunge began,[8] a story which was corroborated by first class passenger Mrs Eleanor Widener, who was in Lifeboat No.4 (the closest to the sinking ship) at the time.[9] Also second class passenger William John Mellors and fireman Harry Senior, who both survived aboard collapsible B, stated that Smith jumped from the bridge.[10] It has been affirmed that the man who jumped from the bridge may have been Lightoller, who was seen jumping at this time.[11]

Newspaper reports said that Smith was reported to have been seen near the overturned Collapsible B during or after the sinking. Colonel Archibald Gracie reported that an unknown swimmer came near the capsized and overcrowded lifeboat, and that one of the men on board told him "Hold on to what you have, old boy. One more of you aboard would sink us all,"; in a powerful voice, the swimmer replied "All right boys. Good luck and God bless you.".[12] Gracie did not see this man, nor was able to identify him, but some other survivors later claimed to have recognised this man as Smith.[13][14] Another man (or possibly the same) never asked to come aboard the boat, but instead cheered its occupants saying “Good boys! Good lads!” with “the voice of authority”.[15] One of the Collapsible B survivors, fireman Walter Hurst, tried to reach him with an oar, but the rapidly rising swell carried the man away before he could reach him.[15] Hurst said he was certain this man was Smith.[15] Some of these accounts also describe Smith carrying a child to the boat. Harry Senior, one of Titanic's stokers, and second class passenger Charles Eugene Williams, who both survived aboard Collapsible B, stated that Smith [16] swam with a child in his arms to Collapsible B, which Smith presented to a steward, after which he apparently swam back to the rapidly-foundering ship. Williams' account differs slightly, claiming that, after Smith handed the child over to the steward, he asked what had become of First Officer Murdoch. Upon hearing news of Murdoch's demise, Smith "pushed himself away from the lifeboat, threw his lifebelt from him and slowly sank from our sight. He did not come to the surface again." These accounts are almost certainly apocryphal, according to historians featured in the A&E Documentary Titanic: Death of a Dream. Lightoller who survived on Collapsible B never reported seeing Smith or receiving a child from him. There is also no way in which survivors on Collapsible B would have been able to verify the identity of the individual concerned under such dimly lit and chaotic circumstances. It is more likely based upon wishful thinking that the person they saw was indeed the Captain.[17] Captain Smith's fate will probably remain uncertain.

There are also conflicting accounts of Smith's last words. Reports said that as the final plunge began, Smith shouted to his crew "Be British boys, be British!" Although this is engraved on his memorial and portrayed in the 1996 TV miniseries, it was likely a myth made up by the British press at the time, as not one member of the surviving crew claimed he said anything like this. Since Steward's Brown account of Smith was the last realible sighting, this would make Smith's last words "Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves.”[18]

Movies[change | change source]

Smith has been played by many actors during documentaries, movies, television series, or plays. The most well known actors to play Smith are George C. Scott and Bernard Hill.

References[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]