Dalbeattie Town History

Murdoch of the 'Titanic' :

Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller

The recent release in the United Kingdom of the film 'Titanic' has yet again brought the actions of her crew under public scrutiny. Unfortunately, this has also perpetuated myths about the principal officers such as Captain Smith and his First Officer William McMaster Murdoch. The film has incorrectly portrayed Murdoch as a corrupt man who shot two panicking passengers and then committed suicide by shooting himself.

In fact, First Officer Murdoch took action to try to avert the collision, and to assist with the safe embarkation of passengers in the lifeboats. This was witnessed by both Second Officer Charles Lightoller and the Second Wireless Operator and Marconi employee Harold Bride. Both saw Murdoch trying to untangle the falls (hoist ropes on a lifeboat's davits) seconds before the ship sank, throwing them all into the water. Murdoch's actions throughout were those of a reasonable and honorable seaman.

The Evidence of Charles Herbert Lightoller

This is of particular importance as it is from a man who worked beside William Murdoch and is known to have respected him. Both had served aboard the liner 'Arabic' on an occasion when Murdoch averted a collision. The most important evidence is a transcript of a letter Lightoller wrote to Mrs. Ada Florence Murdoch from New York. It shows impulsive outrage rather than an attempt to conceal the truth. :-

Hotel Continental,
Washington.
April 24th, 1912.

Dear Mrs. Murdoch,

I am writing on behalf of the surviving officers to express our deep sympathy in this, your awful loss. Words cannot convey our feelings, - much less a letter.
I deeply regret that I missed communicating with you by last mail to refute the reports that were spread in the newspapers. I was practically the last man, and certainly the last officer, to see Mr. Murdoch. He was then endeavouring to launch the starboard forward collapsible boat. I had already got mine from off the top of our quarters. You will understand when I say that I was working the the port side of the ship, and Mr. Murdoch was principally engaged on the starboard side of the ship, filling and launching the boats.
Having got my boat down off the top of the house, and there being no time to open it, I left it and ran across to the starboard side, still on top of the quarters. I was then practically looking down on your husband and his men. He was working hard, personally assisting, overhauling the forward boat's fall. At this moment the ship dived, and we were all in the water. Other reports as to the ending are absolutely false. Mr. Murdoch died like a man, doing his duty.
Call on us without hesitation for anything we can do for you.
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed :-)
C.H.Lightoller, 2d Officer;
G. Groves Boxhall, 4th Officer;
H.J. Pitman, 3d Officer;
H.G. Lowe, 5th Officer.

Ada sent the letter to the Dumfries & Galloway Standard & Advertiser which published the letter on 11th May 1912. The wording and spelling is as in the original.

Lightoller's later evidence in the Board of Trade enquiry has lead to accusations that he was concealing facts to help the White Star Line. His evidence can be relied upon where others' evidence corroborates it. As a personality, Lightoller was rather flamboyant and prone to advertise his own importance, and his prejudices to others coloured his evidence. As an example, he disliked both Smith and Wilde, whose arrival on 'Titanic' had reduced Lightoller from First to Second Officer. The evidence of the painfully honest Harold Bride, the Second Wireless Operator, corroborates that of lightoller in regard to Murdoch's final moments.

This page was prepared with assistance from Samuel Scott Murdoch, the nephew of the First Officer of the 'Titanic', and from the maritime historian Ernest Robinson.

Life of W.M. Murdoch The White Star Line RMS Titanic Collision and Aftermath The Board of Enquiry

In Memoriam

Monument to William McMaster Murdoch on Dalbeattie Town Hall

The MURDOCH MEMORIAL PRIZE is competed for annually at Dalbeattie High School.
This page has been prepared because of that Memorial.


Enquiries about William McMaster Murdoch for Mr. S.S. Murdoch can be forwarded by e-mail through :-

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Murdoch site started 23rd January 1998,
last updated 24th January 1998.
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