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.
The 'Titanic''s Chief Officer, Henry Tingle Wilde, was born in 1872 at Walton, near Liverpool, England. Probably from about 1889, Henry Wilde served his sea apprenticeship, on sailing vessels of Messrs. James Chambers. After On gaining his Second Mate's certificate, he joined the Maranhan Steamship Company as 2nd Officer. He left that Company after obtaining his Master's certificate to join the the White Star Line. In that respect, his career is similar to that of William McMaster Murdoch.
Henry Wilde served on the following ships of the White Star Line up to 1908, mainly on the Australian and North Atlantic runs. It will be noted that he and William Murdoch were both aboard the 'Arabic' and 'Medic', but at different dates to one another :-
ARABIC June 1905 - Oct. 1905
CELTIC Dec. 1905 - Apr. 1906
MEDIC Sep. 1906 - Apr. 1908
CYMRIC Jun. 1908 - Sep. 1908
He later became Chief Officer aboard the company's newest and largest vessel, 'Olympic', certainly being there at the time of its collision with the HMS 'Hawke' on September 20, 1911. Henry Wilde would probably have been on the main bridge, whilst William Murdoch was aft at the rear navigating bridge.
It has become clear that Henry Wilde was originally to be posted to the command of the 'Oceanic', which explains why Murdoch, - possibly the next most senior officer, - was posted to 'Titanic' as her first Chief Officer. However, the Coal Strike of 1912 was to change all that; the ships in port at Southampton were caught in harbour with insufficient coal. Fuel had to be moved from the bunkers of other ships of the International Mercantile Marine group to coal the White Star flagships 'Olympic' and 'Titanic'. That would 'beach' Wilde for a time, so that, - and probably Smith's wish to have his best men to hand, - resulted in Wilde taking over as Chief Officer of the 'Titanic'. There has been a claim that Smith's wife and Wilde's were close friends, so pressure from his young wife may have been there. As against that, Wilde did not really wish to go aboard 'Titanic', as he made clear in a letter posted from 'Titanic' at Queenstown.
Henry Wilde joined 'Titanic' at Southampton on April 4, 1912, but was only appointed to be her Chief Officer on or around April 8, assuming his duties on sailing day, April 10. Wilde was available for 'Titanic' because he had not been aboard 'Olympic' (as her Chief Officer) when that vessel departed Southampton for New York on April 3, 1912. There is some suggestion that he may have helped in preparing and storing ship, but that mostly fell upon William Murdoch.
That Murdoch had been assigned as Chief Officer in the company's newest ship raises the speculation that he was to be the company's next commander. Because Wilde was senior to Murdoch he would have been preferred for the 'Oceanic'. In the normal progression, Wilde would have been posted as Chief Officer of 'Titanic', while Murdoch would have been moved up from his former post as First Officer of the 'Olympic' to Chief Officer of that liner.
After joining 'Titanic' on April 4th, Wilde assisted "generally" throughout the ship, assisting with the supervision of cargo loading, preparation of assignment rosters, and the like. At some time, likely on April 8th, Wilde was named as Chief Officer of 'Titanic', a post he assumed on sailing day, April 10th, replacing Murdoch. Second Officer Lightoller later alleged that this had been done at the request of Captain Smith to White Star's marine superintendant, Captain Bartlett. The most senior men, Wilde and Murdoch, would then have the same posts aboard 'Titanic' that they had held aboard 'Olympic' - Chief and First, respectively, - for a new ship in dangerous waters.
As Don Lynch has pointed out, Captain Haddock put to sea in 'Olympic' with only one officer from the previous voyage. Although she had put to sea with the Third Class Dining Room full of extra coal, 'Olympic' might be thought to be in even greater hazard. One further possibility is that the White Star's Marine Superintendent, Captain Bartlett might have suspected that the ageing Smith's judgement was faulty, and allowed him the two experienced officers from 'Olympic' as an act of support.
Had Wilde not been posted to 'Titanic', and Captain Smith - in the normal course of events - retired, it was likely that Murdoch would have been 'Titanic''s chief; 'Olympic''s commander, Capt. H. J. Haddock, would have moved up to command 'Titanic', and Wilde would have had his own command, 'Oceanic'. The command of 'Olympic' might have gone to a senior Captain such as Bertram Hayes.
As 'Titanic''s chief officer, Wilde's salary was 20 British pounds (about $100.00) a month. However, there is no suggestion that financial hardship made it vital for him to take a posting before 'Oceanic' put to sea. At the time of his death aboard Titanic, Wilde was a widower. His wife, Mary Catherine, died on December 24, 1910, likely from complications of childbirth (of twin sons, Archie and Richard) who also died. There were four other children ranging in age from 3 to 12.
My original hypothesis was that Findlay raised the grim possibility that Wilde was initially 'passed over' in favour of Murdoch. Delayed shock from the death of his wife has been theorised, but the collision of 'Olympic' with the 'Hawke' might have been involved. Something may have eroded the drive that such a key officer would have needed. The White Star Line management would not be slow to consider their commercial interests above the career of one of their officers, particularly aboard a crack liner. The best Wilde could hope for was a period of time to recover, maybe under the commands of Haddock and Hayes. But this was not to be the case.
However, the above paragraph needed to be reconsidered in the light of the 'Oceanic' command. Wilde may have been in some kind of crisis, though delayed shock from his wife's death has now to be considered unlikely. Wilde was unhappy about being aboard 'Titanic', maybe because it meant the popular Murdoch had been set back, together with the now-annoyed former First Officer, Lightoller. For Wilde, it was a considerable comedown from the 'Oceanic' captaincy, though surely not significant to a confident seaman.
Modifying the hypothesis, there is a need to find out why Wilde felt that the ship had something unlucky about her. Possibly the near-collision in Southampton Water was an unpleasant reminder of the 'Olympic' under Captain Smith. Henry Wilde may have thought "Oh, God, here we go again !" as Smith cut too close to the S.S. 'New York' and a collision appeared inevitable. Lightoller's disdain for Wilde might have already become evident, though Murdoch was largely unconcerned. Wilde would have probably felt that his best course was to carry out his duties, get back to Southampton and board the 'Oceanic'. That may have been his prize and his goal and might explain the remark about the 'Titanic' he made at Queenstown.
After the collision, Henry Wilde would have been aware that the chances of survival would be low, simply because of the inadequacy of lifeboats. Professionally, - even if no blame attached to him, - Wilde might have had to consider himself tarred with the same brush that affected the surviving officers. Would he have been appointed to captain 'Oceanic', had he survived the sinking ? Might he be blamed, - as Smith was, - for errors of navigation and complacency about the ice ahead ? The White Star Line was not interested in anything other than reputation and profit. The 'Oceanic' would sail on time, - without Henry Wilde, - which may have been the end for him.
Unlike the active Murdoch, Lightoller and Moody, Wilde was far more cautious, possibly reluctant to face the awful truth; he delayed launching the lifeboats, he allowed himself twice to be over-ridden by Lightoller going to Captain Smith. In short, Wilde was a man with a lot on his mind, unable to set it aside in the same way that Murdoch appears to have done. Lightoller was a biased witness, but other crew members have little positive to report about the actions of Wilde, who comes across as being a strangely ineffective figure. It is impossible not to pity Wilde, who should not have been on the 'Titanic' in any case; the only person who ultimately profited (and who held a steady hatred for Wilde) was Lightoller.
The person who suggested issuing the guns was Wilde himself; there had not been any real disorder that merited issuing firearms, although it could be argued that this would occur later. Why, then, did Wilde want a gun ? For Lightoller, it was an interruption, the same being so for the 'Cape Horner' Murdoch. Wilde might have been unsure of his authority, or he might have already been considering another death than freezing in the Labrador Current.
Why give up, after Collapsible C had gone ? It still appears strange to the writer, that Wilde should shoot himself at that moment. The answer may lie in the fact that the other deck officers were at work elsewhere. Murdoch was at Collapsible A, Pitman and Lowe were in lifeboats, Captain Smith may have been at the bridge and Lightoller was at Collapsible B with Boxhall. With the crew and passengers minutes from death, Henry Wilde may have decided that nobody who would survive to tell of him doing what he did. Psychologically, a depressed and inactive introvert is more likely to kill himself than a man who is acting coolly and with decision to deal with other concerns; in that sense, Wilde is more of a candidate for self-murder than Murdoch.
If Wilde had not been aboard, then as First Officer, Charles Herbert Lightoller would have been on duty during the fatal time of the collision. It is unlikely that, at that course and speed, Lightoller would have behaved any differently to the alert William Murdoch. However, he would have been preceded by Second Officer David Blair, who would certainly have made sure the lookouts had their binoculars. Off-duty and second only to the Captain, Murdoch might have been free to press Smith for a reduction in speed or a change in course. Again, it seems as if Smith's misjudgements were responsible for the situation.
The researcher Geoff Whitfield is examining an allegation that the 'Liverpool Echo' published at least one issue in which it said that Wilde shot himself. The wealthy family of Wilde's dead wife then were said to have used their influence to quash the allegation. If so, with 'Chief Officer' and 'First Officer' in confusion at the Smith Inquiry, then Murdoch may have been seized on as the only other candidate. It would be interesting to have the observations of Wilde's descendants about this matter.
Amendment of the Hypothesis is necessary. There have been some informants (most notably David Fleischer) with additional information. Fleischer has very reasonably pointed out that there were references to Wilde as being near the Collapsibles at the time they were launched. As both Murdoch and Wilde had held 'Chief Officer' positions, confusion may have existed amongst all but those who knew both men well. Lightoller and Bride's testimony remains the best discrimination between Murdoch and Wilde. Lightoller never said very much about Wilde in the last few minutes; this may be a fruit of dislike or deliberate omission of an unpleasant occurrence.
Bride told Ernie Robinson that when he saw Moody in the water, that Moody had head injuries and he wondered then if he had been shot. In discussion with Ernie Robinson, the writer established that a 0.45 Webley bullet to the head would have broken the skull, so Moody would have been too injured to swim. Bride also thought that somebody had been shot, but he did not mention Murdoch, although utterly certain that Murdoch would never have shot anybody. Elimination of the candidates leaves us with Smith or Wilde, Wilde still being the most probable candidate. Walter Lord in 'A Night to Remember', considered Wilde possible, but doubted the whole idea of a suicide. In 'The Night Lives On', Walter Lord thought some shooting had occurred, but could not positively identify either Murdoch or Wilde as the suicide.
|Life of W.M. Murdoch||The White Star Line||RMS Titanic||Collision and Aftermath||The Board of Enquiry|
Monument to William McMaster Murdoch on Dalbeattie Town Hall
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