4. Collision & Aftermath
Logo on White Star Deck Rug
From lifeboat recovered by 'Carpathia'.
Lt. W.M. Murdoch RNR
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 man who committed suicide by shooting himself after killing passengers.
In this page, the events of the 14th and 15th of April 1912 have been reconstructed, centering particularly on those involving Murdoch. There is also a summary of later events up to the British Board of Inquiry under Lord Mersey. The Inquiry, and the effects of the death on Murdoch's family, are dealt with elsewhere on this site.
When the bow section tore loose from the rest of the ship, it sheared away at the point where the famous Grand Staircase weakened the ship. The bow section, being already flooded, had little buoyancy left. As a result, it went both forward and down at a considerable speed, ending up on the seabed. Although buckled, and in some parts stripped of fittings by the rush of water, the bow section survives in remarkably good condition. This may argue against the theory that the steel shattered from striking the iceberg.
The fate of the passengers and crew in the after two-thirds of the ship was indeed horrifying. Many people were trapped below, - including most of the engine-room staff, - and would have been killed by the flooding and the movement of heavy machinery as it fell forwards towards the point where the ship had broken.
On deck, conditions were to have their own horror. This was fairly accurately depicted in the Cameron-produced film, with people crowding towards the stern and slipping back down the decks into the sea. The stern is reported to have stood up almost vertically, presumably buoyed up by the air held in the stern compartments, then entered the water with increasing speed. Those who did not leave the ship, - in the region of 1,000 people, - were either to be dragged down by the suction or taken down inside one section or the other of the hull. Only half a dozen people of more than 330 people left swimming, were to survive the hypothermia of the -1° C. seawater.
The death of those caught in the bow section would have been fairly fast and has been the subject of an e-mail enquiry of the writer. Although it was very painful to write, I include it here for completeness. Much of this is based on the effects of moving objects and the fate of swimmers and submariners.
The ship fractured at the Grand Staircase, but apparently remained together on a 'hinge' of metal as the water-filled bows dragged down the rest of the ship. At some point, the 'hinge' was severed by metal fatigue or other stress.
Anybody in any structure forwards of the fracture would have probably been caught amongst furniture and other fixtures, which might well have torn free. At the same time, the water would have filled the superstructure from the bows aft. In this sense, the flooding of the saloon and the bridge was well-enacted by the Cameron film. But, the lighting in flooded sections would have failed by being shorted out by the water, so those in the ship would have died in the dark.
Bluntly, the bow section went down within two minutes, and anybody caught in the smoking room would have been in shock from the icy water as well as from any lacerations, contusions or fractures, suffered during the furniture-movements and the inrush of water under a fairly high pressure.
It would have been very painful, - but the pain would not have lasted for very long, as the cold, shock, and lack of air would have brought unconsciousness within under a minute. Death would have occurred very soon after, probably assisted by the very high pressure on the body cavities from the surrounding water. The natural tendency to gasp for air would flood the lungs. In many ways, to die from hypothermia on or near the surface would have been preferable to the death just described.
Unlike the bow section, the stern appears to have been torn apart during its descent to the sea bed. Surprisingly, the massive engines did not leave their mountings, and rest in the remains of the stern. It is possible that the stern suffered the fate of a 'Diesel Explosion'. In that, the air is driven into a small space and compressed by the rapid fall so that it heats up enough to ignite any oil, fabric or coal dust, causing an explosion that rips the structure apart like a sinking submarine. Alternatively, the water-drag of the descent breakage-first may have peeled the structure back like the skin of a banana. Either possibility could account for the curious drapery of plating over the top of the stern.
Those aboard the lifeboats witnessed the disappearance of the 'Titanic', and reacted in different ways to its departure. James Bruce Ismay, in Collapsible C, could not face the sight and turned away. This image became infamous from then onwards.
Hichens refused to return to pick up survivors, despite the pleas of Major Peuchen and Molly Brown. It is possible that, aware of his own disastrous watch on the bridge, Hichens was afraid of losing any credibility as having been put in charge of the boat.
In what was the worst of follies, Cosmo Duff-Gordon, in a boat of 12 that could hold 40, offers the crew £ 5 each 'In compensation for losing their kit'. This would have been ethical, except that Lucile Duff-Gordon claimed to be afraid of going near the ship, in case the lifeboat was sucked down. Cosmo Duff-Gordon was to be blackballed at his clubs, for such a display of apparent corruption.
Lightoller, Bride, Colonel Gracie and others, balanced percariously on top of Collapsible B. They have escaped being killed by the fall of the funnel and the suction of the ship's sinking, but some (notably 1st Radio Operator Philips) die from hypothermia before rescue arrives.
Fifth Officer Lowe has gathered some boats together,
Within a short time of the 'Carpathia' taking the 'Titanic' survivors aboard, rumours start to circulate.
Alerted by the 'Frankfurt', the radio operator warns Captain Stanley Lord, who risked damage to his own ship by pressing through the pack ice to reach the 'Carpathia'. He remained at the scene for nearly four hours, but failed to find anything except bodies. It can be said of Stanley Lord that he had nearly as harsh a treatment then as William Murdoch had since, and his name was only cleared in 1996.
In the approaches to New York, Captain xxx of the 'Carpathia' found his course hindered by boatloads of journalists, but made his way upriver, past the Cunard piers, to deliver the lifeboats to the White Star Line piers.
The tradition of getting to press first with a sensation, - even if not accurate, - has lead to some outrages, of which those surrounding the 'Titanic' disaster are amongst the worst.
Randolph Hirst, the newspaper proprietor, telephoned Cosmo Duff-Gordon to offer to buy his story; with remarkable decency, Duff-Gordon refused Hirst point-blank.
Jonas Briggs, A.B., one of the 'Carpathia' crew, sold a story that a Newfoundland dog named 'Rigel' had guided a lifeboat to the 'Carpathia', after fruitless searching for its master, William Murdoch. This piece of arrant rubbish re-surfaced in 1998 and has been completely disproved, as neither Murdoch nor Ada owned a dog.
yyy, a passenger, throws the journalists out of his room, so they make up a story that he dressed in woman's clothes to get a place aboard one of the lifeboats. yyy considers sueing, but for the rest of his life has to debunk this outrageous lie.
Possibly cross-pollinated by gossip, Rheims stated that he saw an officer shoot himself near the bridge. This was the start of the outrageous slur on the name and reputation of William McMaster Murdoch. It was refuted by 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller in a letter which his surviving fellow-officers also signed, and send to Ada Murdoch.
This page was prepared with editorial assistance and information from Samuel Scott Murdoch, the nephew of the First Officer of the 'Titanic', and from Ernie Robinson, maritime historian.
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Monument to William McMaster Murdoch on Dalbeattie Town Hall
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