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.
During 1954, Harold Bride told Mr. Ernest Robinson, maritime historian, that he had been near William Murdoch at the time of the abrupt sinking of the 'Titanic'. They had been part of a group trying to launch the forward starboard collapsible lifeboat, normally stored on the roof of the officers' quarters.
The testimony of Second Wireless Operator Bride is particularly reliable because he was very honest. At the 1912 Board of Trade Inquiry and at the American inquiry under Senator Smith, he is reported as saying that he struck down a stoker trying to steal the lifejacket from First Wireless Operator Phillips. At that time, Phillips was desperately trying to send one final call for help, even though both men had been told to leave by Captain Smith himself. As Bride could have faced an action for murder for such an admission, it makes him almost painfully honest.
The importance of his testimony is that it substantiates the evidence of Charles Herbert Lightoller, some of whose witness is coloured by his own prejudices towards individuals.
Between 11:00 and 11:12 a.m. (UK time) on Tuesday 2nd February 1999, I contacted Mr. Ernest Robinson by phone at his main address. I explained that I had been accused of placing bogus information on the Net, that I needed to check Ernie's information with him, and that I had been informed that some people doubted his existence. Ernie Robinson very kindly gave me the following information; it is as accurate as I can make it, reflecting Ernie's answers to my questions.
|Pictures from the 'Galloway News'|
|<-- Ernie Robinson, with the Deck Blanket.
'Galloway News' p.1 Thursday 22nd January 1998
R. Edkins and Ernie Robinson examining the site. 'Galloway News' p.19 Thursday 12th February 1998.-->
Ernie Robinson was born in Skelton, Penrith in 1927. His father, a breeder of pedigree cattle, was later employed by the elder brother (John Henry Toppin, d. 1925) of Fred Toppin of the White Star Line at Musgrave Hall near Penrith. Both men were strong friends, Ernie grew up as a close friend of the family, knowing Fred Toppin to speak to between 1934 and 1941. Fred Toppin presented the White Star deck blanket taken from a 'Titanic' lifeboat to Ernie's father, after Ernie's elder brother joined the White Star Lines ship 'Scythia'. The blanket was used for years as a picnic blanket. Then Ernie came to realise its significance and kept it safely ever since.
He told me that Fred Toppin thought that two officers had shot themselves. This is the result of conversations at the pier in New York with senior surviving crew when they arrived. Toppin also interviewed others amongst the crew and passengers.
The Bride evidence Ernie holds is quite extensive. He has confirmed that he had interviewed Harold Bride in his home at Glasserton near Port William and in Glasgow several times during 1954 and 1955. The information that Ernie has collected he will not allow to be handed out as he does not wish others to write 'the authoritative book on Bride' as the result of his research. I agreed with him that he should be the one to profit from his own work.
What Ernie has released to me, is that Bride did go over to the starboard side and was near Collapsible A. Bride's chief duty once he had left his radio duties was as message-boy between the senior officers. He and Murdoch were together on the deck by the Collapsible A, and Bride was actually working beside Murdoch. Bride was washed off the deck-house at the same time as Murdoch and Murdoch was lying motionless in the water when Bride last saw him. Bride did tell Ernie that Murdoch would never have shot anyone.
Bride was swept about by the sinking, ended up under Collapsible B, then had an ordeal of nearly four hours during which he hung onto Collapsible B. The cold sea and debris injuries permanently injured his legs and feet and he was on crutches for some months.
During his interviews, Ernie collected further information on Bride's wartime service (1914-1918) and his working life in the 1920s. His notes on this are very extensive.
Bride did say as a definite fact that his family had the name MacBride until moving south to England, when they had altered their name to Bride.
Ernie told me that the Marconiman Philips had 'quite a bit of fat on him', but that Bride was 'quite skinny'. I had expressed amazement that only one of these two non-seamen had perished in their ordeal.
Bertram Hayes knew Ernie Robinson very well and made the remark to him that "William Murdoch was the brightest star in the White Star Line." Hayes also presented Ernie with his own copy of Beesley's book, and was an excellent friend.
Ernie interviewed Boxhall in the fall of 1948 or the start of 1949 whilst Boxhall was working in Newcastle. Ernie's cousins, Boxhall's friends, were then pilots on the River Tyne. Boxhall considered Murdoch to be "A fine sailor and a great man". Boxhall could recall little of the events following the lights failing, as it was dark and very confused, but Ernie told me that Boxhall had been unaware of whether Moody or Murdoch had been near him.
Logo on White Star Deck Rug
From lifeboat recovered by 'Carpathia'.
The Disposal of The Blanket :
As indicated, Ernie Robinson possesses one of the 'Titanic' deck blankets or rugs, as used by passengers in their deck-chairs and later saving life in the lifeboats. Topping had two, both of them now being owned by the Robinson family. Topping had removed them from Lifeboats 13 and 16, but Ernie Robinson is not completely certain as to which of the two his own blanket has come from.
There will shortly be a Press Release from Bonham's Auction House in London. As none of Ernie's family wish to retain the White Star deck blanket, it will be going on sale in mid-April 1999 together with material of Fred Topping's supporting its provenance. The sale includes a hat made for Lord Nelson by Lady Hamilton, so there should be some press interest. The hat is nothing to do with Ernie, but his Colvend house is named after Nelson's flagship. I and others wish him a successful sale.
Ernie has informed me that the blanket was sold in June through Bonham's for a very reasonable sum, following the collapse of an earlier deal at auction in May. Sold at first to a British buyer, the blanket may since have been sold on in the United States for a higher sum.
During the fall of 1997, Ernie prepared an article on 'Ownership of Sailing Vessels in Maryport' (Cumbria, England). An appreciable number were owned by the Topping, Ismay, Bruce, and Castlehowe families. Much of Ernie's scholarship on Bride is incorporated in this article, which has other interesting information. Ernie looked into the details of company share transfers to Ismay from Ismay's mother, and the details of ships in which both the Ismay and Toppin families held shares. This information, expanded with later scholarship, will form part of Ernie's forthcoming book.
The above information is new and likely to cause a lot of comment. Topping's disclosure about two suicides/shootings is remarkable. The disposal of the blanket is rather sad. No doubt it, - like so much else on the 'Titanic', - will be another cultural loss from Britain. I will try to persuade Ernie Robinson to publish his work, as I feel that his scholarship should receive an appropriate reward.
I ask visitors for comments. My thoughts are that it vindicates Ernie as a highly competent researcher. By 1941, Ernie would have been 14, so his memories of Topping's words are reliable. His talks with Bride appear to have been very fruitful, so I hope he sees fit soon to publish for himself.
On the question of Murdoch, the information is ambivalent. In previous conversations with Ernie I was reminded by him, - quite firmly, - of the injuries others sustained by debris. Ernie is very firm on two matters of vital importance :-
However, it also leaves two other matters open to question :-
The new evidence from Ernie Robinson has to be set in context with other evidence for his movements. I have tried to put together what I know from reading published evidence. Here is a possible sequence of events. :-
Assuming that Fred Toppin meant only two deck officers, Smith, Wilde, Murdoch and Moody did not survive and two of them might be suicides. Walter Lord, in his remarkable books 'A Night to Remember' and 'The Night Lives On', was not certain but inclined towards Wilde as the possible suicide. Comment on the Internet was to the effect that Moody was last seen diving/dropping into the sea from the deckhouse (officer's quarters). Information from other sources is being collected to try and ascertain the whereabouts of Smith and Wilde when the ship went down.
This page was prepared with assistance from the maritime historian Ernest Robinson.
WARNING :The pictures on this page associated with the 'Galloway News' are the copyright of Mr. David Henderson and may not be reproduced elsewhere without his express permission. I am grateful to Lyn Hampshire, writer of the original article, for her assistance.
Mr. David Henderson commented :-
'It is obvious, even after talking to Ernie Robinson for a short time, that he has a wealth of knowledge and information about the subject of the 'Titanic'.'
|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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