Dalbeattie Town History

Murdoch of the 'Titanic'

2. The Life of
William McMaster Murdoch

Lieutenant William
McMaster Murdoch, RNR.
c. 1907

Ada Florence Banks, 1907

Return to W.M. Murdoch's life 1873-1900

"William Murdoch was our brightest star."

- Commodore Sir Bertram Hayes, White Star Line (retired 1925) Comment to Frederick Topping, former Vice-President and Director in New York. (Not mentioned in Hayes's book, as he had his pension from White Star to think of.)

Dalbeattie has been the birthplace of many seamen, few better known or more maligned than William McMaster Murdoch, First Officer (First Mate) of the RMS 'Titanic' of the White Star Line. A monument to this seaman is set in the granite walls of Dalbeattie Town Hall. It recalls his death aboard the 'Titanic' after she sank on 15th April 1912, having collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

In this second part of his life, we look at his service with the White Star Line, his marriage to Ada Florence Banks, and the aftermath of the 'Titanic' disaster as it affected Ada and the Murdoch family.

The White Star Line : Promotion

The 'Medic' and the 'Runic' : 1900-1903 :

(Pictures of these ships being obtained)

There is no Lloyds' Registry evidence for just when William Murdoch joined the liner 'Medic' (12,200 tons, twin screw, rated 13.5 knots), but from sometime during 1900 he served aboard her as Second Officer on the run from Liverpool to Australia. There is a distant possibility that he may in fact have joined her in 1899 on her maiden voyage, but Mr. Ernest Robinson considers it more probable that Murdoch had at least one trooping duty aboard 'Iquique'. The maiden voyage of 'Medic' was on the 3rd July 1899, from Liverpool to Sydney, returning to South Africa with the first shipment of colonial troops and horses.

Susanne Stormer argues that, as Charles Herbert Lightoller was junior to Murdoch, then Murdoch must already have joined the White Star Line before the January 1900 admission of Lightoller. In her book 'Good-Bye, Good Luck' she includes a photograph of the Deck Officers, including both Murdoch and Lightoller. There was also a 'Medic' menu autographed by these men on the 9th September 1900, with Murdoch's name and a tag of poetry dated '10/9/00'. The poem reads :-

'Whatever obstacles control,
Go on, true heart,
thou'lt reach the goal.'

The tag is from a poem by the Scottish writer John Henry Mackay. As a matter of interest, he was the writer of 'The Anarchist', an unusual choice for a ship's officer. It probably proves that Murdoch was a wide reader.

On the 13th June 1901, Murdoch joined the new 12,482 ton liner 'Runic' (second steamship of that name) on a voyage from Liverpool to Fremantle and Sidney in Australia. He served aboard her as Second Officer on two voyages during 1901 (13th June, 13th November), at least one to South Africa in 1902, a further trip to Australia on 16th September and a final 10th February Australian voyage in 1903.

The Australian voyages are of key importance for what they began. About 1903, William met a 29-year-old New Zealand schoolteacher whilst aboard either the 'Medic' or the 'Runic'. Ada Florence Banks was by all accounts a beautiful and very lively woman, starting a correspondence with William Murdoch that was to be fulfilled when they married in 1907. A photograph of the officers of the 'Medic' shows the 30-year-old William as a neatly-moustached romantic and dashing figure in his deck officer's uniform. A much-foxed photograph of Ada shows her to be a woman well worth any true man's interest.

Ada Florence Banks c. 1900 2nd Officer W. Murdoch
SS 'Medic' 1900

The 'Arabic' : 1903 :

(Picture of this ship being obtained)

On the 25th June 1903, William McMaster Murdoch finally reached the stormy and glamorous North Atlantic run as Second Officer of the brand new liner 'Arabic'. The ship was 15,801 tons and rated at 16 knots, but was not among the largest White Star liners, - those were to be his next objective. 'Arabic' left Liverpool for New York the following day, and Murdoch seems to have performed with his usual competence. He was aboard her for her voyages on 18th August, 24th November and 29th December. It was upon one of these voyages that he took action to save the ship from collision, his cool head and professional judgement showing in this incident.

The story goes that he had just relieved his superior, Officer Fox when the lookout reported a light on the port side. Realising that a collision was imminent, Officer Fox ran into the wheelhouse and told the quartermaster (helmsman) to 'port the helm', that is, to steer round to starboard. Had this order been followed, then the other ship (a sailing vessel) would have rammed 'Arabic' amidships. Realising the error, Murdoch dashed into the wheelhouse, brushed aside the quartermaster and held the ship on course, so bringing it clear of danger. He then returned the wheel to the startled quartermaster, and is supposed to have said "Alright, Change, go steady on her."

This may have seemed an obvious action to have taken, but Murdoch risked the sack for directly countermanding a superior's order. The Captain aboard a nineteenth or early twentieth century ship had full civil and military authority over passengers and crew. At the best, a Captain at sea could marry passengers, at worst, he could use firearms to quell a mutiny or to defend it from attack. This situation had arisen simply because of the time a sailing ship might be at sea, and the necessity to give the Master of the ship enough authority to deal with all contingencies. Radio was in its infancy, an aircraft had flown about a mile, the lifeboat service was using sailing boats, and radar and sonar were still thirty years in the future. It is worth keeping all this in mind when considering Murdoch's later actions aboard 'Titanic'. Captain Bertram Hayes was then in command of the 'Arabic', and plainly had no doubts about his Second Officer. The Chief Officer, Fox, may have been less pleased, so Hayes may have advised a move to keep the peace amongst his Officers.

Charles Herbert Lightoller, - later to be with Murdoch on the 'Titanic', - was then Fourth Officer aboard 'Arabic'. He, too, was moved to another ship, the 'Medic', on the Australian run, and he, too, met his bride-to-be, Sylvia Hawley-Wilson, who travelled back to Britain as his wife. There were many parallels between Lightoller and his friend William Murdoch.

The 'Celtic' and the 'Germanic' : 1904 :

(Pictures of these ships being obtained)

Murdoch was transferred to the liner 'Celtic' on the 28th January 1904 for her voyage on the 30th between Liverpool and New York. 'Celtic' had been the first of White Star's original 'Big Four', and grossed 21,000 tons, rated at 16 knots. Murdoch is known to have been on her for eight months and at least as many voyages, all on the same run. He was briefly transferred to the rather older 'Germanic',5,000 tons, 15 knots, for two months in September and October 1904, but she was sold at the end of the year to the Dominion Line as an 'emigrant carrier'. 'Germanic' was finally broken up in 1950 after 75 years, 56 of them on voyages, and after surviving collisions, capsizing, being sunk by torpedo and at least two runnings-aground.

The 'Oceanic' and the 'Cedric' : 1905-1906 :

(Pictures of these ships being obtained)

It is possible that Murdoch was being seen as a lucky man to have around, for he was transferred 28th January 1905 to the liner 'Oceanic', 17,800 tons, twinscrew, rated at 19 knots. She had been struck by lightning a year after her 1899 launch, sank a coaster in fog in 1901 with the loss of seven lives, and was to suffer a mutiny in 1905. Murdoch had eleven voyages aboard her as Second Officer, then was appointed as First Officer for a trip before he left in the February of 1906 for the 'Cedric'.

'Cedric', 21,000 ton, twin-screw, rated at 16 knots, was the second of the 'Big Four' that Murdoch served upon, but only for the February and March voyages to New York. He was needed aboard 'Oceanic' for duty as Second Officer once again, but this does not seem to have been a down-rating. In the White Star Line, senior Captains took the officers that they wanted under their command, - a back-handed compliment for able men looking for a command of their own. So Murdoch remained aboard 'Oceanic' as Second Officer for three months, becoming her First Officer on 3rd July for the rest of the year.

Return to W.M. Murdoch's life 1873-1900

Forward to W.M. Murdoch's life 1907-1912

This page was prepared with editorial assistance 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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