About Edward John Smith, RD, RNR
Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR
(27 January 1850 – 15 April 1912) was an English naval reserve officer and ship's captain. He was the officer in command of the RMS Titanic and died when the ship sank in 1912. There is a statue to his legacy in Beacon Park, Lichfield, England.
Edward John Smith was born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, England to Edward Smith, a potter, and Catherine Hancock, née Marsh, who married on 2 August 1841 in Shelton, Staffordshire. His parents later owned a shop. Smith attended the Etruria British School until the age of 13 when he went to Liverpool to begin a seafaring career. He began his apprenticeship on the Senator Weber owned by A Gibson & Co., Liverpool.
On Tuesday 12 July 1887 Smith married Sarah Eleanor Pennington. Their daughter, Helen Melville Smith, was born in Waterloo, Liverpool, England, on Saturday 2 April 1898. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house, named "Woodhead", on Winn Road, Highfield, Southampton.
Smith joined the White Star Line in March 1880 as the Fourth Officer of the SS Celtic. He served aboard the company's liners to Australia and to New York City, where he quickly rose in stature. In 1887, he received his first White Star command, the Republic. In 1888, Smith earned his Extra Master's Certificate and joined the Royal Naval Reserve (thus entitling him to append his name with "RNR"), qualifying as a full Lieutenant. This meant that in a time of war, he could be called upon to serve in the Royal Navy. Later, as a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve, Smith's ship had the distinction of being able to wear the Blue Ensign of the RNR; British merchant vessels generally wore the Red Ensign (also known as the Red Duster).
Smith was Majestic's captain for nine years commencing in 1895. When the Boer War started in 1899, the Majestic was called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony. Smith made two trips to South Africa, both without incident, and for his service King Edward VII awarded him the Transport Medal, showing the "South Africa" clasp, in 1903. Smith was regarded as a "safe captain". As he rose in seniority, he gained a reputation amongst passengers and crew for quiet flamboyance. Some passengers would sail the Atlantic only in a ship he captained. He became known as the "Millionaires' Captain" because England's upper class were usually the ones who requested he be in command of the ships they sailed on.
From 1904 on, Smith commanded the White Star Line's newest ships on their maiden voyages. In 1904, he was given command of the then-largest ship in the world, the Baltic. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, sailing 29 June 1904, went without incident. After three years with the Baltic, Smith was given his second new "big ship," the Adriatic. Once again, the maiden voyage went without incident. During his command of the Adriatic, Smith received the Royal Naval Reserve's long service decoration, along with a promotion to Commander. By virtue of his receiving the long service decoration, he would now be referred to as "Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR", with RD standing for "Reserve Decoration."
Olympic class command
Smith had built a reputation as one of the world's most experienced sea captains, and so was called upon to take first command of the lead ship in a new class of ocean liners, the Olympic – again, the largest vessel in the world at that time. The maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York was successfully concluded on 21 June 1911, but as the ship was docking in New York harbor, it experienced a small incident. Docking at Pier 59 under the command of Captain Smith with the assistance of a harbour pilot, the Olympic was being assisted by twelve tugs when one got caught in the backwash of the Olympic's starboard propeller. The tug was spun around, collided with the bigger ship, and for a moment was trapped under the Olympic's stern, finally managing to work free and limp to the docks.
The Hawke incident
On 20 September 1911 Olympic's first major mishap occurred during a collision with a British warship, HMS Hawke, in which the warship lost her prow. Although the collision left two of Olympic's compartments filled and one of her propeller shafts twisted, she was able to limp back to Southampton. At the resultant inquiry, the Royal Navy blamed Olympic for the incident, alleging that her massive size generated a suction that pulled Hawke into her side. On the bridge during this incident was Captain Smith.
The Hawke incident was a financial disaster for White Star, and the out-of-service time for the big liner made matters worse. Olympic returned to Belfast and, to speed up the repairs, Harland and Wolff was forced to delay Titanic's completion, in order to use one of her propeller shafts and other parts for the Olympic. Back at sea in February 1912, Olympic lost a propeller blade and once again returned to her builder for emergency repairs. To get her back to service immediately, Harland and Wolff yet again had to pull resources from Titanic, delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March to 10 April.
Despite the past trouble, Smith was again appointed to be in command of the greatest steamship when RMS Titanic left Southampton for her maiden voyage. Although some sources state that he had decided to retire after completing Titanic's maiden voyage, an article in the Halifax Morning Chronicle on 9 April 1912 stated that Smith would remain in charge of the Titanic "until the Company (White Star Line) completed a larger and finer steamer."
On 10 April 1912, Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, took a taxi from his home to Southampton docks. He came aboard the Titanic at 7AM to prepare for the Board of Trade muster at 8:00AM. He immediately went to his cabin to get the sailing report from Chief Officer Henry Wilde. After departure at 12:00PM, the huge amount of water displaced by Titanic as she passed caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards the Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the maiden voyage. At 11:40PM on 14 April, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The ship sank two hours and forty minutes later, killing an estimated 1,500 people. Smith was one of those who died. His body was never recovered.
Main article: Sinking of the RMS Titanic It is not known how Smith died on the night of the sinking. Robert Ballard's book, The Discovery of the Titanic, and historians alike claim that Smith was on the bridge at 2:13 AM, 7 minutes before the final sinking and went down with the ship. Some sources state that Smith quietly wandered off to the ship's wheelhouse, while others say he was actively present in the radio room. Working near Collapsible B, Junior Marconi Officer Harold Bride reported seeing Smith dive into the sea from the open bridge minutes before the final plunge began. One story states he carried a child to the overturned collapsible B after the sinking and swam off to freeze in the water, but according to historians featured in the A&E Documentary Titanic: Death of a Dream, that story is generally considered romantic fiction.
The plaque below his memorial statue in Lichfield states: "Commander Edward John Smith, RD, RNR. Born January 27 1850, Died April 15 1912, Bequeathing to his countrymen the memory and example of a great heart, a brave life and a heroic death. Be British."
The statue of Captain Smith in Beacon Park Lichfield, Staffordshire, EnglandOtto Wernicke (1943) (Titanic) Brian Aherne (1953) (Titanic) Clarence Derwent (1956) (Kraft Television Theatre) (A Night to Remember) Laurence Naismith (1958) (A Night to Remember) Michael Rennie (1966) (The Time Tunnel) (Rendezvous With Yesterday) Harry Andrews (1979) (S.O.S. Titanic) (TV Movie) Hugh Reilly (1983) (Voyagers!) (Voyagers of the Titanic) George C. Scott (1996) (Titanic) (TV Miniseries) John Cunningham (1997) (Titanic) (Broadway Musical) Bernard Hill (1997) (Titanic) Kenneth Belton (2001) (Titanic: The Legend Goes On) (Animated Film) John Donovan (2003) (Ghosts of the Abyss) (Documentary) Alan Rothwell (2005) (Titanic: Birth of a Legend) (TV Documentary) Malcolm Tierney (2008) (Who Sank the Titanic? aka The Unsinkable Titanic) (TV Documentary) David Calder (actor) (2012) (Titanic) (TV series/4 episodes)
1.^ birth/death dates and parents at the International Genealogical Index 2.^ Smith information at Titanic-Titanic.com Biographical info on Smith at The Real Titanic Source for Smith's first assignment with White Star
TITANIC - A Voyage of Discovery (captain) Captain Smith on Titanic-Titanic.com Captain Smith's Memorial on Titanic-Titanic.com One of Stoke-on-Trent Museums' Local Heroes Pay tribute to Captain Smith Captain Edward John Smith
Edward John Smith, 62, was born at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent in January 1850, the son of potter Edward Smith and Catherine Smith. His parents later owned a shop (1).
Edward John Smith attended the Etruria British School until the age of 13 when he went to Liverpool to begin a seafaring career. He apprenticed with Gibson & Co., Liverpool. He joined White Star in 1880 gaining his first command in 1887. Among the ships he would command were the first Republic, the Coptic, Majestic, Baltic, Adriatic and Olympic.
Smith served with distinction in the Boer war by commanding troopships to the Cape.
As he rose in seniority Smith gained a reputation amongst passengers and crew for quiet flamboyance. Some passengers would only sail the Atlantic in a ship commanded by him. After he became commodore of the White Star fleet in 1904, it became routine for Smith to command the line's newest ships on their maiden voyages. It was therefore no surprise that Smith took Titanic in her maiden voyage in April 1912. This responsibility was rewarded with a salary of £1,250 per year and a no-collision bonus of $200. Because of his position as a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve Smith had the distinction of being able to fly the Blue Duster of the R.N.R., most ships flew the Red Duster of the merchant marine.
Smith was married to Eleanor and they had a young daughter Helen Melville. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house "Woodhead" on Winn Road, Portswood, Southampton.
On April 10 1912 Edward John Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, took a taxi from his home to Southampton docks. He came aboard the Titanic at 7 am to prepare for the board of Trade muster at 8.00. He immediately went to his cabin to get the sailing report from Chief Officer Henry Wilde.
After departure at 12:00 the wash from the propeller caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards the Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the maiden voyage. The unfortunate incident was seem by some as an ill omen and it was reminiscent of the Hawke incident in 1911 when that vessel collided with the Olympic which was under the command of Captain Smith.
Captain Smith on the bridge of the Olympic
During the voyage Smith normally took meals at a small table in the dining saloon or in his cabin, attended by his personal valet, or "Tiger", Arthur Paintin. On the night of April 14, however, he attended a dinner party held in his honour by George Widener and his family. The party was attended by the cream of 1912 society as it was represented on the Titanic. However Smith was possibly concerned that the ship was entering the ice zone about which he had received ample warnings during the weekend. He excused himself early and went to the bridge.
Lightoller was keeping watch and discussed the temperature with Smith far a while. Smith told Lightoller to alert him immediately if he was at all concerned. He then retired to bed.
About 11.40 p.m.Captain Smith was awakened by the collision and rushed to the bridge. He received the report of the accident from Murdoch and then made a quick inspection of the ship with Thomas Andrews. He immediately ordered the boats prepared but wavered when it came to giving the order to load and lower them Lightoller had to approach him for the order which he eventually gave.
Surprisingly little is known about Smith's actions in the last two hours of the ships life. His legendary skills of leadership seem to have left him, he was curiously indecisive and unusually cautious.
He was last seem in the bridge area having given the final order to abandon ship. He appears to have made no attempt to save himself. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
A large statue of Captain Smith was unveiled by his daughter Helen on 29 July 1914 in Lichfield, England. The sculptor was Lady Kathleen Scott (b. 1870, d. 1947) widow of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, "Scott of the Antarctic." A plaque which was placed on Hanley Town Hall in his memory in 1913 was later removed to Etruria Middle School.
Smith's widow Eleanor Sarah was born 17 June 1861, after her husband's death she remained in Southampton for a time but later moved to London. She died after being knocked down by a taxi outside her London home on 28 April 1931.
Their daughter Helen Melville Smith, known as Mel, was born in Liverpool and later moved to Southampton with her parents. She was (probably) first married to Captain John Gilbertson of Liverpool, England. Gilbertson died of black water fever on a voyage home from India on board his first command a ship called the Morazan of the Bibby Line. At the time of his death Captain Gilbertson was the youngest captain in the British Merchant Navy. Helen married Sidney Russell-Cooke (b. 12 December 1892, d. 30 July 1930) in 1922 at St. Mark's Church, Mayfair, they had twin children born at Bellcroft, London on 18 June 1923: Simon, who never married and was killed in action in World War II on 23 March 1944 and Priscilla who married in 1946 to a lawyer named John Constantine Phipps but died from Polio in Scotland on 7 October 1947. Sadly for "Mel" her second husband was killed in 1930 in a hunting accident and her mother died the following year. In spite of her misfortunes Helen Melville Smith led an adventurous life, she drove sports cars and became a pilot. She came to the set of A Night to Remember in the winter of 1957-8 and remarked that Lawrence Naismith, who played her father, bore a striking resemblance to him.
Helen Melville Smith moved to Leafield, Oxfordshire in 1934, she died there in August 1973 and was buried close to her mother and husband.
Notes 1. Local knowledge holds that what is now simply a corner house was indeed the shop which Smith's mother (and later father) kept. Some locals can still recall witnessing the conversion of the shop into a house. In the 1851 Hanley Directory, Edward Smith of Well Street is listed as a shopkeeper. What used to be an alleyway (a "back") alongside the shop is now an open narrow road since the rest of the street has been demolished and flats built. The address is: 51 Well Street, Hanley. 2. From the 1851 Census:
Edward Smith: Head of Household: Married: Age 46: Potter: Born Hanley Catherine Smith: Wife: Married: Aged 42: Grocer: Born Stoke Edward John Smith: Son: Aged 1: Born Hanley ? Hancock: Daughter: Aged 16: Milliner and Dressmaker: Born Tunstall
References and Sources The Times (London) 29 April 1931, Death Notice (Eleanor Smith) Death Certificate of Eleanor Smith British Census 1851
Credits Phillip Gowan, UK Mark A. Neels, USA Richard Thornburgh, UK
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