A Tale of Three Captains


Tracy Smith

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Well, here I go again, comparing our three Captains: Smith, Rostron, and Lord.

Age at first command:
Smith: 37
Rostron: 38
Lord: 29

Age at sinking

Smith: 62
Rostron: 43
Lord: 35

Seeing that Smith and Rostron both made captain at close to the same ages, I'm wondering whether Lord was rather unusual to make captain that young, or whether this was relatively common during that time.

Secondly, if it was unusual for someone to make captain that young, I wonder if this had any bearing on Lord's command style. I'm wondering if he felt he had to be more autocratic to compensate for his youth.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I know nothing about any of this, but I had thought that Rostron was a bit older than 43 at the time of the sinking....like mid-fifties and closer to Smith's age and that Lord was closer to forty. But that may be quite wrong on my part.

But I think that you may have a point about compensation for age. It happens. But folks like Michael Standart probably have more experience. It also woould be interesting to get an expert like Erik Wood's opinion on the age matter as well.
Maureen.
 

Erik Wood

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Thanks Maureen,

Well I made Staff Captain which is basically a Captain at a young age. I don't think that it had anything to do with Lord's command style. Or as I call it leadership style. Leadership style comes from the way you were taught and your own ways. I was around Lords age when I took command of a freight ship but I was still by the book and very hard nosed now that I have done the job for awhile I have loosend the reigns. I don't think that my age had anything to do with it. But as I have written in my ramblings (my book which I only have about 42 pages of) experience can lead to complacency. Complacency can lead to death if not caught and dealt with quickly. Just my opinion there.

Erik
 
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Scott Blair

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Hi folks,

Smith was captain at the age of 26 when he became master of the sailing ship the full-rigged Lizzie Fennell in May 1876 .

He obtained his master's certificate on 26 May 1875.He passed first mate a little after his 23 rd birthday.

He was master until January 1880.He joined White Star as 4th Officer on the Celtic in March 1880.

Hope this is of some interest.

Scott Blair
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Mo, my own understanding comes from the military and does not neccessarily reflect merchentile marine practice. Single ship commands are given based on the rank considered appropriate the size of the command. A minesweeper would have a luitenant commandar or even a luitenant so you're looking at between five to ten years of experience and service.

For a really large command like an aircraft carrier, helicopter carrir or oiler, you would have a full bird captain as the CO, and I have rarely met even one such with less the 18 to 20 years of experience. Having been a line officer, Sparks would know more about the averages and the exceptions to that.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Tracy Smith

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Scott, thanks for pointing out Smith's first command on a sailing ship. I had put his first command of a liner as my reference.

Michael, my Dad was on a carrier,(USS Ranger CV4) and I remember him mentioning the CO of the ship as a captain. My father was his secretary (don't know what that job would have been called in the Navy, but that's essentially what he did) aboard ship and ended up as a Chief Yeoman.

Erik, what you said about being hard nosed and by the book when you first took command is the same among police officers as well. Most rookie cops go straight by the book, and use very little discretion. But all that comes with experience. I saw this time after time when I was on the force
 
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Scott Blair

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Tracy ,

Thanks for your comment.

I took the view that as regards the character of Smith,his earlier experience in a "tougher" form of seafaring might have influenced his command style.

Whilst I consider that E.J was a gentleman,I am sure that he was able to be firm when needed.

There are numerous references to him being "firm but fair" and I suspect that he would not have got as far as he did in WSL if his command style was not well-balanced.

Do you know if Rostron or Lord had any command under sail ?

Scott Blair
 

Tracy Smith

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I know Lord had training under sail, but I don't know offhand if he'd commanded that way. I'm thinking not. I believe he went to powered vessels fairly early on in his career.

I don't know much about Rostron, but I'm thinking his experience under sail was similar to Lord's
 

Dave Gittins

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Rostron made it to First Mate under sail on Cedric the Saxon. Both Cunard and White Star only employed officers trained in sail, though in 1912 it was possible to earn all the certificates up to Extra Master for steam only.
 

Erik Wood

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A little bit of added trivia for all is that while Smith was stern. Wilde chase out a group of firemen without the aid of a gun before most of the formal loading had begun. They say that he had a stern look about him. I also read in " Titanic Triumph and Tragedy" as well as a nother Maxton Grahm book that Smith was polite but a stickler for discipline and I think that paid off. Having the reputation makes it easier for you to relax knowing that your crew knows that you are watching. That you could in rumor take on all the crew single handedly and win. Captain were and to some extent are suppose to be feared and respected by those they lead. Rostrom had the same reputation.

Erik
 

Dave Gittins

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I wouldn't like to put an exact date of the beginning of certificates exclusively for steam. It would have been late in the 19th century and would have varied across nations. I have a Board of Trade Master's Certificate issued in 1909 and it says that its issued under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894.

Sail training still goes on in many nations but largely as a character building exercise for youth. No doubt some of those involved go on to be ships' officers, but it's not required. Judging by some of the antics of modern ships' officers some now get their certificates out of cornflakes boxes.
 

Inger Sheil

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Interesting to note that the larger shipping companies, such as Cunard and the WSL, had to relax their resistance to hiring 'steam only' certificate men during WWI. Bestic, for example, would never have been hired by Cunard, let along sent to the Lusitania, pre-WWI as he held a steam only certificate.

All the Titanic's men, even the youngest, James Moody, had spent a good deal of time in sail prior to moving into steam.

Inger
 

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