Captain EJ Smith


William Oakes

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I've never liked the way that Captain Smith was portrayed in Jame's Cameron's film.
In my mind, Smith was a seasoned veteran and a loyal company man on his final voyage.
Yes, he wanted a successful crossing, Yes, he was probably under undue pressure with Brice Ismay on board, and Yes he was lulled into a false sense of security.
The bergs on that night were unseasonably far further south than normal.
Probably something that Captain Smith had never seen before in his career.
Everything was going along so well on the voyage, and he had faith in his crew.
Once the ship was doomed, I doubt that Captain Smith was in denial or hesitant to begin safety measures and evacuation measures as the film seems to strongly suggest.
This has always bugged me.
It seems like a calculated effort to besmirch his unblemished career.
The man went down with his ship.
What more can you ask?
I welcome your opinions.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Well I would'nt describe his career as unblemished. He had numerious blemishes over his career. Running aground, collisions...ect.
 
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Aly Jones

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Captain Smith crossings wasn't perfect but I do know Titanic 97 was kind of anti British. JC could've made Smith more active during the sinking. Accountless of eye witnesses siad he was assisting with the officers and he was awash from the bridge. He didn't just walk in the wheel house to meet his end. I can remember watching Titanic film in 97 and I was shocked to SEe that scene of Smith. Even at 16 years of age, I did expect to see Smith doing his job until the end.
 
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May 19, 2020
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I think ol' EJ did go into the wheelhouse just before it went under. Not like in the movie where he went in and waited but he waded in there just before the wave from the final plunge to ensure he went down with the ship. EJ always wanted to go down with his ship if it were to sink. It's the highest honor a captain could do for himself
 

TimTurner

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Smith was in one of the most critical roles on the Ship. All the reports came to him: The engineers, the flooding reports, the wireless messages, the ship's designer. He knew exactly what was happening in its totality, and how the next 2 hours were going to play out. He understood things nobody else would know about for 70 years.

At the same time, we know almost nothing about what he did or said. He, and those closest to him - Wilde and Murdoch - all died. Many of those who did interact with him were either focused on other things, or tell wildly made-up folk tales about him. We really don't know much about his role in the sinking, even though it was one of the most important.

J. Cameron's 1997 movie was an entertainment. He was telling a story. The story was about the hubris and oppression of 1912 Gilded Age society. Capt. Smith was a blank canvas upon which he could write a message, so he did. You'll notice there aren't any good or heroic upper class passengers (upper society) or crew (hopelessly inured reactionaries both oppressed by and supporting the system). Now before you go picking examples of "good" 1st class passengers from the movie, let's look at some...

Margaret Brown - she's really the only good rich person on the boat. But she was also a working-class nouveau-riche who made her fortune doing manual labor (so in that sense she was a 3rd class passenger from a story-telling standpoint). Also, Cameron's movie doesn't make her into lifeboat hero "Unsinkable Molly Brown", she just cows down and shuts up when told.

Thomas Andrews- nice polite gentleman (also, not really "rich" either), but an enabler and supporter of the system. Ignorant of the oppression around him, even doing its bidding. Friendly toward Rose, but perpetuating the system which traps her.

Gracie - more or less an ignorant buffoon.

Astor - clueless and distant "oh yes, the Chippawa Falls Dawsons"

Lightoller - cowardly and out of his depth.

Strausses - play only a backdrop role in the movie.

Basically all the truly good heroic people in the movie were either 1. Rose or 2. Died.

Cameron told a story where the ignorance, pride, and exploitation of the rich sank society. I'm not getting into a political argument with the director, I'm just saying he went in a very cohesive artistic direction. There wasn't any nuance or "well on the other hand". I think Avatar was a trashy spectacle, also very cohesive and mind-numbingly predictable, but boy did the boxoffice love it. The man knows his audience.

So the role he chose for Smith (and given his overall artistic direction, I think it worked very well for him - even brilliantly) was the soggy marshmallow that just goes along with the system. Smith just sponges in to the cunning and grasping Ismay, then at the end he's utterly shocked at the disaster. I think the actual witness testimony indicates that Smith was very involved and aware of what was going on, but history doesn't record his every word, and Cameron uses him as a great polemic against people who stay on the sidelines instead of actively fighting for whatever cause.

Total fiction but look at the man's boxoffice receipts. And who doesn't love the proud captain, brought to his undoing, standing at the wheel of a sinking ship, continuing to steer it's useless rudder in horror along the same path as the glass cracks, announcing the arrival of inexorable doom... yes, I, even I have done this thing.

I think it works exceptionally well in Cameron's movie. Smith's actor (Bernard Hill) does an amazing job of artistically showing the changeover from "My, what a fine teaparty" to "My God, what have we done?!".
 

Arun Vajpey

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Special effects apart (and even they were not all that good), Cameron's 'Titanic' was a B-movie for the masses disguised by a big budget. I disliked it at the cinema and have not bothered to take a second look.

Captain Smith's portrayal in Titanic's legacy is perhaps a bit unjust to the man. Yes, his performance during the crossing was not flawless; he should have paid greater attention to the ice warnings (especially the Baltic one) and given more specific orders to his officers to liaise with the wireless ops. But once the collision occurred, he did take appropriate steps. Even though he was probably asleep in his cabin, the impact woke him and he came to the bridge on his own volition. When he realized the possible seriousness of the damage to his ship, he liaised with Thomas Andrews and undertook that assessment tour. He made the decision to send out distress messages and order lifeboats to be readied reasonably quickly but perhaps could have been more decisive on the latter.

What Smith did and did not do after that is a bit difficult to assess because of the way his officers busied themselves, survived or died. Under those sort of circumstances, I would not attach too much importance to passenger statements regarding the crew because they (the passengers) would be mainly thinking of themselves and their companions. Of the officers, Wilde, Murdoch and Moody died, as did Purser McElroy. Pitman left the ship relatively early on Lifeboat #5 and Lowe (who did not wake-up with the collision and came onto the bridge later than the others) not long after on #14. Lightoller was involved with his shenanigans with #4 and generally remained on the port side forward part of the ship. Boxhall was firing rockets etc before he left on #2.

The point I am trying to make is none of the surviving officers, busy as they were with respective tasks, might have actually seen much of Smith after the first 45 minutes or so of the collision - at least not enough to comment or judge. Rather unusually, there were a lot of people milling about on the upper decks and it was dark and cold. Under those circumstances it would be difficult to keep track of what the Captain was doing except when they just happened to see him by chance.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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The only thing I can really fault Captain Smith for that night was the lifeboats. The rest as others have pointed out was we really don't what all he was doing. I know its monday morning quarterbacking and all but I think as soon as he knew the ship was doomed he should have overloaded the lifeboats with women and children even using force if necessary. They could have saved almost all the women and children that way. As for Cameron's movie...yes 75% fiction but I thought it was entertaining. But I knew going in it wasn't going to be a documentary so I took it for what it was. I thought he did a good job recreating the ship the best he could. Yeah I wish it had more of the historical stuff..radio room...ect ect. But he wasn't making his movie for titaniacs like us. He knows how to sell tickets.
 

Arun Vajpey

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The only thing I can really fault Captain Smith for that night was the lifeboats. The rest as others have pointed out was we really don't what all he was doing. I know its monday morning quarterbacking and all but I think as soon as he knew the ship was doomed he should have overloaded the lifeboats with women and children even using force if necessary. They could have saved almost all the women and children that way.

I am not so sure that would have been possible. The Titanic was 882 feet and a bit long and the old Captain would not be able to physically supervise everything. On paper yes, they should have put more people in the earlier lifeboats but using force in those days would not have been easy. Early on, when the ship still appeared stable and gave the false impression of the safest option on a cold night, people could flatly refuse to go n the boats.Wives and children would first refuse and then rush back to the husbands and even with use of force there would have been only so much the Captain & crew could have done in the time available. It might even have caused more delays than actually happened.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Yes early on it did give a false impression and many believed it couldn't sink but Captain Smith knew different. I can't prove it but I believe 90-95% of the men would have not objected to getting the women and children in the boats even if force was used. He could have gotten a lot more of them in the boats. He was the Captain. If his crew were worth half of their salt they would have carried out his orders. But like I said we don't really know for sure how he conducted himself..lots of conflicting stories.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Somewhat controversial but one plan that might have saved some more lives (obviously not all, there were not enough lifeboats even for the partially filled Titanic) is if the Captain Smith had ordered his officers to ignore the usual the "women and children first" mantra of the day and urge men - husbands and families of the women first and then single men if there was room - right from the start. That would have achieved two things; first, more people would have got off in the earlier boats and second, the sight of men also being asked to enter the lifeboats would have alerted the doubting Thomases and Thomasinas left on the ship that perhaps the Titanic was in trouble.

But there is also a flipside to it. People would have realized earlier that there were not enough lifeboats for everyone and there might ave been panic.
 

Aly Jones

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I know I read an account, that smith was standing just out side engine room with sweet pouring Down his face, but still was very calm.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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I know I read an account, that smith was standing just out side engine room with sweat pouring Down his face, but still was very calm.

(Corrected that a bit for you). I think that was just contrasting temperatures. The engine room must have been like a furnace in comparison with the cooler parts of the ship. If Captain Smith had just been in to inspect something in the engine room, he would be sweating even after he came out.
 
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It must've been nice to have a cabin over the engines like the chief baker did. The heat from the engines would keep it toasty inside during a winter crossing and I've read somewhere that the heaters powerplant for 3rd class wasn't working properly.
 

Aly Jones

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Somewhat controversial but one plan that might have saved some more lives (obviously not all, there were not enough lifeboats even for the partially filled Titanic) is if the Captain Smith had ordered his officers to ignore the usual the "women and children first" mantra of the day and urge men - husbands and families of the women first and then single men if there was room - right from the start. That would have achieved two things; first, more people would have got off in the earlier boats and second, the sight of men also being asked to enter the lifeboats would have alerted the doubting Thomases and Thomasinas left on the ship that perhaps the Titanic was in trouble.

But there is also a flipside to it. People would have realized earlier that there were not enough lifeboats for everyone and there might ave been panic.
The officers originally plans were to ferry passengers to the olympic. That's why early lifeboats were not full. One Survivors account recalls with one of the officers. They firmly believe the titanic we wouldn't sink.
 
one plan that might have saved some more lives ... urge men - husbands and families of the women first and then single men if there was room - right from the start

Actually, First Officer Murdoch essentially did this, which is why he launched more full boats than any other officer. Low numbers for the early boats was due to lack of willing passengers, not the women and children first rule.

The officers originally plans were to ferry passengers to the olympic. That's why early lifeboats were not full.

Where is the reference for this? Lightoller testified that "I should not think they were capable of being lowered full of people" (British Inquiry) and many others testified to a similar concern over weight limits and a methodology including using gangway doors once the lifeboats were launched e.g. Boxhall rowed lifeboat no.2 around to the starboard gangway door with this instruction.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Low numbers for the early boats was due to lack of willing passengers, not the women and children first rule.
Agreed. But what I am saying is that at least some of those unwilling passengers might be due to the fact that only women and children were being called. That was the form of the day and they did not know till later that Murdoch would adopt a more practical and humane approach unlike his bullheaded junior colleague on the port side.

Women might not have wanted to leave their husbands and/or older sons behind; likewise many men might have discouraged their wives and children from leaving the sanctuary of the apparently still stable ship without the head of the family - ie themselves also present. I understood that many men of that era felt that it was their duty to look after their families and inferred that they might have been reluctant to let their 'charges' go away in a lifeboat without them.
 

Aly Jones

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Where is the reference for this? Lightoller testified that "I should not think they were capable of being lowered full of people" (British Inquiry) and many others testified to a similar concern over weight limits and a methodology including using gangway doors once the lifeboats were launched e.g. Boxhall rowed lifeboat no.2 around to the starboard gangway door with this instruction.

I read Edith Russell 1913 account on the disaster. She mentions speaking to the officers. They were thier words. Is her account not trustworthy?

Moderator's note: Edited to correct formatting. MAB
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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Agreed. But what I am saying is that at least some of those unwilling passengers might be due to the fact that only women and children were being called. That was the form of the day and they did not know till later that Murdoch would adopt a more practical and humane approach unlike his bullheaded junior colleague on the port side.

Women might not have wanted to leave their husbands and/or older sons behind; likewise many men might have discouraged their wives and children from leaving the sanctuary of the apparently still stable ship without the head of the family - ie themselves also present. I understood that many men of that era felt that it was their duty to look after their families and inferred that they might have been reluctant to let their 'charges' go away in a lifeboat without them.
Not arguing with what you said...seems all true to me. Where I'm coming from is that Titanic took 2 hours and 40 mins to sink. But if the reports are true Thomas Andrews told the Captain after his inspection that Titanic had an hour maybe a little more. Thats what was believed at the time. If the chief designer tells me you only got an hour then I would be as aggresive as possible as possible as to getting the women and children in the boats...at the expense of everything else. Thats the one area that I would ding Captain Smith for. The rest of what happened that night IMHO was just a really bad case of...**** happens.
 

Arun Vajpey

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But if the reports are true Thomas Andrews told the Captain after his inspection that Titanic had an hour maybe a little more. Thats what was believed at the time. If the chief designer tells me you only got an hour then I would be as aggresive as possible as possible as to getting the women and children in the boats...at the expense of everything else. Thats the one area that I would ding Captain Smith for.
I don't think either Smith or Andrews told any passenger about their belief that the Titanic could founder within the next hour. That said, I agree that they, especially the Captain. could have tried being more verbally assertive (rather than 'aggressive') to persuade passengers to get to the lifeboats. That and perhaps encouraging families and indeed all (passenger) comers to get into the earlier lifeboats, might have increased the complement of Lifeboat #7 from 24 to about 45. Might seem like a small number but the "lemming effect" that is quite prevalent among human beings under such conditions might have helped to both speed and fill things up better. Of course, with only 20 lifeboats in all they could not have saved everyone on board but perhaps an additional 200 to 250?

It is all conjecture, of course. We'll never know.
 
May 3, 2005
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The officers originally plans were to ferry passengers to the olympic. That's why early lifeboats were not full. One Survivors account recalls with one of the officers. They firmly believe the titanic we wouldn't sink.
Wasn't the Olympic some 500 miles from the Titanic ?
 
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