Captain Smith after the collision


Paul Lee

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Hi,
We all know that Captain Smith retired during Lightoller's watch on the bridge, and presumably he went to sleep. Smith then appears immediately after the collision asking what had happened. Every single celluloid depiction of this scene has him in fully, or near fully dressed. I know this sounds stupid, but shouldn't he have been in pyjamas?

Cheers

Paul

 
Dec 4, 2000
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One of the biggest jobs of character assasination in nautical history is the myth that Captain E.J. Smith was asleep at the time of the accident. In fact, Smith was up, alert, and taking part in the ship's navigation.

Lightoller never said the captain went to bed. Rather, that Smith would be "just inside." Boxhall is specific about the captain being on the bridge right up to the accident. And, Boxhall described working with Smith in plotting ice reports, etc.

When Boxhall entered the bridge during the accident he noticed Smith standing next to him. Both he and Olliver recalled the captain asking Murdoch what happened, this question apparently coming even before the iceberg passed Rowe on the poop deck.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Where did the idea of Smith being asleep come from? Was it in Hichens testimony that Capt. Smith was "in his room" at the time of the collision? But that only means he was not in the wheelhouse or on the forebridge or bridge wings. And being just inside does not mean your sleeping. As Dave Brown pointed out, Boxhall was working with Smith putting positions on the chart late that night. What I would like to ask, however, and maybe nobody has an answer to this, is how long does it take to plot the positions of reported ice and your own ship's positions on a chart? We know from Boxhall that the ship's 7:30 celestial fix was first put on the chart by Capt. Smith about 10 PM that night. What was Smith doing in his chart room after about 10:30? We know that the ship's officers expected to up to the ice region anywhere no later than about 11:00 PM. As the ship's master, wouldn't you want to be on the bridge lending an extra pair of eyes from at least a little before 11:00 onward? Did he go on the bridge before 11 but left when he thought they may have passed the danger region? Did he doze off in the chart room and lose track of time? We do know he came out at the time of the collision passing through the wheelhouse just about the time Murdoch closed the WTDs.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Let me throw something else into the mix. How do we know Smith wasn't on the forebridge during Murdoch's watch? Hichens was in the wheelhouse with the shutters raised. He couldn't see who came on or off the bridge, unless they passed through the wheelhouse. Neither Murdoch nor Moody survived. Boxhall was never pinned down on this specific point, but he offered the following in response to general questioning:

<font color="#000066">Senator SMITH. Did you see the captain frequently Sunday night?
Mr. BOXHALL. I saw him frequently during the watch, sir.
Senator SMITH. From 8 o'clock on?
Mr. BOXHALL. Up to the time of the accident.
Senator SMITH. How frequently?
Mr. BOXHALL. On and off, most of the watch.
Senator SMITH. Where was he when you saw him at these times?
Mr. BOXHALL. Sometimes out on the outer bridge. I would go out and report. I was working observations out, if you understand, most of that watch working out different calculations and reporting to him; and that is how it was I came in contact with him so much.
Senator SMITH. Where was he at the times when you saw him?
Mr. BOXHALL. Sometimes in his chart room and sometimes on the bridge, and sometimes he would come to the wheelhouse, inside of the wheelhouse.
Mr. BOXHALL. That is another thing that is hard to say. I do not remember whether I saw him on the bridge or in the wheelhouse when I reported some positions that I had worked out.
Senator SMITH. But you do know that about 9 o'clock you saw him on the deck, on the bridge, and in the wheelhouse at various times. Would you say all of the time, in one of those three places after that?
Mr. BOXHALL. I did not know that the captain was anywhere away from the bridge the whole watch. I mean to say from the bridge taking the whole bridge together; all the chart rooms, and the open bridge. They are all practically on one square, and I do not think the captain was away from that altogether.

15547. (The Solicitor-General.) I cannot hear what you say happened at 10 o'clock? - The Captain plotted the star position of the ship at 7.30; he put that down on his chart at about 10 o'clock.
16925. At what intervals did he come on the bridge? - The first that I remember seeing of Captain Smith was somewhere in the vicinity of 9 o'clock, but from 9 o'clock to the time of the collision, Captain Smith was around there the whole of the time; I was talking to him on one or two occasions.


My first point is, we cannot assume, due to lack of evidence, that Smith was sleeping somewhere. What evidence we do have seems to indicate that Smith was up and about. He might even have had an on-the-bridge discussion with Murdoch -- a conversation lost to history because of the death of the participants -- much like the one he had with Lightoller during the evening watch. In fact, I would think it strange that he would talk the situation over with Lights and not with Murdoch.

We know from the wireless message traffic -- even from those messages that are known to have been received on the bridge -- that the crew knew they were approaching a region of ice. However, we don't know exactly how Smith and his officers saw this region of ice. Obviously, they didn't judge it to be a danger that the normal watch couldn't handle, because speed was never reduced. Conversely, if they saw no reason to reduce speed, then the Captain didn't need to be doing anything other than his normal duties. I'll say this...if the Captain were required on the bridge, then they should already have been reducing speed.

Second point...we don't know exactly how Titanic's crew viewed the known danger ahead. Every indication is that it was a highly professional, alert and competent crew, especially when talking about the First Officer and Captain. Our judgment of their actions is tainted by hindsight and lacks sufficient insight into the factors that shaped their decision making. Yes, the ship sinking proves their judgment to be wrong, but determining exactly where they failed in their judgment is tricky, at best. We have just enough evidence to tempt us to formulate theories, but not enough to prove them...it's the ultimate frustration in Titanic research.

Parks
 
Mar 22, 2003
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And Capt. Smith's instructions as reported by Lightoller was: "If it becomes at all doubtful let me know at once; I will be just inside." And when asked about what that meant Lightoller explained: "About the weather, about the distance I could see - principally those two conditions it would refer to. If there were the slightest degree of haze to arise, the slightest haze whatever, if that were to any degree noticeable, to immediately notify him."

To me this suggests that as long as the weather and visibility was as good as it was, and did not take turn for the worse, Smith had enough confidence in the abilities of his watch officers to handle the approach into the ice region without him being on the bridge all the time. So I guess the answer to my question I raised earlier is that Smith did not consider it a danger to approach an ice field at full speed at night as long as seeing conditions were good. Therefore his presence on the bridge all the time was not needed. What we do know from Hichens, Boxhall and Olliver is that Smith was indeed not on the bridge at the time of the collision, but came onto the bridge as soon as it occurred. Exactly what he was doing immediately before that time we just don't know, and is open to speculation.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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In the sense that he meant "not on the bridge," Sam was correct about Captain Smith. However, the term "bridge" usually encompasses the chart room and other areas used in the routine navigation of the ship. And, Boxhall was quite specific that the captain was in the "square" defined by the forebridge, bridge wing, officers chartroom, and captain's chartroom during the time leading up to the accident. So, while Smith may not have been standing next to Murdoch, he was still "on the bridge" in the larger context.

-- Dave
 

James Smith

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So, while Smith may not have been standing next to Murdoch, he was still "on the bridge" in the larger context.

True, but by your definition, couldn't the same be said of Captain Lord?

--Jim
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Dave,

I think it's pretty clear from the evidence that Smith was not standing next to Murdoch on the forebridge when the iceberg was sighted. However, did Smith ever talk with Murdoch during the latter's watch; if so, when did that happen? We don't know. For all we know, Smith was out on the forebridge at any time from about 2100 until just before the incident. Or not. We don't know because the two (or three) men who would know didn't survive. I don't think we can assume that Smith was never on the forebridge just because none of the survivors reported seeing him there.

James,

I'm not sure exactly where you're going with your question, but there's no direct comparison. I think that most criticism of Lord has to do with his seeming unresponsiveness to the reports that the deck officer was trying to pass to him, not where Lord was physically located at the time. I don't think there's any question about the propriety of where Lord was or the fact that he was conducting an eyelid light leak test when Stone called down to him.

Parks
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Parks -- Without doubt you are correct that Captain Smith participated directly in the handling of the ship during the hour leading up to the accident. Our problem is a paucity of direct evidence within the testimonies. However, what little does trickle through shows a captain deeply involved with the safe navigation of his ship.

James -- Captain Lord was not "on the bridge" simply because by his own admission he was sleeping. Not that there is anything wrong with a captain sleeping, but when he does he is no longer "on the bridge" in the sense of this discussion even if his bed is a cot next to the wheel.

-- David G. Brown

--David G.
 
Feb 24, 2004
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Hi, all!

I have a question regarding just how the Titanic captain and officers might have perceived the ice conditions they were approaching. Normally, what we hear is that there was a single 70-odd mile long ice floe in their path and that, once past (or through) that, there would be clear sailing into New York. Yet, the newspapers in the early months of 1912 are full of articles describing the Grand Banks, all the way to the eastern Canadian coast, as being thoroughly (and abnormally) socked in with *vast amounts* of ice. Ships were being damaged and/or sunk right and left from mid-December on (documentation and statistics available). The Titanic was simply the last and most impressive in a long, long list. Did the White Star people never read the newspapers either?

Best wishes!

Roy
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Roy,

Surely you're not suggesting that we are more knowledgable about the conditions facing Titanic on her track on the night of 14 April 1912 by reading period newspapers than the experienced officers who were charged with navigating their ship?

You say, "Normally, what we hear..." Is what "we hear" necessarily what Titanic's crew considered? I'm not aware that we know exactly what Titanic's officers thought lay ahead on her track. I have, however, read quite a bit about what others thought the crew must have thought, which is not the same thing. And I certainly wouldn't take everything reported in the newspapers as the ultimate truth, either then or now.

Parks
 

James Smith

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FWIW, Parks and David, I'm not sure "where I was going" with that question, either. It just came over me as I was reading David's post. I guess, as you imply, it's really a moot point assuming that Smith was awake . . .

Thanks for the answers!

--Jim
 

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