Did Murdoch make a fatal steering error?


In September 2010, Lady Louise Patten, Second Officer Lightoller's granddaughter, released information that accused experienced sailors, First Officer Murdoch and Quartermaster Hichens, of making a fatal steering error and later deliberate negligence by continuing to sail after the collision.

Is there any truth in these serious allegations? I have collated my research and created a page that analyses her theory from both points of view.

You can read it here: Did Murdoch Make a Fatal Steering Error?

Any further information, corrections or suggestions etc would be most appreciated!
 

Michael Smith

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Jul 15, 2012
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No, the granddaughter is not very smart. Murdoch was a very intelligent man and he knew what he was doing and I am not going to challenge what he did, he only had a second to decide what way to go and the way he picked was the right way to go.

The Titanic was going to sink in about 2 hours regardless even if it was at "Stop"

Isn't Lightoller the one who said the Titanic didn't split in half?
 
Thanks Michael.

Although I don't think there is any reason to doubt the intelligence or sincerity of the granddaughter; the account she relates could well be true from her perspective. However Lightoller himself was not an eyewitness of the collision or on the bridge and his version is told via his wife in later years, so it is very much second-and-third hand information from someone who was not there. I think more importantly, if you read the article I have compiled, there are some simple issues as to why it is an unlikely theory.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Quite bluntly, Louise Patten has no idea what she's on about. The story of the wheel orders has been on my site since 1998. There was no earthly reason for Hichens (note spelling) to be confused.

I recently found some more information on the change to new orders. Believe it or not, it was strongly opposed by some seamen, including Sir Arthur Rostron, who was one of more than 8,500 who signed a petition against change. The new orders passed the British parliament after long debate. A strong speech in favour of change was made by Earl Jellicoe, who thought it was offensive to suggest that British seamen couldn't cope with change.
 
Many thanks Dave, especially for the link to your web page, which is an excellent and comprehensive read on the subject. Could I ask permission to include a link to it on my web page for those who want to investigate further?

Regarding those opposing the change in new orders, including Sir Arthur Rostron, was that during the 1930s (i.e. when it was phased out on British ships in 1933)?
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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The British government tried to set a record for dithering. New helm orders were part of the SOLAS convention of 1929. By 1931 new laws were being drawn up. In June 1932 the petition against them was filed in the House of Commons. After much debate, the law was passed late in 1932, with effect from 1 January 1931. For the first six months the order was preceded by the words "wheel to" in order to prevent mishaps. The new law might not have got up if it hadn't formed part of SOLAS. The whole SOLAS convention had to be accepted or none at all.

I understand the Americans dithered better and changed the law in 1936.

Feel free to link to my site.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Apr 21, 2009
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Murdoch was a very intelligent man and he knew what he was doing and I am not going to challenge what he did, he only had a second to decide what way to go and the way he picked was the right way to go.

The Titanic was going to sink in about 2 hours regardless even if it was at "Stop"

Isn't Lightoller the one who said the Titanic didn't split in half?
Absolutely agree. Murdoch made the best of a very difficult situation and to his credit, almost pulled it off. I do not believe that anyone, most certainly not Lightoller, would have done any better under the circumstances.

Later, as the lifeboats were being loaded, Murdoch showed far more logial thinking and presence of mind in allowing men to board when no women or children were in the immediate vicinity. We may never know just how many men owed their lives to William Murdoch or how many men needlessly died because Lightoller refused to allow them to enter boats even when there was room.
 

Michael Smith

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Jul 15, 2012
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Absolutely agree. Murdoch made the best of a very difficult situation and to his credit, almost pulled it off. I do not believe that anyone, most certainly not Lightoller, would have done any better under the circumstances.

Later, as the lifeboats were being loaded, Murdoch showed far more logial thinking and presence of mind in allowing men to board when no women or children were in the immediate vicinity. We may never know just how many men owed their lives to William Murdoch or how many men needlessly died because Lightoller refused to allow them to enter boats even when there was room.
Now makes me wonder, I think Lightoller took Captain Smith a bit too seriously, he asked Captain Smith if he should load women and children first and the captain said yes.

But Lightoller took it like "ONLY Women and Children", if Lightoller asked Captain Smith "What happens if there are no women and children near the boat and only men?", Captain would of allowed the men to board.

Lightoller was not thinking logically and let many men die for no reason.

Lastly, if Captain Smith was on the bridge before the Titanic hit the iceberg, what would he of done differently to try and prevent to hit the iceberg than what Murdoch did that night?
 

Laura Jay

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Dec 3, 2012
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Exactly so-Smith would have done exactly what Murdoch did. All the officers did their best that night and Smith should have been more specific in his order that Lights put in his mouth. I think Smith was still shell-shocked at what had happened and wasn't really thinking clearly. I don't hold with Lights's granddaughter's allegation-I think she was making it up in order to get her 15 minutes of fame. Lights wouldn't have known anyway like y'all said.
Interesting-Lights could have been discussing this with his wife and she could have misinterpreted what he said-not making it clear what he said was an opinion and not a fact.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think Smith was still shell-shocked at what had happened and wasn't really thinking clearly. <<

Laura, there is no credible evidence that Captain Smith was "shell shocked" and if the testimony offered to both inquiries is any indication, he was a very proactive player on a lot of levels. if you wish to read the body of testimony for yourself, click on TIP | United States Senate Inquiry