Was Murdoch drunk at the wheel?


Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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It's evident from comments made also at the time by some of the surviving passengers that the term 'quartermaster' was often thought to indicate rank rather than particular duties. The term had no more significance than the special designation of some seamen as lookouts or lamp trimmers. These men again had particular responsibilities but no advantage of rank - all were experienced seamen, but with no authority over others and all drew the same pay as any other AB (except for a small extra payment for lookout duties). This misunderstanding might have been due to a confusion with the role of army quartermasters, who were always commissioned officers or sergeants and had very different responsibilities which included authority over men of lesser rank. It would have been wrong to expect a ship's quartermaster to have training or qualities of leadership, and Major Peuchen I think was one of those (perhaps because of his own military experience) who did have such expectations of Hichens, and thus his comment that he didn't think Hichens was 'qualified' to be a QM. In which case, that would have been an unfair judgement.
 

Sally@Hichens

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Apr 30, 2010
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Hello Bob and Jim

Thank you for your post on the role of quartermaster. I read that Foley and Weller were quartermasters on the way down from Belfast and changed to storekeeper and AB for the New York trip. Rowe was a lookout and became quartermaster. I wonder though if the quartermasters chosen for the New York trip had to be dedicated quartermasters for this important voyage. When I researched I found evidence to suggest that Hichens was proud of his rank. Who knows how his career might have progressed if the outcome of this voyage had been different. In the Southampton crew particulars there looks like a certificate number next to Hichen' entry. Can anyone tell me what this might be? I can find no record of him serving again as quartermaster. He was leading seaman barracked at Portsmouth in World War I with a service record described as good. His highest rank was third officer (records show from kew) on the English Trader in 1940 during the battle of the Atlantic. I don't think that meant much to him as his shipmates wrote that he had wished he could join his wife who had died.
 
Some new information has been added to the website page discussing the allegation that Murdoch was drunk while officer of the watch during the collision: Was Murdoch Drunk at the Wheel? | William Murdoch

Notably: A history of drinking in the Murdoch family (two family members who died due to drinking while at sea); the testimony of Charles H. Morgan, the Deputy United States Marshal from Cleveland, Ohio regarding Klein's disappearance; and a more structured and easily accessible list of reasons as to why the theory that Murdoch was drunk simply does not hold water.

What is also most noticably absent is any supporting evidence from Sally Nilsson to support her serious allegations.
 

Sally@Hichens

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Apr 30, 2010
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Near Dorking, Surrey, England
Rest assured Dan that I have in no way forgotten your request for new information. I am doing my best however time differences in New York make it hard for me to do some important research as I work full time and have no holidays left. Be patient please. I will add what I can as soon as I can.

Thanks

Sally
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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Hello Sally,

Just saw your last question about a number. How many digits has it?
Normally, in documentation relative to an individual, two numbers are included.. his Discharge Book number and Articles of Agreement number. If it is a number between 1 and 920, it is probably his crew agreement number. If it has 5 to 7 digits, it is probably his Discharge Book number. Prefix letters were not added until well after 1920.

JIm C.

Jim C.
 
I am very pleased to say there has been an exciting update in this discussion, as author Senan Molony has uncovered new evidence that reveals that Robert Hichens was not in Cape Town in 1914. So no 'paid off' Harbourmaster theory and certainly no unnecessary and illogical drunk Murdoch in charge theories.

Read the full article along with photographs and documentation here: Why Hichens Was Not in Cape Town in 1914 | William Murdoch
 
H

hichensgrgrandaughter

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Sorry Dan but I disagree. I think Senan could have been looking in the wrong place and Hichens was in South Africa according to Edith Haisman's recollections to her daughter. Dorothy Kendal's father was good friends with Hichens in Johannesburg at the Weba Pan Sailing Club. The date I used in the book might be slightly off. I believe it should have been between mid 1912 and early 1914.
 

Matteo Eyre

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Feb 7, 2013
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My only criticism of this post is the fact that i cannot see it possible that a first officer could lower the baots he did if he was intoxicated and if he did i am sure it would have been commented on by the people in the boats that he had lowered
 

Matteo Eyre

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Feb 7, 2013
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i don't believe it possible that a man like Murdoch would be drunk at the wheel and i don't believe it possible that he could have lowered the boats he did whilst being intoxicated and it would have at least been notice by more crew members and passengers :)
 
Sorry Dan but I disagree. I think Senan could have been looking in the wrong place and Hichens was in South Africa according to Edith Haisman's recollections to her daughter. Dorothy Kendal's father was good friends with Hichens in Johannesburg at the Weba Pan Sailing Club. The date I used in the book might be slightly off. I believe it should have been between mid 1912 and early 1914.
Sally -How could Senan be looking in the "wrong place"? He went into the Cape Town Harbourmaster office! And you know very well that other evidence does not support this -the 1933 and 1935 non-English newspaper accounts that Hichens gave at a time in his life when had nothing to lose mention nothing about being a harbourmaster and nothing about asleep and/or drunk officers during the collision... and you cannot say he wanted to keep it a secret till his death as clearly he had told Henry Blum if the Garvey letter is to be believed!

Senan also knows about the Haisman recollections... but this is hardly evidence to validate the absurd claims in the Garvey letter and I think you know that. He has asked whether you ever attempted to even contact the Cape Town harbourmaster -even by email- while researching your book. Which is a valid question you have yet to answer. You cannot criticise his extensive research if you haven't even done some basic homework.

Sally I don't have anything personally against you, and actively defend your right to set the record straight regarding the life of Robert Hichens. Neither do I believe that the Titanic's officers were perfect; they are all partly responsible for the disaster. However, that does not give you license to write a commercial book in which you actively attempt to destroy the reputation of a highly respected officer with an impeccable track record with nothing more than spurious, defamatory gossip based on unfounded rumour that when analysed with even simple logic or compared to the large volume of eye witness testimony and evidence simply falls apart.
 
i don't believe it possible that a man like Murdoch would be drunk at the wheel and i don't believe it possible that he could have lowered the boats he did whilst being intoxicated and it would have at least been notice by more crew members and passengers :)
Hi Matteo

Yes you are completely right. He was standing at the watertight doors switch and then explaining what had happened to Captain Smith moments after the collision. However Sally Nilsson would have us believe that Hichens could not wake him by shouting in his ear due to the fact that he was fast asleep from drinking along with other members of the crew. She would also have us believe that although he was actively involved in the lowering of the lifeboats (saving at least 60% of survivors from my calculations) this was because the drink had 'worn off'. Of course these aren't all the illogical and unreasonable elements to her drunk officers theory -there are at least 12 listed here:

Was Murdoch Drunk at the Wheel? | William Murdoch

It's a shame as Sally could have done a lot of good by focusing on the life of Robert Hichens in her book, instead of callously and unfairly attempting to ruin the reputation of another victim of the disaster, as if that will somehow rebalance the sad life that Hichens ended up living.