Was Murdoch drunk at the wheel?


Bob Godfrey

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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.
 
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.
 
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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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.
 
Hello Jim

Here is the certification or document number against Robert Hichens' entry. Do you know what it represents please?

scan106.jpg
 
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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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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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.
 

James B

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I will defend Mordoch since he cant defend himself, the iceberg was sited around 400 meters infront of the vessel due to lack of binoculars and hallow which was mistaken for haze, Titanics advance was 836.67600 meters!!! Mordochs action prevented the ship from aworse damage that could have sent her stright to to the bottom and with atotal loss of life.

He was not drunk, he was not to blame, he was avictim.

Poor guy, what sad feelings went in his head in his last final moments.

Rest in peace mate.
 

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Seumas

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I will defend Mordoch since he cant defend himself, the iceberg was sited around 400 meters infront of the vessel due to lack of binoculars and hallow which was mistaken for haze, Titanics advance was 836.67600 meters!!! Mordochs action prevented the ship from aworse damage that could have sent her stright to to the bottom and with atotal loss of life.

He was not drunk, he was not to blame, he was avictim.

Poor guy, what sad feelings went in his head in his last final moments.

Rest in peace mate.
It's Murdoch (a very old Scottish name) not "Mordoch".

The whole thing about the "lack of binoculars" is one of the biggest and most annoying myths of the Titanic disaster. Binoculars would have made no difference.

Look up Michael H. Standart (ex USN) and Jim Currie's (ex UK Merchant Navy) posts on the subject. They explain in easy to understand but also powerful terms why binoculars would actually have been a hinderance to Fleet and Lee rather than an aid.

I fully agree with you that Murdoch certainly was not to blame. He did exactly what any other mariner would have done in the circumstance.

Whilst we are on the subject I thought Ken Marschall's blaming the collision on Murdoch in the "Death of a Dream" documentary was extremely unfair and completely at odds with the facts.

I also agree with you that Murdoch together with his subordinate James Moody, both emerge from the disaster in which they both lost their lives as two fine human beings who worked hard to get boats away, showed common sense and compassion by allowing men into the boats, led by example the crewmen under their command and kept discipline. Murdoch and Moody also showed great personal courage toward the end when they must have realised it was highly unlikely they'd get out of it alive but kept at it.
 
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James B

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It's Murdoch (a very old Scottish name) not "Mordoch".

The whole thing about the "lack of binoculars" is one of the biggest and most annoying myths of the Titanic disaster. Binoculars would have made no difference.

Look up Michael H. Standart (ex USN) and Jim Currie's (ex UK Merchant Navy) posts on the subject. They explain in easy to understand but also powerful terms why binoculars would actually have been a hinderance to Fleet and Lee rather than an aid.

I fully agree with you that Murdoch certainly was not to blame. He did exactly what any other mariner would have done in the circumstance.

Whilst we are on the subject I thought Ken Marschall's blaming the collision on Murdoch in the "Death of a Dream" documentary was extremely unfair and completely at odds with the facts.

I also agree with you that Murdoch together with his subordinate James Moody, both emerge from the disaster in which they both lost their lives as two fine human beings who worked hard to get boats away, showed common sense and compassion by allowing men into the boats, led by example the crewmen under their command and kept discipline. Murdoch and Moody also showed great personal courage toward the end when they must have realised it was highly unlikely they'd get out of it alive but kept at it.
Binoculars would have made no difference? I dont agree with that statement, its an important tool of the watch keepers even today. Its hard to understand how come they sailed with out them.

Lots of questions were left without answers but one thing is for sure, there was alot of cover up and white wash after the sinking that confused every one and that I can accept but to accuse Murdoch that he was drunk on his watch is another fantasy story which was made in order to sell another Titanic book.
 

Cam Houseman

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It's Murdoch (a very old Scottish name) not "Mordoch".

The whole thing about the "lack of binoculars" is one of the biggest and most annoying myths of the Titanic disaster. Binoculars would have made no difference.

Look up Michael H. Standart (ex USN) and Jim Currie's (ex UK Merchant Navy) posts on the subject. They explain in easy to understand but also powerful terms why binoculars would actually have been a hinderance to Fleet and Lee rather than an aid.

I fully agree with you that Murdoch certainly was not to blame. He did exactly what any other mariner would have done in the circumstance.

Whilst we are on the subject I thought Ken Marschall's blaming the collision on Murdoch in the "Death of a Dream" documentary was extremely unfair and completely at odds with the facts.

I also agree with you that Murdoch together with his subordinate James Moody, both emerge from the disaster in which they both lost their lives as two fine human beings who worked hard to get boats away, showed common sense and compassion by allowing men into the boats, led by example the crewmen under their command and kept discipline. Murdoch and Moody also showed great personal courage toward the end when they must have realised it was highly unlikely they'd get out of it alive but kept at it.
Of Murdoch wasn't drunk

I'd even say Hichens wasn't completely at fault. Or Lightoller

What if, Hichens acted the way he did because he felt responsible that Titanic hit the iceberg? You know, classic "my fault" to why something happened and how he should've done something differently. So he took out his guilt, shame, and anger out of Lifeboat 6, and it didn't help that Molly Brown contested his authority. (although I'd say his true failing point was telling the occupants of Boat 6 the Carpathia was only there to pick up the bodies, of course she would pick up the survivors, either way)

It wasn't completely Lightoller's fault either, he misunderstand the orders given by Captain Smith. Who knows, maybe he was conflicted, but he wanted to do his job to the letter. I wouldn't say Lightoller's "Panic" costed any lives either, he didn't panic.

Anyhow, just pure conjecture :)
 

Seumas

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What if, Hichens acted the way he did because he felt responsible that Titanic hit the iceberg? You know, classic "my fault" to why something happened and how he should've done something differently. So he took out his guilt, shame, and anger out of Lifeboat 6, and it didn't help that Molly Brown contested his authority. (although I'd say his true failing point was telling the occupants of Boat 6 the Carpathia was only there to pick up the bodies, of course she would pick up the survivors, either way)
So he took out his guilt, shame, and anger out of Lifeboat 6

Bob Hichens definitely went through an emotional whirlwind on the night of April 14/15 1912 but there isn't any evidence that he felt guilty about what happened. Indeed, why should he ? His job was to take orders, not to give them and the orders he received from Murdoch were perfectly sensible ones.

His troubles both with the law and his mental health during the twenties and thirties were to do with his chaotic personal circumstances rather than any memories of the Titanic.

I'm really sympathetic to Bob Hichens. This man got a raw deal from many books and films which depict him as the two dimensional, evil, cowardly, Limey sailor who is put in his place by the swaggering, down to earth Mrs Brown. Nonsense. The truth is quite different.

Remember this too, Hichens died in 1940. This bloke never got to tell Walter Lord his side of the story.

I invite you to look at QM Hichens and the drama aboard Boat No. Six from a different angle:
  • Hichens was way out of his depth and not cut out for command of a lifeboat. The opposite would be someone like calm, stoic, pipe smoking QM Perkis in command of Boat No. Four.
  • He clearly had no what we would today call "people skills". He didn't know the correct thing to say or the correct time to say it. When he did speak he said the the wrong things. Another thing to keep in mind is that Hichens was a working class man using the salty language of the seamen's mess amongst some very rich, high and mighty ladies - consequently there is going to be misunderstanding and friction.
  • The man was obviously in shock or in some kind of mild panic. Seeing the ship getting lower and lower and the water and the lights dimmer and dimmer increasingly makes it worse. After the ship sinks he is then left wondering just when the heck help is going to arrive, which brings me back to the first point, he was out of his depth.
  • The real troublemaker aboard Boat No. Six wasn't QM Hichens or Mrs Brown. It was Major Peuchen. An army officer, yachtsman, upper class gentleman. Peuchen was itching to take command of the boat and fizzing at having to take orders from someone like Hichens whom he clearly saw as beneath him. Having Peuchen needling him all night is going to push an already stressed out, shocked Hichens into verbally retaliating. I'd probably have done the same thing myself.
it didn't help that Molly Brown contested his authority

The whole Margaret ("Molly" is a Hollywood invention, ignore it) Brown putting QM Hichens in his place and taking command of the boat is just another myth. It is kept going by films and her present day descendants the latter of whom are quite active in keeping up this myth.

I think it was Jim Kalafus a year or two back in a facebook post brilliantly challenged it's entire basis.
  • Firstly, why did nobody from No. Six report this one woman successful "mutiny" ? They were also tied up next to Boat No. Sixteen for part of the night. Nobody aboard No. Sixteen recalled any such "mutiny" either.
  • Secondly, why on earth do we just blindly take Mrs Brown's word for it that this happened ? Why do we ignore all the others who reported no such thing ?
  • The answer: it never happened, Mrs Brown was an unashamed self promoter who simply made the whole thing up.
One question I would love to ask Mrs Brown's present day descendants - who perpetuate this falsehood - is this: If Mrs Brown (who was supposedly outraged at Hichens not going back for people in the water) "took command" of the boat as they would have us believe - why didn't they go back for people in the water ? They are curiously silent about that part. Why ? Easy, it never happened.

Bob Hichens is one of the most misunderstood survivors and he doesn't deserve the character assassination that he has been subjected to for decades.
 
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James B

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Of Murdoch wasn't drunk

I'd even say Hichens wasn't completely at fault. Or Lightoller

What if, Hichens acted the way he did because he felt responsible that Titanic hit the iceberg? You know, classic "my fault" to why something happened and how he should've done something differently. So he took out his guilt, shame, and anger out of Lifeboat 6, and it didn't help that Molly Brown contested his authority. (although I'd say his true failing point was telling the occupants of Boat 6 the Carpathia was only there to pick up the bodies, of course she would pick up the survivors, either way)

It wasn't completely Lightoller's fault either, he misunderstand the orders given by Captain Smith. Who knows, maybe he was conflicted, but he wanted to do his job to the letter. I wouldn't say Lightoller's "Panic" costed any lives either, he didn't panic.

Anyhow, just pure conjecture :)
As per his words I understood that Charles didnt understand or wasnt sure if the Titanic would sink, his main concern was not to panic the passangers at first till he saw the bow starting to go in the water and then he just wanted to lunch all the boats, fearing he might not have enough time to do it, mybe thinking about saving the passangers from the water because he feared the load will be too much for the davits, hard to say what went his mind, hard to judge too. In one case one of the officers was ordered by Captain Smith to go to the other side of the ship and collect the passangers, when he got their and saw the mass of people he was afraid for his life and stayed away much like the other not full life boats so the dark truth was some people had to die that night because there were not enough boats and those who were safe made sure they will stay that way.
 

Arun Vajpey

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In the first place, this whole nonsense that Murdoch or any other officer was drunk is something that arose in someone's addled brain and now probably occupies pride of place is certain worthless blogs. All concerned would have been completely sober and those on duty 100% alert. It was just that certain events are beyond any human capability of controlling them and Titanic's encounter with the iceberg was one such.

Incidentally, Murdoch was not "at the wheel". QM Hichens was.

I fully agree with you that Murdoch certainly was not to blame. He did exactly what any other mariner would have done in the circumstance.
Yes, and despite the odds against him, Murdoch almost pulled off a miracle. No one else, either on board the Titanic or anywhere else could have done better.

I also agree with you that Murdoch together with his subordinate James Moody, both emerge from the disaster in which they both lost their lives as two fine human beings who worked hard to get boats away, showed common sense and compassion by allowing men into the boats, led by example the crewmen under their command and kept discipline. Murdoch and Moody also showed great personal courage toward the end when they must have realised it was highly unlikely they'd get out of it alive but kept at it.
That is an excellent analysis of the two men. Murdoch and Moody maintained their composure throughout and did their best. This includes during the launch of Collapsible C, where it is more likely that Chief Purser McElroy and not Murdoch who fired two shots into the air to hold off the surging crowd. As an inquisitive young First Class passenger, Jack Thayer would have been very familiar with the Chief Purser and Thayer clearly stated that it was McElroy who fired those shots. Furthermore, my own research in the past about scullion John Collins strongly suggested that Murdoch was one of several people knocked overboard when the 'wave' caused by the Titanic's sudden downward lurch at about 02:16 am; I have no information about Moody's fate but considering he was right there in the melee associated with the attempted launching of Collapsible A, it is likely that the Sixth Officer met a similar end.

The whole thing about the "lack of binoculars" is one of the biggest and most annoying myths of the Titanic disaster. Binoculars would have made no difference.
I didn't want to discuss this here Seumas, but this is one topic where I am not convinced by the view of the "experts". The way I look at this binoculars issue, it depends on what one expects from the lookouts about the correct use of the device. I believe that BOTH lookouts would and should keep scanning the sea and horizon ahead of them with naked eyes at all time. The binoculars are there for standby use if one of the lookouts spots something in the horizon but is unable to immediately identify it for what it is or isn't. In other words, the lookout(s) spot the object with their naked eyes and then one of them uses the binoculars to try and identify it.

There is an old thread about the 'haze' that Fleet saw or thought he saw just before actually seeing the object ahead that caused him to ring the 3 bells. Although it has never been clearly discussed from that angle, I believe that a short interval, perhaps 25 to 30 seconds, passed between Fleet seeing something in the horizon and him deciding that it was a solid object and ringing the bell. We cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that if Fleet had binoculars, he might have used it (after first seeing it with naked eyes) to identify it as a solid object and so rang the bell about 15 seconds earlier than he actually did. We do not know for certain that those 15 seconds could have made a difference, but there remains the possibility that it might have done.
PS: If you feel inclined to comment on this, please rekindle one the older related threads specific to binoculars. Otherwise, we might experience the wrath of the mods ;)


  • Hichens was way out of his depth and not cut out for command of a lifeboat. The opposite would be someone like calm, stoic, pipe smoking QM Perkis in command of Boat No. Four.
  • He clearly had no what we would today call "people skills". He didn't know the correct thing to say or the correct time to say it. When he did speak he said the the wrong things. Another thing to keep in mind is that Hichens was a working class man using the salty language of the seamen's mess amongst some very rich, high and mighty ladies - consequently there is going to be misunderstanding and friction.
100% agree. An excellent analysis of the position that Hichens would have found himself, especially in the presence of the likes of Molly Brown and Major Peuchen.

The real troublemaker aboard Boat No. Six wasn't QM Hichens or Mrs Brown. It was Major Peuchen. An army officer, yachtsman, upper class gentleman. Peuchen was itching to take command of the boat and fizzing at having to take orders from someone like Hichens whom he clearly saw as beneath him. Having Peuchen needling him all night is going to push an already stressed out, shocked Hichens into verbally retaliating. I'd probably have done the same thing myself.
That is interesting. While I have read a lot of things about Mrs Brown on board Lifeboat #6 (including nonsense about threatening to throw Hichens overboard or brandishing a pistol), I have not looked at much about Major Peuchen after the boat was lowered. I would be grateful if you could post a couple of survivor accounts about Peuchen in Lifeboat #6. You could be right.
 
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Thomas Krom

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This includes during the launch of Collapsible C, where it is more likely that Chief Purser McElroy and not Murdoch who fired two shots into the air to hold off the surging crowd. As an inquisitive young First Class passenger, Jack Thayer would have been very familiar with the Chief Purser and Thayer clearly stated that it was McElroy who fired those shots.
One thing is quite interesting about John “Jack” Borland Thayer III his account of McElroy firing off his gun. He mentioned the following information about it in his 1912 account:

“Purser H. W McElroy, as brave and as fine man as ever lived, was standing up in the next to last lifeboat, loading it. Two men, I think they were dining-room stewards, dropped into the boat from the deck above. As they jumped he fired twice into the air. I do not believe they were hit, but they were quickly thrown out. McElroy did not take a boat and was not saved. I should say that all this took place on “A deck”, just under the boat deck.”
 
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