Was Titanic really going to be Smith's last trip?

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monica e. hall

Member
I think, that in those days, Smith would not have necessarily been considered close to retirement age. He wasn't quite 60, and age and experience meant rather more then than it does now. Consider the amount of shipping around then. There was ample opportunity for an ambitious man to become skipper of a small ship and work his way up, but it would take time. Prestigious captaincies would be expected to go to venerable seamen, surely. Maybe, if he was making the odd remarks about retiring, it was because he wasn't sure he wanted to wait for the Britannic, which was a couple of years away. Maybe he made noises about considering retirement to please his wife in company - who knows? The unfortunate Capt. Haddock doesn't seem to have been a Smith-in-Waiting, from WSL's viewpoint, so I think it very likely they would have wanted him to continue, and that he would have responded to such pressure. It's always good to be wanted.
 
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Bob Godfrey

Member
EJ was sensitive enough about his age to knock a few years off when he signed on as 59. He was actually 62, and if I remember right the oldest member of the crew apart from Doc McLaughlin who was the same age.
 
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monica e. hall

Member
One day, Bob Godfrey, I shall come up with a fact you don't know!
"And still they gazed,
And still the wonder grew,
That one small head
Could carry all he knew..."
So then, lying about one's age has a distinguished history. Haven't actually got around to it myself, yet, but it's probably only a matter of time. Of course, if you survive long enough, it eventually becomes a matter for boasting.... but I'd rather not think about that at the moment. But when did he falsify the age - did he do it some years previously in anticipation of the spectre of retirement (which would suggest he certainly didn't want to retire) or did he do it just before Titanic sailed, in which case it shouldn't have fooled anyone - they'd known him for years.
 
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Bob Godfrey

Member
It's noticeable from the crew sheets that the very young ones often added a few years but eventually they reach the point where they change direction and start putting the clock back. Never figured out what the happy mean was! Maybe EJ was just trying to impress himself. Which reminds me for some reason of a tombstone once observed by Spike Milligan, on which was carved the immortal words 'Not dead, only sleeping'. Underneath, in chalk, somebody had added 'You aint kidding no-one but yourself!'

Bob (35 and a bit)(quite a bit)
 
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181218

Guest
Was this because Smith wanted to continue working longer ? I can't see Smith being vain about his age. What a funny thing for a man like him to lie about - surly there is a better reason than vanity ? Ships had only just reached to such huge sizes so maybe he wanted to stay longer, rather just one year overall - starting with Olympic first and then end with Titanic ! I don't know what life expectancy was in those days and how it related to retirement age. How very odd for a man like him ! What was the reason ? Maybe your right and sea men did lie about there age. I can understand somone whom is to young and wanting to go to sea hence they lie and say they are 18 - bit like young men who were 16 and wanted to sign up to fight in WW1. But I can't understand Smith taking a couple of years off ! I'd love to know the reason ? Maybe this whole thing is a misunderstanding. Remember 92 years has gone by and we might not have the complete picture.
 
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181218

Guest
I don't think we can really know why he took 2 years off. We can only guess.... Saying it was because he was sensitive is pure speculation surly ?
Happy
 
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Mark Baber

Staff member
Moderator
Member
1. As to Monica's statement that Smith would not have necessarily been considered close to retirement age, I recently tracked down some articles from The New York Times to the effect that 60 was, in fact, the mandatory retirement age in the 1929-30 time frame; take at look at this thread. Those articles, though, make it clear that retirement was mandatory by the end of the year in which the 60th birthday occurred. An April retirement would have been out of the ordinary. I'm trying to track down anything out there as to other retirements in the 1911-1912 time frame; if/when I find anything, I'll post it here.

2. As to Dave Gittins' statement that Mark Baber discovered another denial of the story and it's somewhere on this forum, the 1911 article I turned up appears here, but it's an unattributed report of Smith's supposed impending retirement, not a denial by White Star. There's also an earlier, 1910, article about JBI naming Smith as Titanic's probable commander and Herbert Haddock as Olympic's, which is discussed here. More recently, though, I located a 12 May 1912 article from The New York Times, reporting on Cedric's arrival in New York the day before; it included the following: The Cedric this voyage is commanded by Capt. J. O. Carter, in place of Capt. Harry Smith, who was transferred to the Oceanic. Capt. Smith was to have succeeded Capt. E. J. Smith on the Titanic after her first voyage. Thus, the news report evidence on this issue, at least from New York, remains inconclusive.
 
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monica e. hall

Member
Not that it necessarily applied to WSL employees, the Pensions Act in the UK came into force in 1909 (the nearest I can get) and affected those of 70 and over. But it does indicate that people of 60 odd years (whether fibbing or not) were not necessarily considered past it.
Possibly, for economic reasons, labourers were encouraged to continue for as long as possible. And maybe prestigious captains of liners might fall into a similar category, though for different reasons - especially if they were affable "hotel managers" (as was one actual requirement for the Olympic class vessels' masters) to boot, with a considerable following of devoted passengers (ref L. Lord TNLO)

I doubt if EJ would have been forced to retire at all, had he not wanted to, before he was 65. And I'm not convinced he did want to retire. From his (to some) complacent remarks about the immunity of 'modern' vessels to disaster, it would seem he thought his job was one he could continue to do without undue stress. To me, it seems very unikely that a commercial asset (as EJ was, with his affability and following among passengers) would have been required to retire in an age when pragmatism ruled over other considerations.
 
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Mark Baber

Staff member
Moderator
Member
Oops! I have something backwards in my last post here. The 1910 article quotes JBI as saying that Smith would get Olympic and Haddock would get Titanic, not the other way around.
 
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Robert T. Paige

Member
Was Captain Smith to have been in command of the Titanic on the return voyage from New York ? (If the Titanic had reached New York , of course.)

Or was his retirement to have begun on arrival in New York ?

If so, was he return on the Titanic or another ship as a passenger ?
 
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Mark Baber

Staff member
Moderator
Member
Hello, Robert---

Your question now resides with an earlier discussion of whether Titanic's MV was, in fact, to have been Smith's swan song. As you can see, it's far from clear that it was.

In any event, to change commanders for the return leg of a roundtrip, except in case of medical emergency, would be an unheard of event. Notwithstanding the comments George Behe mentioned above, Smith no doubt would have commanded Titanic on the return, even if he was about to retire.
 
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Robert T. Paige

Member
Hello Mark-

Thanks for the prompt reply. No doubt I should have read through the previous threads more thoroughly and would have found the answer to my question in the first place !
 
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David Haisman

Guest
re Captain Smith's retirement,

Whilst in conversation with my grand parents and 15 year old mother on the 2nd Class Prom Deck, Capt Smith mentions looking forward to having more time at then end of that voyage to take his dog for walks on Southampton Common.
For information only.
 
Donald J A Smith

Donald J A Smith

Member
Mark's comment accords perfectly well with the very special memories David has so kindly shared with us. May Captain Smith have been called briefly out of retirement to command 'Gigantic' on her own MV - on the 20th anniversary of his command of 'Britannic'? May his command of the last of the 'Olympics' have been an understanding that was honoured posthumously by its change of name? And belief he had said "Be British"?
 
Shelley Dziedzic

Shelley Dziedzic

Member
Seems odd he never mentioned retiring to his nephew Frank Hancock in this letter now preserved at Mystic Seaport. I believe, given the close nature of these two men, he would have mentioned the fact that Titanic would be his last command. Here is the letter.

 
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