James Eldridge

Hi all,

I know this question must intrigue the rest of you as much as it has always intrigued me. If Captain Smith had survived the sinking what would his fate have been? Would he have been villified like Ismay? Would we know more about the tragic command decisions that lead to the collision and the orders he gave or failed to give afterwards? Could he have added anything we don't already know about the tragedy? I'd really like to hear someone else's opinions and what you think his survival would have done to the archive of knowledge that exists today about those last moments.

I'm sure Smith could have added a lot to what was uncovered in the investigations. His exact orders, what he did or restrained himself from doing, what messages he ordered sent beyond that which is known for sure, what steps he took to deal with the crisis and so on.

All that aside, I think it's a safe bet that he would never have commanded a ship again. Some accidents which his command survived are one thing. Having one sink from underneath you with a loss of 1500+ lives is quite another.

Michael H. Standart
In as much as he was retiring anyway-he probably would have discreetly exited stage right and tried to keep a low profile. We know from the Smith letters in Mystic that he was longing to spend more time with his family. He would have been grilled to a faretheewell at both hearings, probably some would NOT have found him a hero at all (death does wonders for elevating people to sainthood). Capt. Turner of the Lusitania probably wished he had gone down with his ship and Capt. Lord got the tar whooped out of him figuratively speaking for what he failed to try to do or didn't do. The Legend of Whistling Smith seen on the docks in Baltimore is one of those myth things- Thinking of Ismay- and his treatment- I think the public would have turned on Smith too.
Personally, I think that there would have been a far deeper investigation for criminal purposes, not political purposes had smith gone to trial here (US). I believe that there would have been a trial type of hearing to find Smith at fault for negligence and a struggle between the UK and the US for hearing rights.

I believe that soem sort of "criminal record" would be conferred on Smith and he would be taken to a jail to serve his sentence. Not because of any crime per se, but merely becuase of the emotions here in the US at the moment in time.

Just my two sents worth.
Well I think he would have been tried but what charge? He was retiring anyway so what else could they do to him take away his birthday?

He would have taken a lot of heat off Ismay had he lived and perhaps Ismay wouldn't have been so badly treated.

Regards all;-)
Didn't the captain of the Empress of Ireland make it out of that situation alive?? What was his fate? I haven't read too much about it, just what I saw on the Discovery Channel. Loss of life was greater in that sinking.
I would imagine the public would view Smith the same way they viewed Captain Turner of the Lusitania. He survived when so many died, but was able to answer questions that otherwise may not have been answered. I think I recall he was chastised a bit for not following protocol when steaming into potentially dangerous waters. BUT, we're also talking a torpedo strike by a German U-boat, not a iceberg collision...
Hey there Bill!

My answer is not based on what I would have done, but what would have been done via the hearings and therefore the court systems here in the US. Nothing to do with the UK or anything. Merely political here. Without him, the US ran the hearings as political, why not with him?

White Star was experiencing a suit. Ismay was taking a lot of heat. And Smith and Lord I believe would have gone into a battle. Not of their own choosing, but it would become the campaign issue for 1912 election. Plus, the battles that we see on this board would become 3-D for all to see when Smith testified to his lights and ship sitings against Lord and Lord made his defense about his attempts being ignored.

You ask on what charge? I believe it would have been "Criminal Negligence" maybe on both men's parts, whether earned or deserved...merely due to the heat of the day and the situation that people wanted...needed a scape goat. And the US Congress can really do a job on that task...digging up a scape goat to blame and the ones blamed destroying the others credibility.

Both Captains would be in prison and half of the Congress would be asked to resign. The only way that this would have been different is if more male passengers had lived, more crew had died and Ismay had died.

Mind you it would not have changed anything else, just the classification of importance or of worth that society placed on some lives and not others.

My own personal opinion is that the UK's hearings were more technical and less political.

Good to see you Bill Desena!
I think what could have worked in Smith's favor was that he was not on the bridge at the time.
If he wanted, he may very well have been given a new command. The captain of the Lusitania did and he was absolutely vilified in the press.
Michael Poirier said: "I think what could have worked in Smith's favor was that he was not on the bridge at the time."

I would have thought that Capt. Smith's not being on the bridge would have finished his career. After all, the officers knew they were going to be up in the ice at around 11-ish. So why wasn't the Captain on the bridge when he KNEW there was potential danger present?

I didn't know that Turner got another command. I suppose the argument used was that Lusitania was sunk by an act of war, and thus Turner's actions had no impact on the disaster. However, as Turner was (like Titanic) knowingly sailing into an area of danger, (without zig-zagging either, I believe), I am still amazed that he got another command. I don't think Smith would have been so "lucky."

Hi Paul, FWIW, I agree with you. Being away from the bridge is never considered an excuse for a captain if his ship comes to greif. And when transiting an area of known danger, like an ice feild, the captain is supposed to be on the bridge. In light of what happened, Smith's career would have been down the tubes either way.

Michael H. Standart
I am going to have to disagree with both of you. There has been many an instance when tragedy struck and a captain resumed sailing on another ship as a captain. You forget one vital aspect. Smith was aware of some ice, but the important message from the
Mesaba never reached the brudge telling of the dangers of the specific area. It is agreed Smith was already taking a southerly route. So he assumed he was out of the general danger zone. Since he didn't receive the important message, he wouldn't have seen the importance of being on the bridge.
Had he been a small time captain, he probably would have ended up in the ship yards. But Smith was at the top his class. WSL and IMM would have been more forgiving. Especially it is pretty sure he wouldn't have left in a lifeboat with people still aboard. At best, he could have survived on a collapsible. So that wouldn't really be a strike against him. Had he lived, I believe the blame would have been shifted onto the officers of the watch.
The question of what would have happened to Smith had he survived was one which interested his contemporaries as well. The New York Herald on 21/04/1912 ran a piece headed Capt. Smith’s Death on Titanic Adds another to the Hero List which — amidst much admiration for his stoic acceptance of death along the lines that George Bernard Shaw was so critical of (lines like ‘he stuck to his post and went down with flying colours’) — referred to the fates of several Masters of vessels involved in maritime accidents. The article is quite enlightening about what contemporary expectations were, at least among the land bound: ‘In many instances captains of vessels that have met with some mishap have committed suicide on the spot, not waiting for the inevitable suspension that was almost certain to follow. Captain Smith had been given more than one chance, his splendid record being instrumental in keeping him in the service of the White Star Line even after the Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic, had been in collision with the Hawke, a British war ship’.

According to the reporter, Americans should feel a ‘thrill of pride’ over the fate of Commander William L Herndon, USN, who stood on the bridge of the steamship Central America of the Pacific Mail Line when she foundered on 18 September 1857 while serving in the mercantile service. Sir George Tryon, Vice Admiral of the British Navy, who died when HMS Victoria went down on 23 June, 1893. The reporter in this instance made no reference to the rather mysterious reasons for the collision that caused the sinking, decisions made by Tryon that had doomed the ship and her men. Instead, the article says that he was ‘on the bridge directing the men under him’ and that ‘A story dear to the heart of the British sailor is that Vice Admiral Tryon saluted the colors just as the swirling waters shut out his form forever’ (and as an OT aside here, what do people here think the reasons were for that particular maritime mishap? Why did Tryon give the orders he did? And the first person who mentions that thoroughly debunked ghost story regarding him will get a clout across the ears).

Captain Louis Deloncle, commander of the Bourgogne, was ‘another hero whose courage will always be remembered’, in contrast with the behaviour of some of the male passengers on board. Captain Von Goessel of the Lloyd line ship Elbe also rates a mention in the ‘going down with the ship heroically’ category, as does Captain JV Gundel of the Norge, Captain Griffith of the Mohegan, the captain of the Berlin, Captain H Brunswig of the Prinzessin Victoria Louise and Captain Giuseppe Paradi. In the case of Captain Brunswig, his suicide is attributed to the following:

‘His employers had every faith in his judgment, and it was almost certain he could have cleared himself, but the dread of suspension and subsequent loneliness were too strong to stay his hand’.

As to the fate of Captains who did survive:

‘Many are the instances in which the commander of a steamship has been retired to private life following a mishap to his vessel, the most recent case being that of Captain Inman Selby , who was in command of the steamship Republic, of the White Star Line, when it was rammed by the steamship Florida, of the Lloyd Italian line, off Nantucket, early on the morning of Saturday, January 23, 1909. The collision occurred during a dense fog. Six lives were lost in the accident…Captain Selby wept bitterly as the lifeboat bore him away from the sinking vessel. It was generally conceded that his seamanship had not been at fault and that he was not to blame for the collision, but he was dismissed from the service of the company. The fact that he is now, at the age of fifty, studying admiralty law in the University of Michigan shows the pluck and determination of the man.’

Also cited was Captain Francis Watkins, ‘one of the most popular commanders’, who lost his certificate after the grounding of his ship The City of Paris although no lives were lost, but ‘in the investigation which followed Captain Watkins assumed entire responsibility for the error of judgment. It was his first mistake, but it finished his career’. Another instance of a surviving Master losing his certification was Captain Le Horn of the steamship China, although in this instance negligence seems to have been proven (the vessel ran aground in 1897. According to the article, Le Horn apparently was helping a passenger celebrate her birthday and ignored several written notes from one of his officers warning him of the danger).

Had Smith lived, I believe he would have had the support of the White Star Line counsel, just as the surviving officers did. To abandon him to the inquiries was to admit that he had been negligent, and it was criminal negligence which Senator Smith was anxious to demonstrate in order to enable legal action to be taken against the White Star line. E J Smith, and the individual officers, were small fry — it was IMM and J P Morgan he was after. But in order to ‘get’ them, it had to be demonstrated that the Company’s agents (i.e. the Titanic’s officers) had been criminally negligent, and therefore liable to prosecution. Senator Smith investigated the possibilities of negligence anyway with WSL employees and with the surviving officers, but discovered that there were insufficient grounds to pursue them legally. As Wyn C Wade puts it, ‘Although his inquiry had produced a remarkably accurate and complete portrait of the epic disaster, it had not succeeded in satisfying the basic provisions of the Harter Act. As far as the Senator was concerned, he had failed in his most tangible goal. The House of Morgan could not be held responsible, and Americans suffering losses in the disaster would be unable to collect from International Mercantile Marine’. It is interesting to note that legal action against the WSL met with more success in England, in the case of Ryan v. Oceanic Steamship Navigation Company. I doubt, though, that EJ Smith would have been put on trial — he would have been dragged through the Senate Inquiry the same as the surviving officers, and would have been called as a witness in actions against the White Star Line (as Lightoller was) but at the end of the day the legal grounds would have been insufficient, as Senator Smith found at his inquiry. He might have been censured, but I doubt he would have been tried.

As for his subsequent career, I doubt very much that he would have been given another command (even if he had sought one, and I think it unlikely that he would have). The best he could have hoped for was to shuffled off quietly to pasture, under a cloud.

I would have to say, odds are he may not have wanted a command. But it seems the shipping lines were becoming more forgiving around that time. If you look at the other two ships that are part of the maritime big three-
The Lusitania's captain went on to command another ship.
And The captains of the Empress of Ireland and the Storstad were also given their own commands as well after the disaster.
The Empress disaster is similar to the Republic disaster ( except with a heavy loss of life )
and yet it didn't harm the Kendall or Anderson.
Sealby was not exactly young when the Republic sank and I think he didn't want another command.
The article quotes him weeping bitterly in a lifeboat as the ship was sinking. He actually went down with the ship, floated on a bit of wreckage until he was able to swim to a lifeboat.
G'Day Mike, as always, Inger has covered the main points with her incredibly diligent research and knowing the trade as I do, I think her conclusion is the correct one. Smith did have some accidents and he recovered from them well enough, but with the Titanic, 1500+ people lost their lives while traveling on a ship under his command. If his ship had been shot out from underneath him, that would have been a very different matter, but it wasn't. It was a peacetime accident which Smith and Co. had none but themselves to look to for.

Careers don't survive things like that. Not even today.(Especially not today) Which fact I have first hand knowladge of.

The Titanic sank as a result of very human error which, as the master, Smith was directly responsible for. His not being on the bridge and not even seeing all of the ice warnings in no way releived him of the burden of that responsibility and he knew it.

Michael H. Standart