Where was Captain Smith at the time of collision?

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Anthony Liveri

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Is there any documented evidence that Captain Smith was asleep at the time of the collision? Over the years, virtually every book I have read on the disaster has treated this assumption as a fact. I have always had a hard time accepting this, because Boxhall testified that at the time of the collision he was heading toward the bridge, and was just abreast of the Captain's quarters on the starboard side. The impact was so slight, he didn't even pause in his approach to the bridge, yet when he arrived on the bridge, Smith was already there, questioning the First Officer as to what happened, and whether he had sounded the warning bells and closed the watertight doors. Boxhall also stated he saw Murdoch close the watertight doors. This, as well as my own three years of standing bridge watch at sea has led me to doubt the assumption that Smith was asleep in his bunk. My own experiences have taught me that the Captain was probably using the free time he had to catch up on paperwork-such as filling out requisition orders and the like-that needed to be completed before they arrived in New York. This would have been especially true if Titanic was going to berth a day earlier than originally planned. It may very well have been hearing the warning of the three bells, and not being jolted out of his bunk by the actual collision, that set him racing to the bridge, getting him there before the Fourth Officer. This of course is also speculation, but every bit as plausable as the assumption that he was asleep. This is why I ask if there is any documented evidence that he was asleep?
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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No evidence from credible sources shows he was asleep. As you say, he probably heard the three bells. I would add the engineroom telegraph, which was rarely used at sea. That would have really got him moving.

The tale of him being asleep is typical of the stories spread by various big mouths after the disaster. The contemporary press and the $1 book sellers included any sensational rubbish they liked and attributed it to members of the crew or to passengers. In many cases a quick search of Encyclopedia Titanica will show that these alleged witnesses were not on the ship.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Some new developments regarding the "crash stop" have revived this string. Let me throw out a hypothesis out for debate. (Or, is it throw fresh meat to the sharks?)

In my book I postulate that it took over a minute from when Fleet banged the bell to the actual impact with the ice. I extended the traditional 37 seconds after some deliberate thought about what events had to happen between crow's nest warning and impact. Most critical in my mind was getting Titanic's bow rotated enough to starboard to both "port around" the berg and as a partial solution as to why the ship was pointing north after the accident. I don't think the accident could have happened as it did unless the bow was actually swinging to its right.


With more time between warning and impact, I now realize we have raised the question of Captain Smith's whereabouts. He could have been in quarters. Logical on most nights, but not this one. His appearance on the bridge at @ 8:55 p.m. ...and his conversation with Lightoller ... indicates he was aware that his ship was entering an area filled with ice. This supposition is borne out by the ice messages which we know tht he did receive, including the one from Baltic. From Boxhall's testimony we know that Smith stayed on the bridge in the chart room until about 10:30 pm. Boxhall says the captain went into his personal chartroom after that time. Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, I can't imagine he was snoozing on his couch. Smith must have heard the commotion of the alarm and the unusual "hard aport" helm order for the middle of the ocean. Don't know about other captains, but that would have gotten my attention and I would have been on a dead run for the bridge. Smith must have done the same.

Two men were needed to operate both the regular engine room telegraph and the emergency telegraph simultaneously. The instruments were too far apart for one person to operate at the same time. And, simultaneous operation of the telegraphs is what appears to have happened that night.

By his own admission, Boxhall was not one of those men. Nor was Moody, who probably remained on the telephone to relay additional information from the lookouts. Olliver was still walking to the bridge and Hitchens was at the wheel. The only other man available to operate the second telegraph was Captain Smith.

With the captain on the bridge, Murdoch would have felt free to enter the blind wheelhouse to operate the watertight door switch. In fact, he may have been ordered to do so by Smith. Since Olliver saw Murdoch oprerate the switch, it seems true. Until now, I have never been able to understand why Murdoch would have left the open bridge...where he should have been standing to observe the movement of his ship during a critical maneuver...and gone into a closed wheelhouse. But, if the captain is on the bridge, he is free to do so. He may even have been ordered by Captain Smith to close the watertight doors.

Note--If Murdoch was alone, he did not have to leave the bridge to have the watertight doors closed. He could have shouted an order to Moody, which may have accomplished the task faster than he actually did it himself.

A while ago we learned how sick Boxhall was after the sinking. His error in the ship's final position may also be proof of the state of his health. He was probably coming ill during that watch, so his testimony has to be viewed with some question. If the above supposition is true, it wasn't the captain he saw coming out of the wheelhouse, it was Murdoch. A slightly woozy Boxhall may have misheard what the two men said, and we have the "crash stop" myth.

And, you thought I'd forgotten all about that little detail.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Dave,

Another little detail, which I just thought of; otherwise, I would have brought it up the other night:

<FONT COLOR="0000FF">1025. Tell us what you heard in the way of command? - Just about a minute, I suppose, after the collision, the Captain rushed out of his room and asked Mr. Murdoch what was that, and he said, "An iceberg, Sir," and he said, "Close the watertight door."

The Commissioner: Wait a minute. A minute after the collision, Captain Smith -

1026. (The Attorney-General.) Came out of his room on to the bridge do you mean? - Yes, Sir; he passed through the wheelhouse on to the bridge.

1027. He rushed out of his room through the wheelhouse on to the bridge? - Yes.

As much as I hate to quote Hitchens, he does corroborate Boxhall's version of events, in regards to the whereabouts of the Captain. I agree with you that Scott's testimony could be corroborated if we could prove that someone other than Murdoch threw the levers on the emergency telegraph, but that's going to be impossible with the available evidence. If we're going to speculate, though, my vote would go to Moody.

Parks
 

Earl Chapman

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Jan 2, 2005
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I think we are over reacting to the use of the term "simultaneous". Murdoch could easily have reached the emergency telegraph a few seconds after having operated the outboard starboard (normal) telegraph. Down in the engine room, hearing both the normal and emergency telegraphs ringing within seconds could be considered to be ringing simultaneously. I see no need for another member of the bridge crew to have operated the emergency telegraph.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Earl,

Just running through a mental exercise. As I've mentioned earlier, I have other reasons to suspect Moody was on the outer bridge as events began to happen, which do not hinge on the "simultaneous" ringing of the telegraphs. But, it would be nice if everything fell together nicely...an unreasonable fantasy, I know. :)

Parks
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Dave, you're probably tossing fresh meat to us sharks.
wink.gif


I've been going over some of Boxhall's testimony in the Senate transcripts. I'm far from done going through it all, but I'm reasonably certain Smith wasn't in his cabin counting sheep. He got there mighty quickly in the wake of the collision. Boxhall was already on his way to the bridge when the collision took place, and by the time he got there, Smith was already present.

Or so he asserts. He also explicitely said he heard Murdoch tell Smith that he ordered "Full astern" Sooooo......

Enter the Titanic testimony/forensics uncertainty principle, stage right.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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Hmmm,

I think that Captain Brown and I have had a similar conversation for which he knows my thoughts. I was waiting to see how long it would take him to come out with this.

Erik
 
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Graham Pickles

Guest
Hi all,

Probably get shot down in flames for this but a while ago I was going through the testimonys of the people on the bridge at the time the icebug struck.

Hichens states that,Perkins,Moody,Murdoch and himself. Was on the bridge when she hit.

Oliver states, as collition occured Himself
Murdoch,Moody,Hichens,and the Captain, where on the Bridge.

regards
graham
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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All,

I am sorry but I just can't stand it. I have to say something about this.

As a Captain I tell you what. Even if I was in a half sleep and I heard "hard a starboard" followed by engine telegraphs ringing I would have been in a dead on run for the bridge. In fact as soon as I heard the scream of 'hard.." I would have been on the bridge in my boxers. With more and more thought I refuse to believe that Smith was even lying down. He was up and in his chart room and when he heard that yell he was on the bridge faster then white on rice.

Now comes the question of why didn't Smith do anything as in take command. Any seafarer knows that this is EXTREMELY implausable. Smith has no idea of what Murdoch is reacting to. He doesn't know how far away it is how big it is anything. So he let Murdoch do all the work. Then when Murdoch began to move one of the engine order telegraphs Smith probably assisted Murdoch.

This type of thing is not forieghn to me at all. Once while cruising at night I was on the bridge eating (or lounging as the officers like to call it) when the OOD spotted a stray NOAA buoy that we knew was lost and not working. He then started barking orders, I jumped out of my chair and helped him. He knew where the buoy was, he knew how far away it was and at what angle the ship was to it. I assisted the OOD or the man who knew what was going on. I had no clue. Just like Smith. He knew Murdoch was trying not to hit something but that was all he knew. He left it to the man driving at the time.

I know that there is very little if any testimony that supports this but we have to remeber that we know Hitchens isn't exactly the most reliable source of info. He has already been promised a job in order for him keeping his mouth shut. Boxhall on the other hand is the only officer on watch who was conviently not anywhere near the seen of action. Why is that??? He could let the whole cat out of the bag. But didn't. Cause if he told the truth it would have shown Titanic to be what it was. To big, to slow and with not enough lifeboats not safe. It would have been the end of Bruce Ismay and himself.

Just some opinions. Sorry to go off on a rant. I will leave now before I am kicked out.

Erik
 
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Dec 2, 2000
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I'm not sure Hitchens was promised much of anything by White Star (vis a vis George Behe's theories on the matter), but considering his position at the time, I don't think he would have needed much prompting to play loose with the facts. The public and politicians at the time were all too eager for a scapegoat...(ask Captain Lord!)...and Hitchens was part of the watch team. That he could play no part in the decision making would not have interested contemporary witch hunters...all of them landlubbers...looking for somebody to blame.

He had a strong motive for putting himself in the best possible light, and if Colonal Gracie's account is any indication, he was busy doing exactly that while they were still on the Carpathia.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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Graham Pickles

Guest
Hi All

According to the New York Times of April 21 1912. Fleet says that Hichens was not one of us!
If it is said in the way I understand it to be said, he means that the crew where told to say nowt. wrong thing to say to Hichens, he is going to open his mouth and in a big way. I agree that he is going to cover his own back as skapegoats are always looked for in any accident today included.
He is the man with his hand on the wheel. Landlubers would not know he cannot see out and wonder why like friving a car he do's not stear around it.

As for Hichens been promised anything. Well he did not get a lot did he!

My own oppinion is that Smith was on the Bridge at the time of impact but like has been said he would of aided not taken charge. You can not take charge of a situation you do not know.

regards
graham
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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All,

Hitchens by his actions alone that night would imply to me that he was scared and not a very good leader. However that his just judgement based on the cover. You know I wish I could have been on Carpathia to hear all of what was going on that trip back to New York. That would answer some of our questions.

Erik
 
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Graham Pickles

Guest
Hmm
Hear we go again. I am starting to duck and hope the missiles that are fired my way will not hit.

Hichens conduct in the boat! Who's word are we listening to. Not Major Peuchan I hope.

He did not like the captain. When he found out that Captin Smith was to be in command he said "Surely we are not going to have that man."

After he was saved, he also criticized the crew. The worst things he said were about Hitchens, accusing him of being drunk, cowardly and incompetent.

He gave many interviews to the press and seemed to have nothing good to say about anyone.

He later testified at the US hearing.

But back in Canada, the Toronto Mail said "he talked too much"."He said he was a yachtsman to get off the ship. If it had been a fire, he would have said he was a fireman."

Thank you Carole for tho's .

regards
graham
 
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Graham Pickles

Guest
Hi All,
I have to appologise as I got it wrong.
In a previous message I said Oliver stated that Capt Smith was on the bridge at the time of the collision. Sorry he did not say this at all I wrote it down wrong and apologise for the mis leading statment
regards
graham
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Wow!

I thought I had gone off in left field, but there seems to be support for my speculation. However, speculation...no matter how popular...should not be confused with the truth. Still, I thank everyone for what has been posted and I look forward to seeing more facts and/or opinons on this subject. I would love to clear it up with enough finality for a general consensus. (Which means that "Titanic Uncertainty Principle can never be totally overcome.)

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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I know that a lot has been written in other threads about Hitchens suitability as a leader. However I am not all that sure that his leadership skills (or lack there of) really has any bearing on the situation itself. I think that Boxhall and Hitchens where both placed in a situation where one had to defend his actions (Boxhall) and the other who saw and heard everything had to be told what to say and what not to say in order to keep White Stars appearance .

Boxhall in my mind had one thing that he had to hide. The fact that he claims he was no where on the bridge. This question really isn't delved into I don't think in any of the inquiries and is a question as a Captain I have asked myself many a time. Why would someone assigned to that watch NOT be on the bridge when he knew as well as the Senior Watch Officer knew that ice was in the vicinity. Boxhall most likely knew that the lookouts did not have there glasses. So under what circumstances was he not at his post. Being an extra set of eyes on the bridge when they where needed most.

If we go by Murdoch's character alone one could assume that he was very vigilant. I don't think that he would have allowed Boxhall to slip away from the bridge especially with less then a half hour to go before being relieved. So then where is he, and why isn't he at his post? If he had to use the little boys room he could have waited that extra 25 minutes. If we assume that Boxhall was on the bridge in some form i.e the bridge wing or somewhere close to that we take away a couple of key elements.

1. This would give Titanic 4 sets of eyes trained forward looking for disaster.

2. It would also show that Smith or Murdoch where in no way neglegent in there duties that night as it would appear the testimonies think.

Then you have Smith. A man with over 30 years of Command experience. A man who had devoted his life to the sea. A man who knew that his ship would be entering harms way. A man who knew the temperture had dropped dramaticallly. A man who may have been planning for some big showing the next day. He was most likely planning for the next day in his chart room AWAKE. He most likely heard Murdochs helm order and then ran to the bridge. As I stated above he probably didn't really have a active role in the decisions being made at the time. As it should have been. He had no idea what the situation was and since the appearance of urgency was about he let the man who knew what was going on handle the situation and then asked for what had happened.

The more and more we debate this the more and more I think that the whole theory of Smith Sleeping was made up. By those who had something to hide. It gives the story a almost romantic end. This same story doesn't account for 1 hour of time. This same story doesn't really describe with any clarity what decisions where made. But the story remains clear that a mammouth of a liner went to the bottom and 1500 souls went with it. To me it also points to one man lost command of his ship as the second a certian other man step on it. And it further points out to me that Titanic was sinking the second she left the dock in Southampton. Maybe not literaly but definitly figureitivly.

As any Captain can tell you a ship with two commanders is a doomed ship. It wasn't until it was crystal clear the ship was sinking that Smith regained full control of the ships operation. I think in some ways Smith had probably put his foot down on certain things and then felt the need to cow tow in order to preserve his relationship with his employer. That may have been the demise of the ship.

Sorry, I kind of went off on a rant. Well I will leave you all now and go finish reading that RINA report.

Erik
 

Earl Chapman

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Jan 2, 2005
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Eric wrote:
[hr]
Quote:

Why would someone assigned to that watch NOT be on the bridge when he knew as well as the Senior Watch Officer knew that ice was in the vicinity. Boxhall most likely knew that the lookouts did not have there glasses. So under what circumstances was he not at his post. Being an extra set of eyes on the bridge when they where needed most.
[hr]​

Hi Eric,

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Boxhall was not at his post. Don't forget that Boxhall was a junior officer and was not expected to act as lookout during his tour of duty unless specifically ordered by the officer of the watch. Lightoller best summed up the duties of junior officer as follows:

[hr]
Quote:

(the junior officers) have various duties to perform, taking the various parts of the ship; sometimes in the wheelhouse; and at different periods one has to go the whole rounds of the ship and see that everything is in order.
[hr]​

Also, Boxhall had other specific duties assigned to him, namely making most of the navigation calculations. According to his testimony, he was "inside the chart room working up stellar observation" from the time he came on duty at 8:00 p.m. Apparently, this required frequent visits to the bridge, perhaps to check and obtain figures from the ship's log. Even when on the bridge during these visits, he was not expected to act as lookout. So Boxhall was just doing what he was supposed to be doing, and not shirking his responsibilities. But some blame <FONT COLOR="ff0000">could be put on Murdoch for not ordering either Moody or Boxhall to assist him as lookout, or indeed on Captain Smith for not ordering additional lookouts.

Earl Chapman
Montreal, Canada
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Boxhall had apparently completed resolving Lightoller's star sights just after Captain Smith came on the bridge about 9 p.m. Boxhall described the captain "pricking" off the ship's position on a chart.

Regarding lookout, we are back to the distinct difference between being a "lookout" as a job and "looking out" as a responsibility. As a licensed officer, Boxhall was presumed to be more reliable than a rating with regard to spotting dangers and taking action.

If Boxhall had been in the chartroom, he we would presume his actions to be part of the normal routine of the bridge watch. But, he claimed to be walking forward on the officer's prominade--a place that is not normally frequented by any officer on watch.

There is a whole thread on Boxhall at 11:40 p.m., so we don't need to rehash it here. However, it does seem that the fourth officer was "inventing" a reason why he had no knowledge of running into the iceberg. That avoided his having to testify as to what really happened.

--David G. Brown