Where was Captain Smith at the time of collision?


Anthony Liveri

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?
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.
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

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

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.

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.

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. :)

Dave, you're probably tossing fresh meat to us sharks.

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.

Michael H. Standart

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.

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.


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.

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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.

Michael H. Standart
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.


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.

Hichens actions in the lifeboat that night by themselves indicate that he was an unstable individual, let alone not a good leader.
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 .