Wilde's grief


Tad G. Fitch

Hello everyone,
How are all of you doing? Good I hope. I seem to share the opinion of most of you here, in that it is almost useless to speculate about what was going through the officers' minds during the sinking, and about their possible motives to commit suicide. However, it is definitely interesting to try doing so and can help one make a case for a certain "suspect" so to speak, the problem being what all of you have already mentioned: we simply can never know all of what was going through their minds at the time. I am studying psychology, and it is plain to me that certain people can suffer from depression without becoming suicidal, and some people can become suicidal without having an apparent reason for doing so as well. There are just so many factors outside of tragic or bad events around someone that can make people depressed that it is almost useless to speculate given how little we actually know about their motivations, problems, etc. Then, we also must consider that perhaps if one of the officers committed suicide, it may have been due to desperation seeing that it was not due to other factos, but simply because the end was so near, or that they were forced to shoot passengers to control the crowds on deck as some claimed. While working with Bill Wormstedt on his Shots in the Dark page which collects accounts of the alleged suicide in one place, I have formed the opinion that there is truth in the claims that someone shot themselves, but I will admit that we simply can't say who it was. I believe the two most likely "suspects" would be Wilde and Murdoch, but I cannot rule out others 100%, or even give any conclusive evidence for either, other than some circumstantial evidence. We can make a case for or against either, and a case could be made for some other people as well. There's just so much that we don't know regarding the whole event, and unfortunately much that we probably will never know. I am really looking forward to seeing the new information on Wilde that has been uncovered, even if it doesn't prove anything, I'm sure that it will be very interesting and will fill in some more of the blanks that we have been discussing. In reference to Lightoller's last sighting of Wilde, was this when he sees him going to get his lifebelt after he handed out the firearms? I hope this note finds all of you doing well.
All my best,
Tad Fitch
Inger Sheil

Inger Sheil

Lightoller's last sighting of Wilde, if this account is to be believed, came after the gun/lifebelt incident. I find the timing as reported a bit problematic, for reasons you'll see when you read it. I'm reluctant to elaborate on this incident or on the comments Wilde made to the man who recorded all this until the source is published, but while there's no literal or figurative smoking gun (unless one chooses to interpret Wilde's comments a certain way) it's absolutely fascinating material, and not just on Wilde.


(balancing carefully on tangent tree branch)

Say Inger,

Isn't it the joke about Freudians that they blame everything on your mother? ;-) Hrmmm.

Quite a list, is it not? Abandonment for Lightoller and Moody, Lowe's estrangement from his father, Wilde's lack of one, and the following in an often-absent father's footsteps for Boxhall and Murdoch. One wonders how Pitman's relationship with his dad was, then...

Most any shrink or psych would probably have something (negative) to say about the family relationships of the Titanic's officers, though generally it's opined that parenting was somewhat screwed up in the Victorian era in most cases...at least, via the modern lens we choose to view it through.

Then again (skipping lightly to another branch), one wonders what they'll have to say in 2112 about our parenting in these days! Hmmm. So long as you're in the moment, you're right. Fifty years down the road, you're shockingly wrong. Go figure...!

Pat Winship

And the fascinating thing is that the two we know most about-- Lowe and Lightoller-- appear to have been pretty good parents to their kids. Guess they either profited by negative example, or developed strengths of their own. Pat
Inger Sheil

Inger Sheil

In the boisterous bullpen of Sydney Uni's Wentworth Bar, with a mob of psych students who also fancied themselves political apparatchiks, any observation that had even a faintly Freudian overtone led onto the jibes - Freud was (as ever) hotly debated territory, both reviled and revered by the crop of very earnest undergrads. Simplistic and reductive thought it was, it made for a lot of ribbing. My observations on the Titanic's officers were at least partly inspired by a study, popular back in my political salad days, that drew a common link between the problematic relationship Australian Prime Ministers more often than not had with their fathers and their subsequent careers. As one side pushed the idea, the other would retort with various observations on Oedipal theory (which, of course, is not limited to the subject's relationship with his mother).

I wasn't trying to draw a comparison between parenting today and yesterday - you could pick a random group in any era and turn up a high incidence of family dysfunction. You could even, somewhat more controversially, select certain groups (e.g. Aussie PMs spanning a century) and identify more specific parenting problems - such as a poor father/son relationship with some identifiable traits - which leads theorists to suggest a link to a subject's later success or failure in personal relationships, career etc. Which is why I refer to a creaky branch - I'm reluctant to put a dead subject on the couch, particularly with my own faulty layperson's grasp of psychology. These are just ideas I'm tossing around...a pattern does seem to emerge, but then we human beings love to impose order on people and events and sometimes perceive patterns where there are merely random factors.

If, however, that branch is swaying, I wasn't prompted to walk out there entirely on a whim. In addition to my own reading on the subject (at least as it pertains to Aussie pollies) and the inevitable observations arising as a result of research into their backgrounds noting similar elements in their lives, the families of two of the men involved have themselves suggested to me the problematic relationship of the sons with their Victorian fathers as a major factor in shaping their character and careers.

Pat, there's quite a bit more the story of the Lowes - across three generations - than has thus far been discussed (at least in Titanic circles). Although I'm reluctant, for obvious reasons, to give away any specific material, I'd venture an opinion that Harold Lowe's relationship with his father was the most complex of those we've discussed here. It certainly had an impact on how Harold interacted with his own children (such was a family observation made to me), and I could speculate on just how far his own parenting style was a reaction to that of his father. There's much more that could be said about how Harold raised his own children, although his love and care for their well being is beyond question, and his determination to raise them the 'right' way - as he saw the 'right' way - was entered into with all the single-minded purpose of which the man was

As for their mothers...weeeellll. ..that's another (if obviously linked) area again. How much that particular sad catalogue of grief was a notable influence in their characters and careers and how much simply sadly indicative of Victorian/Edwardian medicine is debatable. I would observe, however, that three of the Titanic's officers lost their mothers in childhood (and another when he was somewhat older, in his 20s). Lightoller in a sense lost his mother twice over - both the genetic mother he never knew and his stepmother when she died young. One officer was fortunate in that he enjoyed a loving, constructive relationship with his stepmother after his father remarried (the family still speak of her with very warm appreciation), but another was very troubled for the rest of his life by his mother's agonising terminal illness, decline and early death.

There's still a lot more work to be done in this area (I'm trying to sort out one or two anomalies connected with Lowe's mother - the historical record can be frustratingly tantalising when dealing with women whose lives were largely confined to the domestic sphere...it might be nothing, it might be highly significant...still working on it). At the moment I'm on an LEG Oates tangent, and have become fascinated with his mother, Caroline, as the result of some remarks made about her by writers working in the field of Antarctic studies. What a fascinating, powerful, loving yet dominant and even domineering woman...! And the dual nature of her relationship with her son - the loving support, the control issues, and finally the question of how dependent he was on her and whether this was positive, negative or perhaps even both (historians and novelists are intrigued by her - one of the latter so much so that she's spoken of writing a detective series based on the accounts of Caroline's investigative attempts to piece together what happened to her son on the Scott expedition, using as the central premise her quest for justice in her dead son's name). Murdoch researchers have suggested that his mother must have a strong, formidable influence in his life, and - with even scantier information to go on - one can wonder about Wilde's mother, who was left to raise her children after the tragically early death of her husband. What sort of woman was she? I'm on surer ground with Evelyn Moody - a warm, vivacious, charming creature, judging from her correspondence and family anecdotal material (her youngest son was fortunate in inheriting looks, charm and warmth from both his parents).

Going a million miles now from the original topic...there's always the sibling and wider family issues. Moody, who had such positive, nurturing female influences around him, and his subsequent ease with opposite-gender relationships. Boxhall, too, with the loving female family members and his role as sole male child (something to particularly consider when oone realises his father was away at sea so often, leaving him as the 'man' of the house). But what of the devastating loss of George Ernest Lowe and the impact that event had on the Lowe family during Harold's childhood? Harold himself observed, and later commented on, their father's reaction to the loss of his oldest son and namesake. As for Harold himself - was he exposed to the sight of his drowned brother, brought home and laid out in Penrallt to await the coronial inquest - a brother who mere hours before had left the house in 'good health and spirits'? What impact did that scene have on the psyche of that quick, perceptive child? Extrapolating from that - dancing on the end of the creaking branch - did a long-dead older brother lost to the sea have any part to play in the decisions Harold Lowe took on the 14-15 April 1912? Now that is going out on a limb.

Sarah Houtby

I have to say that if there was a suicide Murdoch was the most likely choice.
He ordered the ship hard a starboard, engines full astern etc.etc., when the iceberg was spotted so he may have felt responsible for the loss of the ship and it's passengers/crew. Perhaps he felt so guilty about causing the Titanic to sink that he didn't feel he deserved to die a seaman's noble death.
I'll admit this is all supposition, there really isn't any hard evidence that anyone commited suicide, let alone killed (accidently or otherwise) a passenger. I'm only saying that IF an officer were to commit suicide, Murdoch would be the most likely.
And Moody the absolute LEASTlikely.
I also don't think Wilde is a good candidate for potential suicide for, as numerous people have said, after more than a year he can't have wanted to suddenly in the midst of the sinking feel like killing himself.

Adam McGuirk

You know, Sarah, about one month ago I had the same opinion about a month ago. Thanks too Inger, who set me straight with the facts, I feel that Murdoch could still have done it but not that hes the most likely. Check out the thread"my opinionm of the offcier suicides.
Inger Sheil

Inger Sheil

Sarah -

Have to disagree with you there - as I've stated before, we don't know enough about the psychological make-up of the men involved (nor is there enough material in the evidence) nor is there enough data on their reactions to the disaster to point to one crewman above the others as 'most likely'. Susanne Stormer and other historians have pointed out that there is nothing in Murdoch's actions (what little we know of them - again, too little data) that suggests he was stricken by such remorse after the sinking that he was prepared to turn a gun on himself. As you point out, this is supposition.

I also think you've somewhat misinterpreted the theory in regards to Wilde's grief being a factor in nominating him as a candidate for the suicide. His wife's death has been put forward as a contributory factor - not the sole factor. If he was already feeling the effects of depression (and the evidence in the Portrush Letter, which will be published in September's White Star Journal, suggests that he may well have) then this may have been a predisposing element. However, it would be the disaster that may have been a catalyst for his actions. I stress that I'm not pushing this forward as the most likely theory or Wilde as the most likely candidate - just playing devil's advocate.

Laura Jay

I don't think that either killed themselves to be honest. I also think that Wilde might just have decided if he died, he died. I seem to remember that deck stewards dressed a bit like the officers, could there be truth to that? I don't know all the facts surrounding their deaths.