WHITE STAR'S BEST OFFICER
Declared Only Recently That He Did Not Believe Modern Ships Could Be Sunk
Capt. E. J. Smith, into whose hands the passengers on the Titanic entrusted themselves on the voyage which will never be forgotten in the list of great sea disasters, has followed the sea from his boyhood. For forty years it was his proud boast that he had had an uneventful life. That is why he was promoted to the highest post in the gift of the White Star line. Events came crowding upon him only in the Winter of his life, and with events came misfortune.
He rose from the ranks. As a boy, in 1869, he went on the Senator Weber, an American clipper, serving as an apprentice. In 1876 he shipped with the square rigger Lizzie Fennel as fourth officer, and in 1880 he had risen to the rank of fourth officer of the old White Star line steamship Celtic---the nominal ancestor of the present vessel of that name. In 1887 he went to the Republic as Captain and later to the Baltic.
Thus he saw service and held command on the old vessels for which the present giants of the White Star Line are named. Later Capt. Smith took command of the freighter Cufic and then the Runic. Then he went to the old Adriatic, the Celtic, Britannic, Coptic in the Australian trade; the Germanic, Majestic, Baltic, and then to the Adriatic. In all this time he served the line quietly and his name was seldom heard. His rise in rank and importance was commensurate with the safe uneventfulness of his command.
When, in 1907, he came to this port in command of the Adriatic on her maiden trip he said:
When any one asks me how I can best describe my experiences of nearly forty years at sea I merely say uneventful. Of course, there have been Winter gales and storms and fog and the like, but in all my experience I have never been in an accident of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea, a brig, the crew of which was taken off in a small boat in charge of my third officer. I never saw a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.
"The love of the ocean that took me to sea as a boy," he added, "has never left me. In a way, a certain amount of wonder never leaves me, especially as I observe from the bridge a vessel plunging up and down in the trough of the seas, fighting her way through and over great waves. A man never outgrows that."
Capt. Smith maintained that shipbuilding was such a perfect art nowadays that absolute disaster, involving the passengers on a great modern liner, was quite unthinkable. Whatever happened, he contended, there would be time before the vessel sank to save the lives of every person on board.
"I will go a bit further," he said. "I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that."
The first misfortune came into Capt. Smith's life but recently. That was when the great Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic, was rammed by the British cruiser Hawke, off the Isle of Wight, on Sept. 20, 1911. A great hole was stove into her steel ribs, and she was forced to put back to Southampton. The Hawke, even more badly damaged, put over to Portsmouth for repairs. The Hawke was at first blamed for the accident, but the British Court of Admiralty, after a long investigation, decided that her commander was blameless in the matter, inasmuch as his ship had been drawn out of its course and toward the Olympic by the tremendous suction of the Olympic's engines and the swish of water alongside her as she passed.
In February last, on her way over here, the Olympic under Capt. Smith suffered another accident when she lost a propeller blade at sea. She was able to complete her journey here, nevertheless, under her own steam.
The fact that despite these recent misadventures the old Captain was not only retained in the employ of the White Star Line, but even was entrusted with the biggest and most responsible command in their power as soon as their largest vessel, the Titanic, was launched, showed the esteem and trust in which he was held by the line.