Interesting sidelights on the character of Captain E. J. Smith and the officers associated with him in his last command, the mammoth liner Titanic, were thrown by the officers of the White Star liner Afric, which arrived at Melbourne from Liverpool on Tuesday. Most of the Afric's officers were at one time or another acting in various capacities under Captain Smith, and several being personal friends, their observations were (says the "Age") such as to engage attention.
"Captain Smith was an ideal sort of skipper," said one officer who had served under the commodore of the fleet for over a year whilst the latter was in charge of the Adriatic. "He was a fine looking chap," the officer continued, "standing well over six feet in height, and with the carriage and bearing of a man of only half his sixty odd years. Distinction and a somewhat patriarchal demeanour were conferred upon him by his carefully-trimmed white beard. Captain Smith by reason of his sociability was a great man amongst the passengers. He was very well read, had a great knowledge of the world, and was an excellent narrator of a fund of excellent stories.
The suggestion that Captain Smith had committed suicide at the last moment was pooh-poohed. "He was the last man that walked this earth to do such a cowardly thing," forcibly asserted one officer.
Captain Smith, according to the statements of the officers, had spent thirty years in the service of the White Star line. He was a captain in the Royal Navy Reserve, and probably the best known master sailing out of Southampton. The disaster to the Titanic occurred almost on the eve of his retirement, as he had decided to leave the service, but had not fixed upon any date. He leaves a widow and one daughter. Instancing the popularity of Captain Smith amongst North Atlantic travellers, the officers of the Afric recalled the collision between the H.M.S. Hawke and the Olympic, when the latter vessel was making her maiden voyage, under the command of Captain Smith. On the eastern side of the Atlantic there was a tendency to cast blame on the master of the liner, but in New York feeling ran very high in his favour. When Captain Smith arrived there on his next trip a huge banquet was tendered him by his admirers of the United States. At that dinner millionaires, senators, and leaders of society spoke to the toast of Captain Smith, and all recognised the guest of the evening as a navigator in whom they placed unbounded confidence.
Mr. Murdoch, according to the officer's information, was not chief officer of the Titanic, as has been stated by cable. When the Afric left Liverpool Mr. Murdoch had been appointed first officer, and the higher position of chief officer was expected to fall to the lot of either Mr. Aitken or Mr. Holmes, both of whom were senior to Mr. Murdoch.
Mr. Bell was the chief engineer of the ill-fated Titanic. In company with Captain Smith he had graduated from the Baltic to the Adriatic, then to the Olympic, and finally to the Titanic.
"Another very fine chap," said one officer of the Afric, "was the purser, Mr. E. J. M'Ilroy [sic]. I see by the papers that be was probably drowned also. The boat of which he was in charge was full of women. They became excited and upset the boat, and there is nothing about his being saved. He was a big, genial Irishman, about 40 years of age, and would be well known here. Mr. M'Ilroy was in the Britannic whilst the South African war was in progress. She acted as a troopship for several voyages."
The Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania