Encyclopedia Titanica


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Titanic's Skipper Was Never in an Accident on High Seas Before This One
Grew Up With White Star Line and Had Its Confidence---Junior Officers on
In the absence of definite news it is assumed that Capt. E. J. Smith went
down with the Titanic. He would have been relieved as the commodore of the
White Star fleet because of the collision with the iceberg. There had been
talk of his retirement after forty-three years of sailing the seas, but this
was denied yesterday at the White Star Line. Capt. Haddock of the Olympic
will now become the commodore of the White Star fleet.

Having been in command of many ocean liners Capt. Smith was known to
thousands of travellers. He was about 60 years old, soft spoken and of quiet
demeanor. He had white hair and whiskers trimmed snug. Only once was he in
trouble, when the Olympic, of which he was in command, collided with the
British cruiser Hawke in the Solent in 1911. That Capt. Smith was not held
responsible by the line for this collision was made plain when he was put in
command of the Titanic, the newest and biggest of the White Star liners and
the flagship of the fleet.

When the English firm A. Gibson & Co., of Liverpool, purchased the American
clipper Senator Weber in 1869 Capt. Smith, then a boy, sailed on her. For
seven years he was an apprentice on the Senator Weber and then he went to
the Lizzie Fennell, a square rigger, as fourth officer. Then he went to the
old Celtic of the White Star Line as fourth officer. In 1887 he became
captain of the Celtic, and then he went to the Baltic. For a time he was in
command of the freighters Cufic and Runic. Then he became skipper of the old
Adriatic, subsequently being in command of the Celtic, Britannic, Coptic
(which was in the Australian trade), Germanic, Baltic, Majestic, Adriatic.
Olympic and Titanic.

It was not easy to get Capt. Smith to talk of his experiences. He had grown
up in the service, was his comment, and it meant little to him that he had
been transferred from a small vessel to a big ship and then to a bigger ship
and finally to the biggest of them all.

"One might think that a captain taken from a small ship and put on a big one
might feel the transition," he said once. "Not at all. The skippers of the
big vessels have grown up to them, year after year, through all these years.
First there was the sailing vessel and then what we would now call small
ships---they were big in the days gone by---to the giants to-day."

Up to the time of the collision with the Hawke (which is described in
another column) Capt. Smith when asked by interviewers to describe his
experiences at sea would say one word, "uneventful." The he would add with
a smile and a twinkle of his eye:

"Of course there have been winter gales and storms and fog and the like in
the forty years I have been on the seas, but I have never been in an
accident worth speaking of. In all my years at sea (he made this comment a
few years ago) I have seen but one vessel in distress. That was a brig the
crew of which was taken off in a boat by my third officer. I never saw a
wreck. I never have been wrecked. I have never been in a predicament that
threatened to end in disaster of any sort."

Once the interviewer stopped asking personal questions, Capt. Smith would
talk of the sea, of his love for it, how its appeal to him as a boy had
never died.

"The love of the ocean that took me to sea as a boy has never died," he once
said. "When I see a vessel plunging up and down in the trough of the sea
fighting her way through and over great waves, and keeping her keel and
going on and on---the wonder of the thing fills me, how she can keep afloat
and get safely to port. I have never outgrown the wild grandeur of the sea."

When he was in command of the Adriatic which was built before the Olympic,
Capt. Smith said he did not believe a disaster with loss of life could
happen to the Adriatic.

"I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to the Adriatic," he
said. "Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that. There will be bigger boats.
The depth of harbors seems to be the great drawback at present, I cannot
say, of course, just what the limit will be, but the larger boat will surely
come. But speed will not develop with size,
so far as merchantmen are concerned.

"The travelling public prefers the large comfortable boat of average speed,
and anyway that is the boat that pays. High speed eats up money mile by
mile and extreme high speed is suicidal. There will be high speed boats for
use as transports and a wise government will assist steamship companies in
paying for them, as the English Government is now doing in the cases of the
Lusitania and Mauretania, twenty-five knot boats; but no steamship company
will put them out merely as a commercial venture."

Capt. Smith believed the Titanic to be unsinkable.

Little information was to be had at the White Star offices yesterday about
the men or officers of the Titanic. They had just been assigned to the ship.
H. W. McElroy, 40 years old (first purser), was former purser on the
Adriatic and is senior purser on the White Star Line. He is married and
lives in Liverpool.

R. L. Barker, 35 years old, second purser, was formerly on the Majestic, has
always been with the White Star Line, and lives in Liverpool.

A. Latimer is chief steward.

J. A. Phillips, the wireless operator on the Titanic, is an Englishman,
living the Marconi people here say, in London. He is about 25 years old and
has been in the service of the company about five years. He had been
transferred to his present place from the Oceanic, upon which vessel he
served as operator for about a year. Previously he had been employed upon
one of the Peninsular and Orient boats, and is highly thought of by the
company. He also had served as wireless operator of J. G. Bennett's yacht

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2011) SMITH THOUGHT HIS SHIP UNSINKABLE ( ref: #14835, published 9 December 2011, generated 22nd May 2024 05:21:27 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/smith-thought-his-ship-unsinkable-14835.html