Encyclopedia Titanica

William John Murdock

William John Murdock

Mr William John Murdock 1 was born in Great Clifton, Cumberland, England on 17 September 1874 2 and he was baptised on 1 November that year.

He was the son of Irish immigrant parents, Nathaniel Murdock (b. 1853), a labourer, and Anne McMaster (b. 1852), natives of Gransha and Kircubbin, respectively, both in Co Down who had married in Kircubbin near Newtownards, Co Down on 3 July 1873 before settling across the Irish sea in Cumbria where they started their family. 

Their first five children were born in England: William (b. 1874), Ross (b. 1877), Thomas Henry (b. 1880), Mary Eliza (1881) and Nathaniel (b. 1885). They returned to Ireland and settled in east Belfast, initially at different houses on Dufferin Street, and had a further three children: Martin (b. 28 October 1887), Sarah Jane (b. 5 January 1890) and Margaret (b. 28 October 1891).

William Murdock first appears on the 1881 census living at 6 Low Street in Great Clifton, Cumberland and his father was described as a labourer. The next time the family appears on record is for the 1901 census of Ireland when William's parents and siblings were living at 24 Trillick Street in Pottinger, east Belfast and his father was described as an ironworks labourer.

William had been married on 27 February 1901 to Catherine Robson (b. 18 March 1879 on Skipton Street, Belfast), daughter of labourer David Robson and Margaret Anne Hastings. He was described as a fireman and his address was listed as 24 Trillick Street and his bride's as 88 Thorndyke Street. 

The couple went on to have four children: Joseph Robson (b. 16 July 1902), Anne Martin (b. 20 August 1903), William John (b. 13 December 1904) and David (b. 26 February 1907). Their youngest David lived only a few months and died on 15 June 1907.

When the 1901 census was conducted William was absent but his wife was listed as living at 88 Thorndyke Street, Pottinger, Belfast the home of her widowed mother Margaret Robson and her family. Reappearing in time for the 1911 census, William, his wife and children were then listed as living at 92 Thorndyke Street, again with his mother-in-law. He was, at the time, described as a labourer.

Murdock first signed on to the Titanic on 29 March 1912 for her delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton. He signed on again on 6 April and gave his previous ship as the Brayhead, and his current address as the Sailors' Home, Southampton (although he by now lived at 78 Thorndyke Street, Belfast). As a fireman he could expect monthly wages of £6. Also serving aboard was a neighbour from the same street, fellow-stoker John Haggan.

Murdock was rescued from the sinking, although in which lifeboat is unknown3. He was not called to give evidence to either the British or American Inquiries into the sinking.

William returned to Belfast and continued working at sea into the 1920s. In the midst of that decade he and his family emigrated to Sydney, Australia where he continued his seafaring duties, working on coastal ships between Newcastle and Sydney.

William Murdock died in Sydney on 1 July 1941. His widow Catherine died 22 March 1965 and they are buried together.

William Murdock Grave

William Murdock Grave

William Murdock's grave in Sydney, Australia
(Photo courtesy of David Lean)


  1. Spelling of surname varies depending on record being Murdock and Murdoch. Murdock is regarded as the correct spelling, as per his birth registration and his marriage record, including various census records.
  2. He gave his year of birth as 1878 in his circa 1920 crew card
  3. Murdock claimed to have survived the sinking by jumping into the water and being 'picked up' by the collapsible boat he helped lowering (D). This is not possible, however. Either he was in it from the beginning or he was in his own assigned boat (16). Boat D picked up Mr F M Hoyt and nobody else. It is altogether possible that Murdock was one of the two firemen in this boat, but if so, he was in it when it was lowered away. Boat C never picked up anybody. Again Mr Murdock may have been one of the firemen in this boat, but D is perhaps slightly more probable. Murdock was assigned to boat 16, and may have been one of the firemen in that boat after all. He would later claim he was in a boat with Mrs Brown (how did he know who she was?). Then again one fireman was transferred from boat 16 to 6...perhaps this was Murdock (it was probably trimmer Pelham, however).

References and Sources

Photo: National Archives (Courtesy of Gavin Bell)

Newspaper Articles

Belfast Newsletter (23 April 1912) Belfast and the disaster
A local member of the crew of the Titanic

Documents and Certificates

Search archive online

Comment and discuss

  1. Micheal Napier

    Micheal Napier

    Hey all. Whilst reading the Ulster Titanic Society web page today, i noticed that there was a fireman named William Murdoch. Does anyone know if he was any relation to the First Officer? Mike Napier

  2. Inger Sheil

    No link has been established to my knowledge, Mike. Stormer discusses the confusion caused by his appearance on the lists of the saved in her biography of First Officer Murdoch 'Goodbye, Good Luck'. 'William Murdoch' was a fairly common name, and there were quite a few about. Have you seen the photo of Fireman Murdoch in Cameron's book, 'Belfast's Own', complete with photograph? I've spoken to a couple of people who had a bit of a start when they were flicking through the book and came across the caption "William Murdoch in Australia with Catherine Robson", showing a very cheerfull looking... Read full post

  3. Inger Sheil

    Righteo - I'm officially renouncing any claim I have to being able to write in the English (or any other) language. I even topped my earlier effort in another post referring three times to 'discuss' or 'discussion' in the one sentence...above, we have a line that tells us twice about a photo. It wouldn't be quite so bad if I didn't notice the tautologisms, malapropisms, poor spelling and grammar when I reread the posts later. Yours in self-disgust, Inger

  4. Phillip Gowan

    Michael, Have you noticed that Officer Murdoch was William McMaster Murdoch, and fireman Murdoch's mother's maiden name was McMaster? Quite a coincidence methinks. Phil Gowan

  5. Chris Dohany

    I'm thinking that may be where the coincidences end. Fireman Murdoch's parents were native Irish, whereas it appears Officer Murdoch came from a long line of Scots.

  6. Micheal Napier

    Micheal Napier

    Thanks for your inputs folks. Just another question about the first officer, in the line of officers was he more responsible as a navigator, where as Wilde played a more administrative duty? Thanks for your time once again. Mike Napier

  7. Inger Sheil

    And speaking of shared names...I found another officer Harold Lowe sailing on the Oceanic in the 1910s. He was born in Chester where the Lowe family originally hailed from, so it is possible there is a link. The Murdochs connected with the First Officer have themselves speculated on possible connections due to the 'McMaster' link but - possibly due to the reasons Chris mentions - have yet to find one. I remember a radio interview with one of the Australian descendents of Fireman Murdoch at the time the Cameron movie came out. A competition had been held for a Titanic related prize -... Read full post

  8. Andrew Rogers

    Andrew Rogers

    Today Daniel Rosenshine and myself found William John Murdoch's grave. He shares the grave with his wife Catherine who died in 1965. Thanks to Geoff Whitfield for giving us a clue! Bye for now, Andrew

  9. Daniel Rosenshine

    Daniel Rosenshine

    Hello Andrew, Funny, two seconds ago your message was not there and now it is, we must have been on line at the same time. Don't forget 'I' found the grave not 'we' :-) he he How funny, it was only two steps away from where we parked the car yet we searched the whole cemetery for it! Cheers ... Daniel.

  10. Inger Sheil

    Like I told Andrew, I don't envy the two of you going through Rookwood trying to find that grave, even with a grave number...that place is an amazingly sprawling necropolis. What sort of condition is the site in? Inger

  11. Andrew Rogers

    Andrew Rogers

    OK Daniel, you found it but I parked right near it and managed to walk over it without noticing a thing!! Inger, it's not in great condition. Will e-mail a pic for you. Daniel and I might try to find the relatives and see about getting it fixed up. The M Mason who did Evelyn Marsden's headstone might lend a hand. Andrew

  12. Matteo Eyre

    does anyone know the boat in which Stoker Murdoch survived in?? Matteo :)

  13. Matteo Eyre

    Cheers Bob, i had sort of narrowed it down to C, D or 16 but i had no idea at all just wondering how do you know all of this stuff?? like where do you get all your information from?? i'm trying to broaden my resources you see Cheers Bob Matteo :)

  14. Bob Godfrey

    Well, you could have got that particular bit of info (and a lot more besides) from Craig Stringer's Titanic People, which I've already recommended.

Showing 15 posts of 18 total. View all.

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Titanic Crew Summary

Name: Mr William John Murdock
Age: 37 years 6 months and 28 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Married to Catherine Robson
Last Residence: at Sailors' HomeSouthampton, Hampshire, England
Occupation: Fireman
Last Ship: Bray Head
Embarked: Belfast on Friday 29th March 1912
Rescued (boat D)  
Disembarked Carpathia: New York City on Thursday 18th April 1912
Died: Tuesday 1st July 1941 aged 66 years
Buried: Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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