Encyclopedia Titanica

Captain Edward John Smith

RMS Titanic Captain

Edward John Smith
Edward John Smith

Captain Edward John Smith was born at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent on 27 January 1850, the son of potter Edward Smith and Catherine Smith. His parents later owned a shop1.

Edward attended the Etruria British School until the age of 13 when he went to Liverpool to begin a seafaring career. He apprenticed with Gibson & Co., Liverpool and joined the White Star Line in 1880 gaining his first command in 1887. Among the ships he would command were the first Republic, the Coptic, Majestic, Baltic, Adriatic and Olympic.

Smith served with distinction in the Boer war by commanding troopships to the Cape.

As he rose in seniority Smith gained a reputation amongst passengers and crew for quiet flamboyance. Some passengers would only sail the Atlantic in a ship commanded by him. As the most senior Captain in the White Star fleet it became routine for Smith to command the line's newest ships on their maiden voyages. It was, therefore, no surprise that Smith took the Titanic on her maiden voyage in April 1912. This responsibility was rewarded with a salary of £1,250 per year and a no-collision bonus of $200. Because of his position as a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve Smith had the distinction of being able to fly the Blue Duster of the R.N.R., most ships flew the Red Duster of the merchant marine.

Smith was married to Eleanor and they had a young daughter Helen Melville. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house "Woodhead" on Winn Road, Portswood, Southampton.

Captain Smith

On April 10, 1912, Edward John Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, took a taxi from his home to Southampton docks. He came aboard the Titanic at 7.00 am to prepare for the Board of Trade muster at 8.00 am. He immediately went to his cabin to get the sailing report from Chief Officer Henry Wilde.

After departure at 12:00, the wash from the propeller caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards the Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the maiden voyage. The unfortunate incident was seen by some as an ill omen and it was reminiscent of the Hawke incident in 1911 when that vessel collided with the Olympic which was under the command of Captain Smith.

During the voyage, Smith normally took meals at a small table in the dining saloon or in his cabin, attended by his personal valet, or "Tiger", Arthur Paintin. On the night of April 14, however, he attended a dinner party held in his honour by George Widener and his family. The party was attended by the cream of 1912 society as it was represented on the Titanic. However, Smith was possibly concerned that the ship was entering the ice zone about which he had received ample warnings during the weekend. He excused himself early and went to the bridge.

Charles Lightoller was keeping watch and discussed the temperature with Smith for a while. Smith told Lightoller to alert him immediately if he was at all concerned. He then retired to bed.

About 11.40 p.m.  Captain Smith was awakened by the collision and rushed to the bridge. He received the report of the accident from First Officer William Murdoch and then made a quick inspection of the ship with Thomas Andrews. He immediately ordered the boats prepared but wavered when it came to giving the order to load and lower them Lightoller had to approach him for the order which he eventually gave.

Surprisingly little is known about Smith's actions in the last two hours of the ships life. His legendary skills of leadership seem to have deserted him, he was curiously indecisive and unusually cautious.

He was last seen in the bridge area having given the final order to abandon ship. He appears to have made no attempt to save himself. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

A large statue of Captain Smith was unveiled by his daughter Helen on 29 July 1914 in Lichfield, England. The sculptor was Lady Kathleen Scott (b. 1870, d. 1947) widow of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, "Scott of the Antarctic." A plaque which was placed on Hanley Town Hall in his memory in 1913 was later removed to Etruria Middle School.

Smith's widow Eleanor Sarah was born 17 June 1861, after her husband's death she remained in Southampton for a time but later moved to London. She died after being knocked down by a taxi outside her London home on 28 April 1931.  She was buried at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.

Their daughter Helen Melville Smith, known as Mel, was born in Liverpool and later moved to Southampton with her parents. She was (probably) first married to Captain John Gilbertson of Liverpool, England. Gilbertson died of black water fever on a voyage home from India on board his first command a ship called the Morazan of the Bibby Line. At the time of his death Captain Gilbertson was the youngest captain in the British Merchant Navy. Helen married Sidney Russell-Cooke (b. 12 December 1892, d. 30 July 1930) in 1922 at St. Mark's Church, Mayfair, they had twin children born at Bellcroft, London on 18 June 1923: Simon, who never married and was killed in action in World War II on 23 March 1944 and Priscilla who married in 1946 to a lawyer named John Constantine Phipps but died from Polio in Scotland on 7 October 1947. Sadly for "Mel" her second husband was killed in 1930 in a hunting accident and her mother died the following year. In spite of her misfortunes Helen Melville Smith led an adventurous life, she drove sports cars and became a pilot. She came to the set of A Night to Remember in the winter of 1957-8 and remarked that Lawrence Naismith, who played her father, bore a striking resemblance to him.

Helen Melville Smith moved to Leafield, Oxfordshire in 1934, she died there in August 1973 and was buried close to her mother and husband.


1. Local knowledge holds that what is now simply a corner house was indeed the shop which Smith's mother (and later father) kept. Some locals can still recall witnessing the conversion of the shop into a house. In the 1851 Hanley Directory, Edward Smith of Well Street is listed as a shopkeeper. What used to be an alleyway (a "back") alongside the shop is now an open narrow road since the rest of the street has been demolished and flats built. The address is: 51 Well Street, Hanley.
2. From the 1851 Census:

Edward Smith: Head of Household: Married: Age 46: Potter: Born Hanley
Catherine Smith: Wife: Married: Aged 42: Grocer: Born Stoke
Edward John Smith: Son: Aged 1: Born Hanley
? Hancock: Daughter: Aged 16: Milliner and Dressmaker: Born Tunstall

Research Articles

John P. Eaton Voyage (2005) A Captain's Career
Malcolm Bowen Niedner, Jr. Titanica! (2012) Titanic at 100: A Personal Journey
Rare glass plate lantern slides of Titanic and Captain Smith

Newspaper Articles

Nottingham Evening Post (11 February 1889) Explosion On Board An Atlantic Liner
Accident aboard a White Star ship commanded by Edward John Smith in 1889
The Evening Post, Wellington, New Zealand (31 January 1890) Arrival Of The R.m.s. Coptic [at Wellington With E.j. Smith In Command]
A. I. M. Town and Country (19 April 1902) Masters Of The Sea
New York Times (13 January 1906) Wireless Joker At Sea
New-York Tribune (14 March 1907) J. P. Morgan Sails On The Baltic
New York Times (9 May 1907) Adriatic's Maiden Voyage
New York Times (10 May 1907) 3,000 On The Adriatic
New York Times (17 May 1907) The Biggest Liner Is Now In Port
New York Times (22 May 1907) Adriatic To Sail To-day
New York Times (31 May 1907) Southampton En Fete
New York Times (6 June 1907) [white Star's First Sailing From Southampton]
The Poverty Bay Herald (27 July 1907) Forty Years At Sea
New York Times (9 September 1907) Morgan's Wild Auto Dash
New York Times (12 September 1907) Insane Woman Deported
New York Times (17 August 1909) Smugglers Plan To Outwit Loeb
New York Times (5 November 1909) Adriatic Got On A Mud Bank
Unidentified Newspaper (1910) Captain Smith And Launch Of Titanic
New-York Tribune (2 December 1910) Get Giants Of The Sea
(2 December 1910) skippers Of New Giants
New York Times (6 June 1911) Change In Commodores
Capt. Haddock to Head White Star Line at Increased Pay
The New York Times (19 July 1911) Olympic Cuts Her Own Time
Washington Times (16 April 1912) Captain Smith Believed Titanic To Be Unsinkable
New York Times (16 April 1912) Disaster At Last Befalls Capt. Smith
New York Times (16 April 1912) Lord Rothes Awaits Wife
Worcester Evening Post (16 April 1912) No Hope For More Survivors
Chicago Tribune (16 April 1912) Shies Boats Under Capt. Smith
New York Herald (16 April 1912) Titanic Leaving Belfast
Asbury Park Evening Press (17 April 1912) Capt Smith Uncle Of Red Bank Man
Le Matin (17 April 1912) Captain Smith And Barzoi
Washington Herald (17 April 1912) Commander Of The Ill-fated Titanic
Portrait of Captain Smith
Chicago Tribune (17 April 1912) Morgan Dinner Recalled
Chicago Daily Tribune (17 April 1912) Sailed In '70s With Titanic's Captain
Chicago Tribune (17 April 1912) Titanic Got Warning Of Peril From Icebergs
Washington Times (17 April 1912) Titanic's Captain Had Long Record On The High Seas
The Evening Post (18 April 1912) Holding Back Facts Of Disaster Stirs Criticism
Chicago Tribune (18 April 1912) Loss Of Titanic Predicted - Captain Smith
Worcester Evening Gazette (18 April 1912) Smith Confident Of Ships Strength
Chicago Examiner (18 April 1912) Titanic's Captain Warned Of Huge Field Of Icebergs
Operator on La Bretagne Tells How Messages Were Sent in All Directions From Near Cape Race.
Washington Times (19 April 1912) Four Are Saved In Philadelphia Family
Washington Times (19 April 1912) Ismay Condemned For Taking Boat
Daughter of Congressman Hughes Tells of Experience In Sea Disaster
Washington Times (19 April 1912) J. J. Astor Acted Bravely, Declare Many Who Saw Him
Col. John Jacob Astor kissed his bride good-by as he placed her in the waiting lifeboat.
The Toronto Daily Star (19 April 1912) Last Man To Leave Titanic Was Colonel Gracie, U.s.a.
New York Times (19 April 1912) Says Ismay Took First Boat
Brooklyn Daily Eagle (19 April 1912) Versions Vary Of Captain's Death
Worcester Evening Gazette (20 April 1912) Be British, My Men Capt. Smith's Order
Titanic was going 23 knots an hour. She ripped herself clear apart.
Highland News (20 April 1912) Captain Goes Down With Ship
L'Excelsior (20 April 1912) Captain Smith Committed Suicide
From L'Excelsior, 20 April 1912
The Witney Gazette (20 April 1912) Captain's Suicide On The Bridge
New York Times (20 April 1912) Heard Death Chorus For Over An Hour
New York Times (20 April 1912) Mrs. Astor Is Ill, But Not Critically
No alarm felt by relatives and friends
(20 April 1912) nerviest Man In Service
Chicago Tribune (20 April 1912) Seaman Tells Of Captain's Death
Staffordshire Advertiser (20 April 1912) Staffordshire Victims Of The Disaster (1)
Worcester Evening Gazette (20 April 1912) Still Playing As Water Creeps Up
Southampton Times and Hampshire Express (20 April 1912) Touching Message From Captain's Wife
Washington Herald (21 April 1912) Describes Last Meal On Titanic
“It Was the Gayest Night of Trip Among Diners,” Says Assistant Steward
Boston Daily Globe (21 April 1912) Girl Went Down To Save Another
The New York Times (21 April 1912) Most Of The Crew Sail
Washington Herald (21 April 1912) Peuchen Comes Back At Ismay
The New York Times (21 April 1912) Sealing The Lips Of Titanic's Crew
New York Times (22 April 1912) Money Loss Nothing---morgan
New York Times (22 April 1912) Smith Called Back Half-filled Boats
Atlantic City Daily Press (23 April 1912) An Atlantic Man Finds Evidence Favoring Ismay
D. W. McMillan’s Sister, Titanic Survivor, Says He and Astor Helped Women
The Day Book (23 April 1912) Captain Smith Host At Hilarious Dinner Party
Paterson Morning Call (23 April 1912) Jumped From Sinking Ship
Newark Evening News (23 April 1912) Titanic Survivor To The Defense Of Ismay
Chicago Daily Journal (24 April 1912) Says Captain Shot Steerage Passengers
Newark Star (24 April 1912) Stengel Denies Bribes Were Given To Sailors
(25 April 1912) the Titanic's Commander
The Examiner (26 April 1912) Officers Of The Titanic
Daily Express (27 April 1912) Captain Smith And Signor Marconi Dummies
L'Echo du Nord (29 April 1912) Mrs Smith, Captain Smith's Widow
Western Morning News (29 April 1912) Ugborough Man's Story
Daily Sketch (30 April 1912) How Captain Smith Died
The Witney Gazette (4 May 1912) Titanic Survivors' Stories On Arrival At Plymouth
Camden Post-Telegram (15 May 1912) Ismay Praised By Titanic Survivor
San Francisco Chronicle (29 May 1912) Titanic Captain Blamed For Wreck
The Washington Herald (21 July 1912) Sees Capt. Smith, And Then Calls Physician
New York Times (21 July 1912) Thinks Capt. Smith Is Alive
The Washington Times (21 July 1912) Titanic Captain "seen" On Street In Baltimore
The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City (22 July 1912) Declares Captain Of Titanic Is Alive
The Washington Times (22 July 1912) White Star Officials Scout Seeing Of Smith
Connaught Telegraph (3 August 1912) The Titanic Disaster, Due To Excessive Speed
The Evening Standard, Ogden City, Utah, (28 August 1912) Indifferent To Fate Since Father's Death
The Times (27 September 1913) Captain E. J. Smith Memorial
(21 July 1921) thinks He Saw Capt. Smith
New York Times (30 April 1931) Widow Of Titanic's Commander Is Dead
The Scotsman (1 May 1931) Titanic Captain's Widow (inquest)
Accidental Death Verdict at Inquest
(5 October 2023) captain Smith... Or Is It?
Madame Tussaud's rush out life-sized waxwork model of Captain Smith less than a month after the disaster.


Brian J. Ticehurst Titanic Review (2009) E.J. The Story of Edward J. Smith. Captain of the Titanic
A review of Gary Cooper's second book on the RMS Titanic's Captain
Inger Sheil Titanic Review (2012) Titanic Captain: The Life of Edward John Smith
Dan E. Parkes Titanic Review (2024) The Triumvirate - Review
Captain Edward J. Smith, Bruce Ismay, Thomas Andrews and the Sinking of Titanic

Documents and Certificates

1851 Census (England)
Agreement and Account of Crew, National Archives, London; BT100/259
General Register Office: Index of Births, Marriages and Deaths
(1912) Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths of Passengers and Seamen at Sea, National Archives, London; BT334/52 & 334/53

Letters and Diaries


Walter Lord (1955) A Night to Remember
Walter Lord (1986) The Night Lives On: Thoughts, Theories and Revelations about the Titanic, London, Penguin. ISBN 0 140 27900 8
Don Lynch & Ken Marschall (1992) Titanic: An Illustrated History, London, Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 56271 4
Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Sheila Jemima (1997) Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage, Sutton Publishing, Southampton City Council. ISBN 0 7509 1436 X
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In the Titanic Store

Pat Lacey (1997) Master of the Titanic, Book Guild Publishing
Rose Gallagher (2012) The Captain, Titanic & Me, YouCaxton Publications; First Edition (17 May 2012)
William Oakes (2021) The Captain's Tiger, Lulu.com (7 Dec. 2021)
Ned Schillow & Dru Schillow (2021) Titanic A Trio of Captains: In Charge, Took Charge, Discharged, Independently published (3 Aug. 2021)
Gary Cooper (2011) Titanic Captain: The Life of Edward John Smith, The History Press
Dan Parkes (2024) Titanic Legacy: The Captain, his Daughter and the Spy, Amberley Publishing (15 Nov. 2024)
James W. Bancroft (2024) Titanic's Unlucky Seven: The Story of the Ill-Fated Liner’s Officers, Pen & Sword Books Ltd (30 April 2024)

Comment and discuss

Titanic Crew Summary

Name: Captain Edward John Smith
Age: 62 years 2 months and 19 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Married to Sarah Eleanor Pennington
Occupation: Master
Last Ship: Olympic
Embarked: Southampton on Monday 1st April 1912
Died in the Titanic disaster (15th April 1912)
Body Not Identified

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