Encyclopedia Titanica

William Francis Norman O'Loughlin

RMS Titanic Surgeon

William Francis Norman O'Loughlin
William Francis Norman O'Loughlin

Dr William Francis Norman O'Loughlin was born in Tralee, Co Kerry, Ireland on 22 October 1849; he was the second son of William O’Loughlin and his wife Eliza née Matthews. He had an elder brother, Edmund Matthew (b. 25 November 1847). 

After his parents died when he was young, William was raised by his maternal uncle Benjamin Matthews, a customs official in Co Kerry who had a family of his own. 

Reportedly an alumnus of Trinity College, Dublin, O’Loughlin was registered as a student at Dublin’s Catholic University of Ireland (modern-day University College Dublin) on 8 November 1864. In the winter of 1866 his name appeared on the books of the Medical School of that institution, based at Cecilia Street, Dublin. He graduated in 1869 and remained a devoted former student and forever “looked gratefully to the rock from whence he was hewn.”

Whilst still a young man, ill health persuaded O’Loughlin to pursue his career at sea and he would spend the next forty years of his life there, proving a popular and larger-than-life personality with his fellow crewmen and the passengers. 

A late resident of Liverpool before relocating to Southampton, during the 1890s O’Loughlin served for several years aboard Majestic; prior to being transferred to the Titanic he was surgeon on board the Olympic. According to a colleague Dr J. C. H. Beaumont, O’Loughlin had some misgivings about joining the new ship:

'Whether he had any premonitions about the titanic (I think it is known that (purser) McElroy had) I cannot say, but I do know that during a talk with him in the South Western Hotel he did tell me that he was tired at this time of life to be changing from one ship to another. When he mentioned this to Captain Smith the latter chided him for being lazy and told him to pack up and come with him. So fate decreed that 'Billy' should go on the Titanic and I to the Olympic'
Dr J.C.H. Beaumont in Hyslop et al (1997) Titanic Voices

On 10 April, before Titanic sailed Dr O'Loughlin and his assistant Dr J. Edward Simpson examined the crew muster sheets with Captain Maurice Harvey Clarke, the Board of Trade immigration officer to ensure a healthy crew was aboard. Just one of the many formalities which had to be completed before the maiden voyage could begin

Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia)
28 April 1912)

Throughout the voyage he regularly dined with Thomas Andrews and 14 April was no exception. But, according to steward Thomas Whiteley on at least one occasion he dined with Captain Smith and J. Bruce Ismay. Whiteley stated:

Dr. O’Loughlin rose and lifting his glass, exclaimed: ‘let us drink to the mighty Titanic.’ With cries of approval everybody stood up and drank the toast. — North Berks. Herald, April 20, 1912 p.2

After the collision O'Loughlin whispered to stewardess Mary Sloan 'Child, things are very bad'. Reportedly refusing to don a lifejacket, later on in proceedings as the water reached C Deck, O'Loughlin stood quietly with Purser Herbert McElroy, Assistant Purser Reginald Barker and Assistant Surgeon J. Edward Simpson; for a brief time they were joined by Second Officer Herbert Lightoller and the men shook hands and said their goodbyes.

Perhaps the last person to see Dr O'Loughlin was chief baker Charles Joughin; around 1:20 Joughin had retired to his cabin to find some liquor and around 1:45 he noticed Dr O'Loughlin nearby searching for something. Joughin did not ask what he wanted but given the proximity of the pantry, he may have had a similar idea to the baker.

New York Herald
22 April 1912

O'Loughlin died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

As an officer of the ship… he made no attempt to escape when the accident happened, but bent all his energies to helping others. It is said that he did not even don a lifebelt. It was a fitting end to an unselfish and self-sacrificing career, one marked at every step by charity, not only that expected of the doctor, but signalled by so liberal giving of money as to leave him usually straitened in his circumstances… — Irish Independent, 7 May 1912

Mourned universally, a Requiem Mass was held for Dr O’Loughlin in the ornate Byzantine-style Catholic University Church, of which he had been a member; the event brought out a large crowd, with many alumni in attendance.

His brother Edmund, a resident of Paris where he lived with his wife, the former Valentine Rosalie Petit, died on 21 October 1919.

References and Sources

New York Herald, 22 April 1912, Article
North Berks. Herald, 20 April 1912 p.2
Dundalk Examiner and Louth Advertiser, 25 May 1912, The Titanic Surgeon’s Fate

Research Articles

Senan Molony Titanica! (2006) The Portrush Letter
An insight into the character of Titanic Chief Officer Henry Wilde

Newspaper Articles

New York Times (15 August 1893) THE SAILORS WERE BEATEN
New York Times (18 June 1895) MINOR SPORTS NEWS
New York Times (29 November 1906) HUGE WAVE SWEEPS OCEANIC
New York Times (17 May 1907) THE BIGGEST LINER IS NOW IN PORT
New York Times (12 September 1907) INSANE WOMAN DEPORTED
New York Times (17 August 1909) SMUGGLERS PLAN TO OUTWIT LOEB
Rockford Register Gazette (16 April 1912) COUSIN OF DR. O'LOUGHLIN
Washington Herald (21 April 1912) Describes Last Meal on Titanic
“It Was the Gayest Night of Trip Among Diners,” Says Assistant Steward
New York Times (23 April 1912) THREE BRAVE OFFICERS
Dr. O'Loughlin and Pursers McElroy and Barker on Honor Roll
Kerry Sentinel (27 April 1912) Kerry Surgeon on Titanic
Oxford Times (27 April 1912) Steward's Statement
Thomas Whiteley interviewed from his hospital bed
Binghamton Press (29 April 1912) Mrs. Cassebeer Account
New York Times (12 May 1912) News Article and Memorial Notice
Kerry Sentinel (25 May 1912) The Titanic's Tralee Doctor
New York Times (6 February 1914) DR. O'LOUGHLIN MEMORIAL
New York Times (17 February 1914) HONOR TITANIC'S SURGEON


Walter Lord (1955) A Night to Remember
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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Comment and discuss

  1. Mark Baber

    Here are two articles I recently stumbled across in the microfilms. I've written to St. Vincent's to try to find out if this plaque still exists. I'll report back once I've heard from them. MAB The New York Times, 6 February 1914 DR. O'LOUGHLIN MEMORIAL --- New Hospital Emergency Ward to Bear Name of Titanic's Surgeon --- An emergency ward in St. Vincent's Hospital containing seventeen beds, with a treatment room adjoining, will be dedicated on Feb. 16 to the memory of Dr. W. F. N. O'Loughlin, the surgeon of the Titanic. In the absence of Cardinal Farley, who sails for the... Read full post

  2. John M. Feeney

    Mark: Great finds, those! I'd never heard of this memorial either, and it's nice to know that the good doctor was so commemorated. (Some excellent background on the man, as well.) Good luck with Saint Vincent's! And thanks -- as usual, a superb contribution. Cheers, John.

  3. Cassandra Crowther

    Cassandra Crowther

    Dear Mark, How wonderful to know that Dr. O'Laughlin was honored in such a wonderful way! Imagine, being a ship's doctor for all those years-- it really is impressive.

  4. Deleted member 173198

    Deleted member 173198

    Congratulations Mark! Well done this is an excellent discovery. If this memorial does survive at St. Vincent's then have you thought about notifying Brian Ticehurst in Britain. Brian does a beautiful book which is constantly being update and dedicate to the Titanic Memorials World-wide. Best wishes Andrew W.

  5. David Huffaker

    Does anyone know the name of the doctor's parents and his birthdate?

  6. Mark Baber

    >have you thought about notifying Brian Ticehurst in Britain Brian is a member of one of the mailing lists where I posted this information when I posted it here, and responded on that list with a lengthy post about Dr. O'L. If/when I find out if the plaque still exists, he'll know about it, both through that list and through a private email. MAB

  7. Josefine Venneman

    Mark, I know it's been 10 years since this post, but I'm very interested to know, did you ever find out about the plaque was still there? I believe it may be to late to try and find out now as St Vincent's has closed down.

  8. John Lamoreau

    Josefine, I saw this post and wanted to let you know that I have obtained the plaque. It was quite a search. But it is safe. I have pictures if your are interested. Sincerely, John

  9. Mark Baber

    That's great news, John! What do you plan to do with it? Care to post a photo here?

  10. John Lamoreau

    Here is a picture... Mark, I host an annul Titanic Dinner. I plan to have it on display at next year's dinner. This is a spectacular item. It belongs in a museum. I have put a yard stick on it to give you an idea of dimensions. It is 51 1

  11. Mark Baber

    Terrific, John. Thanks.

  12. John Lamoreau

    Mark, This plaque belongs in a museum where more people can see it. I have been contacted by the good Doctor’s hometown where no memorial for him exists. That might be a good place. But I am very open on where it should go.

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Titanic Crew Summary

Name: Dr William Francis Norman O'Loughlin
Age: 62 years 5 months and 24 days (Male)
Nationality: Irish
Marital Status: Single
Last Residence: at Polygon HouseSouthampton, Hampshire, England
Occupation: Surgeon
Last Ship: Olympic
Embarked: Belfast
Died in the Titanic disaster (15th April 1912)
Body Not Identified

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