William McMaster Murdoch was born 28th February 1873 in Dalbeattie, Scotland. He was the fourth of seven children of Captain Samuel Murdoch and his wife Jeanie. The Murdochs had been a seafaring family for several generations. Of Captain Samuel Murdoch's sons, however, it was only William who chose the sea for a career.
In 1888 at the age of 15, after graduating from Dalbeattie High School with top honors he signed-on to the 1079 ton Barque the Charles Cotesworth. The Charles Cotesworth's first destination was San Francisco. The next voyages saw the Charles Cotesworth sailing to Portland,Oregon (1889/90), Valparaiso (1890/91) and Iquique (1891/92). In 1892 Murdoch left the Charles Cotesworth, and successfully passed the examination for his 2nd mate's certificate. In August 1893 he signed a crew list again, this time aboard the full-rigger Iquiqe, as second officer.
Master of this ship was none other than his Father, Captain Samuel Murdoch. The Iquique sailed from Rotterdam to Frederikstad (Sweden) and from there to Cape Town which was followed by the destinations Newcastle, Antofagasta and Iquique. The port of discharge was London thus the Iquique - and with her Will Murdoch - had completed a trip around the world. The voyage took approximately 18 months, and it was the first and the last time that Murdoch sailed on a ship that was commanded by his father. In March 1895 Murdoch passed the examination for the 1st mate's certificate, and in May 1895 he joined the barque St. Cuthburt, as First Officer. St. Cuthbert sailed from Ipswich to Mauritius, and from there to Newport (Wales) via Newcastle, Callao and Hamburg (Germany). In September of 1896 William passed the examination for his Extra Master's Certificate and passed it on his first attempt. He was the only one of his fellow Titanic officers to pass all of their Board of Trade exams on first attempt. Only in April 1897 Murdoch signed a crew agreement again, he joined the four-mast barque Lydgate, as first mate. She had a gross tonnage of 2534 tons thus being much bigger than the ships he had served on before. The Lydgate sailed from New York to Shanghai, then to Portland, Oregon, afterwards to Tsientin (China), from there to Portland, Oregon again and finally to Antwerp (Belgium) where Murdoch signed off on 2nd May 1899.
Later in 1899 William joined the White Star Line where he would serve faithfully for the next 12.5 years. His first appointment was fourth officer on the Medic on the Australian run. it was the first maiden voyage that William would take part in, it certainly not the last. On his second voyage on the Medic he was third officer, now serving as Fourth Officer was Charles Herbert Lightoller. William and Charles became fast friends, William and Charles would always remain very close lifelong friends. In June 1901, Murdoch was promoted to second officer of the White Star liner Runic, another ship in the Australian service. Runic departed on her maiden voyage 3 January 1901. This promotion made Murdoch to the lowest ranking senior officer, nevertheless, during his watch he was responsible for the ship when the master was not on the bridge. On the voyage that commenced 12th February 1903, William met Ada Florence Banks, a school teacher from New Zealand, the two started a long distance correspondence.
After this voyage, he was transferred to the Arabic as her second officer. Arabic left Liverpool on her maiden voyage 26 June 1903. Her destination was New York which meant that Murdoch had arrived on the Atlantic Run. In Murdoch's time on the Arabic, an incident happened, that was mentioned in "the Odyssey of C.H. Lightoller", by Patrick Stenson, that is an interesting foreshadowing of what was to come 9 years later. Edwin Jones was third officer aboard Arabic for at least two voyages in 1903 thus serving together with Murdoch who ranked as second officer. Murdoch came on duty one evening. Visibility was poor, and in the moment Murdoch and Jones entered the bridge together, the lookout reported a ship ahead. While everybody else still tried to figure the light out, Murdoch reacted at once: He shoved the quartermaster aside and grabbed the helm himself, keeping the Arabic on course. first officer Fox, who still was in charge of the bridge, ordered: "hard-a-port", but Murdoch did not react. When the first officer noticed his mistake and ordered: "Midships the helm! Steady! Steady as she goes!" he was simply confirming Murdoch's first decision on which he had acted on his own initiative. Murdoch, unperturbed as always, had not moved the wheel an inch thus avoiding a collision with a sailing ship in which a change of course into any direction would have inevitably resulted.
From January 1904, onwards, William, Served on the Celtic, as second officer, he was later promoted to first officer. Celtic was the first ship of the so-called "Big Four. When she had entered service in 1901 she had been the biggest ship afloat. With a GRT of 21,035 tons she was gigantic for 1901. Celtic was engaged in the Atlantic Run as well thus Murdoch remained within the company's premium service.
Murdoch was then transferred to the Germanic, He kept his rank as first officer, and he made two voyages on this ship. Germanic had entered service in 1875. In 1902, the White Star Line had become part of the International Mercantile Marine, a large American shipping trust. After buying several companies, the IMM started a restructuring and subsequently ships were exchanged amongst the various labels within the IMM. Germanic was transferred to the American Line and sailed under the new flag from Southampton to New York, which then was a secondary service considered from IMM's point of view. However, Captain Bartlett and the other officers like, Murdoch, were White Star Line officers on the American Line's Germanic.
Murdoch was back in the premium service in 1905 when he joined the flag ship of the White Star Line, the Oceanic as second officer, Murdoch, would again be serving with his good friend and colleague Charles Lightoller. Murdoch served under Captain John G. Cameron.
Murdoch and Cameron were transferred to the Cedric, 1906. After two voyages with Cedric, Cameron, Murdoch and others were transferred back to Oceanic - and Murdoch served as second officer again, but it was only for one more voyage. After that, he was promoted to first officer on sailing and kept this rank until the beginning of 1907.
In May 1907 Murdoch became first officer on the brand new Adriatic. Adriatic was the then biggest ship of the company and flag ship. She was the fourth of the "Big Four". Master was Captain Edward John Smith. Adriatic's maiden voyage began in Liverpool, England, and ended in New York. Southampton was where White Star's premium service to the USA started from after the maiden voyage of the Adriatic. The Adriatic's maiden voyage was the third one Murdoch took part in, and it was the second time he served as senior officer on a maiden voyage.
He remained 1st officer of this ship until May 1911 - only Charles Cotesworth, the ship he served his apprenticeship on, had seen him on her decks a longer period of time. Murdoch stepped out for one round trip in 1907. He married Ada Florence Banks, his acquaintance from Runic, in Southampton on 2nd September 1907. They settled at 94 Belmont Road, Portswood, Southampton. Murdoch remained on the Adriatic and signed on for the next voyage but was replaced on sailing day by C. H. Greame. Murdoch was sent to Belfast to join the Olympic the newest, grandest ship of the WSL fleet.
Olympic's maiden voyage was the fourth maiden voyage for Murdoch, and for the third time he was one of the senior officers. If Murdoch had hoped to be promoted to chief officer on Olympic's second voyage, but his hope was in vain. The original chief officer, Robert Evans left, but he was quickly replaced by Henry Tingle Wilde, who was also chief officer of the Titanic.
Olympic's fifth voyage saw an unexpected incident, however, When leaving Southampton, the Olympic collided with the cruiser HMS Hawke. The damage done to the Olympic was so bad she had to go to back to Belfast for repairs which meant that the next round trip had to be cancelled. Master and crew of the Olympic had an unexpected time to spend ashore. This time was only interrupted by the fact that they had to give at testimony the inquiry to the collision, Murdoch and the other officers testified at the Olympic Inquiries. The repairs to the Olympic slightly delayed the construction/fitting-out of the Titanic.
The end of November saw Olympic back in service to New York, but in March 1912 she was in Belfast again, on the return leg of a roundtrip she had thrown a propeller blade. The next scheduled voyage in March had to be postponed for a week due to this repair, but when that voyage began, Murdoch had left the ship. He traveled to Belfast once again where he signed on as chief officer of the Titanic. Master of the Titanic was Captain Haddock, but he left the vessel a few days after signing on, and on 1 April 1912 Edward John Smith took over. Since Captain Smith arrived only after Captain Haddock had left the ship, it was Murdoch as highest ranking officer who was in charge of the ship. Yet another Setback was to come for Murdoch and the senior officers, with the arrival of new chief officer, Henry Wilde, Murdoch was demoted to first officer, and original first officer Charles Lightoller was demoted to second officer, and original second officer David Blair had to sit out the maiden voyage completely. Charles Lightoller Said it best in his Autobiography Titanic and other Ships "Unfortunately, whilst in Southampton, we had a re-shuffle amongst the Senior Officers. Owing to the OLYMPIC being laid up, the ruling lights of the White Star Line thought it would be a good plan to send the Chief Officer of the Olympic, just for the one voyage, as Chief Officer of the TITANIC, to help, with his experience of her sister ship. This doubtful policy threw both Murdoch and me out of our stride; and, apart from the disappointment of having to step back in our rank, caused quite a little confusion. Murdoch, from Chief, took over my duties as First, I stepped back on Blair's toes as Second, and picked up the many threads of his job, whilst he,--luckily for him as it turned out--was left behind. The other officers remained the same. However, a couple of days in Southampton saw each of us settled in our new positions and familiar with our duties." -Lightoller Titanic And Other Ships , 1935.
It was Murdoch's fifth maiden voyage (and the fourth as senior officer plus the third with Edward John Smith in command and the second of a ship of the Olympic class, the Olympic class consisted of the ships Olympic, Titanic, and her sister the Gigantic, renamed the Britannic after the loss of the Titanic. ) and no other deck officer of the White Star Line had served as senior officer on the flagship from January 1905 until April 1912. If there was "the senior officer of the flag ship", then it must have been Will Murdoch!
When Titanic left Southampton 10th April 1912, she sailed into history. During Murdoch's evening watch on 14 April 1912 she struck an iceberg, at 11:40 pm. When the Titanic was evacuated, Murdoch was in charge of the boats on the starboard side. According to survivors' evidence, Murdoch loaded the boats which were lowered under his orders with more people than his fellow officers. He also allowed anyone, man or woman into the lifeboats. However, there is also boat 1 which is said to be loaded under Murdoch's order and lowered with only 12 people in it although 40 could have been accommodated. However, it was fifth officer Harold Lowe who stated in front of the British Titanic Inquiry that he had been the one who had given the order to lower boat 1 with only 12 people in it, according to the rules of seniority, Lowe could only have been in charge when no higher ranking officer was supervising.
Murdoch's death will forever remain a mystery, some say he was washed off the deck while trying to launch collapsible "A" , but others say that he committed suicide after shooting two passengers, who were trying to charge a lifeboat. Whatever his cause of death may be one thing is for sure William Murdoch made the utmost effort to save people, 2/3 of the people saved that night owe their lives to him. Of the countless souls lost to the world that night, there was a man so dearly held by so many. William McMaster Murdoch was known for far more than just his gallantry and relentless drive. This true gentleman was just as fondly remembered for kindness and gentleness as well. There was a sincerity about him that so many sought to know. Those that had known him in life had seen more than just a consummate professional; they had seen the compassionate individual as well.
Today there is a plaque erected on the Dalbeattie town hall in his memorial, also a Prize at the local school in Dalbeattie, Dumfries is awarded in his honour every year.
Titanic and other ships, by Charles Herbert Lightoller
The Odyssey of C.H. Lightoller by Patrick Stenson