First Officer William M. Murdoch

The man who was “caught in the middle” by the last-minute reshuffling of the Titanic‘s senior officers William McMaster Murdoch.  A short, wiry man with a pleasantly plain face and a ready smile that heralded boundless good humor, Murdoch was a Scot from Dalbeattie in Galloway, the son of a seafaring family (his father and grandfather had both been captains).  Like Smith, Wilde, and Lightoller, he had done his apprenticeship in sail and earned all his certificates, including his Extra Master’s ticket.  He joined the White Star Line in 1900, the same year as Chief Officer Wilde, serving first in the Australian trade, then moving to the passenger liners of the North Atlantic.  He had served on an impressive succession of White Star ships, including the Runic, the Arabic, the Celtic, the Oceanic, the Cedric, and the Adriatic, the latter under Captain Smith.   (It was aboard the Arabic in 1903 that he met a 29-year-old school teacher from New Zealand, Ada Florence Banks; four years later, they were married.)

Most recently Murdoch had been Captain Smith’s First Officer for two months on the Olympic, so he felt far more at ease with the Titanic than did Lightoller.  Like Lightoller, though, he was less than happy about being replaced at the last minute.  But Murdoch was  a conscientious officer, and as he had amply demonstrated over the years, he was an excellent seaman, with nearly faultless judgement and iron nerves: in one outstanding incident, in late 1903 aboard the Arabic, Murdoch, the ship’s Second Officer and current officer of the watch, saw a steamer almost dead ahead of the Arabic bearing down on the liner.  He ordered a quick turn to port, so that the two ships could pass on each other’s starboard side (“green-to-green”) as per the Rules of the Road.  Just as the ship began her turn, Murdoch spotted a second ship, this one a sailing coaster, closing in on the Arabic‘s port side.  Knowing that there was no time for a verbal helm order and its acknowledgment, Murdoch shouldered the quartermaster aside and steadied the wheel on a course that would guide the Arabic between both ships, and passed them by without further incident.  Captain Smith was certain to be glad an officer with Murdoch’s skill and judgment was on board.

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