Who Were They Wednesday

Officer William Mcmaster Murdoch

content: Elena Vukosa

Olympic Crew 1911
9th June 1911: Officers of the White Star liner 'Olympic' including Lieutenant Murdoch (far left) and Captain John Smith (right) later captain of the ill-fated 'Titanic.' (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)


Perhaps one of the most mysterious stories from the night of the sinking of the Titanic revolves around William Murdoch, First Officer only due to a twist of fate that placed Henry Tingle Wilde in the Chief Officer position just before the ship sailed. Murdoch had earlier served aboard the Olympic, which would return to Belfast in March of 1912. Murdoch would then sign onto Titanic, leaving Olympic before she would embark on her next voyage.


Previously, Murdoch had served with Captain E.J. Smith three times and served as a senior officer on four maiden voyages. He was no stranger to these trips. Curiously enough, a letter written to his parents on April 11, 1912 doesn’t mention the change in rank (letter pictured).


Murdoch was the officer on watch at the time the iceberg was sighted. He would hear the ice warning relayed to him by Sixth Officer James Moody  and quickly attempt to turn the liner hard to starboard, attempting to manoeuvre the bow away from the danger by turning the ship to port. He would signal the engines to stop and then also would attempt to “port the ship” around the berg by turning her to the starboard, but Titanic still grazed the berg as she passed.

William McMaster Murdoch. Photograph taken approx 1907

During the sinking, Murdoch would be in charge of the starboard boats, following the rule of women and children first until there were none visible. Chances are he recognized the seriousness of the situation and therefore attempted to fill the boats by letting in any men lingering about on the boats to save as many people as possible.


William McMaster Murdoch was from a seafaring family that, together with their related families, formed one of Britain’s larger families of masters in sail. However, out of himself and his two brothers, he would be the only son of Captain Samuel Murdoch who followed the call of the sea.


He was lucky enough to start his career with an apprenticeship. In 1892 he passed the examination for the second mate’s certificate. By 1905, he had worked his way up to be first officer on White Star’s brand new Adriatic. 


There is a question as to Murdoch’s ultimate fate. As depicted in James Cameron’s “Titanic” (1997), some believe that he shot himself. In the film, Murdoch is depicted as shooting himself after accidentally shooting steerage passenger Tommy. James Cameron would later note in “Titanic: 20 Years Later” that he wished he hadn’t put that scene in the film as it was too jarring for the Murdoch relatives. 

Murdoch was last reported as among those trying to free and launch Collapsible boat A on the starboard side of the first funnel. 

His body was never recovered.

Letters from the Titanic by Claes-Goran Wetterholm
Murdoch's last letter to his parents dated April 11 1912

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