William Murdoch, Titanic’s First Officer

William Murdoch, Titanic’s First Officer

William Murdoch, Titanic's First Officer

Murdoch in 1900, age 27, when he was Medic’s second officer.

William McMaster Murdoch, first officer of Titanic  (1912), was born in Dalbeattie, Scotland, on 28 February 1873. Murdoch was the officer in charge on the bridge when Titanic fatally collided with an iceberg. He was also one of the over 1,500 people who died in the disaster.

Murdoch joined White Star Line after working on several sailing vessels. Assigned to White Star’s Australian service, he served on both Medic and Runic. He was later transferred to the Atlantic liners Arabic (1903), Adriatic (1907), Celtic (1901), Germanic (1875), Oceanic (1899), Olympic (1911) and, finally, Titanic. In 1907, Murdoch married a New Zealand school teacher, Ada Florence Banks, whom he met in 1903 while heading to England on either Runic or the Medic.

In an officer staff shakeup announced shortly before Titanic’s maiden voyage, Capt. Edward J. Smith appointed Olympic’s Henry T. Wilde as his chief officer. The decision forced Murdoch, the incumbent chief officer, to step down to first officer.

According to the accounts of several surviving eyewitnesses, Murdoch worked diligently after the collision to load passengers into the far-too-few lifeboats. Yet in at least two Titanic movies Murdoch was shown shooting passengers and himself during the sinking. No credible proof of these actions has ever emerged, and it’s likely that these scenes were simply, and unfairly, added to the films to create dramatic tension. Murdoch’s body, if recovered, was never identified.

On 4 April 2012, Murdoch’s personal belongings were discovered 2.5 miles beneath the North Atlantic at the Titanic wreck site. The artifacts—including a shoe brush, straight razor, buttons, long johns and pipe—were recovered by RMS Titanic Inc.

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