Lieutenant William McMaster Murdoch RNR (February 28th, 1873 - April 15th, 1912) was the First Officer aboard the RMS Titanic, which sank in the Atlantic in 1912. Murdoch was on duty that night when he heard the shout: "Iceberg right ahead!", before he famously replied: "Stop engines, hard a-starboard, full astern", and then rang the warning bell.
In two films about the Titanic, Murdoch was portrayed shooting passengers and himself during the sinking; this was based on a number of eyewitness testimonies of a shooting/suicide by an officer during the launching of the last lifeboat. It is possible that Murdoch was the officer. At present, there has been no evidence as yet to prove that William Murdoch was not the officer seen committing suicide. Murdoch has become a figure of controversy, with mystery surrounding the circumstances of his death and actions during the collision with the iceberg.
Life and career
Murdoch was born in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the fourth son of Captain Samuel Murdoch, a master mariner, and Jane Muirhead, six of whose children survived infancy. The Murdoch's were a long and notable line of Scottish seafarers who sailed the world's oceans as early as the 19th century; William's father and grandfather were both sea captains as were four of his grandfather's brothers and it is little wonder that he followed in the family tradition.
Murdoch was educated first at the old Dalbeattie Primary School in High Street, and then at the High School in Alpine Street until he gained his diploma in 1887. He was remembered as being an intelligent and hard-working scholar. Finishing schooling, he followed in the family seafaring tradition and was apprenticed for five years to William Joyce & Coy, Liverpool, but after four years (and four voyages) he was so competent that he passed his Second Mate's Certificate on his first attempt.
He served his apprenticeship aboard the Charles Cosworth of Liverpool, trading to the west coast of South America. It would have been a harsh apprenticeship, but it gave Murdoch the determination he needed to succeed. From May 1895 he was First Mate on the Saint Cuthbert, which was to sink in a hurricane off Uruguay in 1897. Murdoch gained his Extra Master's Certificate at Liverpool in 1896, at the age of 23. From 1897 to 1899 he was First Officer aboard the J.Joyce & Co. steel four-masted 2,534-ton barque Lydgate, that traded from New York to Shanghai.
From 1900 to 1912, Murdoch gradually progressed from Second Officer to First Officer, serving on a successive number of White Star Line vessels, Medic (1900 - along with Charles Lightoller, Titanic's second officer), Runic (1901-1903), Arabic (1903]), Celtic (1904), Germanic (1904), Oceanic (1905), Cedric (1906), Adriatic (1907-1911) and the Olympic (1911-1912).
In 1903, Murdoch finally reached the stormy and glamorous North Atlantic run as Second Officer of the new liner Arabic. His cool head, quick thinking and professional judgement averted a disaster when a ship was spotted bearing down on the Arabic out of the darkness. He overrided a command from his superior, Officer Fox, to steer hard-a-port, rushing into the wheelhouse, brushing aside the quartermaster and holding the ship on course. The two ships passed within inches of one another. Any alteration in course would have actually caused a collision.
The final stage of Murdoch's career began in May 1911, when he joined the new RMS Olympic, at 45,000 tons. Intended to outclass the Cunard ships in luxury and size Olympic needed the most experienced large-liner crew that the White Star Line could find. CaptainEdward J. Smith assembled a crew that included Henry Tingle Wilde as Chief Officer, William Murdoch as First Officer, and Chief Purser Hugh W. McElroy. On June 14th, 1911, Olympic made her maiden voyage to New York.
The first indications of what was to come occurred on September 20th, when the Olympic had her hull badly damaged in a collision with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke. Since Murdoch was at his docking-station at the stern of the ship during this collision—a highly responsible position—he found himself giving evidence in the inquiry into an incident that turned into a financial disaster for the White Star Line, as the voyage to New York had to be abandoned and the Olympic taken to Belfast for repairs, which took a good six weeks. It was thus not until December 11th, 1911; that Murdoch rejoined his ship. During the time that he served aboard Olympic as First Officer (until some time in March of 1912) there were two further -though lesser- incidents, striking a sunken wreck and having to have a broken propeller replaced, and nearly running aground while leaving Belfast.
However, upon reaching Southampton, he learned that he had been appointed as Chief Officer of the new Titanic, sister ship to Olympic and reputedly the largest and most luxurious ship afloat. Lightoller later remarked that "three very contented chaps" headed north to Belfast, for he had been appointed First Officer, and their friend Davy Blair was to be the new second officer. Awaiting them would be an old Adriatic hand, Joseph Groves Boxhall, as Fourth Officer, and others who would be familiar colleagues, including the now ageing Edward John Smith, as Captain, and on the verge of retirement.
Thirty nine year-old Murdoch, with an "ordinary master's certificate" and a reputation as a "canny and dependable man" had climbed through the ranks of the White Star Line to become one of its foremost senior officers. It was only natural that he was selected to be Titanic's Chief Officer, with sixteen years of maritime experience now behind him.
Murdoch had originally been assigned as the ship's Chief Officer, though when the Titanic's skipper Edward Smith brought Henry T. Wilde, his Chief from his previous command, Murdoch was temporarily reduced to First while First Officer Charles Lightoller was in turn reduced to Second. The original Second, David Blair, would sit out the voyage altogether while the rest of the ship's complement of officers remained unchanged.
Murdoch was the officer in charge at the bridge when the Titanic struck the iceberg on April 14th, 1912. He gave orders to "full speed astern" and "hard a-starboard." Some historians argue that reversing the engines gave a higher chance of hitting the iceberg than reducing the ship's forward motion and slowly turning the ship.
Many historians now argue that he did not order "full astern" at all, but rather "full stop". One source of this claim stems from lead stoker Frederick Barrett, who explained in the inquiries that the signal he had followed that lead to his order to "shut the dampers" came from a red light in the boiler room that signaled "stop". Having been at a better vantage point than Officer Boxhall (who testified the signals were set to full astern) at the time, it's quite possible that the order was indeed full stop. However, there will never be a definitive answer to the exact order given.
Murdoch was put in charge of launching the the starboard lifeboats. He was also present at the shooting at Collapsible C.
During the final moments of the sinking, he was seen attempting to launch Collapsible Lifeboat A. He was never seen again after Titanic disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean; Murdoch's body was never recovered.
In his home town of Dalbeattie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland there is a memorial to his heroism and a charitable prize has been established in his name.
Murdoch is portrayed by Theo Shall. In this version he is not the First Officer, being replaced in that role by the fictitious Herr Petersen. Instead, Murdoch wears the uniform for a Chief Officer.
In the 1953 film Titanic, Murdoch was portrayed by Barry Bernard.
A Night to Remember
In the 1958 film A Night to Remember, he was portrayed by Richard Leech. He is first seen on the bridge before Titanic departs Southampton. He is then seen taking over the watch from Lightoller at 10:00 pm on the 14th. He orders "Hard a starboard!" when the iceberg is sighted, and watches as the iceberg approaches. He is ordered by Captain Smith to muster the passengers when the evacuations begin. Although we don't see him launching much lifeboats, it is mentioned by a woman on the port side that on the starboard side "the gentlemen are going in with their ladies." which presumes Murdoch, just like in real life, allowed men to board if no more women and children were in sight. He reluctantly allowing Bruce Ismay to escape on Collapsible C and was last seen struggling to free Collapsible A from the ship's deck house roof with Lightoller and Moody, before the bridge submerged into the freezing North Atlantic ocean leading to Murdoch's death.
In the 1979 made-for-television film S.O.S. Titanic, he was played by Paul Young.
In the 1996 miniseries Titanic, Murdoch was portrayed by Malcolm Stewart. He is shown denying firemen access to the last lifeboat. He takes his gun, saying "I will shoot the next man who moves." Immediately someone tries to get past Murdoch, who indeed shoots him. He turns to two other officers who watched it all, and says to them "Well, gentlemen, I suppose it's every man for himself," and shoots himself.
In the 1997 film Titanic, Murdoch was portrayed by Ewan Stewart. It depicted him shooting two men dead. After this, Murdoch saluted Chief Officer Wilde and committed suicide. A portrayal that led to such controversy among his relatives and forcing James Cameron to apologize to the relatives.
He was first shown in the film where Captain Smith gives the order: "Take her to sea Mr. Murdoch, Let's stretch her legs" to which Murdoch walks over to the bridge and turns the engine telegraph to "All ahead full". After the ship is seen building in speed, reports to Smith with good news Twenty-one knots, sir!” much to Smith's satisfaction.
Murdoch is not shown until much later where he takes over for Lightoller at the 10PM watches, he asks the second officer "Did you ever find the binoculars for the lookouts?" to which Lightoller responds "Haven't seen them since Southampton". While looking out for icebergs, he spots Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater kissing on the forward well deck below, he turns away smiling warmly to himself.
Shortly after this he hears Frederick Fleet ring the lookout bell four times he notices the iceberg in the distance and dashes to to the bride, moments after James Paul Moody answers the call from the lookout informing them of the iceberg, to give Robert Hichens the order "hard to starboard" alongside Moody" and is then seem signaling the engine room telegraph to "Stop" and "Full Speed Astern" to Joseph Bell in the engine room. He then calls out to Moody "Is it hard over?" to which Moody responds that it is. He is then show muttering under his breath for the ship to turn. However despite their efforts the ship fatally strikes the iceberg and Murdoch watches in horror as the iceberg scrapes its side. He then shouts the order "Hard-a-port" and takes another horrified look at the iceberg. Murdoch then rushed to the bridge and pushes alarm bell and watertight door at the same time. Murdoch notices all the watertight doors are closed and orders to "note the time and enter it into the log".
At the moment Captain Smith arrives on the bridge and asks what they hit to which Murdoch responds "An iceberg sir" and explains he tried to "put a hard-to-starboard and the engines full astern but it was too close, I tried to port round it but she hit" Smith orders him to close the watertight doors to which Murdoch responds he had done so. Murdoch then follows Smith outside onto the right wing on the bridge looking for the iceberg, upon looking at the ice that has fallen on the deck he orders Murdoch to “Find the Carpenter and get him to sound the ship" to which Murdoch nods to.
After this, Murdoch is present with Smith, the other ships officers, Joseph Bruce Ismay and Thomas Andrews when Andrews explains the seriousness of the damage to the ship and that Titanic will indeed founder much to the shock of everyone present. Smith asks Andrews how much time do they have to which Andrews responds "an hour two at most", Smith then asks "And how many aboard, Mr. Murdoch?" to which Murdoch, still in shock from the whole ordeal, states "Two thousand two hundred souls aboard, sir".
Murdoch is later shown beginning the starboard evacuation first seen in the launching of Lifeboat 7 when it nearly spills it occupants into the sea shouting at the crew "hold the left side!… lower away together!" and is later shown lowering lifeboats on the starboard side shouting at those still on board to "stay back" as Lifeboat 15 nearly lowers on top of Lifeboat 13. Around this time, Caledon Hockley and Spicer Lovejoy, noticing the Murdoch was allowing men into a lifeboat to this end, they conspire to escape with Cal approaching Murdoch, "Mr. Murdoch, I’m a businessman, as you know, and I have a business proposition for you".
Later, at the loading of Collapsible C, Murdoch having noticed the boat deck has been empty asks a seaman "where is everyone?" to which the seaman responds "They're all still aft sir". Cal then appears to give Murdoch the money to secure his spot on the lifeboat stating "Do we have an understanding, Mr. Murdoch?" to which Murdoch makes no reply and look of disdain and nods off, at this time Lovejoy notices that Rose is on the portside waiting for Collapsible D with Jack and his friends Fabrizio de Rossi and Tommy Ryan, with the loading of Collapsible C almost filled Murdoch shouts "Any more women and children?" to which Ismay responds "they're all aboard Mr. Murdoch" to which Murdoch shouts "Anyone else then?" while glancing at Cal, but Cal having been informed that Rose is on the port side decides against his better judgment and walks away, at that moment Murdoch shouts "prepare to lower" to which Ismay, seeing this as his chance to escape, hops aboard the lifeboat, Murdoch then turns around and notices to see the White Star Line president sitting in the lifeboat, Murdoch briefly looks at him in disappointment for a few moments before shouting the order to "Take them down".
Following the launching of Collapsible C, Murdoch with Moody and Wilde prepare to launch Collapsible A by retrieving it from its place of storage on top of the officers quarters, he orders the oars to be against the side of the officer’s quarters and the lifeboat slides down, the wooden oars snapping causing the boat to buckle as it lands on the boat deck, Murdoch jumps from the roof and runs towards the stairwell and notices the water rushing up below, realizing they have no time he shouts: "Get these davits straightened up and the falls hooked up!".
Around this time the passengers rush towards Collapsible A and Collapsible B as they are the only two lifeboats remaining on deck (among them Tommy Fabrizio and Cal) rush to board the lifeboat as a result panic ensures and Murdoch is forced to draw out his revolver and shouting at the crowd to stay back. Tommy approaches him and shouts "Will you give us a chance to live, you limey bastards!" to which Murdoch levels his gun at the crowd "I’ll shoot any man who tries to get past me! Get back!" at that moment, Cal steps up to him and "We had a deal, damn you." a disgusted Murdoch furiously throws the money back into his face, enraging him and responds coldly telling him "Your money can’t save you any more than it can save me." he then shoves Cal back into the crowd next to Tommy and points his revolver right at him. All of a sudden a man attempts to jump over Murdoch to board and Murdoch shoots him down startling the crowd to accidentally push Tommy forward causing a panicked Murdoch to shoot him without thinking, Tommy collapses and dies in the hands of Fabrizio, who furiously curses Murdoch for having killed him.
Murdoch, realizing what he has done, looks around at Fabrizio devastated at Tommy's sudden death and his blood flowing down the deck to the crew preparing the lifeboat and then to the passengers with Cal looking at him disapprovingly. Overwhelmed and riddled with guilt, Murdoch salutes to the crew and Wilde turns around to see Murdoch point the gun at his head he shouts "No, Will!" but Murdoch pulls the trigger and falls off the side of the ship and lands into the water faced down, his body is shown floating in the water afterwards. From the point on Wilde is seen taking over the situation and tries to launch Collapsible A as water rushes up on deck towards it and Collapsible B on the portside which has fallen upside down on the deck.
In the end of the film, Murdoch is seen next to Thomas Andrews smiling at Rose as she returns to the Grand Staircase to be with Jack and is seen among the rest of the happy onlookers clapping as Rose and Jack kiss as among those who died in the sinking.
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In the 2012 miniseries Titanic, Murdoch is portrayed by Brian McCardie.
Over two weeks before the maiden voyage, Chief Officer Murdoch discusses the possibility of a terrorist attack on the Titanic with Captain Smith, First Officer Lightoller, and Second Officer David Blair.
On 9 April, all officers meet in a conference room on board he ship. Henry Tingle Wilde is announced to become Chief Officer, Blair is discharged off the Titanic, and Murdoch and Lightoller both go down one rank.
On the Sunday evening of the maiden voyage, Smith wants to make a little "headway" and arrive half a day earlier, but Ismay reminds him of the fact White Star doesn't try to gain the Blue Riband. Ismay goes to bed and Smith repeats his wish, even though Murdoch says they had a few ice warnings.
Later, Titanic is sinking. Stewards Annie Desmond and Paolo Sandrini are filling a lifeboat with women and children. Fourth Officer Boxhall forbids Paolo from allowing Second Class women into the lifeboats from A Deck, he thinks they have to board from the Boat Deck. Paolo almost clashes with Boxhall until Murdoch arrives and orders all women and children into the lifeboats.
Murdoch then heads to another lifeboat, where he calls for any more women. John Batley brings his wife towards the boat, and asks permission to join her. Second Officer Lightoller said 'no men' but Murdoch ignores that and allows Batley in.
Before the Batley's can enter the lifeboat, most of the Maloney family run to the boat, where Mary Maloney suddenly gets trampled. Lord Manton helps to get her up. Muriel is also trampled, but John refuses help from Lord Manton. The Maloney family board lifeboat 15, and Murdoch orders steward Hart to take charge.
Murdoch is last seen speaking with Captain Smith in the bridge, his death isn't shown.