Primary accounts - no mention of an officer's suicide
Harold S. Bride, 2nd Marconi Officer
Marconi Operator Harold Bride gave a number of accounts as to how he escaped from the Titanic, the most important of these being his New York Times article of April 19, his testimony at the US Inquiry on April 20, the testimony at the British Inquiry on April 23 and his report to the Marconi Company on April 27, 1912 (entered into the US Inquiry of May 4). All of these accounts are very similar in their sequence of events.
The following is from the report to the Marconi Company:
"Leaving the cabin, we climbed on top of the houses comprising the officers' quarters and our own, and here I saw the last of Mr. Phillips, for he disappeared walking aft.
I now assisted in pushing off a collapsible lifeboat, which was on the port side of the forward funnel, onto the boat deck. Just as the boat fell I noticed Capt. Smith dive from the bridge into the sea.
Then followed a general scramble down on the boat deck, but no sooner had we got there than the sea washed over. I managed to catch hold of the boat we had previously fixed up and was swept overboard with her."
For the full text of the Marconi report, click here.
Bride makes no mention of any gunshots at all. According to this account, Bride was washed off the port side of the Boat Deck with an overturned collapsible, which would have been Collapsible B. This would have happened either at, or very close to, the time Collapsible A was washed off the starboard side of the Boat Deck. He makes no mention of seeing Mr. Murdoch (who in any case was on the starboard side of the Titanic), but does see Captain Smith jump into the sea from the bridge.
In fact, in this exchange with Senator Smith about messages being sent to the bridge, at the US Inquiry (page 143), Bride had this to say about the Titanic’s officers:
Smith: You took it (the message) to
the officer on the bridge?
Bride: Yes; on the bridge.
Smith: Was that officer Mr. Murdoch?
Bride: I could not tell you, sir.
Smith: Do you know Mr. Murdoch?
Bride: No, sir; I know the officers by sight, but I do not know their names.
On the night of the sinking, Bride would not have recognized Murdoch, other than as one of the officers, even if Murdoch had been near him.
All of Bride’s 1912 accounts - the New York Times interview, the Marconi report and both Inquiries – all concur that Bride was on the port side of the Boat Deck when the bridge submerged.
In 1954 and 1955, Bride gave an series of interviews to researcher Ernest Robinson, and told Robinson that he had been standing next to Murdoch on the (starboard) Boat Deck, when Collapsible A left the ship. Both men were washed off the Boat Deck at the same time, and the last Bride saw of him, he was lying motionless in the water. This is at variance with Bride's 1912 accounts, where he makes no mention of seeing Murdoch at the end, or of being on the starboard side.
A possibility put forth by the Murdoch site at www.dalbeattie.com (Dalbeattie is Murdoch’s home town), is that Bride crossed over to the starboard side of the Boat Deck, after helping to get Collapsible B down to the deck. Murdoch and Bride were swept into the sea, as the starboard deck dipped under. Bride was pulled under, then came up under Collapsible B in the water. However, this speculation about Bride's movements, is not corroborated by anything Bride said in 1912.
It is possible that sometime between 1912 and 1955, Bride had become familiar with Murdoch's face through photographs and recognized him at that point. It is also possible that the officer that Bride later thought was Murdoch, was actually Lightoller working on Collapsible B on the port, and Bride had confused the officer, and the side of the ship.
Bride also told Mr. Robinson “that Murdoch would never have shot anyone.” Since Bride in 1912 testified that he could not even recognize Murdoch, it is unknown why Bride would make this statement, since he didn’t know the First Officer at all.
For more details on Bride’s accounts to Mr. Robinson, please visit http://www.dalbeattie.com/titanic/index.htm
The full information that Bride gave Robinson has not been published at this time (July 1999), and is not available for inspection at this point.
Edward Brown, Steward
Edward Brown was helping cut the aft falls of Collapsible A when the event occurred. He never mentioned any shooting, but did concede that there was "a great scramble" to get into the boat. He never detailed this "scramble." (testimony from the British Inquiry, excerpted in Archibald Gracie’s book The Truth About the Titanic)
Brown escaped in Collapsible A.
Archibald Gracie, 1st Class passenger
Colonel Gracie had this to say about a shooting, in his book The Truth About the Titanic:
"Third: Did either the Captain or the First officer shoot himself? Not withstanding all the current rumors and newspaper statements answering this question affirmatively, I have been unable to find any passenger or member of the crew cited as authority for the statement that either Captain Smith or First Officer Murdoch did anything of the sort. On the contrary, so far as relates to Captain Smith, there are several witnesses, including Harold S. Bride, the Junior Marconi operator, who saw him at the last on the bridge of his ship, and later, when sinking and struggling in the water. Neither can I discover any authentic testimony about First Officer Murdoch’s shooting himself. On the contrary, I find fully sufficient evidence that he did not. He was a brave and efficient officer and no sufficient motive for self-destruction can be advanced. He performed his full duty under difficult circumstances, and was entitled to praise and honor. During the last fifteen minutes before the ship sank, I was located at that quarter forward on the boat deck, starboard side, where Murdoch was in command and where the crew under him were engaged in the vain attempt of launching the Engelhard boat. The report of a pistol shot during this interval ringing in my ears within a few feet of me would certainly have attracted my attention, and later, when I moved astern, the distance was not so great as to prevent my hearing it."
Though Gracie was in the appropriate area of the ship to see or hear gunshots, he neither saw or heard anything of the kind; either at Collapsible C, where shots were reported by a number of people; or at Collapsible A. He also did not see Murdoch or Smith personally at the time of the shots, and stated that he did not know the officers by appearance at that time. As far as Murdoch is concerned, this is confirmed by the following statement taken from Chapter 2 of his book:
"My friend, Clinch
Smith, urged immediate obedience to Lightoller's orders, and,
with other men passengers, we crossed over to the starboard
quarter of the ship, forward on the same Boat Deck where, as I
afterwards learned, the officer in command was First Officer
Murdoch who had also done noble work, and was soon thereafter
to lose his life."
Gracie further states in Chapter 4:
"...I heard a noise that spread
consternation among us all. This was no less than the water
striking the bridge and gurgling up the hatchway forward. It
seemed momentarily as if it would reach the boat deck. It
appeared as if it would take the crew a long time to turn the
Englehardt boat right side up and lift it over the
rail.... Probably taking these points into consideration, Clinch
Smith made the proposition that we should leave and go toward
the stern..., so he started and I followed immediately
after him. We had taken but a few steps ... when there arose
before us from the decks below a mass of
Given these statements, it is obvious that
by the time the alleged shooting took place (as Collapsible A
was being washed off the deck), Gracie has already moved away
from Collapsible A and walked astern with Clinch Smith. They left Collapsible A due to the
sound of water rising up the staircase at the forward end of the
Boat Deck, *before* the water rushed aft along the deck. Given that he was some distance away
from the location of the shooting (perhaps as much as 60 feet),
and given the amount of noise that must have been present at the
time (the crowd coming up on deck, the ship beginning to tear
itself apart), Gracie was in no position to see (and was in a
very poor position to hear) whether or not any shots were fired
at Collapsible A.
It is possible that Second Officer Lightoller is the one who identified Murdoch as the officer Gracie saw, since it is know that Gracie and Lightoller discussed the disaster at length on the Carpathia. Therefore, it is possible that Gracie's opinion that Murdoch did not commit suicide was colored by what Lightoller told him, since Gracie was heading aft before any alleged suicide took place.
Charles Herbert Lightoller, Second Officer
After helping to lower many of the lifeboats on the port side, Lightoller climbed up onto the roof of the officer's quarters to attempt to lower Collapsible B in No. 2's davits. By the time he and others were able to push B off the roof, the water was starting to pour onto the Boat Deck. Lightoller then crossed over to the starboard side of the roof, to see if he could help with Collapsible A. In the US Inquiry, he specifically mentions looking down on Mr. Murdoch on the starboard side - but does not mention what Murdoch was doing at the time. At the British Inquiry, Lightoller adds this extra detail:
"I saw the First Officer working at the falls of the starboard emergency boat, obviously with the intention of overhauling them and hooking on to the collapsible boat on their side."
In a letter written to William Murdoch's wife Ada, before his testimony at the British Inquiry, Lightoller wrote:
"Having gotten my boat down off the top of the house, and there being no time to open it, I left it and ran across to the starboard side, still on top of the quarters. I was then practically looking down on your husband and his men. He was working hard, personally assisting, overhauling the forward boat’s fall. At this moment the ship dived, and we were all in the water. Other reports as to his ending are absolutely false."
For the complete text of the letter to Mrs. Murdoch, click here.
Did Lightoller tell the truth about William Murdoch’s death, or was he just trying to console a grieving widow? That is unknown, but Lightoller was known to have protected his job, and his fellow officer’s and employer’s reputations by "whitewashing" his testimony in the disaster inquiries.
William Murdoch biographer Susanne Stormer discovered that later in life when he was living in Hertfordshire, Lightoller is said to have admitted that he "knew someone who committed suicide that night," but as far as she knows, he never said who. Lightoller's private admission was a widely discussed subject during the 1997 Irish Titanic Historical Society convention.
Regarding officers Wilde and Moody, Lightoller was asked at the British Inquiry when he last saw them. In Question 14766, Lightoller he last saw Wilde "quite a long time before the ship went down"; in other words, he did not know what happened to Wilde at the end. Lightoller's answer to Question 14769, regarding Moody, was "Mr. Moody must have been standing quite close to me at the same time. He was on top of the quarters clearing away the collapsible boat on the starboard side, whilst Mr. Murdoch was working at the falls. If that is so, we were all practically in the water together." If Lightoller was this close to Moody as the bridge went under, he would have at least have heard any shots being fired.
Lightoller, in the article he wrote for The Christian Science Journal (Vol. XXX, 10/1912, No. 7), said that “[I] was on my way back on deck again when I heard Wilde say, ‘I am going to put on my life-belt.” At that point in time, right after the revolvers were handed out, it did not appear that Wilde was suicidal, but that he was still thinking about survival, although this certainly could have changed later in the sinking.
Lightoller saw Captain Smith several times after the collision, the last time as Captain Smith was crossing the bridge from one side of the Titanic to the other. Though Lightoller was not sure when this happened, it appears to be a while before the bridge and Boat Deck dipped under.
Jack Thayer, 1st Class Passenger
Jack Thayer was another who was on the forward starboard Boat Deck as it dipped under. In his 1940 memoirs The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic, he claims to have seen Purser McElroy firing a weapon, but this was a bit earlier, as a lifeboat (Collapsible C?) was being loaded from the forward A Deck.
Thayer was part of the crowd being pushed back by the water coming over the Boat Deck, and jumped overboard. Like Gracie, he was in the appropriate area of the ship to see or hear gunshots at this time, but he mentions nothing of the kind. He does mention, however, a "rumbling roar, mixed with muffled explosions", which could cover the sounds of any shots.
An earler article written by Thayer was published in The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin for April 14, 1932. This article also mentions McElroy firing shots: "Around the third starboard boat, from the bow, several shots were fired by Purser McElroy who was superintending loading, as one or two of the stewards jumped into the boat as it was being loaded." It is unclear as to what "the third starboard boat" means in this context, as the third boat would be #5, which left very early on during the sinking, and no shots were ever reported having been fired this early. For the complete text of this 1932 account, click here.
August Weikman, Barber
After seeing Collapsible C leave the ship with Bruce Ismay, Weikman was helping to launch the next boat, Collapsible A, when he was washed off the ship by the rush of water onto the Boat Deck. Mr. Weikman submitted an affidavit to the US Inquiry on April 24th, 1912, detailing his experiences the night of the sinking; in this account, he does not mention hearing any gunshots.
However, in a very similar account published earlier in the April 20th Burlington New Jersey Daily Enterprise, the following additional detail stands out: "First Officer Murdock shot a foreigner who tried to climb over the rail into a boat." Whether Weikman actually saw this event, or heard about it from someone else, or it was added by a reporter, is not clear.
Weikman's account do not mention any officer's suicide, though the mention of Murdoch shooting a passenger *could* tie in with the similar accounts of an officer shooting a passenger before shooting himself. Though one has to wonder - if Weikman *did* see Murdoch shoot a passenger, and then himself, why would Weikman only mention the first of the shootings, and not the second?
In the newspaper article, Weikman also mentions seeing Captain Smith swimming in the water, after the bridge dipped under. If the statement is true, it contradicts the possibility of Smith shooting himself before the sinking.
For the complete text of the newspaper article, click here.