Birthday: February 28, 1873
Died At Age: 39
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: William
Born Country: Scotland
Born in: Dalbeattie, Scotland
Famous as: First Officer of RMS Titanic
Spouse/Ex-: Florence Murdoch (m. 1907)
father: Samuel Murdoch
mother: Jane Muirhead
siblings: Agnes Cumming Murdoch, James Murdoch, Jeannie Sibbald, Margaret Elizabeth Murdoch, Mary McMaster Murdoch, Samuel Jr. Murdoch
Died on: April 15, 1912
place of death: North Atlantic
Cause of Death: Suicide
education: Dalbeattie High School
Who was William McMaster Murdoch?
William McMaster Murdoch, RNR, was a Scottish sailor, who was the First Officer on board the ill-fated RMS Titanic that sunk during its maiden voyage. He was in charge when the ship hit an iceberg that ultimately sunk it, leading to the deaths of over a thousand people onboard, including him. Born into a family of sailors, he joined his forefathers in the profession after attaining his basic education. He interned at various seafaring companies while passing several certification exams. After serving as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, he was employed by White Star Line and worked his way up the ranks. He was noted for his leadership when he saved a ship, ‘Arabic’ from collision. By the time he boarded the ‘Titanic’, he had notched up more than 16 years of experience. On the ill-fated day of the Titanic disaster, he is said to have given certain orders to avoid colliding with the iceberg, but the orders and his death remain controversial and shrouded in mystery. He is hailed as a Scottish hero and has been portrayed in several Titanic related films and documentaries.
Childhood & Early Life
William McMaster Murdoch was born on February 28, 1873, in Dalbeattie, Dumfries, Scotland, to Samuel Murdoch and Jane Murdoch. He had four siblings and his father, grandfather and grandfather’s brothers were all sea captains.
He attended primary school in Dalbeattie. In 1887, he graduated with a diploma from ‘Dalbeattie High School’.
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Following in the footsteps of his forefathers, William McMaster Murdoch joined the seafaring profession and apprenticed as a mariner at ‘William Joyce & Coy’, Liverpool.
In 1891, his four years of sailing experience enabled him to competently pass his ‘Second Mate’s Certificate’ exam in the first attempt. Thereafter, he became an apprentice on board Liverpool’s ‘Charles Cosworth’ that sailed to South America.
In May 1895, he was the First Mate aboard the vessel ‘Saint Cuthbert’. In 1896, when he was just 23 years old, he passed his ‘Extra Master's Certificate’ exam at Liverpool.
From 1897-99, he served as the First Officer on board a New York to Shanghai sailing ‘J. Joyce & Co.’ vessel.
In 1901, he served as a Lieutenant in the ‘Royal Naval Reserve’ onboard the ‘RMS Oceanic’ during the ‘Boer War’. His stint there qualified him to gain employment with ‘White Star Line’, where he started as a ‘Steamship Officer’ on board the ‘Runic’.
In 1903, moving up the ranks, he joined the crew of ‘Arabic’ as ‘Second Officer’, where he successfully averted a collision with an oncoming ship. He ignored his superior officer’s orders by running into the wheelhouse to keep the ship on course, missing the oncoming vessel by inches.
From 1904 to 1910, he served aboard various ‘White Star Line’ vessels like ‘Celtic’, ‘Germanic’, ‘ Oceanic’, ‘Cedric’ and ‘Adriatic’, and gradually rose through the ranks to become First Officer.
In May 1911, he was selected as the ‘First Officer’ aboard what was supposed to be the biggest passenger ship of the time, RMS Olympic.
After completing his voyage with ‘Olympic’, he was selected to be Chief Officer on board the ‘RMS Titanic’s’, maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. But the ship’s captain, Edward J. Smith, decided to bring a former assignment colleague, Henry Wilde in his stead and demoted Murdoch to First Officer.
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On the night of April 14, 1912, he was the First Officer in charge when a massive iceberg was sighted in the ship’s path. He gave specific commands to divert the ship, which were apparently misinterpreted, leading to a collision after 37 seconds, causing a breach in the ship’s compartments.
By the time the clocks turned to April 15, 1912, the ship had begun to sink and he was given charge of evacuating the starboard side of the ship, where he launched ten lifeboats.
Awards & Achievements
A memorial is erected in his honor in his hometown of Dalbeattie, Scotland.
In 1943, he was depicted in the movie ‘Titanic’ for the first time. Many movies followed thereafter.
In 1996, a television miniseries, ‘Titanic’, depicted him.
In 1997, he was portrayed in a Broadway musical and famous filmmaker, James Cameron’s film, both with the same name ‘Titanic’. His character was shown committing suicide in the movie, which upset his family. So, Cameron established a charitable prize in his name.
In 2003, he was shown in the James Cameron-directed documentary ‘Ghosts of the Abyss’.
In 2012, his personal items recovered from the wreckage of the ‘Titanic’ were put on display by a traveling exhibition company, ‘Premier Exhibitions.’
Family & Personal Life
In 1903, William McMaster Murdoch met a New Zealand school teacher, Ada Florence Banks, abroad a vessel headed to England. On September 2, 1907, he married Banks at St. Denys Church in Southampton. Details about their children, if any, are unavailable.
On April 15, 1912, he was last seen reportedly trying to launch a collapsible lifeboat into the water from the sinking ‘RMS Titanic’. He is said to have perished in the ‘Titanic’ disaster and his body was never found.
Accounts of some passengers suggest that he committed suicide by shooting himself in the temple moments before the ship’s descent into the sea. But the Second Officer on the ship denied it and stated that he was swept away into the water while trying to launch a lifeboat.
Another younger crew member, a stoker or fireman, with the name William McMaster Murdoch was reportedly aboard the ‘Titanic’. He survived the disaster unlike the older First Officer.
William McMaster Murdoch was rumored to have been involved with other women and possibly fathered a few illegitimate children, in New York and Liverpool, but there is no concrete evidence for the same.