Edward Smith

Background Information

Edward Smith (father) Catherine Hancock (mother) Sarah Pennington (wife) Helen Smith (daughter) Joseph Hancock (half-brother) Thyrza Hancock (half-sister) Simon Russell-Cooke (grandson) Priscilla Russell-Cooke (granddaughter)


Sarah Pennington (married)


Staffordshire, England

Titanic Statistics

Southampton, England


New York, U.S.A.





Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR (27 January 1850 – 15 April 1912) was an English naval reserve officer, and ship's captain. He was the officer in command of the RMS Titanic and after the liner struck the iceberg, Smith knew within minutes that the ship was doomed and that people would die. He did all in his power to minimize panic and as the Captain, went down with his ship.

Smith was one of the best Captains of his time. He was to be Knighted after his return voyage, this did not happen. He left a widow, Eleanor Sarah (nee Pennington) who was later killed by a taxi-cab, and one daughter, Helen, twelve years old.

There is a statue to his legacy in Beacon Park, Lichfield, England.

{C}Personal life

Edward John Smith was born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, England to Edward Smith, a potter, and Catherine Hancock, née Marsh, who married on 2 August 1841 in Shelton, Staffordshire. His parents later owned a shop. Smith attended the Etruria British School until the age of 13 when he went to Liverpool to begin a seafaring career. He began his apprenticeship on the Senator Weber owned by A Gibson & Co., Liverpool.

On Tuesday, July 12, 1887, Smith married Sarah Eleanor Pennington. Their daughter, Helen Melville Smith, was born in Waterloo, Liverpool, England, on Saturday, April 2, 1898. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house, named "Woodhead", on Winn Road, Highfield, Southampton.

Ship captainEdit

Smith joined the White Star Line in March 1880 as the Fourth Officer of the SS Celtic. He served aboard the company's liners to Australia and to New York, where he quickly rose in stature. In 1887, Smith received his first White Star command, the Republic. In 1888, Smith earned his Extra Master's Certificate and joined the Royal Naval Reserve (thus entitling him to append his name with "R.N.R."), qualifying as a full Lieutenant. This meant that in a time of war, Smith could be called upon to serve in the Royal Navy. Later, as a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve, Smith's ship had the distinction of being able to wear the Blue Ensign of the R.N.R.; British merchant vessels generally wore the Red Ensign (also known as the Red Duster).

Bigger commandsEdit

Smith was Majestic's captain for nine years commencing in 1895. When the Boer War started in 1899, Smith and the Majestic were called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony. Two trips were made to South Africa, both without incident, and for his service, King Edward VII awarded Smith the Transport Medal, showing the "South Africa" clasp, in 1903. Smith was regarded as a "safe captain".

As he rose in seniority, Smith gained a reputation amongst passengers and crew for quiet flamboyance. Some passengers would only sail the Atlantic in a ship commanded by him. He became known as the "Millionaires' Captain" because England's upper class were usually the ones who requested he be in command of the ships they sailed on. From 1904 on, Smith commanded the line's newest ships on their maiden voyages. In 1904, he was given command of the then-largest ship in the world at the time, White Star's new Baltic. Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, sailing 29 June 1904, went without incident. After three years with the Baltic, Smith was given his second new "big ship," the Adriatic. Once again, the maiden voyage went without incident.

During his command of the Adriatic, Smith received the Royal Naval Reserve's long service decoration, along with a promotion to Commander. He would now sign his name as "Commander Edward John Smith, R.D., R.N.R.", with RD standing for "Reserve Decoration."

Olympic class commandEdit

Smith had built a reputation as one of the world's most experienced sea captains, and so was called upon to take first command of the lead ship in a new class of ocean liners, the Olympic — again, the largest vessel in the world at that time. The maiden voyage from Southampton to New York was successfully concluded on 21 June 1911, but as the ship was docking in New York harbor, it experienced a small incident. Docking at Pier 59 under the command of Captain Smith and assistance of a harbour pilot, the Olympic was being assisted by twelve tugs when one got caught in the backwash of the Olympics starboard propeller. The tug was spun around, collided with the bigger ship, and for a moment was trapped under the Olympics stern, finally managing to work free and limp to the docks.

The Hawke incidentEdit

On 20 September 1911 Olympics first major mishap occurred during a collision with a British warship, HMS Hawke, in which the warship lost her prow. Although the collision left two of Olympics compartments filled and one of her propeller shafts twisted, she was able to limp back to Southampton. At the resultant inquiry, the Royal Navy blamed Olympic for the incident, alleging that her massive size generated a suction that pulled Hawke into her side. On the bridge during this incident was Captain Smith.

The Hawke incident was a financial disaster for White Star, and the out-of-service time for the big liner made matters worse. Olympic returned to Belfast and, to speed up the repairs, Harland and Wolff was forced to delay Titanic's completion, in order to use one of her propeller shafts and other parts for the Olympic.

Back at sea in February 1912, Olympic lost a propeller blade and once again returned to her builder for emergency repairs. To get her back to service immediately, Harland & Wolff yet again had to pull resources from Titanic, delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March to 10 April.

RMS TitanicEdit

Despite the past trouble, Smith was again appointed in command of the greatest steamship when RMS Titanic left Southampton for her maiden voyage. Although some sources state that he had decided to retire after completing Titanic's maiden voyage, an article in the Halifax Morning Chronicle on 9 April 1912 stated that Smith would remain in charge of the Titanic "until the Company (White


Edward Smith and Titanic's Officers

Star Line) completed a larger and finer steamer."

On 10 April 1912, Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, took a taxi from his home to Southampton docks. He came aboard the Titanic at 7AM to prepare for the board of trade muster at 8:00AM. He immediately went to his cabin to get the sailing report from Chief Officer Henry Wilde

After departure at 12:00PM, the huge amount of water displaced by Titanic as she passed caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards the Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the maiden voyage.

At 11:40PM on 14 April, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Smith, RD, TM, RNR, was in his cabin after returning from a dinner in his honour held by Mr and Mrs George Widener. He rushed onto the Bridge and asked Murdoch what had happened. He heard the ship had hit an iceberg.

Captain Smith ran over to the Starboard Wing Bridge and looked over at the side of the ship. He called over Sixth Officer Moody and asked him to arouse the Officers and get Fourth Officer Boxhall to fetch the ship’s carpenter. Smith and Chief Officer Henry Tingle Wilde went to Thomas Andrews’ cabin, the chief builder of the Titanic to inspect the damage. Smith, Wilde, Andrews, Ship's Carpenter John Maxwell, and Boxhall toured the ship for damage. At 12:00am on the 15th April 1912, Mr. Andrews gave his report to the ships Officer’s and the chairman of the White Star Line, Joseph Bruce Ismay. He told the men that there was damage along at least 250 to 300 feet of the Titanic’s starboard side and that she would sink in about 1 to 1 and a half hours. He explained that she could stay afloat with any 4 of her water tight compartments filled, but not 6. The water would fill up one compartment and then spill over into the next and so on. It was pure mathematics and he knew the ship was doomed.

Captain Smith ordered the ship to be evacuated immediately. He ordered Murdoch to arouse the crew and passengers, Chief Officer Wilde and Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller to uncover and make ready the Lifeboats, Third Officer Herbert John Pitman, Fourth Officer Boxhall, Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe, and Sixth Officer Moody to help with the organization of the passengers. Thomas Andrews and Captain Smith reminded Mr. Ismay who would not accept that the ship was going to sink, of the Lifeboat situation; that being there were only enough places for around 900 people and that the Titanic was carrying 2,227 people.

At 12:05am Captain Smith walked into the Wirless shack and handed First Wireless Operator John ‘Jack’ Phillips a message and told him that the Titanic had struck an iceberg and was sinking fast. He told him to send the regulation distress call CQD and Second Wireless Operator Harold Snyder Bride joked that he should send the new distress call SOS because

“It might be your last chance mate”.

At 12:35am Harold Cottom, Wireless Operator of the RMS Carpathia, a 13000 tonne Cunard Liner received a CQD from the Titanic calling for assistance because the ship was sinking and only had an hour. Cottom took the message to the First Officer, William Dean and they went to Captain Arthur Rostron, RD, TM, RNR. He immediately turn his ship around and headed in the direction of the Titanic. In 2 hours he had turned his ship from a liner into a floating hospital and ready for a mass evacuation.

On the Titanic, by 12:40am, the water had risen 14 feet and the ship was taking on a considerable list towards the bow. The mail room on G Deck was flooded and the Postal Clerks had drowned trying to save the Royal Mail. Boiler Rooms 5 and 6 were flooding but the engineers had temporarily stopped the flooding by bringing in pumps from the storerooms. Throughout the ship Stewards and attendants had begun arousing the passengers from their berths and were leading them onto the Boat Deck.

Chief Officer Wilde was hesitant to start loading the boats and Second Officer Lightoller went over his head to Captain Smith and asked to be allowed to fill the boats. The order was given and the boats began to be filled. Second Officer Lightoller would not allow any men accept crew into the lifeboats and when Boat 4 in which Mrs. Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown was placed had only one man, Quartermaster Robert Hichens, Lightoller asked if any men knew how to row. Major Arthur Peuchen, Vice Commodore of the Royal Canadian yacht Club and Canadian Army Reservist, stepped forward and said he knew. The boat was already 30 feet down the side of the ship and Lightoller told him;

“if you are a sailor enough to get down those fall ropes you can go sir”.

Captain Smith was using a mega phone to give orders and at approximately 1:00am ordered Fourth Officer Boxhall and Quartermaster George Rowe to fire distress rockets once every five or ten minutes. The ship was sinking rapidly and by 1:20am the Forecastle was completely underwater, and Second Officer Lightoller used the forward Well Deck stairs to judge the rate of water that was quickly engulfing the ship. The Engineers down in the bowls of the ship were working fast and frantically to keep the ship afloat as long as possible. Chief Engineer Bell was keeping in contact with the bridge and Captain Smith told him

“We need power Chief, for the wireless and lights....”

“We’ll do what we can sir, but the pumps won’t hold the water off for much longer.”

Captain Smith walked onto the port wing bridge where Fourth Officer Boxhall was firing rockets and he was told

“There is a ship off the port bow sir, but she is not responding.”

“Fire some more rockets Mr. Boxhall and see what happens.”

There was a ship about 10 miles away but when the Titanic tried to signal it, the ship would not respond. Quartermaster George Rowe used the Morse Lamp to try but there was no response. Captain Smith ordered him to take charge of Lifeboat 6 and it was lowered.


As the water reached the deck, Steward Edward Brown saw the captain approach with a megaphone in his hand. He heard him say "Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves.” He saw the Captain walk onto the bridge alone just seconds before the ship took its final plunge. This was the last reliable sighting of Smith. Just seconds later Trimmer Samuel Hemming found the bridge apparently empty.[4]

There are conflicting accounts of Smith's death. Some survivors[5][6] said Smith entered the ship's wheelhouse on the bridge, and died there when it was engulfed. Robert Williams Daniel, a first class passenger who jumped from the stern immediately before the ship sank, told the New York Herald in its April 19, 1912 edition how he had witnessed Captain Smith drown in the ship's wheelhouse. "I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him. The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and was now to the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith's waist. I saw him no more. He died a hero."[7] These accounts have remained the iconic image which has remained of Smith.

When working to free Collapsible B, Junior Marconi Officer Harold Bride saw Smith dive into the sea from near the bridge just as the final plunge began,[8] a story which was corroborated by first class passenger Mrs Eleanor Widener, who was in Lifeboat No.4 (the closest to the sinking ship) at the time.[9] Also second class passenger William John Mellors and fireman Harry Senior, who both survived aboard collapsible B, stated that Smith jumped from the bridge.[10] It has been affirmed that the man who jumped from the bridge may have been Lightoller, who was seen jumping at this time.[11]

Newspaper reports said that Smith was reported to have been seen near the overturned Collapsible B during or after the sinking. Colonel Archibald Gracie reported that an unknown swimmer came near the capsized and overcrowded lifeboat, and that one of the men on board told him "Hold on to what you have, old boy. One more of you aboard would sink us all,"; in a powerful voice, the swimmer replied "All right boys. Good luck and God bless you.".[12] Gracie did not see this man, nor was able to identify him, but some other survivors later claimed to have recognised this man as Smith.[13][14] Another man (or possibly the same) never asked to come aboard the boat, but instead cheered its occupants saying “Good boys! Good lads!” with “the voice of authority”.[15] One of the Collapsible B survivors, fireman Walter Hurst, tried to reach him with an oar, but the rapidly rising swell carried the man away before he could reach him.[15] Hurst said he was certain this man was Smith.[15] Some of these accounts also describe Smith carrying a child to the boat. Harry Senior, one of Titanic's stokers, and second class passenger Charles Eugene Williams, who both survived aboard Collapsible B, stated that Smith [16] swam with a child in his arms to Collapsible B, which Smith presented to a steward, after which he apparently swam back to the rapidly-foundering ship. Williams' account differs slightly, claiming that, after Smith handed the child over to the steward, he asked what had become of First Officer Murdoch. Upon hearing news of Murdoch's demise, Smith "pushed himself away from the lifeboat, threw his lifebelt from him and slowly sank from our sight. He did not come to the surface again." These accounts are almost certainly apocryphal, according to historians featured in the A&E Documentary Titanic: Death of a Dream. Lightoller who survived on Collapsible B never reported seeing Smith or receiving a child from him. There is also no way in which survivors on Collapsible B would have been able to verify the identity of the individual concerned under such dimly lit and chaotic circumstances. It is more likely based upon wishful thinking that the person they saw was indeed the Captain.[17] Captain Smith's fate will probably remain uncertain.

His boyhood friend, William Jones would say: "Ted Smith passed away just as he would have loved to do. To stand on the bridge of his vessel and go down with her was characteristic of all his actions when we were boys together."

Second Officer Lightoller remembered him decades after the disaster as "the best captain he ever knew."

A message from Captain Smith's wife was later posted outside the White Star offices in Southampton. It read: "To my poor fellow sufferers - my heart overflows with grief for you all and is laden with sorrow that you are weighed down with this terrible burden that has been thrust upon us. May God be with us and comfort us all. Yours in sympathy, Eleanor Smith."

Senator Alden Smith paid tribute to the career of Captain Smith, "Captain Smith knew the sea and his clear eye and steady hand had often guided his ship through dangerous paths. For forty years, storms sought in vain to vex him or menace his craft. Each new advancing type of ship built by his company was handed over to him as a reward for faithful services and as evidence of confidence in his skill. Strong of limb, intent of purpose, pure in character, dauntless as a sailor could be, he walked the deck of this majestic structure as master of her keel". Smith added that the Captain's "own willingness to die was the expiating evidence of his fitness to live."

In 1914, a statue of the captain was put up in Lichfield, England (the diocese where he was born). Many important people attended the unveiling of this statue, including relatives of passengers who perished with the captain.