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Captain Smith

posted 2 Dec 2013, 02:36 by Andre Hefer   [ updated 2 Dec 2013, 05:29 ]
Captain Smith, Swinfen Broun brass rubbing trail

by Brian Smith, a longstanding member of the Friends of Lichfield's Historic Parks.

The brass rubbing of a ship's helm and the statue of Captain Smith in the Museum garden mark the sinking of the transatlantic liner RMS Titanic in 1912. On the centenary of the sinking a ceremony was held at the foot of Captain Smith's statue.

The bronze statue is by Kathleen Scott, widow of the polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. It was unveiled by Captain Smith’s daughter, Helen Melville Smith on 29th July 1914 - six days before the outbreak of the first world war and was given to the diocese of Lichfield although he was born in Hanley. It was thought the people of Hanley did not want to be associated with the perceived disgrace. However, a plaque was installed in the Town Hall, Hanley, in 1913 in commemoration.

The inscription on the plinth reads:

Capt. of R.M.S. Titanic

Commander Edward Smith R.D. R.N.R

Born January 27 1850 died April 15 1912

Bequeathing to his countrymen

The memory and example of a great heart

A brave life and a heroic death

“Be British”

These two words were reputed to be his last to the crew before the ship sank.

Captain Smith Statue, Beacon Park, Lichfield

Captain Edward J Smith

Born on January 27 1850 in Hanley, Staffordshire, Captain Edward J Smith played a role in one of the most famous disasters at sea in history, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

The son of a potter and later a grocer, he attended a school in Etruria, which was supported by the Wedgwood pottery works. He stopped attending school around the age of 12 and beginning his life on the sea as a teenager, signed on to the crew of the Senator Weber in 1867.

He rose up the ranks over the years and became a master in 1875. The first vessel he commanded was the Lizzie Fennell which transported goods to and from South America. He made the leap to passenger vessels in 1880 when he went to work for the White Star Line. By 1885 he was the first officer of the ship RMS Republic. Two years later he married Eleanor Pennington and they had their only child, Helen, in 1902.

Eight years later, Smith took his first command of a passenger ship, RMS Baltic, and went on to serve as the captain of several other vessels in the White Star Line from 1895 to 1904. He also served in the British Royal Navy during the Boer War in South Africa.

In 1902 the White Star Line was bought by the International Mercantile Marine Company in a deal financed by famed banker J P Morgan. A new Baltic was added to the White Star Line fleet in 1904 with Smith as its captain. At 23,000 tons the Baltic was one of the largest vessels at the time. His next ship, RMS Adriatic, was even larger. By this time, Smith was held in high esteem by his company and was well known and well regarded among travellers on the North Atlantic route between the United States and Europe.

The White Star Line announced it was building two new ocean liners in 1907 to compete with the Lusitania and Mauretania owned by Cunard. The first of the two vessels, the Olympic, was launched in 1910 with Smith in command. His ship was damaged in 1911 when a British Royal Navy cruiser crashed into its side.

In 1912, Smith became Captain of the Titanic. He was in Belfast on April 2, 1912 for the vessel’s first sea trials. Two days later the ship docked in Southampton and was prepared for its maiden voyage across the North Atlantic. It was heralded as one of the biggest and most luxurious ships of the time.

Image to the right courtesy of Wikipedia. Captain Smith statue, Beacon Park, Lichfield. Photo: © Bs0u10e01. Used under
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


RMS Titanic

The fateful voyage

On April 10, 1912,the Titanic left Southampton and stopped in Cherbourg, France, to pick up more passengers and mail. It made one stop in Queenstown, Ireland, the next day to take on more passengers and mail to be delivered to the United States, before setting out into the Atlantic. There were more than 2,200 people aboard the ship as it made its way across the ocean.

On April 14 Smith reportedly posted a message received from the Caronia, warning about ice, on the bridge. Another message about dangerous ice came from the Baltic in the early afternoon. Smith showed this message to Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman of her White Star Line and president of International Mercantile Marine Company. Ismay held on to this note until later that evening.

The earlier warning from the Baltic was posted on the ship’s bridge about 7 p.m. Half an hour later whilst Smith attended a private party, another ice warning from the nearby Californian was sent to another ship in its fleet; this transmission was reportedly overheard by the Titanic crew. After the dinner party, Smith met with his second officer, Charles Lightoller on the bridge. Not long after this conversation, Smith turned in for the night. Swamped with telegraphic messages for passengers, the operators on the Titanic put aside a warning about icebergs from the Mesaba and a warning from the Californian to the Titanic was also cut off by operators.

Image to the right courtesy of Wikipedia. RMS Titanic departing Southampton on 10 April 1912.


Titanic voyage map

The collision with the iceberg

Around 11.40 p.m. a crew member spotted an iceberg in the path of the Titanic, but the crew as unable to move away in time. The ship scraped against the iceberg and suffered damage to its forward area. Several holes were made in the ship’s side allowing sea water to begin rushing in. Soon after the collision, Smith went to the bridge and worked on assessing the situation. He soon learned that the ship was going down and ordered the crew to prepare the lifeboats. The first distress call went out after midnight.

Unprepared for such an event, the Titanic did not have enough lifeboats to carry all of its passengers to safety. Smith tried to manage the situation the best he could, helping with the loading of the boats and managing the transmission of distress calls. He was last seen heading for the bridge.

After 2 a.m. the next morning, the Titanic slipped into the dark waters of the Atlantic, taking its captain with it. Several stories emerged about how his life ended but it is commonly held, however, that Smith followed the marine tradition of remaining aboard his doomed vessel. There were several investigations into the Titanic disaster in the United States and England. With all the warnings, many wondered why Smith chose not to slow down or turn south in response to the threat of icebergs. He was not found to be responsible for the disaster.

Image to the right courtesy of Wikipedia. Titanic Voyage Map. Photo: © Prioryman. Used under
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.