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Who Was the Captain of the Titanic and What Happened to Him?

Written By Denis Cummings
Last updated: June 26, 2023

Every now and then, history presents us with tales so captivating that they echo through time. The RMS Titanic – a ship synonymous with maritime disaster – is undoubtedly one of those stories. The tragic sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ has captured our imagination for over a century, but have you ever wondered “who was the captain of the Titanic and what happened to him?” In this blog post, we aim to shed light on this fascinating character, exploring his story beyond that fateful night.

As we embark on a journey into the life of Titanic’s captain, we will uncover his personal background, maritime exploits before commanding the luxury liner, and delve into his actions during that infamous voyage. Join me as we steer through uncharted waters to discover how this man ultimately became inextricably linked with one of the most tragic events in history.

Who Was the Captain of the Titanic?

The man who captained the ill-fated RMS Titanic was Edward John Smith. As the ship’s master, he held an esteemed position and was responsible for commanding one of the most luxurious and technically advanced vessels of its time.

Who Was the Captain of the Titanic and What Happened to Him?

Early Life and Maritime Beginnings

Edward John Smith was born on January 27th, 1850, in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, in the United Kingdom. Growing up in a working-class family, he left school at an early age and embarked on his seagoing career as an apprentice on a merchant ship when he was just 17 years old. Over time honed his skills navigating the waters of high seas.

In 1880, he joined the White Star Line shipping company as a Fourth Officer on board SS Celtic, marking an important step forward in his career trajectory.

A Steadfast Career with the White Star Line

Over the years, Captain Edward J. Smith worked diligently to rise through the ranks of White Star Line. He gained a reputation as an experienced, competent, and reliable captain serving on numerous ships including:

  • SS Britannic
  • RMS Majestic
  • RMS Adriatic
  • RMS Olympic

By earning respect from both crew and passengers alike, Captain Smith’s skillset underscored how well-suited he was for military service during times of war. Consequently, he captained troop transports during the Boer War between Britain and South Africa (1899–1902), thus cementing himself as a White Star Line veteran.

The Command of R.M.S. Titanic – The Ship Meant to Make History

In 1907, when the construction plans for the Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic, were drawn up, Captain Smith was entrusted with the command of both ships. Referred to as “The Millionaire’s Captain,” on account of his excellent rapport with affluent passengers, he initially captained RMS Olympic before switching over to the Titanic.

On April 10th, 1912, Titanic embarked on her maiden voyage under the command of Captain Edward J. Smith from Southampton, England to New York City. This would be his ultimate test and final journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Intriguingly, there is a widely circulated belief that Captain Smith intended to retire following this voyage; however, no definitive evidence substantiates this claim. The catastrophic events that unfolded during Titanic’s first and only voyage left an indelible mark on maritime history – a mark that captured our collective imagination for more than a century.

More Titanic Facts:

1. When Did the Titanic Sink? 
2. Where Did the Titanic Sink? 
3. How Big Was the Iceberg That the Titanic Hit?
4. How Cold Was The Water When The Titanic Sank? 
5. How Many People Died on the Titanic?
6. How Long Did It Take for the Titanic to Sink? 

The Maiden Voyage of R.M.S. Titanic

The fateful journey that would result in the sinking of the famed luxury liner began on April 10, 1912. Embarking on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, Titanic was heralded as the epitome of luxury and technological advancement; a symbol of mankind’s triumph over nature. Let’s shed light on the build-up to this historic voyage and unravel the fine details regarding this grand ship.

Preparations for Departure

As Titanic prepared to set sail, there was an air of excitement and anticipation surrounding this monumental event. Much had been made of the ship’s opulent interiors and state-of-the-art technology – from its powerful steam engines to its watertight compartments, all designed to ensure safe passage for its passengers across the Atlantic Ocean.

The White Star Line employees meticulously stockpiled provisions on board enough for a journey lasting several weeks. Supplies included large quantities of meat, poultry, fish and cheeses, as well as ample stocks of alcohol for passengers seeking to indulge in luxury during their voyage.

Onboard: A Microcosm of Society

Although there were over 2,200 passengers on board, each class experienced the journey in dramatically different ways. The ship indeed catered magnificently to its first-class passengers – boasting everything from private promenade decks to extensive libraries and even fully-equipped gymnasiums – ensuring they traveled in unparalleled comfort.

Contrastingly, those in second-class accommodations were provided with relatively basic provisions and shared common spaces with other passengers. For those enclosed within the ship’s third class or steerage, it was a far less glamorous experience; sharing cramped quarters with limited access to fresh air or amenities like their counterparts in first or second class.

One remarkable aspect of the Titanic’s voyage was the diverse array of individuals on board. Among its passengers were some of the most famous names of the time, including industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, millionaire John Jacob Astor IV, and Macy’s department store owner Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida. The Titanic also bore a host of lesser-known travelers – ordinary people chasing their hopes and dreams in the New World.

Navigating Troubled Waters

With each passing day, Captain Edward J. Smith would have been aware of the immense responsibility resting on his shoulders as he navigated deeper into the treacherous North Atlantic waters. Charts and wireless reports aided in keeping watch for adverse weather conditions or floating dangers like icebergs. However, as we will discover in our next section detailing Titanic’s terrifying date with disaster, even the most well-prepared voyages can encounter unimaginable perils.

A Night to Remember – The Collision with an Iceberg

April 14, 1912, started as a normal night for the Titanic and her passengers. However, it quickly turned into an unforgettable and tragic experience for all involved. Let’s explore how the events unfolded that led to the catastrophic collision with an iceberg, causing the sinking of the ship and eventually the loss of over 1,500 lives.

The Series of Decisions Leading up to the Collision

As fate would have it, Captain Smith had received multiple iceberg warnings as he navigated through the North Atlantic on that fateful night. Nevertheless, he ordered the vessel to maintain its speed in order to reach New York on schedule. Additionally, due to a lack of binoculars in the crow’s nest, Titanic’s lookouts were unable to spot looming dangers as swiftly as they otherwise might have.

Arguably adding insult to injury, atmospheric conditions that night gave rise to optical illusions known as “cold water mirages,” which impaired visibility even further. Consequently, when lookout Frederick Fleet suddenly spotted a massive iceberg directly ahead of Titanic at around 11:40 PM, it was already too late.

Titanic Hits an Iceberg: How It Happened

Once Fleet notified bridge officer William Murdoch of impending danger, he immediately ordered the crew to turn “hard-a-starboard” and reverse engines in an attempt to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, because of Titanic’s immense size and limited maneuverability—coupled with a dangerously close distance between ship and iceberg—the evasive action proved insufficient.

Unable to avoid catastrophe entirely, Titanic scraped her starboard side against submerged parts of the floating ice mass. Tragically, while only one-tenth of an iceberg is generally visible above water Smithsonian Magazine, Titanic’s hull was gashed and seriously compromised underwater as the vessel careened into the ice, flooding five of her sixteen watertight compartments.

Understanding the Immediate Aftermath

Upon assessing the extent of damage, shipbuilder Thomas Andrews informed Captain Smith that Titanic would likely founder within hours. This harsh truth spurred a frantic race against time as Smith ordered crew members to start evacuating passengers. However, Titanic’s limited lifeboat capacity—built to accommodate approximately one-third of her total occupants—rendered efforts to save lives increasingly dire.

Ultimately, our understanding of that fateful night hinges on a delicate interplay between human decisions and uncontrollable factors. As we piece together Captain Smith’s actions during this calamitous event, we gain insight into the urgent battle to preserve lives on the ill-fated luxury liner in its final hours.

What Happened to Captain Edward J. Smith?

As the fateful night unfolded, Captain Edward J. Smith’s swift and calculated response to the collision became a matter of great historical significance. Despite his vast experience, he encountered an unprecedented challenge as the Titanic faced its inevitable demise. His final moments can only be pieced together through various accounts provided by survivors, which gave rise to multiple perspectives and contrasting stories about his actions and fate.

The Captain’s Actions Onboard the Sinking Ship

During the chaos that ensued post-collision, Captain Smith was seen helping passengers board lifeboats, thereby prioritizing their safety above all else. Furthermore, he reportedly gave specific orders to evacuate women and children first under the Women and Children First protocol in maritime history. However, due to conflicting accounts of his conduct on that night—in addition to general panic among those onboard—it remains unclear whether all crew members followed this directive.

Differing Accounts of His Final Moments

Captain Smith’s final moments encompass a spectrum of contrasting stories that have been passed down as dramatic anecdotes from survivors’ recollections for over a century. Two notable perspectives include:

  • The Altruistic End: Some testimonies claim that Smith was last seen carrying a baby girl—whom he managed to save by placing her into a lifeboat before slipping beneath the icy waves.
  • Heroic Downfall: Another poignant account tells a tale of resignation: a solemn Captain Smith silently acknowledged his fate as water filled the wheelhouse and he eventually succumbed tragically.

Regardless of which-version holds greater truth—or perhaps even some combination therein—it is worth noting that eyewitness narratives are inherently subjective. Thus, extraordinary events unfolding amidst such confusion would naturally spur discrepancies among these accounts.

In Memory of a Respected Mariner

Despite the controversy surrounding his actions, Captain Edward J. Smith will forever be immortalized as a significant figure in maritime history. While some may argue that his career was marred by this tragic event, others firmly uphold the belief that he was a man who remained true to his duty and responsibilities until the very end.

The Aftermath of Tragedy and Legacy Left by Captain Smith

The sinking of the Titanic resulted in a variety of crucial changes to maritime safety practices, leaving an enduring legacy left by Captain Smith. Let’s take a closer look at how his part in the disaster impacted the industry and the various ways he has been commemorated.

Impact on Maritime Safety Regulations

The tragic outcome of the Titanic voyage pushed for stricter maritime safety laws and regulations. As a direct response to the event, key players in ocean travel formed the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in 1914. SOLAS established new standards dictating the construction, equipment, and operation of vessels. One significant change resulting from SOLAS stipulations was that there should be enough lifeboat capacity on board for every passenger – a clear lesson drawn from the insufficiency under Captain Smith’s watch.

Remembering Captain Edward J. Smith

In light of his influential role in maritime history, multiple memorials were established to honor Captain Edward J. Smith. A notable example is located in Lichfield, Staffordshire, where a bronze memorial composed by Kathleen Scott was unveiled in 1914. The monument bears an inscription expressing gratitude for Smith’s valiant efforts amidst tragedy: “Bequeathing to his countrymen / The memory and example of great-hearted devotion to duty.”

It is important for us not only to remember Captain’s unfortunate consequences but also to recognize the positive changes that arose from his story; shaping future generations’ practices at sea.

Honoring a Legacy – Memorials Dedicated to Captain Edward J. Smith

In the years since the Titanic tragedy, memorials have been erected in various locations to remember, respect and honor Captain Edward J. Smith’s life and legacy. Some of these memorials not only commemorate his life but also serve as tributes to the countless lives lost on that fateful night. In this section, we will discuss some prominent memorials dedicated to this iconic captain who was at the helm of the ill-fated ship.

Smith’s Grave in Southampton

Captain Edward John Smith was laid to rest in Southampton, a city with strong ties to numerous Titanic victims and their families. His grave is located at the Old Cemetery on Cemetery Road, maintained by Southampton Old Cemetery Society (SOCS). You can find more about SOCS and visiting guidelines on their website here. The grave features a striking headstone engraved with an image of the ship, serving as a poignant reminder of his connection with the Titanic.

St. Mary’s Church Memorial Window

Close to Captain Smith’s final resting place lies another memorial. The Crew Memorial Window at St. Mary’s Church, Southampton is a beautiful stained-glass window containing a portrait of Smith dressed in full maritime regalia. This extraordinary artwork commemorates not only the captain but also all other crew members who perished during the disaster. It serves as a touching tribute that brings together an entire community forever linked through their shared loss and grief.

Let us bear in mind how these memorials reflect our continued fascination with Captain Edward J. Smith’s story; they remind us of his courage and tenacity while fostering admiration for those who perished alongside him on that fateful voyage aboard RMS Titanic.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was the captain of the RMS Titanic?

The captain of the RMS Titanic was Edward John Smith, an experienced maritime officer with a respected career in the White Star Line company.

When did Captain Smith start working at sea, and how did he become a captain?

Captain Smith began his career at sea as a teenager in 1867. Over four decades, he gradually worked his way up to eventually becoming the White Star Line’s most trusted and experienced captain.

What was Captain Smith’s role during the Titanic’s fateful maiden voyage?

As captain, he was responsible for ensuring safe passage of the ship, supervising its navigational course and crew on its journey from Southampton to New York City.

How did Captain Smith react when the Titanic struck an iceberg?

Captain Smith took immediate action upon realizing the severity of damage. He helped assess the situation and played a significant role in preparing lifeboats, as well as organizing passengers and crew during evacuation efforts.

Did Captain Edward J. Smith survive or perish in the disaster?

Sadly, Captain Edward J. Smith lost his life in the freezing waters after Titanic sank. His actions during those final moments remain shrouded in mystery and continue to intrigue historians.

Are there any memorials or tributes dedicated to Captain Smith?

There are a few notable memorials dedicated to Captain Smith – for instance, his grave in Southampton and The Crew Memorial Window at St. Mary’s Church found within that same city.

Final Words

In the end, the tale of Captain Smith and the Titanic serves as both a captivating piece of history and a cautionary tale filled with valuable lessons. Through examining this harrowing event, we not only honor those who perished but also learn from their experience to improve our own understanding of maritime safety. From navigational procedures to respecting Mother Nature, the Titanic has inspired significant advancements in how we approach seafaring today. As we remember the unsinkable ship, let us also pay tribute to its captain’s life, endeavors, and indelible legacy within the annals of maritime history.

Charles Eames

Denis Cummings is a history enthusiast and author, with a passion for uncovering the stories of the past. Through his writing, he seeks to share his love of history with others and provide a unique perspective on the events that have shaped our world.

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