No one knows exactly where Captain E.J. Smith was at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday, April 14, 1912.
- But witnesses said he appeared on the bridge of the Titanic just moments later, asking what the storied ship, making its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, had struck. “An iceberg, sir,” First Officer William Murdoch replied.
So began the worst night of Edward John Smith’s otherwise charmed life. In more than 40 years at sea he had rarely been involved in an accident and never held accountable for one.
- Now he was about to preside over one of the worst sea disasters of all time. In a matter of hours, more than 1,500 passengers and crew would be dead, including Smith himself.
Smith’s body was never recovered, and his final moments remain a mystery, with no shortage of conflicting accounts—including one in which he jumped off the ship holding a baby.
- As author Wyn Craig Wade wrote in The Titanic: End of a Dream, “Captain Smith had at least five different deaths, from heroic to ignominious.” Rumors of his survival also circulated.
Conflicting Damage Reports
At first it appeared as if Smith’s luck was going to hold. Fourth Officer Joseph G. Boxhall made a quick inspection of the ship and returned to the bridge to report that he had found no damage. But whatever relief Smith might have felt at that moment was quickly shattered.
Thomas Andrews, the Titanic’s head designer, reported that his inspection revealed flooding in at least five of the Titanic’s 16 watertight compartments. While the ship could have stayed afloat with up to four flooded compartments, depending on their location, five tipped into catastrophic territory. At roughly midnight, Andrews reportedly told Smith the Titanic could last another 60 to 90 minutes.
Smith now knew the Titanic was doomed. He also knew that its 20 lifeboats, with a total capacity of 1,178, couldn’t begin to accommodate the more than 2,200 passengers and crew members aboard.
Continues Soon – Look for Part 2