HomeWhat Was Titanic’s Captain Doing When The Ship Was Sinking?

    What Was Titanic’s Captain Doing When The Ship Was Sinking?

    The story of Titanic enamored people long before James Cameron brought it to life on screen through the star-crossed love story of two passengers, Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) from two different sides of the tracks. The retelling of the story of Titanic may have had some creative license such as the love story itself, but there were a lot of real-life characters in the movie. One such character was the captain of the ship, Captain Edward John Smith portrayed by the veteran actor Bernard Hill.

    Not much is known about the final hours of Captain Edward John Smith when the ship sank on April 14, 1912, on its maiden voyage. There are various conflicting and ambiguous accounts of his whereabouts at the time of the ship’s sinking. James Cameron weaved a dramatic retelling of the event which featured several altered features of the true story. While there is no shortage of historical records on the sinking of the ship, it is full of contradictory accounts. Here’s an attempt at piecing together the puzzle of the Captain’s final hours on the ship.

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    Where Was The Captain When The Iceberg Hit Titanic?

    Bernard Hall as Captain Edward John Smith

    Captain E.J. Smith had long been a seafarer before he captained the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912. He had successfully commandeered ships such as the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Olympic and was known for his stoicism and valor. On the eve of April 14th, 1912, he was honored at a dinner held by a passenger, George Weidner. They had already received transmissions from other ships warning them about drifting ice. Despite being swamped with warnings, the crew did not reduce the speed of the ship. Smith left the dinner at around 9 pm and discussed colder temperatures with his Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightroller, where both acknowledged the need to be vigilant for icebergs. He then retired for the night.

    When Titanic hit the iceberg on that night, Captain Smith in all likelihood was asleep in his cabin. Many retellings say that he was most likely woken by the collision and then hastily made his way to the bridge. First Officer William Murdoch was informed of the collision roughly at about 11:40 pm by the lookout in the crow’s nest, Frederick Fleet. It was approximately the same time that there is a record of the first visual account of Captain Smith at the bridge where he received a report of the collision from First Officer Murdoch. Soon after this, the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews informed that all five of the ship’s watertight compartments had been flooded and that the Titanic would sink under two hours. This is where the trouble began as the Captain as well as the crew tried to come up with plans to figure out how to evacuate a ship that was never designed for an emergency evacuation.

    It is from this point on that the whereabouts of Captain Smith get murky, he is said to have been brave till the end and died in some tragic way. His body was never recovered and therefore his death was never confirmed.

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    What Happened To Captain Smith?

    Captain Smith and the Titanic

    There had been some confusion between 11:40 pm and 12:05 am which was the first call for lifeboats. According to some accounts, Smith’s actions were heroic and he prioritized women and children and supervised the proper lowering of the lifeboats from the bridge. The crew believed that they had seen lights from a ship that was not far away. The ship in question was RMS Carpathia which was four hours away in transit making it clear that Smith had only one way to take it and not enough time to take it. Other accounts insinuate that Smith had been in shock since he had not once in his 40 years of seafaring, faced such a tragedy where the possibility of his death as well as the passengers under his care was a reality, which hampered his decision-making abilities.

    Smith, in an effort to further the evacuation, ordered the lifeboats to be lowered to the promenade deck forgetting that the glass windows prohibited that from happening, at this point it felt like he was thinking about another ship he had previously captained. At about 2 am, Smith made the decision to release all wireless operators as he knew this would be their last chance at surviving. It was just 20 minutes later that the Titanic capsized and sank to the bottom of the ocean floor.

    The Captain’s whereabouts in the final moments of the ship sinking is hazy and difficult to pinpoint. Smith may have remained at the bridge till the very end, Steward Edward Brown saw the Captain supposedly at around 2:10 am, urging the crew to do the best for the women and children and also to save themselves. Some say that he jumped into the water from the deck of the ship sealing his own fate while there are some who said he shot himself right before the ship went down as shown in Cameron’s retelling.

    One account claims that a wave threw him off the deck but he swam back to the ship to go down with, another claims that he saved a drowning infant and swam to a lifeboat to give the child and then swam back to the ship. The most interesting account of all is that of an eye-witness Peter Pryal, who had previously worked with Smith, who says that he saw Captain Smith on the street in Baltimore months later after the ship sank. Whatever the truth may be, Smith’s body was never recovered.

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    Asmita Ghosh
    Asmita Ghosh
    Asmita Ghosh is currently pursuing her Masters in Economics and is simultaneously trying not to have a breakdown and go on a killing spree. Her killer instinct can be attributed to her morbid love of serial-killer documentaries and murder mysteries but she tries to tame it down with a daily dose of Taylor Swift and The 1975.

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