The Millionaire's Captain:
Captain E.J. Smith

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A life at sea

Known as 'The Millionaire's Captain', E.J. Smith was born on 27 January 1850 in Hanley, Staffordshire, England. Smith became an ordinary sailor at age 15, unexpectedly rising to third mate in quick succession after 14 men deserted the ship he was on. This then allowed Smith to gain the qualifications he needed to rise further, and by the age of 25, he had his master's certificate and then commanded his first ship.

Smith joined White Star Line in March 1880 as a Fourth Officer onboard the Celtic, a post he kept until July 1880.

That same month he re-joined the Celtic, this time as a Third Officer, being promoted in February 1882, moving

onto the Coptic.

 

In March 1884, he joined the Britannic (not the Britannic we know) as a Second Officer before moving onto Chief Officer onboard the SS Republic in July 1885, with a brief stint in command of said vessel. In August 1887, he re-joined the Britannic as Chief Officer.

In February 1888, Smith applied for his Extra Master's Certificate. He failed the navigation section but passed the test three weeks later after reattempting the exam.

As a newly qualified captain, his first official captaincy was onboard the Baltic, taking control in March 1888 for two trips across the Atlantic. In June, he took brief command of the Britannic. In December 1888, Smith took control for the maiden voyage of the Cufic. This would be the first time J. Bruce Ismay and Captain Smith would cross paths.

J. Bruce Ismay was at this point only future heir to the White Star Line.

In April 1889, Smith commanded the Celtic, before taking control of the Coptic in July before joining the Adriatic in December 1890 for three months. Between March and April 1891, he commanded the Runic, then moved back onto the Britannic in May which he remained at until 1895. At this point, he became Captain of one of White Star Line's finest ships, the Majestic. It was on this ship where Smith met William O’Loughlin, the ship's surgeon. They would go on to serve together for many years. It is also where Smith first meets Charles Lightoller who joined as a Deck Officer.

 

Smith remained in command for nine years, which included transporting troops during the Boer War in 1899. During this service in the war, Smith would be awarded the transport medal from Edward VII in 1903 for his efforts.

In 1904, Smith then took command of the new White Star Liner, the RMS Baltic, which at the time was the largest ship afloat. This would not be the last time Smith gets this honour.

In 1907, Smith moved to Southampton which would make it easier for Smith to go home from when working the Transatlantic route. Also in 1907, Smith took command of his second new big ship, the Adriatic, the fastest of the 'Big Four' ships (Celtic, Cedric, Baltic, Adriatic). Smith would remain in command of this ship until 1911.

 

In this time, Smith would meet his future First Officer, William Murdoch, who would also act as First Officer for a similar time frame on the same ship. Smith would also go on to receive a long service decoration for Officers of the Naval Reserve, for more than 15 years of service. 

 

Smith would now be promoted to Senior Commander or the White Star Line. 

 

In 1911, one of the most famous designs of ships was launched. The Olympic-class liners. Smith officially took command of the first liner, the RMS Olympic on 15 May 1911. However his time in command did not go smoothly. As the ship was docking at pier 54 in New York, a harbour tug helping with the docking was caught in the backwash of Olympic which in turn caused it to spin round and collide with the great liner.

 

On 20 September 1911, the Royal Naval Cruiser HMS Hawke collided with the stern of Olympic while departing Southampton, leaving considerable damage to the ship (read more in our Olympic section). Although the Olympic was deemed at fault, Smith was absolved of all blame as the ship was under compulsory pilotage at the time.

 

After Olympic was repaired, Smith would have two more minor incidents with Olympic before taking control of

her next ship. The first would involve losing a propellor blade in February 1912, and nearly running aground while leaving Belfast.

 

On 1 April, Smith would take his final command, taking control of the new largest ship in the world, RMS Titanic. Here he was joined by William Murdoch and Charles Lightoller. As far as Smith was aware, this was to be his last voyage due to the only reason being, he was scheduled to retire once arriving in New York. This however was not the case.

 

On 10 April, Titanic left Southampton, having a near miss with the SS New York, delaying the departure by approximately one hour.

 

Titanic would go on to sail into history, with the Captain going down with his ship. Unconfirmed reports suggest he was last seen heading to the bridge as the final plunge began, with others suggesting he left the ship off the port side as the bridge went under with Thomas Andrews. 

What actually happen may never be confirmed, but the legend of the Millionaires Captain will live on in history.