Edward John Smith, who was to become famous as the master of the Titanic, was born in Hanley, Staffordshire in 1850. After leaving school at age 13 he worked at a local forge. At age 17 he went to Liverpool to begin an apprenticeship in the Merchant Navy. He joined the White Star Line in 1880, initially as fourth officer on the Celtic, and soon progressed to his first command -the Republic - in 1888. After marrying in 1887 he moved to Southampton, where he lived at a large house in Winn Road named ‘Woodhouse’.
As he rose in seniority he acquired a reputation for quiet competence and conviviality. He became known as the ‘Millionaire’s Captain’ because many of the transatlantic upper- classes chose to travel on ships under his command. He was the natural choice to take command of the new class of White Star liners, the first of which was the Olympic in 1911, the biggest ship in the world at that time. His reputation was damaged in September 1911 when the Olympic collided with HMS Hawke, causing the warship to lose her prow. In spite of this he was given command of the Titanic on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in April 1912.
Smith perished along with about 1500 other crew and passengers when the Titanic foundered after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. His body was never recovered. There are conflicting accounts of his last moments. Some witnesses, including Second Officer Charles Lightoller, saw him in the wheelhouse as the ship went down, while others claimed he dived into the sea. Reports that he carried a baby to one of the lifeboats while in the sea are probably apocryphal. Similarly, stories that he exhorted his crew to “Be British” are also probably untrue.
A statue of Smith was erected in Beacon Park, Lichfield in 1914 (image 2).

1. Edward John Smith

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Photograph, 1912

2. Statue of Edward John Smith, Beacon Park, Litchfield

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A modern photograph of the memorial.


Further reading:
Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 51.
Master of the Titanic, by Pat Lacey. (HS/pd)
Titanic Captain: the life of Edward John Smith, by G. J. Cooper. (HS/pd)


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