The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch

"We are this length alright"

These two letters from Richard Edkins website, Murdoch of the Titanic, allow us a fascinating insight into the character of William Murdoch. They are written in a very confident and yet warmly manner, and rich with interesting details and concern for his family's health.

The first letter to his sister Peg mentions his disappointment at being demoted from Chief Officer to First Officer but he hastily adds that "I am hoping that it will not be for long" as the head Marine Superintendent is "favourably impressed & satisfied that everything went on A.1" clearly in reference to his duties so far on the Titanic having been successful. In the following letter, when he describes the near collision with the New York on sailing day, you can almost feel how this might impact on the ship's record and consequently his job. You can only imagine how he must have felt when the collision with an iceberg while he was in command occured, with the knowledge that everything being A.1" was certainly not the case and how unlikely it would now be, despite the Superintendent's promise, "that when Wilde goes I am to go up again."

It is interesting to note that while writing to his sister Peg in his cabin, an unnamed officer is taking his wife Ada, who he calls "Aid", on a tour of the new ship Titanic, and by the time he has finished writing the letter she appears in the room and adds her love the letter, an interesting but heartwarming detail that you can almost visualise.

On a more serious note, William references the coal strike hitting the country and the fact that due to "holidays are on" he is having difficulty getting men to work on Titanic despite being offered overtime rates. In the second shorter letter to his parents, he also mentions how the coal strike has impacted on Titanic's speed, "only going at 19 or 20 knots per hour" (Titanic had a top speed of 24 knots which is 27 1/2 miles per hour). It seems poignant that he also prefaces the description of the New York near-collision with "we are this length [of the voyage] alright," without realising what was to come.

William's Letters

To his sister Peg, April 8th 1912

A photograph of the Will's letter to his sister Peg.
Credit: Archive Claes-Goran Wetterholm/Susanne Störmer
(A Career At Sea). Click to enlarge.



At : Southampton.

April 8th 1912.

My Dear Peg,

We had Agnes's letter this morning & I was glad to hear that all was as usual in Dalbeattie & to know that you had arrived safely. What a journey you must have had, you surely would have to take lots of refreshments on the way. The weather is keeping very fine down here but today it is very windy. I am still Chief Offr [Officer] until sailing day & then it looks as though I will have to step back, [to First Officer] so I am hoping that it will not be for long. The head Marine Supt. [Superintendent] from L'pool [Liverpool] seemed to be very favourably impressed & satisfied that everything went on A.1 [OK] & as much as promised that when Wilde goes I am to go up again.

The holidays are on down here & it takes me all my time to get men to work even at overtime rates but we are nearly ready for the road. I hope that you are having nice weather up north & that you will enjoy your holiday & have a quick journey to L'pool when you start again. It looks as if the strike will soon be over now. It must have caused lots of distress throughout the country. Aid is on board just now, having a look through; one of the officers is taking her around. Glad to hear that there has been good news from the folks abroad. I think I must owe them all letters just at present. Give my kind love to Mother, Father & Agnes & receipt some yourself. I will write from Queenstown to let you know how we are getting along, if only a post card. I hope Mother is not feeling her pains, irritation, etc. so much & that the milder weather is having a good effect on her, also that Father, Agnes & yourself are in real good form.

From :
yr. ever affect. brother,


P&s. Aid has just come into the room & sends fondest love to to all
Love again, Wm

Courtesy of Richard Edkins, Murdoch of the Titanic (1.)

To his Mother and Father, April 11th 1912

A photograph of the Will's letter to his parents.
Credit: Archive Claes-Goran Wetterholm/Susanne Störmer
(A Career At Sea). Click to enlarge.


SS : 'Titanic'

At : Near Queenstown

Thurs. April 11th 1912

My dear Father & Mother,

Only a short note to let you know that we are this length [of the voyage] alright. We have had clear & squally weather ever since we left and it looks very well now. As we were leaving Southampton & passing the Oceanic & New York which were moored alongside each other, they ranged so much that the New York broke adrift & it was only very narrowly that we escaped doing both she and ourselves serious damage, however we did not touch her & I don't think either New York or Oceanic has any damage at all. I left Ada quite well yesterday morning. We had Margaret's letter on Tuesday [9th April 1912] & were glad to hear how you all were.

We are getting things fairly straight now, but owing to this Coal Strike we are only going at 19 or 20 knots per hour. I sincerely hope that you are both keeping very well & you Mother having a much easier time with your trouble. I also hope that Agnes and Margaret are in particularly good form. With fondest love to all & looking forward to hearing from some one of you at Q'town [Queenstown].

from your ever affect. [affectionate] son


Courtesy of Richard Edkins, Murdoch of the Titanic (1.)

Elizabeth Gibbons makes an interesting note about the letter to his father and mother: "Murdoch's letter has an intriguing feature; the words "My Dear" prefacing "Father & Mother" are in the left margin, as if, having concluded, he had had a sudden impulse to insert an additional term of affection. His manner throughout is formal. Murdoch indulged the national proclivity for bestowing nicknames (the lovely Ada was "Aid" to his sister Margaret), but reverted to the utmost propriety when addressing his parents." (55.)