The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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The British Inquiry and the Question of Negligence

  • Lord Mersey

    Lord Mersy’s Report on the Loss of the Titanic (1912) states in summary the findings of the British Inquiry: “The Court, having carefully enquired into the circumstances of the above mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons appearing in the Annex hereto, that the loss of the said ship was due to a collision with an iceberg, brought about by excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated.”

    In the annex, the report says that Lightoller “said that the night order book for the 14th had a footnote about keeping a sharp outlook for ice, and that this note was ‘initialed by every officer’. At 10 o’clock Mr. Lightoller handed over the watch to Mr. Murdoch, the first officer (dead), telling him that ‘we might be up around ice any time now.’ That Mr. Murdoch knew of the danger of meeting ice appears from the evidence of Hemming, a lamp trimmer, who says that about 7:15pm Mr. Murdoch told him to go forward and see the forescuttle hatch closed.” (p.29)

    As to speed, the report states: “From various experiments subsequently made with the s.s. Olympic, a sister ship to the Titanic, it was found that traveling at the same rate as the Titanic, about 37 seconds would be required for the ship to change her course to this extent after the helm had been put hard-a-starboard. In this time the ship would travel about 466 yards, and allowing for the few seconds that would be necessary for the order to be given, it may be assumed that 500 yards was about the distance at which the iceberg was sighted either from the bridge or crow’s-nest.” (p.30, 31)

    The report makes a series of “recommendations” including “the reduction of speed or the alteration of course in the vicinity of ice” (p.74). By this can we conclude that First Officer Murdoch was negligent because while he was aware of “meeting ice” he took no measures to reduce speed of make an alteration in course? In the capacity of “officer of the watch” his duties were, in the words of Fourth Officer Boxhall at the United States Inquiry, “to keep a lookout for the ship and see that the junior officers did whatever he required to carry out the captain’s orders.” Boxhall rightly clarifies that while an officer in charge of the bridge has almost complete control of the ship, his primary objective is “to carry out the captain’s orders” and in this case, as related by Lightoller at the change of the watch, there were no further orders to make any alterations in course or to reduce speed.

    However, Lord Mersey never went as far as to put the blame on Captain Smith for this. “He [Captain Smith] made a mistake, a very grievous mistake, but one in which in the face of the practice and of past experience, negligence cannot be said to have had any part; and in the absence of negligence it is, in my opinion, impossible to fix Captain Smith with blame.” (p.30) (24.)

Mudoch's Decision: In Retrospect

Was Murdoch guilty of negligence?

First Officer William Murdoch. (8.)

As ‘officer-of-the-watch’ Murdoch was directly responsible for Titanic and her safe passage through Atlantic waters during his four-hour shift. He knew the Titanic would reach ice around 11pm. Why didn’t he wake the Captain? Why did he maintain status quo? Is this a sign of negligence?

White Star Line sailing orders stipulated: “No thought of making competitive passages must be entertained, and time must be sacrificed or any other temporary inconvenience suffered, rather than the slightest risk should be incurred.” Second Officer Lightoller passed on Captain Smith’s final orders that ‘if in the slightest degree doubtful, let me know.’ Was Murdoch taking a “risk” by not alerting the Captain that they were now in the proximity of reported ice, that is, a “doubtful” situation?

We cannot be sure if any of these issues ever went through Murdoch’s mind at the time. It was a clear sky and the sea conditions were described as ‘pond-like’ and so there may have been no reason for Murdoch to believe that the situation was ever ‘doubtful’. Ten minutes before the iceberg was sighted, the lookouts observed a haze on the horizon. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this was ever relayed to the bridge.

While in hindsight Murdoch may have regretted the lack of preparation made for a ship entering an ice field, it is also a possibility that it was against his better judgment. His demotion from Chief Officer to First Officer was perhaps because Smith lacked confidence in Murdoch in that capacity (refer to the section “Circumstantial Evidence”). In turn, Murdoch may have hesitated about disturbing the Captain to say they were nearing ice when the conditions were clear and fine and Smith had only earlier judged that no alteration in course or speed was required. Disturbing the Captain may have only heightened a lack of confidence in Murdoch’s abilities. It is also feasible that Murdoch was distracted with other duties. Maybe he was trying to identify a ‘mystery light’ on the horizon?

It is also most important to note that Murdoch seems to have been the only officer who took any preventative action before the collision, when he instructed the ship’s lamp trimmer to eliminate the glow from the fore scuttle so as to have ”everything dark before the bridge.”

Lord Mersey decided that Captain Smith
"made a mistake, a very grievous mistake"

In addition, although an ‘officer-of-the-watch’ is responsible for the ship for the duration of his shift, his ultimate obligation is to his superior, the Captain, who had not made any alteration to the ship’s speed or course during the previous watch, a decision made with fore-knowledge that they would soon be entering an ice field. At the British Inquiry, Lord Mersey never went as far as to put the blame on Captain Smith for this, but noted that he “made a mistake, a very grievous mistake” (refer to The British Inquiry and the Question of Negligence, left). Hence, the Inquiry did not directly blame Murdoch for lack of preparation but concluded that it was Smith’s “grievous mistake.” In contrast, Senator Smith did blame Captain Smith, although in a gentle manner, stating that his “indifference to danger was one of the direct and contributing causes to this unnecessary tragedy.” But, with all things considered, First Officer Murdoch was merely acting under captain’s orders.

Murdoch's Orders a 'Mistake'?

Debate will always exist over First Officer William Murdoch’s decision in response to an iceberg observed directly in Titanic’s path. His decision was undoubtedly immediate and instinctive. But was it the right one?

Firstly it must be noted that there is no consensus over the exact commands he ordered that night. While testimony is in agreement that he order "hard-a-starboard" there is some doubt due to inconsistencies in the testimony of Quartermasters Hichens and Olliver, Fourth Officer Boxhall, Greaser Frederick Scott and Leading stoker Frederick Barrett as to whether Murdoch actually ordered "full astern" and later "hard-a-port". For simplicity, we will assume that he indeed ordered all three commands.

Next, there is the problem of whether Murdoch personally observed the iceberg himself, or whether he was acting ‘blind,’ making a decision solely based on a call of “Iceberg right ahead!” According to Richard Edkins, Murdoch “probably could not see the iceberg, but if he had been watching the port bow and the mysterious light, he would know that it would be safe to take avoiding action into clear water on that side.”(1.)

However, Second Officer Lightoller, friend of Murdoch, thought otherwise: “Murdoch evidently saw the mass of ice practically at the same time as the lookout men and shouted ‘Hard astarboard, full speed astern!’ His idea was to swing her bow clear and then put the helm hard over the other way and so swing her stern clear.” (18.)

"Alleged Negligent Steering"

In January 1914, Titanic steward Thomas Whiteley, who was injured during the sinking, went to court and filed a suit against the White Star Line, accusing The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company of "alleged negligent steering":

Another Titanic case -In Mr Justice Darling's Court yesterday Mr Raeburn, on behalf of the defendants in Whiteley v. The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (Limited), asked that a day should be fixed for the hearing. He said that the plantiff, who was a steward in the Titanic and was injured, alleged negligent steering and unseaworthiness of the vessel, and it would be necessary for a number of nautical witnesses to attend. He suggested that the case should be heard on March 1. Mr Justice Drling said that the only objection was that the date would fall on a Sunday. Monday March 2, was provisionally fixed for the hearing. (The Times, Saturday January 17, 1914)

Thomas Whiteley, who was hospitalized
at St. Luke’s with a broken leg and frostbite,
"alleged negligent steering"
in a 1914 court case.
(4.)

There is no further mention of the case so it can only be assumed that it was settled out of court or did not proceed due to lack of funds or evidence. However, it is interesting to think what evidence of "alleged negligent steering" the "number of nautical witnesses" would have considered. The two commands of “hard-a-starboard” and “full astern” are, in hindsight, questionable maneuvers of an officer who would no doubt be familiar with such seafaring advice as found in Knight’s Modern Seamanship (1910). It states:

The first impulse of many officers in such a situation is to turn away from danger, and at the same time to reverse the engines with full power. This course is much more likely to cause collisions than prevent them. It may be right for 'the ship' to turn away, if the emergency is such as to call for any actions on her part; but if she does this, so far from reversing the engines, she should, if possible, increase her speed as her whole effort must be directed to getting 'out of the way of the obstacle' as quickly as possible… To turn away and slow is the surest possible way of bringing about collision.” (Knight’s Modern Seamanship, 1910)

Wyn Wade, author of The Titanic: End of a Dream, makes these comments in regard to this martime reference:

“It should be added that the structural features of the Titanic compounded the effect of Murdoch’s mistake. The Titanic had two four-cylinder reciprocating engines that ran the two wing propellers. Two cylinders from each of these exhausted into a low-pressure turbine engine that ran the centre propeller positioned directly in front of the rudder. The turbine engine was not reversible. When Murdoch had thrown the engines full speed astern, therefore, the centre propeller had shut off, depriving the rudder of the slipstream from this propeller and seriously reducing its effectiveness. Hence, the Titanic’s deadly slow swing to port after the order ‘hard astarboard’. So long as Murdoch wished to veer out of the iceberg’s way –certainly a natural desire- his best course of action would have been to reverse the port screw full astern, keep the starboard screw full ahead, and put the helm hard astarboard…

Titanic's triple screw propellors

“Lookout Frederick Fleet had testified to the effect that the iceberg had been seen very late. The lookouts had been given no binoculars. Also, the lack of definition between horizon and sky and the absence of a swell prevented the iceberg from being seen until it was very close at hand. Most authorities agree the ship was practically upon the berg when Murdoch took evasive action; for such dire situations, the recommendations of Knight’s Modern Seamanship (1910) are again explicit: ‘…so far as other considerations of law and seamanship permit, any vessel in danger of collision… should present her stern to the danger rather than her broadside.’

“Why did Murdoch, an otherwise competent officer, choose the worst course possible for the Titanic under the circumstances? The evidence suggests that at the height of the emergency he went ‘against the book’ and acted on instinct –his ‘first impulse,’ as Knight’s calls it. It should be added in Murdoch’s defense that the sea trials for Olympic and Titanic were decidedly deficient. These two ships represented significant increases in tonnage, and far more time ought to have been taken during their sea trials to test out their maneuverability than what, in fact, was spent… she had been whizzed through them. The fifth officer would eventually testify that the Titanic’s trial maneuvers had consisted of a little more than a half hour of ‘twists and turns’ ” (18.)

Regarding the sea trials, which, notably, were not conducted at full speed either, there is the interesting fact that Murdoch was present during the “stopping test”:

“Subsequent evidence suggested that Fleet had spotted the iceberg at a distance of less than 500 yards. At her trials, the Titanic had taken 850 yards to stop when traveling at 20 knots. Here, approaching an ice field, she was doing 22 and a half, covering 38ft per second. There was no way she could stop in time. Murdoch’s actions avoided a head-on collision and, briefly, as the ship’s bow started to veer away from the approaching berg, looked capable of averting contact altogether. But there was no time to turn more than two points to port. All he succeeded in doing was changing the impact to a glancing blow, which, as it transpired, was the worst possible scenario. Just 40 seconds after Frederick Fleet’s warning, an ominous scraping sound signaled the beginning of the end of the Titanic.” (5.)

Titanic at sea.
(Click image to enlarge)

Why did Murdoch order “full speed astern” when he would have been quite aware that the Titanic could not stop in less than 900 yards, while the iceberg was spotted at approximately 500 yards? Richard Edkins of the Dalbeattie site Murdoch of the Titanic, offers a solution:

“According to later testimony by the naval architect William White, it would take from 20 to 30 seconds for the steam-powered steering-engine to finish rotating the rudder, - far too late to affect the ship’s course. Murdoch cannot avoid the collision with any kind of helm order, so his only real choice is to try to reduce the energy of impact by slowing the ship down, possibly also using the reversed port engine to help port around the berg.” (1.)

Titanic historian Don Lynch also believes that the full astern order was fatal. He writes:

“Ironically, by reversing the engines, Murdoch had actually made the collision more certain. Like all ships, the Titanic turned more quickly the greater her forward motion. Murdoch had not only stopped the engines but had reversed them. Each second that the propellers reduced the ship’s headway was a precious one. Had the Titanic turned just a little more, perhaps only inches, she might have missed the iceberg completely.” (2.)

Even Lightoller agreed that the 'accident' could have been prevented when he testified at the 1913 Ryan trial that he thought it could have been prevented if Murdoch had only had "the helm whipped over and put one of the engines astern". Historian Allen Gibson believes that Murdoch "wasted valuable minutes by reversing the engines and should have instead used the ship’s momentum to try to avoid the obstacle" (source)

Head On Collision?

Then there are the “what if” scenarios. One idea put forward is that Murdoch should have, rather than try and avoid the iceberg, put the engines “full astern” and allowed the ship to crash headlong into it. This supposition probably had it roots in a comment made by Edward Wilding at the British Inquiry:

“Representing Harland & Wolff was the naval architect Edward Wilding. The prompt, totally correct, actions of First Officer Murdoch, on being told of the iceberg have already been recounted. However, Wilding, revealed that if the Titanic had maintained its course and speed and hit the iceberg head on, she would not have sunk although there would have been considerable damage to the bow section and around 200 casualties, (mostly amongst crew members and third class passengers accommodated in that part of the ship). Of course, nobody seriously suggested that Murdoch should have acted other than he did but, if the lookouts had not sighted the iceberg until a few seconds later, it might have changed the outcome.” (3.)

The distance of time and ensuing technological advances have not changed Harland & Wolff’s (the builders of Titanic) stance on the matter. Tom McCluskie, administrative and archive manager of Harland & Wolff wrote in his book, Anatomy of Titanic (1998):

“In recent years Harland & Wolff have carried out extensive computer simulations to attempt to determine what would have happened had Titanic actually struck the iceberg a more direct blow. From this research it has been determined that, had this been the case, the damage would have been confined to the forward end and Titanic would not have sunk. The damage sustained would not have been sufficient to flood the six forward compartments. It is unsurprising, however, that the immediate reaction to the iceberg on the bridge was to turn away from danger, in an attempt to avoid the collision.” (9.)

Titanic author Walter Lord is of the same opinion, stating that if Murdoch had “steamed right at the berg instead of trying to miss it, he might have saved the ship. There would have been a fearful crash –passengers and crew in the first 100 feet would have been killed by the impact- but the Titanic would have remained afloat.” However, Lord does not blame Murdoch for his decision. “He did what he had been trained to do –what any prudent officer would do- in the same circumstances. His great misfortune was that, in his own succint words, ‘she was too close.’” (21.)


Titanic's stern.
(Click image to enlarge)

But is it reasonable to suggest that an officer would take measures, upon the sighting of an iceberg, to run the ship headlong into an object in its path? In doing so, the officer would no doubt be made responsible for the resulting number of casualties and be accused of negligence. And would the resulting damage stop the ship from sinking? When author Randall Frakes stated that “shortly after the sinking, author Joseph Conrad wrote an article in which he said if the ship had hit the iceberg dead on, it would not have sank, because of the design of the water tight compartments” Titanic film director James Cameron replied:

“Not true. The ship hit the bottom approximately at the same speed it was traveling when it hit the iceberg. The bow did not accordion. The ship’s structure failed 200 or so feet aft, in front of the bridge. If the ship struck dead on, it would have failed at the same point, right in front of the bridge, and it would have sunk in less than 15 minutes, like the Lusitania, killing almost everyone.” (22.)

Ken Marschall, a respected maritime artist and Titanic visual historian, is of the opinion that the “full speed astern” order is more questionable than the “hard-a-starboard” and that by “jamming on the brakes,” as it were, Murdoch was practically eliminating any means of maneuverability:

“Marschall holds the view, shared by a number of Titanic historians, that this combination of orders doomed the ship. With the propellers coming to a stop and then reversing, the slipstream that fed the rudder’s turning power eased. As it was, the ship needed only a few more feet to miss the berg. Had Murdoch simply ordered a full turn to port, the Titanic, Marschall believes, would certainly have cleared the berg without a scratch” (6.)

'Had Murdoch simply ordered a full turn to port,
the Titanic, would certainly have cleared the berg
without a scratch
' -Ken Marschall, Titanic visual historian

It must also be noted that the above scenario has recently been questioned by several Titanic historians and authors. According to Nathan Robison and his article entitled Hard a-Starboard, Reconsidering Titanic's Encounter with the Iceberg, "the famous 'hard a-starboard' order, so much a part of the movies and myths, never happened" (please refer to the article Revisionist Theories) Additionally, David G. Brown, author of the article entitled The Last Log Of The Titanic, spent "four years researching original sources--mostly the 1912 testimony of the crew who survived" and concluded that the "hard-a-starboard" order was a myth, in addition to the "full astern" order not being given, that it was a grounding and not a collision and that the engines were restarted after the grounding -being a primary factor in the sinking (please refer to Revisionist Theories.).

Were there other warnings?

Additionally we must consider the possibility that there was more than one iceberg. Books such as George Behe’s Titanic: Safety, Speed and Sacrifice indicate that 'the' iceberg was not the first to be spotted. Bill Wormstedt writes that if this is the case "then Murdoch was also responsible for not slowing down, in direct violation of the posted orders from the White Star Line, that 'Time must be sacrificed or any other temporary inconvenience suffered, rather than the lightest risk should be incurred.' He also did not follow Captain Smith’s final orders (passed on from Lightoller), to 'If in the slightest degree doubtful, let me know.'" (12.)

Thomas Whiteley: "Fifteen minutes before the
Titanic struck he had reported to First Officer
Murdock on the bridge that he fancied he
saw an iceberg"

However multiple icebergs and/or warnings is not a new theory. In 1912 there are several reports that indicate this. For example, statements from 18 year old Saloon Steward Thomas Whiteley, who was rescued aboard collapsibe B, appeared in several newspapers on April 21, 1912 mentioning a 15 minute delay and multiple warnings:

Whitely did not know the name of either of the lookout men, and he said he believed they had gone back home on the Lapland. "I heard one of them say that fifteen minutes before the Titanic struck he had reported to First Officer Murdock [sic] on the bridge that he fancied he saw an iceberg," said Whitely. "Twice after that the lookout said he warned Mr. Murdock that a berg was ahead. I can't remember their exact words, but they were very indignant that no attention was paid to their warnings. One of them said: 'No wonder that Mr. Murdock shot himself.'" (The New York Times, Sunday 21 April 1912)

On the same day as the above article,The New York World ran a similarly worded article that goes on to also provide a further information:.

Lookout claims Murdoch Shot Himself

"As we stood there on Collapsible B, each man holding on to his neighbours shoulder fearful every moment that some lurch would send us off again into that icy water, two of the men I knew had been on watch in the crow's nest that night spoke up. 'It's no wonder Mr. Murdoch shot himself,' said one to the other. I asked him why."

"'From the crow's nest we sighted the iceberg that hit us at 11.15,' he replied. 'I at once reported it to Mr. Murdoch. It was not white but a sort of bluish colour plainly distinguishable against the clear sky. Twice afterward I reported the iceberg to Mr. Murdoch. I could not see that he at all varied the Titanic's course. He knew he should have changed his course. He shot himself because he knew it.'" (New York World, Sunday 21 April 1912 )

And also on the same day the New York Herald, April 21, 1912 carried a similar story:

Thomas Whiteley Tells of Hearing Men Who Were in Crow's Nest Express Indignation Because Mr Murdock, the First Officer, Repeatedly Refused to Act on Their Report of Danger.

"NO WONDER MR MURDOCK SHOT HIMSELF," SAID SAILOR WHO TOLD OF ICE AHEAD

Conversation of Two Men Who Saw Mountain of Ice That Caused the Disaster Oveheard in Lifeboat by Man Now in St Vincent's Hospital


That three warnings were given to the officer on the bridge of the Titanic that icebergs were ahead, less than half an hour before the fatal crash was the declaration made last night by Thomas Whiteley, a first saloon steward aboard the vessel, who now lies in St. Vincent's Hospital with frozen and lacerated feet. Mr Whitely also says he understands that the first officer of the Titanic, Mr Murdock, did shoot himself after the crash. This has been rumoured but never verified. Mr Whiteley does not attempt to explain why the warnings were ignored or why the speed of the vessel was not reduced or her course changed, but he is positive, he asserts that the first officer was warned distinctly three times. The warnings came from the two men in the crow's nest. Mr Whiteley said, and the fact that their warning was unheeded caused the lookouts much indignation and much astonishment. (The New York Herald, April 21, 1912)

Bill Wormstedt discredits the reports as “flawed” because although “all of the lookouts were saved, none were on Collapsible B or No. 4, and all left the ship long before the Boat Deck dipped under… Since the exact sources of Whiteley’s stories are unknown, his testimony must be taken with caution.” (Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark (12.))

However Whiteley's is not the only 1912 evidence that warnings of icebergs were not heeded by the bridge. First class passenger Mrs Catherine E. Crosby's affidavit, sworn in Milwaukee, to the US Inquiry also includes a similar allegation:

"It was reported on the Carpathia by passengers, whose names I do not recollect, that the lookout who was on duty at the time the Titanic struck the iceberg had said: 'I know they will blame me for it, because I was on duty, but it was not any fault; I had warned the officers three or four times before striking the iceberg that we were in the vicinity of icebergs, but the officer on the bridge paid no attention to my signals.' I cannot give the name of any passenger who made that statement, but it was common talk on the Carpathia that that is what the lookout said."

Interestingly, there is a comment by passenger Major Peuchen during his testimony at the US Inquiry that does indicate that Fleet's warning call to the bridge met with no reply:


Major Peuchen: "(Fleet) did not
get any reply from the bridge."

Senator SMITH: Did you talk with Mr. Fleet, the man in the lookout, who was in your lifeboat?
Maj. PEUCHEN: Yes, sir.
SMITH: About this iceberg?
PEUCHEN: Yes. I spoke to him about it.
SMITH: What did you say to him about it?
PEUCHEN: I was interested when I found he was in the crow's nest, and I said, "What occurred?" In the conversation he said he rang three bells, and then he signaled to the bridge.
SMITH: Did he say how far off the iceberg was when he first sighted it?
PEUCHEN: No; he did not tell me that.
SMITH: Did he say what it looked like when he first saw it?
PEUCHEN: No; he did not go into that. The only thing he said was that he did not get any reply from the bridge.
SMITH: From the telephone?
PEUCHEN: I heard afterwards that really the officers were not required to reply.
SMITH: That is, the information is imparted from the crow's nest to the officer at the bridge, and that is the end of that information?
PEUCHEN: I spoke to the second officer [Lightoller] on the boat regarding the conversation; and he told me it is simply a matter of whether the officer wishes to reply or not. He gets the information, probably, and acts right on it without attempting to reply to the crow's nest.

However in Lookout Fleet's evidence he does not mention the 'no reply', or any other icebergs or delays. In fact he says that Moody answered "immediately."

Closing the Watertight doors doomed the ship?

According to historian Allen Gibson Murdoch’s much-contested second mistake was ordering the bulkhead doors to be shut to seal the 16 watertight compartments. Gibson argues that although it was an instinctive reaction it proved disastrous. Ice damage extended through the first five compartments, making the bow extremely heavy. He writes: “Its assimilated weight began pulling the bow lower, tilting the deck to flow water over one bulkhead wall into the next, filling each compartment as the angle became further accentuated. If Murdoch had left the doors open water would have flooded the compartments more evenly, giving valuable extra minutes for the evacuation and rescue operation." Gibson also suggests that afterwards the Titanic continued onward, worsening the situation. "On entering the bridge at this crucial point captain Smith agreed with Murdoch’s decision but then made matters worse by forcing the Titanic to limp on for 20 minutes at eight knots. The resumption of the forward motion inadvertently drove more water into the hull, sealing the liner’s fate." (The Express, Sunday February 19,2012)

Summary

As already stated, Murdoch was an officer who was greatly respected by his colleagues and regarded as “dependable”. His quick actions in the case of the Arabic (1903) avoided a collision and the orders he gave on the night of April 14th, 1912 were also intuitive. When faced with an obstacle in one’s path it is only a normal response to instantly reduce speed, ‘jam on the brakes’ as it were and take evasive actions to avoid the object. It is only in hindsight that Murdoch would have realised that the orders given that night combined would create a situation that would result in tragedy.

It must also be noted that if Murdoch indeed "ported around" the iceberg he succesfully performed a very difficult and complex manuover. Historian Allen Gibson’s analysis (in the book The Unsinkable Titanic) gives credit where it is due by explaining:

“The idea to ‘port around’ the iceberg (make an s-shaped manoeuvre) had saved Titanic from far greater damage. Had Murdoch kept the bow veering port it would have smashed the iceberg along the entire hull, killing hundreds of passengers accommodated along her starboard flank and potentially forcing the ship to capsize. Instead Murdoch’s manoeuvre pivoted Titanic sufficiently to bump her away from the iceberg as they met. It is why most passengers barely noticed the collision, recalling Titanic quivering gently upon a dulled impact which, after all, had seen thousands of tons of ice and metal collide. Although fatal the resulting damage was confined to the bow, keeping Titanic afloat long enough for her crew to launch all of the main lifeboats she carried.” (source)

Author Tad Fitch, who co-wrote On a Sea of Glass: The Life & Loss of the RMS Titanic also believes that Murdoch's decision was "prudent" and "calculated":

What is also clear is that Murdoch was very prudent in his decision to take evasive action after receiving the warning from the crow’s nest, taking time to determine the bearing to the iceberg, attempting to ascertain the berg’s extremities in the darkness, and making sure that the ship truly was on a collision course before issuing the hard-a-starboard order. He calmly and clearly calculated what he thought would give the ship the best chance of avoiding the collision, first ensuring that his actions wouldn’t make the situation worse, or cause a collision that otherwise would have been avoided.(The Galloway News, March 15 2012)

Titanic historian Don Lynch summarises the situation:

“No one will ever know what thoughts flashed through First Officer Murdoch’s mind as the wall of ice passed along the starboard side of the bow, pieces of it falling onto the forecastle and well deck. As the officer of the watch, the navigation of the Titanic was his responsibility. Now he had steered the ship into an iceberg. It was any seaman’s worst nightmare."(2.)

In summary, it is certainly not admissible to lay the blame completely on the shoulders of Murdoch. Like the 2200 crew and passengers aboard, he was a victim of circumstance, a casualty of several factors combining to create disaster. While the commands he gave are, by general consensus, factors that doomed the ship, they were natural and instinctive decisions. Only in hindsight could one perceive their disastrous consequences.