The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Murdoch: "Good-bye, Good Luck"

  • Third Officer Pitman
    soon after the disaster.

    Third Officer Pitman’s testimony at the United States Inquiry describes how he had allowed a few men to get into lifeboat No.5, when Murdoch said to him “You go away in this boat, old man, and hang around the after gangway.” Pitman explains that he “did not like the idea of going away at all, because I thought I was better off on the ship.”

    Pitman: I should say about half a dozen men there; there would not have been so many men there had there been any women around, but there were none. So Murdoch told me. He said, ‘You go ahead in this boat and hang around the after gangway.’ He shook hands with me and said, ‘Good-bye; good luck,’ and I said, “Lower away.”
    Smith: Murdoch did?
    Pitman: Murdoch shook hands good-bye, and said, “Good luck to you”…
    Smith: When you shook hands with Murdoch and bade him good-bye, did you ever expect to see him again?
    Pitman: Certainly; I did.
    Smith: Do you think, from his manner, he ever expected to see you again?
    Pitman: Apparently not. I expected to get back to the ship again, perhaps two of three hours afterwards.
    Smith: But he, from his manner, did not expect that?
    Pitman: Apparently not.
    Smith: Did you take leave of any other officers in a similar way?
    Pitman: No, I did not, sir

    Pitman’s description of what occurred was later collaborated by Mr. Henry Etches, a bedroom steward, on day nine of the inquiry: “Mr. Murdoch then stepped up and said; ‘Are you the officer going in this boat?’ [Pitman] said: ‘Yes, sir.’ The he said: ‘Take your place,’ held out his hand and shook hands and said: ‘Good-bye and good luck,’ and he took his place and the order was given to lower the boat.”(25.)

    Later, in 1955 in a letter to Walter Lord who was writing his book A Night to Remember, Pitman wrote: "I did not realize the gravity of the situation when Murdock [sic] wished me luck in leaving the ship." (Letter of 4/7/55)

"Mr. Murdoch was running the show" -Lowe

  • Fifth Officer Lowe

    Fifth Officer Lowe, although finally departing Titanic aboard lifeboat No.14 from the port side, assisted Murdoch several times during the starboard evacuation, as noted in Lowe’s testimony at the United States Inquiry:

    Smith: Now, what did you do after you went out on the deck and ascertained the position of the ship in the water and saw what had occurred?
    Lowe: I first of all went and got my revolver.
    Smith: What for?
    Lowe: Well, sir; you never know when you need it.
    Smith: All right; go ahead
    Lowe: Then I went and helped everybody all around. Let us see; I crossed over to the starboard side. I lowered away. The first boat I helped to lower was No.5, starboard boat. Lowered that boat away.
    Smith: You lowered No.5 boat?
    Lowe: Yes. That is, under the orders of Mr. Murdoch.
    Smith: Did Mr. Murdoch assist you?
    Lowe: No; he was the senior officer; I was the junior.
    Smith: On that side of the ship?
    Lowe: Yes.
    Smith: Was he superintending?
    Lowe: He was superintending that deck.
    Smith: The loading?
    Lowe: He was in charge of everything there.
    Smith: The loading and the lowering of the lifeboats?
    Lowe: Yes sir…
    Smith: Now, Mr. Lowe, how many people were there in the first lifeboat you lowered?
    Lowe: I do not know, sir, because I was not the boss there. Mr. Murdoch was running the show.

Other reports

  • During the United States Inquiry into the Titanic disaster there are many and varied references to Murdoch’s activities during the starboard evacuation.

    On day seven of the inquiry, lookout G.A. Hogg said: “As I past the No.7 boat on the starboard side, Mr. Murdoch, chief officer, said: ‘See that those plugs are in that boat.’ I put the plugs in, and I said, ‘The plugs are all correct,’ and I jumped out again…I jumped out to assist with the falls; and he said: ‘You step in that boat.’ I said, ‘Very good sir.’ Mr. Murdoch lowered one end, and I am trying to think of the man that lowered the other end. Evans lowered the other end.”

    George Moore, a 32 year-old able seaman, was questioned by Senator Newlands regarding the loading of lifeboat No.3.

    Moore: After all the ladies and children that were about there got in, I suppose anyone jumped in, then.
    Newlands: What officer was there?
    Moore: The first officer, Mr. Murdoch.
    Newlands: Did he tell these men to go in?
    Moore: No, sir; he never told them. He got all the women and children in, and then men started to jump in; and when we thought we had a boat full there, we lowered away. (25.)

Starboard Evacuation: Lifeboats 7 - 1

12:40am: Lifeboat No.7

Launch Time



Launched by

In charge





Lookout George Hogg

“On the forward boat deck Murdoch was overseeing the preparation of the starboard lifeboats, ordering that they be swung out over the side of the ship and lowered until they were even with the deck and in position for loading. Third Officer Pitman… was assisting Murdoch… ‘Ladies, this way,’ Murdoch called to the small crowd of passengers. There was no response. No one wanted to leave the apparent safety of the solid Titanic for a tiny, frail boat in the middle of the North Atlantic… someone, recognising that a large number of those present were young couples, called out, ‘Put in the brides and grooms first.’…. ‘Are there any more ladies before this boat goes?’ Murdoch called out. When none came forward he ordered the boat to be lowered away and to wait by an after gangway to receive more passengers. It carried less than half its capacity of sixty-five….” (Illustrated History, p.101 (2.))

Dorothy Gibson in a promotional
photo for Saved From the Titanic (1912),
dressed in the same clothes that she
wore the night of the sinking
(Click image to enlarge)

On day seven of the United States Inquiry, Lookout G.A. Hogg said: “As I past the No.7 boat on the starboard side, Mr. Murdoch, chief officer, said: ‘See that those plugs are in that boat.’ I put the plugs in, and I said, ‘The plugs are all correct,’ and I jumped out again…I jumped out to assist with the falls; and he said: ‘You step in that boat.’ I said, ‘Very good sir.’ Mr. Murdoch lowered one end, and I am trying to think of the man that lowered the other end. Evans lowered the other end.” (25.)

According to First Class passenger William Thompson Sloper, who wrote of his experiences in a book entitled "The Life and Time of Andrew Jackson Sloper: Sketch Number Twelve: My Eye Witness Story of the Titanic Disaster"(1949) he stood "in the shelter of the superstructure with some 50 or 60 other passengers, adjusting lifebelts, trying to hear over the roar of the steam." According to Sloper, Murdoch, shouting through a megaphone, then announced: "Any passengers who would like to do so may get into this life boat. There will be no difficulty launching it as the sea is perfectly calm. Later, after we have had a chance to find out how much damage has been done to the ship, we will pick you up again.'"(55.) Elizabeth Gibbons notes that "Murdoch knew there was no return to the Titanic, but the choice of words was classic company policy and perfectly fitted Captain Smith's known method: no disorder and no panic." Sloper then saw some passengers ""handed down into the life boat by him [Murdoch] and his assistants" and saw others decline and step back onto the deck. There was no pushing or jostling; everyone, he wrote, "seemed to have taken a firm grip on his nerves".(55.)

According to First class survivor William
Thompson Sloper (1883-1955) Murdoch said to
passengers "we will pick you up again".
Source: Find A Grave

Lookout Archie Jewell at the British Inquiry said that "Murdoch gave the order to lower boat No.7 to the rail with women and children in the boat... No.7 was lowered from the boat deck. the orders were to stand by the gangway." (24.)

Mrs Helen Bishop (née Walton) of Dowagiac, Michigan, testified before the Senate that she "had no idea that it was time to get off, but the officer took my arm and told me to be very quiet and get in immediately. They put the families in the first two boats. My husband was pushed in with me, and we were lowered away with 28 people in the boat." She also mentioned that men were not asked to stand back and there was no order of 'women first' given on the starboard side during the lowering of no.7. (25.)

Lifeboat No.7, of the starboard side and lowered without confusion by Murdoch’s order, had three crew men consisting of Lookouts Hogg and Jewell and Seaman William Weller and 25 passengers, mostly from first class, including Dorothy Gibson, serial movie star, and her mother. Titanic & Her Sisters Olympic and Brittanic gives the exact numbers as “32 people including three crew, 13 female and 19 male passengers” (3.). It was the first lifeboat lowered that night.

Famous survivors from no.7 include 22 year-old actress Dorothy Gibson, Pierre Maréchal, French aviator and father of the racing driver Jean-Pierre Maréchal, and Margaret Hays, New York heiress also brought her dog named Lady into the lifeboat.

12:45am: Lifeboat No.5




Launched by

In charge





Fifth Officer Pitman

“Working under Murdoch was Third Officer Herbert Pitman, who was now preparing boat No. 5 for lowering…. Pitman allowed a few more men in until the boat had over forty occupants. Its capacity was sixty-five. He then jumped out to assist in lowering, leaving Quartermaster Alfred Olliver in command. At this point First Officer Murdoch approached and told him, “You go in charge of this boat and also look after the others. Stand by to come along the after gangway when hailed.” The two shook hands. Murdoch added, “Good-bye. Good luck,” as Pitman stepped into the boat. He didn’t believe the ship would actually sink, but it suddenly struck him that the first officer did…. the men rowed aft a short distance seeking the gangway. Murdoch had ordered Pitman to come back to when hailed. The gangway was closed, so Pitman ordered the men to pull away from the ship.” (Illustrated History, p.107/108 (2.)) (Also refer to “Good-bye, Good Luck” -Pitman).

White Star President J.Bruce Ismay assists in loading and lowering this boat, although Fifth Officer Lowe can not tolerate his interference and tells him “If you’ll get the hell out of the way I’ll be able to do something!” (Please also refer to Fifth Officer Lowe’s Evidence).

Although it is commonly acknowledged that Murdoch allowed some men aboard lifeboats he was launching, in the case of No.5, a stout gentleman leaned over to kiss his wife, said, “I cannot leave you” and tumbled into the boat beside her. “Throw that man out of the boat!” Murdoch shouted (The Titanic, Wade, p.186 (18.)). “But it’s problems are not yet over,” adds Triumph and Tragedy. “First Class passenger Dr. H W. Frauental decides the time is right to join his wife in the boat, and with his brother, jumps into the boat as it is lowered away. In doing so, he dislocates two ribs of Mrs. Annie May Stengel, already in the boat, and knocks her unconscious.” (Triumph and Tragedy p.150 (7.))

Karl Howell Behr, an American
tennis player and banker.

In the end, “between 36 and 41 people made their escape on this lifeboat, half of which were male” according to Titanic & Her Sisters Olympic and Britannic, which also states that Murdoch “was aided by Fifth Officer Lowe” with Lowe having also assisted on No.7. (3.)

Richard Edkins states that “in his memoirs, Pitman wrote that his boat was too full to take aboard any others; this shows an error of judgment, but not deliberate negligence” (Murdoch of the Titanic) even though the boat was said to have “over forty occupants” and a capacity of 65. Murdoch is also quoted as saying, once there were nearly forty in the boat, “That’s enough before lowering. We can get a lot more in after she’s in the water. Lower away!”. (1.)

First class passenger Mr Charles Emil Henry Stengel saw his wife Mrs Annie May Stengel (née Morris) off in lifeboat no.5 (while he departed later in no.1). During the American Inquiry he made mention of the officer's behavior and also the use of guns:

Mr Charles Stengel: The officer said:
'I will go down and get my gun.'

My judgment about the officers is that when they were loading I think they were cool. I think so far as the loading of the boats after the accident was concerned, sir, they showed very good judgment. I think they were very cool. They calmed the passengers by making them believe it was not a serious accident...I saw two, a certain physician in New York and his brother, jump into the same boat my wife was in. Then the officer or the man that was loading the boat, said "I will stop that. I will go down and get my gun." He left the deck momentarily and came right back again. Afterwards I heard about five shots; that is while we were afloat. Four of them I can account for in this way, that when the green lights were lit on the boat they were lashed to my wife's boat - the man shot off a revolver four times, thinking it was a vessel. The man in charge said, "You had better save all your revolver shots, you had better save all your matches, and save everything. It may be the means of saving your life." After that I heard another shot that seemed to be aboard the Titanic. It was explained to me afterwards that that was the time that one of the men shot off his revolver - that is, the mate or whoever had charge of the boat shot off his revolver - to show the men that his revolver was loaded and he would do what he said; that any man who would step into the lifeboat he would shoot. (25.)

Who was the officer who said "I will go down and get my gun"? Murdoch/Pitman oversaw the loading of no.5 that Stengel's wife was in, while Murdoch/Lowe loaded no.1 in which Stengel himself departed, so this can either refer to Murdoch or Lowe, as Pitman never mentioned having a gun. According to some descriptions when Lowe woke up after the iceberg collision he immediately got dressed, grabbed his Browning automatic revolver. However it does seem more likely, as Stengel describes, that Lowe grabbed his revolver once he saw the potential for trouble, and that this happened at no.5.

Famous No.5 passengers include Karl Behr, American tennis star and banker, who was pursuing fellow first class passenger and no.5 occupant Helen Newsom. After the rescue, several newspapers reported that Behr had proposed to Miss Newsom in the lifeboat. They married on March 1, 1913 in New York.

12.55am: Lifeboat No.3




Launched by

In charge





Able Bodied Seaman George Moore

As is the case with most of the lifeboats that night, there are many variations on how many were aboard lifeboat No.3. According to Titanic & Her Sisters Olympic and Britannic: “Boat 3 held between 38 to 40 people including 26 male passengers and 13 male crew members, ten of whom were firemen. The men were given space as no willing women could be found by First Officer Murdoch who ordered the launch at 1:00am” (p.330 (3.)) while Triumph and Tragedy puts the number at “32… including eleven crewmen” (p.151 (3.)) Other sources state 15 crew and a total of up to 50 aboard, but generally it is recognised that, in the absence of sufficient numbers of women and children in the vicinity, Murdoch permitted men aboard (approximately 10) while other men gallantly refused. Murdoch put able-bodied seaman Moore in charge, who he had also instructed to jump in the boat and pass the ladies in.

Able Bodied Seaman
George Moore

George Moore, a 51 year-old able seaman, was questioned by Senator Newlands at the Senate Inquiry regarding the loading of lifeboat No.3 and said that "when we swung boat No.3 out I was told by the first officer to jump in the boat and pass the ladies in, and when there were no more about we took in men passengers." Later, "after all the ladies and children that were about there got in, I suppose anyone jumped in, then....The first officer, Mr. Murdoch... got all the women and children in, and then men started to jump in; and when we thought we had a boat full there, we lowered away." (25.)

1:05am: Lifeboat No.1




Launched by

In charge





Lookout George Symons

Containing only a dozen people (capacity 40), this was the least filled of all the lifeboats lowered into the water that night. Don Lynch explains why: “After boat No.3 had been lowered, most of the passengers on the starboard boat deck moved aft. As a result, First Officer Murdoch found only a handful of crewman nearby as he began loading boat No.1, a smaller, emergency boat.” (Illustrated History, p.114) (2.)

As the boat was being prepared, “Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and Lady Duff Gordon asked Murdoch if they could enter No. 1 ‘Oh, certainly do; I’ll be very pleased,’ Murdoch replied, according to Sir Cosmo. On the other hand, Lookout George Symons, standing near, thought Murdoch merely said ‘Yes, jump in.’ ” (A Night to Remember, p.57 (20.))

Murdoch was “glad” or “pleased”
to allow Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and
Lady Duff Gordon into lifeboat No.1

In the British Inquiry, Sir Cosmo described his version of how he and his wife came to be in the boat. “I then spoke to him [First Officer Murdoch] and I said, ‘May we get into the boat?’ and he said ‘Yes. I wish you would’ or ‘Very glad if you would’ or some expression like that. There were no passengers at all near us then. He put the ladies in and helped me in.’” (Illustrated History, p.184 (2.)) While in Triumph and Tragedy, Murdoch is said to have replied to Sir Cosmo’s request: “With the greatest pleasure” (p.151 (7.)).

“C.E. Henry Stengel, a New Jersey leather manufacturer, approached, irritated that the passengers were being inconvenienced by being placed in lifeboats. When Murdoch told him to ‘Jump in!’ his attitude changed and he obediently climbed to the rail and rolled into the boat. Murdoch laughed heartily. ‘That is the funniest sight I have seen tonight,’ he exclaimed. Stengel felt somewhat encouraged by the laughter. Perhaps the situation wasn’t as dangerous as he had thought….” (Illustrated History p.114/115 (2.))

Mr Charles Stengel: 'The officer
said: "That is the funniest sight
I have seen to-night,"'

Richard Edkins adds that Stengel stumbled and rolled into the boat because “he was rather fat” (Murdoch of the Titanic (1.)). Walter Lord described the scene in this way: “Stengel had trouble climbing over the rail, finally getting on top of it and rolled into the boat. Murdoch, an agile terrier of a man, laughed pleasantly, ‘That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen tonight.’ ” (A Night to Remember, p.57 (20.))

Mr. Henry Stengel recalls the incident during the United States Inquiry:

“I asked the officer -I could not see them, it was so dark, and I presume I was agitated somewhat -I asked him if I could not get into that boat. There was no one else around, not a person I could see except the people working at the boats, and he said, ‘Jump in.’ The railing was rather high--it was an emergency boat and was always swung over toward the water--I jumped onto the railing and rolled into it. The officer then said, ‘That is the funniest sight I have seen to-night,’ and he laughed quite heartily. That rather gave me some encouragement. I thought perhaps it was not so dangerous as I imagined.”

Murdoch biographer Susanne Störmer also describes the event and her interpretation of it in 1995:

When boat number one was to be filled, the Titanic's bow had already sunk deeper into the water. This caused most of the passengers to go aft, they thought this was the safer place. And so Murdoch had some trouble in finding passengers to fill boat number one ... The Duff Gordons and their maid went in ... Then two American gentlemen came to the boat and asked if they could get in, too, and were allowed to do so by Murdoch. One of these men was very stout, and he had difficulty in getting into the boat. Finally, he simply climbed onto the rail and then rolled into the boat. Murdoch, who had watched the scene, laughed very amused: 'That's the funniest thing I've seen this night!'

This incident shows Murdochs good sense of humour, and he had not lost it even in the worst moments of his life. But he probably was still hoping for the other ship which was near by to come in time, and this may have eased the situation for Murdoch. (Good-bye Good Luck: The Biography of William McMaster Murdoch by Susanne Störmer (45.))

According to Titanic researcher and author Inger Sheil, Störmer has gone as far as to use this incident to reason that Murdoch was not in command of the ship during the collision:

As late as the BTS convention last year, Susanne still adhered to the idea that the officer in question was Murdoch, and she used it in her talk to bolster her contention that Smith was on the bridge and in command of the Titanic during the collision (according to her argument, Murdoch could not have found anything funny if he had thought his career was certainly as doomed as it would be if he were in command).(Inger Sheil, 3rd February 2003 (8.))

However Störmer, later in 2002, had begun to doubt if the identity of the "officer" Stengel described was in fact Murdoch:

"And quite frankly: It does not sound like Murdoch’s sense of humour, although it would fit with Lowe’s – at least if compared to the 5th officer’s behaviour in lifeboat 14, which caused much dismay amongst the passengers and put Lowe under the suspicion of being drunk." (William McMaster Murdoch, A Career at Sea (44.))

Lifeboat No. 1’s occupants pose
for a photograph aboard Carpathia.
Back row, (left to right): Saloman, Stengel
Middle row: Hendrickson, Lady Duff Gordon,
Francatelli, Sir Duff Gordon, Taylor
Seated: Symons, Horswell, Collins, Pusey.
(Click image to enlarge) (8.)

Finally lowered from the starboard side on the order of Murdoch, who was assisted by Fifth Officer Lowe, the boat only contains Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, their private secretary, Abraham Solomon and C.E.Stengel, and six stokers as crew. “Murdoch …put Lookout Symons in charge and told them: ‘Stand off from the ship’s side and return when we call you.’ ” (A Night to Remember p.57) Triumph and Tragedy adds that “it is not unlikely that Murdoch sends the boat away thinking it will afford a means of saving many lives of those in the water after Titanic sinks”. Walter Lord believes that the boat left with so few because “Murdoch apparently felt there was no time to search… His idea seems to have been to get the boat away. The ship was sinking fast, and he needed the empty davits for the two starboard collapsibles.” (Walter Lord, The Night Lives On (21.))

Later, Lifeboat No.1 would also be the source of further controversy when the Duff Gordons were accused of bribing the crew, and, like many other boats that were less than full, of not returning to pick up people dying in the water.

"I could not criticise an officer"

During the Board of Trade Enquiry, on 17 May 1912, Lookout George Symons was questioned by the Commissioner about No.1 and its lack of passengers. He said:

Lookout George Symons. (8.)

"We went to No. 1, and Mr. Murdoch asked who was assigned to that boat. I said I was, and he said 'Are you a sailor?' I said 'Yes' He said, 'Jump in and see the plug is in'. After that he asked if there were nay more sailors. Horswill replied, 'I am assigned to that boat'. He said, 'Jump in' He next gave an order for five firemen to jump in because there were no passengers around the deck at that time...As he gave orders I saw two ladies come running out of the foremost end of the top saloon deck, running towards the boat, and from there they asked Mr. Murdoch if they could get into that boat, and Mr. Murdoch said, 'Yes, Jump in'. And then, after that, I saw three gentlemen come running up, and they asked if they could get into the boat, and he said, 'Yes, jump in.' Mr. Murdoch then looked around for more, and there was nobody in sight, only just the remaining members of the crew. He then gave an order to lower away."

When questioned by the Commissioner as to "why did he order the boat to be lowered away while it was not full?", Symons replied:

"Because, I suppose, he had looked around the deck for other people, as well as I did myself, and there was not another passenger in sight, only just the remainder of the crew getting the surf boat ready... I saw Mr. Murdoch running around there. I could not tell why he gave the order. I could not criticise an officer. He gave the order to lower away, and I had to obey orders. It is not a seaman's place to criticise an officer in that case... Yes, my orders were to pull away from the ship, not to far, and stand by if I was called back."