The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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J.R. Moody

Afterward I saw Murdoch, standing on the first deck, I saw him raise his arm and shoot himself. He dropped where he stood…."

Of all the eyewitness accounts, the evidence of a certain “J.R.Moody” is probably the most curious, for the simple reason that no “J.R.Moody” as a quartermaster exists in any records, and certainly not on the bridge at the time of the collision as stated in his testimony. Yes, there was a J.P.Moody on the bridge at that time. However, his name was James Moody, and he was Titanic’s Sixth Officer. And most importantly, Sixth Officer Moody did not survive the disaster.

So the question remains: who is quartermaster “J.R.Moody”? There were two quartermasters on the bridge when Titanic struck the iceberg: quartermaster Robert Hichens at the ship’s wheel and quartermaster Alfred Olliver assisting, both of whom survived. There is a possibility that “J.R.Moody” was incorrectly given by a journalist when quartermaster Hichens or Olliver had not given their name, since they would have been aware that their duties on that fateful night would leave them in a precarious situation. Sailors, notoriously superstitious, would be unwilling to employ them, even though they were innocent of any responsibility for the disaster.

In referring information regarding the two anonymous sailors to Bill Wormstedt, he added another possibility: “These statements seem to be similar to accounts from William French and Jack Williams” (e-mail 26/03/00). But due to the confusion over the eyewitness’ exact identity, his testimony is also cast in doubt. However, it does raise a few elements of interest, and it is thus reprinted here:

“There is no way of telling the approach of a berg, and, besides, I do not intend to go into that now. We struck, and we paid dearly for it, and that is all there is to that now. We were running between twenty-two and twenty-three knots an hour. It seemed incredible that much damage had been done at first, we struck so lightly. There was a little jar. Almost immediately, though, Captain Smith rushed to the bridge and took charge. Afterward I saw Murdoch, standing on the first deck, I saw him raise his arm and shoot himself. He dropped where he stood. As far as Mr. Bruce Ismay goes, he was in the second boat that left Titanic. The first boat swamped. I am sure of that, and Mr. Ismay was bundled into the second boat, regardless of his protests, to take charge of it in place of First Officer Murdoch, who had shot himself. When the Titanic started to sink Captain Smith was on the bridge… J.Bruce Ismay never showed himself once during the whole voyage and on the voyage on the Carpathia. We never saw him from the time the vessel took up survivors until we reached the dock. Personally I do not think that Captain Smith was responsible for the high rate of speed at which Titanic was traveling when the ship foundered. I kept a record during the voyage. From noon of Saturday to noon of Sunday the Titanic traveled 546 knots. I believe they were trying to break records. When the crash came the boat was traveling at top speed.” (Sinking of Titanic, Eyewitness Accounts, p.87, 88 (33.))

As with his name, his account is a paradox. There are elements of accuracy: the speed of the ship at the time of the collision (22½ knots), the nature of the collision, Mr. Ismay’s reclusive behavior aboard Carpathia and the eyewitness’ interest in keeping records as to distances and making assumptions as to motives for high speed. Conversely, he incorrectly states that the first boat to leave Titanic was swamped (unless he is referring to the first collapsible to be launched, or the first boat that he saw launched) and that Bruce Ismay escaped on the second boat. He also makes an interesting connection between Murdoch’s alleged suicide and Ismay’s escape saying that Ismay was “bundled” into the boat despite his protests, forced to take over control since Murdoch was now dead. This puts Murdoch’s alleged suicide before the launching of collapsible C. This does not tie in with other witness accounts, most of whom testify that Murdoch was seen attempting to launch collapsible A.

If, however, “Moody” is in fact either quartermaster Hichens or Olliver, these incorrect statements could have been said in ignorance, since Hichens left in lifeboat No.16 from the port side at 1:35am, while Olliver left in No.15 at 12:55am.

Finally, I received an e-mail from Ron Carlson from Virginia, USA (Wed, 15 Oct 2003 12:29:38 -0700 (PDT). As someone with experience in sailing in the deck department of a merchant ship, he proved some insight into what he calls the 'astonishing' account from Moody. He picks out three sentences: “We were running between twenty-two and twenty-three knots an hour” , “From noon of Saturday to noon of Sunday the Titanic traveled 546 knots.” , “When the crash came the boat was traveling at top speed.” and notes that an experienced sailor would be unlikely to have uttered such sentences. Firstly he notes the "term 'knot' means 'nautical mile per hour,' the phrase 'knots an hour' is redundant and ignorant, and a seaman would never use the phrase. He then also points out that to "knot refers to speed rather than to distance" and he must have meant that Titanic had travelled 546 (nautical) miles, not knots. Finally he writes that "a seaman would be very unlikely to call a large vessel such as Titanic a 'boat'. Titanic was a ship and any seaman would have referred to her as such, except possibly in a exceedingly colloquial way.” He concludes that either Moody's account is from an inexperienced sailor (certainly not the quartermaster) or that he has been misquoted.

Interestingly, it has now been discovered that a Titanic quartermaster did in fact report a suicide: Quartermaster Robert Hichens mentioned it in a 1933 Irish newspaper article, making him the most senior crew member to give an account of a suicide (refer to the page on Hichens here). Is it possible that J.R. Moody was in fact Hichens? There are some similarities in the accounts.