The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Frederick (Fred) Toppin
White Star Line Assistant to the Vice-President

Two officers had shot themselves."

The information regarding Fred Toppin is courtesy of Richard Edkin’s Dalbeattie web-site. Fred Toppin had an elder brother, John Henry Toppin (died 1925) at Musgrave Hall near Penrith. Ernie Robinson’s brother was employed by Fred Toppin’s brother, John and consequently Ernie “grew up as a close friend of the family, knowing Fred Toppin to speak to between 1934 and 1941. Fred Toppin presented the White Star deck blanket taken from a Titanic lifeboat to Ernie's father, after Ernie’s elder brother joined the White Star Lines ship Scythia.” (Richard Edkins, Murdoch of the Titanic (1.))

When Richard Edkins was interviewing Ernie Robinson in regard to Harold Bride’s testimony (refer to In Defence -Bride) he told Mr.Edkins “that Fred Topping thought that two officers had shot themselves. This is the result of conversations at the pier in New York with senior surviving crew when they arrived. Topping also interviewed others amongst the crew and passengers.” (Richard Edkins, Murdoch of the Titanic (1.))

The reliability of Ernie Robinson can only at present be determined through information provided by Mr. Edkins, but Ernie Robinson’s work regarding his conversations with Harold Bride are seemingly faithful and comprehensive, his notes being very extensive. And Mr. Edkins writes: “My thoughts are that it vindicates Ernie as a highly competent researcher. By 1941, Ernie would have been 14, so his memories of Topping’s words are reliable”. Mr. David Henderson, of the Galloway News was also quoted in the web-site as saying: “It is obvious, even after talking to Ernie Robinson for a short time, that he has a wealth of knowledge and information about the subject of the Titanic.”

Did a White Star Line official by the name of Toppin exist? The April 9, 1904 edition of The New York Times mentions a "Fred Toppin, formerly freight manager of the White Star Line". Later The New York Times, 15 December 1910 in discussing a delayed Adriatic with Captain Smith at the helm sailing from New York "with several sacks of Christmas mail "dangling" from her side and another 210 sacks still on the pier... White Star official Frederick Toppin arranges for a tug to chase the liner". There is also an an extract of a letter from Frederick Toppin to J. Bruce Ismay dated 18 August 1911 about RMS Olympic's speed being increased to "insure her arriving here almost regularly on Tuesday afternoon"

He is elsewhere also mentioned in The World Evening Edition (New York) of Tuesday 10th September 1912 that he was an assistant to White Star Line First Vice-President "Harold A. Anderson" (actually Sanderson):


Franklin to Succeed Him---Waning of White Star in International Combine
J. Bruce Ismay, who figured in the news a few months ago by reason of being among the Titanic survivors, is to resign as President of the International Mercantile Marine Company, it is understood to-day, on good authority, and will probably be succeeded as executive head of the company by P. A. S. Franklin, now Vice President and head of the business in this country.

Harold A. Anderson, [sic] First Vice-President, will resign at the same time, it is understood and will be succeeded by Frederick Toppin, his assistant. Mr. Sanderson has been head of the Liverpool office. The changes are expected the first of next year.(The World Evening Edition (New York) Tuesday 10th September 1912)

There is a brief mention of a “Mr. Toppin” on day three of the United States Inquiry. Philip A. S. Franklin of New York, vice president in the United States of the International Mercantile Marine Co. who owned the White Star Line was under examination in regard to a telegram he received from the Olympic:

Franklin: Handed to me by Mr. Toppin at No.9 Broadway.
Smith: Who is he?
Franklin: Assistant to the vice president.

These references at least confirms the identity of Frederick Toppin. But the author at present can find no further information. I wrote to Mr. Edkins regarding this and he replied:

“You appear to be the only correspondent to have picked up about Toppin. He was the New York manager, spoke to the officers and crew, told Ernie Robinson of reports that two men had killed themselves. Ernie knew the Toppin family rather well; Ernie’s father worked for Toppin’s brother on the estate near Penrith. Toppin presented Ernie’s father with two deck rugs from the Titanic, one of which was recently sold at auction. Ernie was also possibly the last person to have interviewed Bride about his Titanic experiences before his death, with consequent disagreements as to the validity of this.” (Richard Edkins, e-mail 10-02-2000)

If Mr. Toppin did indeed believe “that two officers had shot themselves” a conclusion based on “conversations at the pier in New York with senior surviving crew” and passengers then this raises an intriguing possibility. We can assume Mr. Toppin was an important member of the White Star Line heirachy in New York and had access to untainted information from crew members, most of whom would not jeopardise their future income to circulate mere rumour (especially “senior surviving crew”). And we can also be sure that Mr. Toppin would not want to further the already irretrievably tarnished image of his company by believing an event for which there was little evidence. It also raises another factor into an already confused equation: that two officers committed suicide. Only four of Titanic’s officers perished on that fateful night: Smith, Murdoch, Wilde and Moody. Consequently, if information from Mr. Toppin is to believed, then the probability of William Murdoch or any one of the other four officers being the one who “shot themselves” is at least one in four, based on this evidence alone.