The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch

Board of Trade

  • The Board of Trade, originally the Lords of Trade or Lords of Trade and Plantations is a committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, first established as a temporary committee of inquiry in the 17th century that evolved gradually into a government department with a diverse range of functions. This department was merged with the Ministry of Technology in 1970 to form the Department of Trade and Industry (since 2009, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), headed by a Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (now Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills), who is also President of the Board of Trade. The full Board has met only once since the mid-19th century, during commemorations of the bicentenary of the Board in 1986.

    By an order of 1845 the Board of Trade authorised a system of voluntary examinations of com­petency for men intending to become masters or mates of foreign-going British merchant ships. The system was made compulsory by the Mercantile Marine Act of 1850 and extended to masters and mates of home trade vessels by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854. A master's or mate's certificate of competency was issued to each man who passed the examination.

    Information: wikipedia

What Did Titanic's Officers Look Like?


Purser Hugh Walter McElroy and Captain
Edward J. Smith aboard Titanic, photograph
taken by Rev. F.M. Browne. (Click to enlarge)

Although you may find photographs labelled "Titanic's Officers" the fact is that there is no known group photograph of Titanic's officer's prior to or during her fateful voyage. The closest we have is Father Browne's famous photograph of Captain Smith and Purser McElroy standing on the starboard boat deck. Afterward the four surviving officers (Lightoller, Pitman, Boxhall and Lowe) were photographed in a studio, likely while the British Inquiry was taking place.

Titanic's surviving officers, from left: Fifth
Officer Lowe, Third Officer Pitman (seated),
Second Officer Lightoller and Fourth
Officer Boxhall. (Click image to enlarge)

So any group photograph of Titanic's officers is undoubtedly actually of Olympic's (refer to these photographs here). This has led to the misidentification of some officers, most infamously, Lightoller. Now, thanks to Board of Trade applications and certificates recently released to the public by The National Maritime Museum, we can discover the height, eye colour, skin colour and any 'percularities' (such as tattoos) that each officer wrote in their application, as well as their signature. It is interesting to compare their descriptions over the years and also with other records such as those listed in Ellis Island.

Many thanks to the contributions, artwork, assistance and information sourced from: National Archives, National Maritime Musuem,, Roman Potapov, Inger Sheil, Senan Molony, Tiphaine Hirou and Bob Godfrey.

Quick Access Menu

Click on the thumbnail:

Captain Edward John Smith

Age: 62
Height: 5'8" (173cm)
Complexion: Unknown
Hair Colour: Unknown
Eye Colour: Unknown
Other: Unknown

Notes: Unfortunately, as can be seen below, the section in his Extra Master's application (1888) where the applicant is to fill in his height and other descriptive information has frustratingly been crossed out, either by Smith or the examiner. The reason for this is unknown. The height of 5'8" is deduced upon photograph evidence and is based on several photographs in which in relationship to other officers he is slightly shorter. It is also interesting to note he failed in "Navigation".

Chief Officer Henry Tingle Wilde

Age: 39
Height: 6'1" (185.42cm)
Complexion: Dark
Hair Colour: Dark brown
Eye Colour: Blue
Other: None

Notes: Wilde's height changes slightly from 6 foot and a half (1895, 1897) to 6 foot 1 (1900). However either way he is the tallest of his colleagues aboard Titanic, the only one to be over six foot (the others range from Smith/Pitman/Lowe the shortest at 5'8", to Moody the next tallest at 5'11").

First Officer William McMaster Murdoch

Age: 39
Height: 5'9" (175.26cm)
Complexion: Fair
Hair Colour: Brown
Eye Colour: Hazel grey/ hazel brown
Other: None

Notes: There is a difference of half a foot between the two descriptions Murdoch provided (First Mate in 1895 and Extra Master 1896). His skin colour is described as fair and his eyes hazel coloured -described as both "hazel grey" and "hazel brown". Interestingly he is the only one out of Titanic's officers to have passed all his applications on first attempt.

Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller

Age: 38
Height: 5'10" (177.80cm)
Complexion: Dark/clear/fair
Hair Colour: Dark/auburn
Eye Colour: Grey/blue
Other: Tattoo on left arm

Notes: Lightoller's height changes from 5 ft 8 (1895), 5ft 10 (1899) to 5ft 10 1/2 (1901). Ellis Island Records give his height as 5'9" and 5'10" and weighing 169lb, so it seems 5'10" seems a safe bet. It is interesting to note that according to his 1895 First Mate application he also had a tattoo on his left arm - however at present we did not know what it was. There is no further mention of it on his other applications. He is only one of two Titanic officers to have a tattoo (the other being Lowe).

Third Officer Herbert John Pitman

Age: 34
Height: 5'8" (172.72cm)
Complexion: Dark/fair
Hair Colour: Brown
Eye Colour: Blue/grey
Other: Deformed finger on right hand

Notes: Pitman seemed to be getting shorter by the year - 5ft 9 (1900), 5ft 8 (1902), 5 ft 7 (1902, 1906). He is listed as having both dark and fair complexion. His May 1900 2nd mate application has "none" under 'Peculiarities', however by his June 1902 1st mate application it mentions a "deformed finger," which was either very minor or maybe he suffered some injury between May 1900 and June 1902. Ellis Island records list him as 5'10" and 185 lbs, however photographs show him to be shorter than Lightoller, so 5'8" seems the most likely.

Fourth Officer Joseph Groves Boxhall

Age: 28
Height: 5'9" (175.26cm)
Complexion: Dark
Hair Colour: Dark brown
Eye Colour: Dar brown
Other: None

Notes: :Boxhall's height is described as 5 ft 8 (1903), and 5 ft 9 (1905/1907). He had a dark complexion, dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. In fact several of his applications simply read "dark", "dark", "dark". His Ellis Island records state 5' 8" and that he weighed 154 lbs.

Fifth Officer Godfrey Harold Lowe

Age: 29
Height: 5'8" (172.72cm)
Complexion: Dark
Hair Colour: Brown
Eye Colour: Blue
Other: HGL in heart on right fore arm

Notes: Lowe is described as 5 ft 8 (1906/1910) and 5ft 7 1/2 (1908), dark complexion, brown hair and brown eyes... and interestingly he had a tattoo of "HGL in heart on right fore arm". It is mentioned in each application that requests any "personal marks" so must have been prominent. According to records at Ellis Island dating from around 1920, Lowe was 5'9" and he weighed 155lb.

Sixth Officer James Paul Moody

Age: 24
Height: 5'11" (185.42cm)
Complexion: Fair
Hair Colour: Light brown
Eye Colour: Blue
Other: None

Notes: Moody is listed as 5 ft 11 (1907-1911), fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. Unlike the other officers, there are no variations in height or other details in his applications, all are exactly the same.


The following chart, made by Tiphaine Hirou, is a summary of the dates when each Titanic officer acquired (or failed) a certificate. It is quite apparant that Murdoch was a skilled officer, gaining all three of his certificaets on first attempt while every other failed at least once (some only gaining a certificate on third attempt). It is also interesting to note that Boxhall also skipped his Master's certificate, which may mean this was possible to do.

We can also deduce the various heights of the officers if stood together. The following chart includes known figures and estimates so is not exact:

The relative heights of Titanic's officers if stood together based on available evidence. (Click image to enlarge)