The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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History of the 'Pinky' ring

"During the Victorian era, both single men and women uninterested in pursuing marriage could wear a ring on the little finger of their left hand......In the early 20th century, these rings were popular in Parisian fashion, especially among the youth...Many British men wear a signet ring on the little finger of the left hand, which is considered to be the correct place for it... The use of the left-hand pinky finger as the wedding ring and royal signet or initial ring of the British Royal Family is shrouded in family secrecy." (Source: Wikipedia)

A close up of Murdoch's left hand with a signet or "pinky" ring on his little finger, taken outside the wheelhouse aboard Olympic, 1911.

Murdoch's Signet Ring

Left: Murdoch aboard Olympic 1911. Right: Murdoch aboard Adriatic c.1909

From about the time First Officer William Murdoch was aboard the Adriatic around 1909-1910 to at least when was on the Olympic in 1911, photographs show him sporting what appears to be a signet ring on his little finger (sometimes also referred to as the 'pinky' finger or 'pinky' ring). From this it would be reasonable to deduce he was also likely wearing it aboard Titanic and at the time of the sinking, as a ring was not found in among his personal affects recovered from the wreck site (for more information check here).

Murdoch aboard Olympic 1911

The photographs are not clear enough to be able to determine exactly what the ring looked like, although it does appear more oval than a traditional wedding ring. German researcher Petra Feyahn has noted in correspondence that "Will`s ring was an oval shaped presumably golden ring with a black onyx top that was carrying an engraving either of a logo/picture/name. And Will did not only wear it on his left hand “pinky” but also on his right pinky as to be seen on the mistaken Titanic officers crew pic. ...that may be a hint that the ring was not especially designed for him but maybe inherited from a member of the family (maybe his brother James who died November 1906?) The fact that he slid the ring from one side to another apparently for comfort reasons does also indicate that it did not fit him perfectly. Anyway, he wore it for quite a time period from Adriatic to Olympic thus it was relevant to him not taking it off or leaving it back home while on board/sailing the seas... Royal Naval Reserve apparently permitted wearing signet rings (also engagement and marriage rings) though I haven`t been able to dig out “ancient” historical regulations from that time period."

Captain Smith's wedding ring

Should it be surprising that Will Murdoch was not wearing a wedding ring? For example, Captain Smith is clearly seen wearing a wedding ring on his left ring finger. According to BBC News "the convention for men wearing wedding rings on the fourth finger of their left hand did not really take off until World War Two, when serviceman fighting overseas wanted to wear a reminder of their wives and families back home." And interestingly, the "last married male occupant of 10 Downing Street to wear a wedding ring in public was Harold Wilson, who was PM in 1964." (Source: BBC article) An article in the Telgraph mentions that "signet rings... show off one’s grand lineage". But also there a "practical reasons why blokes might not want to wear rings. Workers who use heavy machinery, for instance, or soldiers, might be doing jobs where they risk having a finger wrenched off." (Source: Telegraph article)

A modern signet ring with the
Murdoch family crest (courtesy
Codex Nobilis/Petra Feyahn).

There may be a connection between the loss of his moustache from about 1909, and his being promoted to an Royal Navy Reserve Lieutenant in September 1909. According to Royal Navy regulations on facial hair it must be either "clean shaven or with a full beard. Moustaches alone are not acceptable. If Cadets do not arrive at BRNC with a full beard permission to grow a beard must be sought from their Divisional Officer." Hence it may not be surprising that he chose this promotion as a time to lose the moustache. But not the ring.

Petra Feyahn has an interesting theory on this: "To me, a signet ring is mainly related to institutions such as educational (College), associations (clubs) or military (Royal Naval Reserve). Or to family crests (Coats of Arms). I don`t know if William was proud of being a Murdoch (Omine Secundo – could be a possibility though weak). Anyway, that ring must have been of significant importance to him. The ring appeared from approx. 1909 onwards. He had been promoted Lieutenant of RNR by that time (September). So if not for Ada, the only thing I can imagine is a connection of that ring to either Royal Naval Reserve RNR or his closest family. Being a Master Mariner from the bottom of his heart, I rather prefer the RNR promotion to Lieutenant behind the signet ring."