The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Origin of the Murdoch name

  • According to Firstfoot geneology "Murchadh" is the Norse word for sea warrior. (17.) During the 9th century, when much of Scotland was under attack by Scandinavians, parts of Scotland (principally Hebrides, Caithness, Orkney, Galloway, Moray, Banff, and Shetland) became a part of Norway and the Norse language displaced Gaelic. Interestingly and appropriately it is then that William Murdoch, although of Scottish birth, has a family name that means in Norse "sea warrior". According to some other sources, the name "Murdoch" is Gaelic for "mariner". For more information on the origin of the name refer to this website here

Early Life

William as a young boy.
(Click to enlarge)

William McMaster Murdoch was born on Friday 28th of February, 1873, at No.3 Sunnyside, Barr Hill, Dalbeattie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the son of Captain Samuel Murdoch, a master mariner, and Jane 'Jeanie' Muirhead McMaster.(1.) His birth was registered on March 18th, 1873, in the Dalbeattie Registration Office. (45.)

Young Murdoch with
his sister Agnes.
(Click to enlarge)

Educated first at the old Dalbeattie Primary School in High Street, and then at the High School in Alpine Street until he gained his diploma in 1887, he was remembered as being an 'intelligent and hard-working scholar'. (1.) In fact it seems the Murdoch family were all very gifted. According to Elizabeth Gibbons "William's sister, Margaret Elizabeth (the "Peg" of his April 8, 1912, letter from the Titanic) earned a Master's Degree at Edinburgh University, in the day when higher education for women was still considered rather radical. A headmistress for many years, Margaret was a woman of generosity and humor, upright, strict and principled as the Victorians embodied those virtues, and very kind. She had been born in 1882, and despite the nine years difference in age was William's friend and confidant as well as younger sister. Like most of the family who did not die at sea, she lived to a great age, and died in 1973, at 91." (55.) His older brother James Murdoch became a chemist dying young at 39 in 1906. The youngest son, Samuel, became a merchant with Lockett Brothers, importing nitrate from the Iquique mines in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Dalbeattie High School, 1890. (1.)

At school Murdoch was apparently very good in mathematics and became top of his class. (45.) This is not unusual as his sister Margaret herself became a mathematics teacher. In his later life William made some outstanding sailing ship models, so it is also possible that he started to make models during his childhood. (45.)

William Murdoch's birth certificate, courtesy of Petra Feyahn.
(Click to enlarge)

Grandfather Captain James Murdoch

William's grandfather Captain James
Murdoch. Courtesy of Wendy Murdoch
Roberts. (Click to enlarge)

The Murdochs were a long and notable line of Scottish seafarers who sailed the world's oceans as early as the 19th century; William's father and grandfather were both sea captains as were four of his grandfather's brothers and it is little wonder that he followed in the family tradition.(1.)

William's grandfather Captain James Murdoch was born on May 10th, 1814 at Colvend (near Kippford), and he married Agnes Cumming on January 27th, 1840. James received his early training in 1828. His first command was a vessel called the Mary Agnes, and his last was The Freedom (he commanded her for 25 years, and William's father did his apprenticeship aboard her also). On one rather stormy voyage when nearing the Cumberland coast, James was washed overboard but a succeeding wave luckily washed him back on deck.

After living briefly at 341 High Street, William
and family moved to a new house in the
High Street, 'Oakland Cottage', as seen today
Google Maps link. (click to enlarge).

James raised his family in Kippford and when he retired from sea, his daughters were still unmarried, so he built Brooklyn cottage in 1880, extending it in 1895. The family called the extension "Wee Brooklyn." He named the cottage after Port Brooklyn in the U.S.A., a place he sailed to many times. Interestingly, his son, Samuel Murdoch, William's father, did similar when he built his own cottage on Dalbeattie High Street and named it 'Oakland Cottage' after the port of San Francisco. It was said of Captain Samuel Murdoch that he was as well known in Oakland as in Dalbeattie itself, where the family were well-liked. (1.)

William's grandfather James died at his home in Kippford aged 85 on April 17th, 1900. His funeral was held on the Friday and every mark of respect was paid by the local community and flags were flying at half-mast. He is buried in Colvend Churchyard.

Town of Dalbeattie, Scotland.

Postcard showing a view of Dalbeattie 1890 - 1900. Courtesy of Tiphaine Hirou.
(Click image to enlarge)

The 'April Curse'

Agnes Cumming, William's
grandmother, courtesy of
Wendy Murdoch Roberts
(Click image to enlarge)

Following his death in 1900, Captain James Murdoch's two sons and two grandsons all died at sea during the month of April.

Firstly, his son William Murdoch, a captain, died at sea on April 4th, 1906. Then the following year his other son John Murdoch, a first officer, died at sea on April 10th, 1907. His grandson John Murdoch, a captain died at sea (with his wife) in April 1901. Finally, William M. Murdoch, Titanic's first officer, died at sea on April 15th, 1912.

Father Captain Samuel Murdoch

William's father Captain Samuel
Murdoch. Courtesy of Wendy
Murdoch Roberts.
(Click to enlarge)

William's father, Captain Samuel Murdoch was born on April 4, 1843 at Kippford (near Dalbeattie). He was reportedly a personal friend of Joseph Conrad, a Polish novelist who after settling in England became regarded as one of the great English novelists. (1.)

According to Samuel Murdoch Crosbie who wrote The Story of The Scaur; And the Water of Urr Shipping in 1923, Samuel Murdoch was the oldest of Captain James Murdoch's three sons, "all of whom became commanders of ocean going ships after being trained in vessels belonging to the Water of Urr engaged in the coasting trade."

Jeanie Murdoch, mother of
William courtesy of Wendy
Murdoch Roberts
(Click image to enlarge)

"[Samuel] served his apprenticeship with his father in the Freedom, but afterwards became commander of large ships like the well-known clipper Knight Companion, trading chiefly between Liverpool and San Francisco, in both of which ports his memory is still revered. He was perhaps one of the best known, most successful, and most highly respected master mariners hailing from the Water of Urr. After retiring from the sea, he lived in Dalbeattie, but frequently visited his native village the Scaur. The loss of his son William in the Titanic was a great blow to him – one from which he never recovered. He passed away not long afterwards and was buried in Dalbeattie Cemetery." (source)

In 1864, Samuel Murdoch married Jane "Jeannie" Muirhead McMaster (1839-1914) at St Michael's Church in Liverpool, on the 14th of December. They had seven children Mary (1865-1869), James (1867-1906), Mary Agnes (1870-1916) William (1873-1912), Jeannie/Jane (1877-1921) Samuel (1880-1950) and Margaret (1882-1973).

Sunnyside No. 3, Barr Hill,
where William was born.
Google Maps Link.
(Click image to enlarge)

They initially lived in Oldham Street, Liverpool, the birthplace of their first two children: Mary McMaster (November 2, 1865) and James (October 27, 1867). Sometime later, likely during 1870, the family moved to Dalbeattie, Scotland and first resided at No. 3 Sunnyside , Barr Hill, in a small house where Agnes was born (November 19, 1870) and William (February 28, 1873). Later, as Samuel's family started to grow, he built a larger cottage located in the High Street, not far from the center of Dalbeattie, named Oakland Cottage where the last three children of the Murdoch family were born: Jane (1877), Samuel Jr. (1880) and Margaret (1882).

Captain Samuel
Murdoch c. 1900

The loss of William in the 1912 Titanic disaster was not the first bereavement Samuel Murdoch's family experienced; they had already lost a daughter, Mary McMaster at the age of 4, and older brother James had died of epilepsy at the age of 39 in 1906. William was an officer aboard the Oceanic at the time and after the funeral remained several months with his family before returning to the sea. William's mother, Jane "Jeanie" Muirhead passed away in 1914, while Samuel Murdoch himself died five years after the Titanic tragedy in 1917, just a year after his daughter Mary Agnes, who died in 1916.

Murdoch family tree (Click image to enlarge)
This tree has been created thanks to the research of Tiphaine Hirou and Petra Feyahn, as well as information provided by, Old Kirkcudbright website, the Irkyards website and the Susanne Störmer biography "Good-bye, Good Luck". Photographs courtesy of Wendy Murdoch Roberts.