The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Lightoller's Evidence at the British Board of Trade Enquiry (21 May, 1912)

  • Second Officer Charles Lightoller soon after the disaster.

    Lightoller: ...When I relieved Mr. Murdoch after dinner he made the remark to me that the temperature had dropped 4 degrees whilst I was away at dinner. ...Mr. Murdoch goes to dinner at half-past six and relieves me, I think, at five past seven, and I relieved him, I think, at 7.35.

    The Solicitor-General: That means that Mr. Murdoch, the First Officer, would be taking your place for half an hour between seven and half-past?

    Lightoller: Exactly... I should give him the course the ship was steering by standard compass, I mentioned the temperature - I think I mentioned the temperature first; he came on deck in his overcoat and said, "It is pretty cold." I said, "Yes, it is freezing." I said something about we might be up around the ice any time now, as far as I remember. I cannot remember the exact words, but I suggested that we should be naturally round the ice. I passed the word on to him. Of course, I knew we were up to the 49 degrees by, roughly, half-past 9; that ice had been reported. He would know what I meant by that, you know - the Marconigram... I told Mr. Murdoch I had already sent to the crow's nest, the carpenter and the engine-room as to the temperature, and such things as that - naturally, in the ordinary course of handing over the ship everything I could think of."

    Later he added: "We remarked on the weather, about its being calm, clear. We remarked the distance we could see. We seemed to be able to see a long distance. Everything was clear. We could see the stars setting down on the horizon."

Sunday April 14th

The Change over: At 10pm First Officer William
Murdoch (left) replaces Second Officer
Lightoller as 'officer-of-the watch' in
command of Titanic.

Sunday, the 14th of April, 1912 and it is four days into the Titanic’s maiden transatlantic voyage. The weather has been clear and fine and they have made good progress. Ice warnings have been received, not uncommon for April crossings, but the Captain maintains good speed, altering the ship’s course slightly to the south-west of the normal course, possibly as a precaution to avoid an ice flow they expected to reach by midnight. According to testimony at the Board of Trade Enquiry after the disaster, Second Officer Charles Lightoller was sure that Murdoch was aware of these ice warnings. Lightoller said, referring to Sunday, the 14th of April:

"Lunch is at half-past 12. I relieve the First Officer, who has his lunch at half-past 12, and he comes on deck again about 1 o'clock or five minutes past; then I have mine... Captain Smith came on the bridge during the time that I was relieving Mr. Murdoch. In his hands he had a wireless message, a Marconigram. He came across the bridge, and holding it in his hands told me to read it... when he [Murdoch] came back I mentioned the ice to him... I really could not say, whether it was fresh news to him or not; I really should judge that it would have been, but I really could not say from his expression - not from what I remember." (Board of Trade Enquiry, 21 May, 1912)

With senior officers on four hourly shifts on the bridge, Second Officer Lightoller relieves Chief Officer Wilde at 6:00pm. Historian Don Lynch describes the sequence of events this way:

“At 7:15 pm. Lamp Trimmer Samuel Hemming arrived on the bridge to report that all the ship’s navigational lights had been light. He found that Lightoller had gone to the officer’s messroom for dinner and that First Officer Murdoch was temporarily acting as officer of the watch. His report made, Hemming was just leaving when Murdoch called him back. ‘Hemming, when you go forward see the fore scuttle hatch closed as we are in the vicinity of ice, and there is a glow coming from that.’ Any light would interfere with their ability to see an obstacle in their path. Hemming went out on the bow and personally closed the hatch before going below…At 7:35, when Second Officer Lightoller returned to the bridge after dinner, he noticed how quickly the temperature was falling now the sun had gone down. Murdoch mentioned that the temperature had dropped by four degrees in the half hour Lightoller had been gone –down to thirty-nine degrees Fahrenheit. An hour later it was nearly freezing…” (2.)

Murdoch, an experienced sailor, was clearly anxious that nothing should impair the vision from the crow’s nest or the bridge. Other sources state that he also mentioned “I want everything dark before the bridge.”

10pm –Murdoch’s Watch Begins

Titanic's bridge (colourised). (19.)

At 10pm four bells indicate the change over in the four hourly shifts. Murdoch’s watch is from 10pm to 2am (as “Officer of the Watch,” each of the three senior officers has a turn at being in charge of the ship, rostered on four hourly shifts every twelve hours, i.e. Wilde: 2am – 6am/2pm – 6pm; Murdoch: 10am – 2pm/10pm – 2am and Lightoller: 6am – 10am/6pm – 10pm.). Along with First Officer Murdoch relieving Second Officer Lightoller on the bridge, new lookouts Fleet and Lee take over from Jewell and Hogg.

There is some debate over the exact exchange of information between Lightoller and Murdoch at this point. In inquiry evidence, Lightoller said, “we remarked on the weather, about its being calm, clear. We remarked the distance we could see. We seemed to be able to see a long distance. Everything was very clear. We could see the stars settling down to the horizon.”

During the United States inquiry he was asked if he talked about the iceberg situation to Murdoch and Lightoller and said "No, sir”. In The Titanic, author Wyn Craig Wade writes:

“Lightoller would eventually recant this part of his testimony. The night order book had had a footnote about keeping a sharp lookout for ice; and when Lightoller handed over the watch to Murdoch at 10:00pm he had told him: ‘We might be up around the ice any time now.’ ” (18.) (also refer to The British Inquiry and the Question of Negligence)

Don Lynch, describes the exchange:

“Before turning the watch over to Murdoch, Lightoller reported that they were steering a course of north seventy-one degrees west. ‘It’s pretty cold,’ Murdoch remarked. He was wearing an overcoat for protection against the cold air. ‘Yes, it is freezing,’ Lightoller replied. The temperature of the air was thirty-one degrees Fahrenheit. While Murdoch’s eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, the two spoke of the calm, clear weather and how far they could see. The stars could be seen setting on the horizon. ‘We will be up around the ice somewhere about eleven o’clock, I suppose,’ Lightoller remarked matter-of-factly. He described Smith’s earlier visit to the bridge and the captain’s desire to be notified if there was any doubt about the situation. He also told Murdoch of his orders to the crow’s nest.” (2.)

Murdoch hence remarked on the cold, a notable difference from when he was on duty at 7pm. They were nearing the iceflow. (Refer to box on the left: "Lightoller's Evidence at the British Board of Trade Enquiry (21 May, 1912)"

In his book Titanic and other Ships Lightoller describes in more detail the process of changing the officer's watches and what was discussed:

"Ten p.m. came and with it the change of the officers’ Watches. On the bridge, after checking over such things as position, speed and so forth, the officers coming on deck usually have a few minutes chat with their opposite number, before officially taking over. The Senior Officer, coming on Watch, hunts up his man in the pitch darkness, and just yarns for a few minutes, whilst getting his eyesight after being in the light’when he can see all right he lets the other chap know and officially “takes over.” Murdoch and I were old shipmates and for a few minutes—as was our custom—we stood there looking ahead, and yarning over times and incidents part and present. We both remarked on the ship’s steadiness, absence of vibration, and how comfortably she was slipping along. Then we passed on to more serious subjects, such as the chances of sighting ice, reports of ice that had been sighted, and the positions. We also commented on the lack of definition between the horizon and the sky—which would make an iceberg all the more difficult to see—particularly if it had a black side, and that should be, by bad luck, turned our way....

Murdoch, the First Officer, took over from me in the ordinary way. I passed on the “items of interest” as we called them, course, speed, weather conditions, ice reports, wished him joy of his Watch, and went below. But first of all I had to do the rounds, and in a ship of that size it meant a mile or more of deck, not including a few hundred feet of ladders, staircases, etc." (47.)

According to Quartermaster Hichens’ later testimony Murdoch was on the starboard wing before the collision and this has become the accepted opinion among many Titanic historians, although he may have been on the port wing, or even changed sides several times during his watch. The ship's telegraphs are set for almost full ahead together, 75 to 78 revolutions or 22 to 22.5 knots.

Titanic's bridge after 10pm. (6.)
(Click image to enlarge)