The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Eugene Daly
Steerage passenger

“An officer on the Boat Deck who killed two men as they tried to force their way into a lifeboat... Afterwards there was another shot and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him.”

In Triumph and Tragedy, he is listed as “Daly, Mr. Eugene,” a 29-year-old from Athlone, Ireland, who had embarked at Queenstown, destined for New York (Triumph and Tragedy, p.340 (7.)). In Third Class, he was traveling with a Miss Marcella (“Maggie”) Daly, with the same residence and destination (possibly his sister?) who also survived the sinking. As Titanic began to depart from Queenstown, Daly took his Irish Pipes and standing “on the third class promenade, aft … saluted the departing tenders –and his homeland- with the dirge ‘Erin’s Lament’ ” (Triumph and Tragedy p.101 (7.)). After the disaster he put in a claim of $50 for his set of Irish bagpipes (Triumph and Tragedy p.278 (7.))

Irish Third Class passenger Eugene Daly
with his pipes.

Triumph and Tragedy lists collapsible B as the lifeboat he was found on (7.). Since collapsible B was, like A, one of the last lifeboats to leave the sinking ship, he is within the correct time-frame and general location (although probably port-side forward boat deck) to have witnessed the alleged suicide. Collapsible B floated clear when Titanic’s bow plunged under, although being unfortunately upside down when it did so. Many men in the water after Titanic sunk found refuge on the upturned collapsible B, including Daly, who may have crossed over from one side of the ship to the other, since the two women he was looking after (Maggie Daly and Bertha Mulvihill) he assisted into lifeboat No.15 on the starboard side. He thus may have been on the starboard side at one point to witness what he said occurred.

Since few steerage or third class passengers were interviewed at the inquiries, there is little in the way of ‘official’ information from their quarters of the ship, other than personal accounts and newspaper reports. Included among Daly’s evidence is a letter he dictated to Dr. Frank Blackmarr aboard the Carpathia which Blackmarr entitled “The Steerage Story”. Daly was rendered unconscious by the below freezing water and taken to Blackmarr’s cabin. Daly also personally signed the dictated letter to ensure its validity. Part of the letter reads:

“I reached a collapsible boat that was fastened to the deck by two rings. It could not be moved. During that brief time that I worked on cutting one of those ropes, the collapsible was crowded with people hanging upon the edges. The Titanic gave a lurch downward and we were in the water up to our hips. She rose again slightly, and I succeeded in cutting the second rope which held her stern. Another lurch threw this boat and myself off and away from the ship into the water. I fell upon one of the oars and fell into a mass of people.” (Philip Hind, Encyclopedia Titanica -the letter can be read in full at this site (8.))

Eugene Daly with pipes, 1910
Photograph: Senan Molony/ET(8.)

Although an emotive retelling there is very little that is suspect or wholly inaccurate. Unlike the first and second class passengers whose evacuation was initially without panic, the third class did not have the same luxury and their accounts often consist of the horrors of finding they were too late to make a safe escape in a lifeboat. In this signed statement Daly makes no mention of a suicide. He does, however, mention a shooting, although it is unclear whether it took place in the Third Class area or on the boat deck:

“Finally, some of the women and children were let up, but we had quite a number of hot-headed Italians and other peoples who got crazy and made for the stairs. These men tried to rush the stairway, pushing and crowding and pulling the women down. Some of them with weapons in their hands. I saw two dagos shot and some that took punishment from the officers.” (Philip Hind, Encyclopedia Titanica (8.) )

This is not to say that Daly did not mention a suicide to Dr. Blackmarr at another time, evidenced by an interview with Blackmarr in the April 20, 1912 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune:

“The only panic at the beginning, as I understand it, was in the steerage, where there were many persons who lacked self-control. There was no shooting, as I learn, except that a steerage passenger told me he saw an officer trying to control the maddened rush by shooting two persons. The same officer shot himself a minute later.” (courtesy of Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark (12.))

Eugene Daly and Mother.
Photograph: Senan Molony/ET/
Daly descendants (8.)

James Harper, in an article on “Dr. Frank Blackmarr's Remarkable Scrapbook”, published in the Titanic Commutator, 3rd Quarter 1998, writes:

“The ‘Steerage Story’ was basically a ‘dump’ of terrible events and memories that had occurred only a few hours or days before. Daly did not apparently really organize his thoughts when this was dictated. His later letters were more organized and coherent, and in fact did not mention some details mentioned in the ‘Steerage Story’… Also, Blackmarr himself might have edited it slightly as he recorded Daly’s words. So I believe the sequences described were not in the same order as they were presented in the letter. Although it is possible that this or a second shooting occurred in the staircase that Daly may have seen, this is obviously not likely - but possible, of course. (as in the Cameron movie, but with possibly more serious effects.) I suspect that this shooting actually happened on the Boat Deck as was reported by others and by himself in his later letter published in The London Daily Telegraph of 4 May 1912”

The letter he wrote to his sister who was still in Ireland and which was published in the London Daily Telegraph, May 4, 1912, reports:

"At the first cabin [deck] when a boat was being lowered an officer pointed a revolver and said if any man tried to get in, he would shoot him on the spot. I saw the officer shoot two men dead because they tried to get in the boat. Two men tried to break through and he shot them both. I saw him shoot them. I saw them lying there after they were shot. One seemed to be dead. The other was trying to pull himself up at the side of the deck, but he could not. I tried to get to the boat also, but was afraid I would be shot and stayed back."

As for Daly’s own account of a suicide, that came later in the above mentioned letter and when he told a newsman:

“ officer pointed a revolver and said if any man tried to get in he would shoot him on the spot. I saw the officer shot two men dead because they tried to get into the boat. Afterwards there was another shot, and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him.” (Philip Hind, Encyclopedia Titanica (8.))

Eugene Daly with his wife Lil and their only child
Marion (Mary) in 1929. Photograph: Senan Molony/
ET/Daly extended family (8.)

It seems he did not see the officer commit suicide with his own eyes, but does see evidence that suggests this is what happened. Some have relegated this as a sensational version produced by a media with an insatiable appetite for dramaticism. However, George Behe writes:

“Eugene Daly did indeed see most of the event in question. Daly saw an unnamed officer shoot two passengers who attempted to rush a lifeboat, and a moment later he heard a third shot; he then saw the officer’s body lying on the deck and was told that the officer had just shot himself. Daly told of this incident during a private interview with Dr. Frank Blackmarr on board the Carpathia, in a private letter to his family, in a personal interview with New York’s Mayor Gaynor and at the 1915 Limitation of Liability hearings… caution about Eugene Daly’s reliability is completely unwarranted.” (George Behe, First Officer Murdoch and the ‘Dalbeattie Defense’ (11.))

Eugene Daly (Phil Gowan).

The “private letter to his family” was to his sister in Ireland and reads in part:

“At the first cabin (deck) when a boat was being lowered an officer pointed a revolver and said if any man tried to get in, he would shoot him on the spot. I saw the officer shoot two men dead because they tried to get in the boat. Afterwards there was another shot, and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him. I was up to my knees in the water at the time. Everyone was rushing around, and there were no more boats. I then dived overboard.” (Walter Lord, The Night Lives On (21.))

Bill Wormstedt writes:

“Daly would later repeat this story in the May 4, 1912 issues of The London Daily Telegraph and The Daily Sketch. A very similar account was told to Mayor Gaynor of New York, and was printed in the April 22, 1912 edition of the Washington Post. Daly’s letter to his sister contains details not mentioned in his April 15th account - namely, the officer shooting two men dead, before shooting himself. Daly also testified under oath about the shooting/suicide in the 1915 limitation hearings. He was the only individual to mention this at these hearings.” (Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark (12.))

Eugene Daly and grandson. Photograph: Senan
Molony/ET/ Daly descendants (8.)

Elizabeth Gibbon's describes Daly's letter to his sister as "laconic; given his own peril at the moment, he was not particularly interested. He swam away, and ultimately reached a collapsible."(55.)

The reason many seem to discredit his account is not due to inaccuracy, but according to Earl Chapman in his article Gunshots on the Titanic, due to another reason.

"It is interesting to note that both Daly and Rheims were the subject of vicious rumours which were circulated in the morning tabloids shortly after the Carpathia landed. Both were depicted as cowards who had survived only by sneaking into a lifeboat. The rumours concerning Rheims were particularly vicious as they had him dressed in women's clothing. Obviously, there was an attempt to discredit their statements about the shooting and in particular, the reports of an officer's suicide. It is supposed that Rheims had tried to relay this information to the press shortly after his arrival in New York (as discussed earlier, the Daly account was forwarded to the Chicago Tribune by Dr. Blackmarr. Daly and Rheims were never cleared of these unfounded charges. Rheims stuck by his story to the end, but his credibility was destroyed beyond repair. Daly simply sought anonymity and obscurity...Unfortunately both Daly and Rheims were not invited to testify at either the Senate or British Inquiries. Also, both were discredited as being cowards in newspaper accounts, which was likely the reason they were not invited to testify." (Gunshots on the Titanic by Earl Chapman, (27.) )

In regard to the Limitation of Liability hearings in June 1915, the transcripts, including Daly's account are currently missing. However an article in The New York Times, Saturday, June 26, 1915, describes the testimony given by Daly in the US District Court:

"Eugene Daly of Newark, N.J., was awakened when the Titanic struck, but was assured there was no danger. The stewards, he said, ordered all hands on deck, and when he reached there he found some of the stewards laughing and smoking cigarettes. He said he returned below and aroused some of his friends. He saw three lifeboats lowered, and when he attempted to get into one an officer threatened him, although the boats were far from full. He said he heard two shots at this time, and later saw two men lying on the deck, and was told that they had been shot. When the ship listed he jumped into the water and clung to an upturned boat until morning. Eventually he was picked up by the boat in which he was first refused permission to get in. He said several women refused to get into the lifeboats because the officers told them there was no danger." (The New York Times, Saturday, June 26, 1915,)

The article mentions Daly "saw two men lying on the deck, and was told that they had been shot" but does not mention seeing "the officer himself lying on the deck" as in earlier accounts, although as a newspaper summary it is possible he also alluded to this or simply choose not to mention it.

However, whatever the case, it seems clear that Daly repeated his story of a shooting/suicide to Dr. Blackmarr, to his sister, in at least two newspaper accounts, to the Mayor of New York and, more importantly, under oath in 1915. he never swayed from his belief that a shooting and suicide had taken place.