The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Victor Francis Sunderland
Third class passenger

I saw an officer fire his revolver once or twice, killing a man” he then heard another shot and “asked what had happened, and a gentlemen told me that an officer had shot himself.."

Triumph and Tragedy lists a 19 year-old “Sunderland, Mr. Victor Sunderland” who, having embarked at Southampton was traveling from “England to Cleveland, OH” in Third Class (7.).

Encyclopedia Titanica contains a fairly competent review of his activity aboard Titanic after the collision, including this excerpt:

“He found the boat deck crowded along the starboard side. The crew was filling boats with women and children and lowering them away… The ship was beginning to list to port and the boats along the starboard were almost all gone. The passengers were moving to the port side, but were kept back by crew members… he also claimed to have seen an officer firing a revolver in the air once or twice and then shooting a man who had refused to get out of a boat…Sunderland stayed close to the front of the boat deck, where Second Officer Lightoller and several fireman were trying to launch collapsible B. Water was gushing toward him. The front of the boat began to rapidly sink. The firemen began jumping overboard. Sunderland followed. He swam away and found Boat B floating next to the sinking Titanic, washed overboard. He grabbed onto it as it floated near the forward funnel, moments later the funnel fell down. Sunderland thought the ship broke in two at that time. Sunderland and about 27 or 28 other men climbed onto Boat B.” (Philip Hind, Encyclopedia Titanica (8.))

The above evidence compiled from sources by Philip Hind has a definite degree of accuracy, with little exaggeration present. He both describes the forward funnel falling and the ship breaking in two (two events that were only confirmed by the wreck’s discovery in 1985).

The April 26, 1912 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, quoted Sunderland’s account regarding a passenger who was shot:

“In one boat, partly filled with women and children, sat - I think he was a Russian. An officer told him to get out, but he wouldn’t. The officer fired his revolver in the air once or twice and still the man sat there. The officer then shot him and he dropped back in his seat. He was lifted up and dropped overboard.” (courtesy of Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark (12.) )

In the May issue of The Daily Sketch: Sunderland provided further details:

“‘I saw an officer fire his revolver once or twice, killing a man.’ Sunderland then claimed he started heading towards the stern of the ship and heard another shot. ‘I asked what had happened, and a gentlemen told me that an officer had shot himself. Seeing that I could not secure a spot in a lifeboat, I leapt from the ship and into the water just a few feet below.’” (courtesy of Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark (12.) )

There is an apparent contradiction between this suicide account and information given by Titanica which insinuates that Sunderland was on the port side with Lightoller launching collapsible B when he jumped, while the suicide account has him heading toward the stern when he jumps. It is possible that both are true, that he was assisting with the collapsible and then headed “towards” the stern, away from the water, to be overwhelmed by the crowds, some spilling over from the starboard side, including a gentleman who says an officer has just shot himself, hence explaining the gun shot.

Tad Fitch, a Titanic researcher who assisted Bill Wormstedt in the construction of the Shots in the Dark website, adds that Sunderland “saw an officer, who he stated was the ‘first officer’ in one account, shoot a man. Sunderland then crossed over to the port side and leapt overboard, following Lightoller’s example” (12.) . Even so, Sunderland does not personally see the suicide and his account is based on a report by another passenger –though interestingly a “gentleman.”