The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Other Possible Witnesses

There are several other possible witnesses that deserve a mention but about which there is little information (also refer to Gunshot Wounds -Oral Evidence and Gunshots on Titanic).

1. Carpathia Passengers
2. Fireman Robert Williams
3. Paul Romaine Chevre
4. Abraham Hyman
5. Mrs. W.F. Bonnell
6. Lady Duff-Gordon
7. George McGough
8. Second Officer Lightoller and the 'shot in the jaw' by Murdoch
9. Mr. Hugh Woolner and Jack Thayer
10. Masabumi Hosono
11. Richard Norris Williams
12. Un-named male passenger

1. Carpathia Passengers

Wyn Wade, in The Titanic, mentions a Dr. J.F. Kemp, a passenger aboard Carpathia, who reportedly spoke to a boy who had been one of the last children to leave Titanic. The boy had seen “Captain Smith put a pistol to his head and then fall down.” Wade then writes that the “story may also have arisen from passenger’s confusing Smith with the ship’s first officer.” (The Titanic, Wyn Wade, p.53 (18.)).

Along similar lines, Miss May Birkhead, also a passenger on the Carpathia who heard a similar discussion was quoted as saying in The New York Herald of April 12, 1912: “I also am told that Captain Smith, of the Titanic shot himself with a pistol as the ship was going down.” (courtesy of Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark (12.)).

2. Fireman Robert Williams

According to the Daily Sketch of April 29, 1912, Fireman Robert Williams saw "the first officer produce a revolver" but shot above their heads. He said:

"While the boats were being loaded I saw the first officer produce a revolver and fire at two or three men who were trying to rush the boats. I don't think he killed anyone, for as far as I could see he fired over their heads."

3. Paul Romaine Chevre

Paul Romaine Chevré, a First Class passenger who boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France and was saved in lifeboat No.7, was mentioned in The New York Herald of April 21, 1912 “Mr. Chevré stated that a few minutes before the ship sank Captain Smith cried out, ‘my luck has turned,’ and then shot himself. I saw him fall against the canvas railing on the bridge and disappear.” (Bill Wormstedt, in Shots in the Dark, provides evidence that the account may have been a ‘lie,’ ‘fake’ or ‘misunderstanding’ and that “to this day, the truth about this account is unknown”. Since Mr. Chevré departed in the first lifeboat to be launched, his narrative is highly suspect). (12.)

4. Abraham Hyman

Although there is no mention of a suicide, Third Class passenger Abraham Hyman gave an account upon Carpathia’s arrival in New York in which he said an “officer who was standing at the rope had a pistol in his hand, and he ordered everybody to keep back. First, one women screamed and then another, and one man (I think he was an Italian) pushed toward the boat and the officer fired at him.” Quoted in Bill Wormstedt’s Shots in the Dark, Hyman may have departed in collapsible C so “it is unknown as to whether the above statement refers to C, or another lifeboat.” Also in Shots in the Dark there is a mention of Lady Lucille Duff-Gordon, First Class passenger, who, in an article in the Denver Post, April 19, 1912, is quoted as saying:

“Suddenly, I clutched the sides of the lifeboat. I had seen the Titanic give a curious shiver. Almost immediately we heard several pistol shots and a great screaming arise from the decks. Then the boat’s stern lifted in the air and there was a tremendous explosion.” (12.)

5. Mrs. W.F. Bonnell

1st Class Passenger Mrs. W.F. Bonnell also reported shooting, in a report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer of April 19, 1912. She said: "There was some shooting. They would not allow those half crazed men to get into the boats."

6. Lady Duff-Gordon

Lady Duff Gordon:“We
heard several pistol shots
and a great screaming arise
from the decks

Lady Duff-Gordon was in lifeboat No.1 along with her maid Miss Laura Francatelli, who, as already considered, reported Murdoch’s suicide, although it is questionable due to distance. Nevertheless, Lady Duff-Gordon’s observations do agree with her maid in that “several pistol shots and a great screaming” occurred at the approximate time of the attempted launch of collapsible A, although her account is based on audible evidence, not visual. Bill Wormstedt writes that Lady Duff Gordon’s “account above does agree in the details of the events at Collapsible A, as presented by other survivors.” (Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark) (12.)

The full report of what she saw was reported in The Mirror of April 20, 1912, in which at first she mentions Captain Smith in connection with the use of a gun.

"Everyone seemed to be rushing for that boat. A few men who crowded in were turned back at the point of Captain Smith's revolver, and several of them were felled before order was restored. 'I recall being pushed towards one of the boats and being helped in,' she said. 'Just as we were about to clear the ship a man made a rush to get aboard our lifeboat. He was shot and apparently killed instantly. His body fell in the boat at our feet. No one made any effort to move, and his body remained in the boat until we were picked up.' "

However, the identity changed from Captain Smith to "an officer" in the Daily Sketch article on the same day:

"Lady Duff-Gordon declares that she saw an officer shoot one of the male passengers who endeavoured to force his way into a boat, and others agree that there was a shooting, but it appears to have been more for the purpose of restoring order and frightening 'panicky' passengers than with the intention or necessity of killing stampeding cowards."

Earl Chapman in his article Gunshots on Titanic writes about these two above accounts: "At the British Inquiry, four weeks later, Lady Duff-Gordon completely retracted her story of panic and gunfire on Titanic's decks" (also refer to Gunshots on Titanic).

7. George McGough

There is an intriguing reference to Murdoch by George “Paddy” McGough, able-bodied seaman, in the April 20, 1912 edition of The New York Evening World:

“Both Captain Smith and Junior Chief Officer Murdoch were now together on the bridge, the water being up to their armpits… He and the ship went down, and Murdoch -God help me; don’t ask me what I saw.” (courtesy of Bill Wormstedt, Shots in the Dark (12.))

What did he see that he found so disturbing? As far as can be determined, McGough never revealed the details of what he saw that was so unpleasant (for further information on McGough refer to the chapter “In Defence -McGough”).

8. Second Officer Lightoller and the shot in the jaw by Murdoch

In correspondence with Richard Edkins of the Murdoch Dalbeattie web-site, he writes about an "uncertain and poorly-reported incident in which it was claimed a steward was shot in the jaw by Murdoch." (1.)

Second Officer Lightoller: "Murdoch
had been forced to shoot a crewman
who led a rush on one of the lifeboats,
pushing aside women and children.
The bullet struck the man's jaw

Edkins is likely referring to an account found in the 1912 book Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters (edited by Logan Marshall):

"'Stand back,' shouted the officers who were manning the boat. 'The women come first.' Shouting curses in various foreign languages, the immigrant men continued their pushing and tugging to climb into the boats. Shots rang out. One big fellow fell over the railing into the water. Another dropped to the deck, moaning. His jaw had been shot away. This was the story told by the bystanders afterwards on the pier. One husky Italian told the writer on the pier that the way in which the men were shot down was horrible. His sympathy was with the men who were shot. 'They were only trying to save their lives,' he said." (Sinking of the Titanic, p.55 (32.))

According to Earl J Chapman's article Gunshots on the Titanic this account is "similar to a story related by Titanic author Diana Bristow in two of her books (Titanic: R.I.P., and Titanic: Sinking the Myths) which also mentions a gunshot wound to the jaw" but goes even further and names the officer who did it. He explains:

"During her research into the disaster, Bristow received a letter from James O. McGiffin in which he related details of a shooting incident involving First Officer William Murdoch which was told to him by his father, Captain James McGiffin. Captain McGiffin was a close personal friend to Murdoch, and served with both Murdoch and Charles Lightoller (Second Officer on the Titanic) on White Star's Medic around 1900. Captain McGiffin ended up as White Star's Marine Superintendent in Queenstown during the period 1903-1912. After Titanic sank, Lightoller saw Captain McGiffin and naturally told him all about the disaster, including the Murdoch shooting incident." (27.)

The references by Diana Bristow are as follows:

"Lightoller told my father in Queenstown that Mr. Bruce Ismay kept pressure on Captain Smith to keep the Titanic to her maximum speed of 22-23 knots in order to create a new record time for the souther track crossing of the Atlantic. This Captain Smith did in spite of ice warnings from other ships in the area...Murdoch shot one crewman in the jaw as he tried to rush the lifeboats... (Titanic: R.I.P. Diana Bristow, p.172 (35.)):

"After Titanic sank, Lightoller saw McGiffin and naturally told him all about the disaster, including the fact that Murdoch had been forced to shoot a crewman who led a rush on one of the lifeboats, pushing aside women and children. The bullet struck the man's jaw." (Titanic: Sinking the Myths, Diana Bristow p.49 (36.))

Nevertheless, Edkins doubts the validity of this stating that a shot to the jaw "would blast the man's head off, - cosh in the jaw is more probable." (1.). I wrote back requesting more information regarding this and Mr. Edkins responded: "Murdoch using a gun as a cosh was first suggested in Elizabeth Gibbons's To the Bitter End, a monograph I am trying to make available. Her source is evidence from Mr. Hugh Woolner on page 886 of the Senator Smith report." (refer to Mr. Hugh Woolner and Jack Thayer)

11 year old Willam Carter apparantly also mentioned seeing someone shot in the jaw: "Once a lot of men got through and there was some shooting, and some of the men fell on the deck, while everyone cried out very loudly. One of the men stood still for some time, and all his jaw was shot away. I was watching him, holding on to mother's skirts, when it came our turn to get into the boat.” (55.) (For more informaiotn refer to: William Carter)

There is also a related -though unpublished- account from Second Officer Herbert Lightoller. According to George Behe, “researcher Susanne Stormer has spoken with a friend of the Lightoller family, and Lightoller -- in later years -- is said to have admitted that he knew someone on the Titanic who had taken his own life” (George Behe, First Officer Murdoch and the ‘Dalbeattie Defense’ (11.) -for further details regarding Lightoller, refer to the chapter “In Defence-Lightoller”).

9. Mr. Hugh Woolner and Jack Thayer

Indeed, Woolner did report gun shots. “They [Woolner and Steffanson] crossed over just in time to see First Officer Murdoch fire his pistol twice in the air, trying to stop a rush on ‘a collapsible’ - which could only have been Collapsible C. Woolner and Steffanson helped restore order, then saw the boat safely away.” (Walter Lord, The Night Lives On). First Class passenger Jack Thayer corroborated Woolner’s story in an account privately published for his family and friends in 1940 in which he wrote:

“There was some disturbance in loading the last two forward starboard boats. A large crowd of men was pressing to get into them. No women were around as far as I could see. I saw Ismay, who had been assisting in the loading of the last boat, push his way into it. It was really every man for himself. . .. Purser H. W. McElroy, as brave and as fine a man as ever lived, was standing up in the next to last boat, loading it. Two men, I think they were dining room stewards, dropped into the boat from the deck above. As they jumped, he fired twice in the air. I do not believe they were hit, but they were quickly thrown out.” (The Night Lives On, Walter Lord (21.))

It is feasible that Thayer, 28 years after the disaster, misidentified Murdoch as McElroy, since it is unlikely that a purser would be in command of lowering collapsible C when that credit is generally attributed to a senior officer. And, as Lord writes, “the officers of the Victualling Department were basically ‘housekeepers.’ They were not likely to be in charge of loading and lowering lifeboats” (refer to “9. Other Officers?” under “Circumstantial Evidence”).

10. Masabumi Hosono

Masabumi Hosono: “Sailors
refused them at gun point.
Even if I became the target
of a pistol shot, it
would be the same

Japanese Second Class passenger Masabumi Hosono also spoke of crew brandishing guns in those final hours, in a letter that remained hidden until recently.

“There were many men who attempted to squeeze in, but sailors refused them at gun point. I myself was deep in desolate thought. Even if I became the target of a pistol shot, it would be the same. Thus, I made a jump for the lifeboat.” (courtesy of Untold Stories, Discovery Channel (15.) ) Philip Hinds of Encyclopedia Titanica believes Hosono escaped aboard either No.10 or No.13. Both of these lifeboats have been connected with Murdoch. (8.)

11. Richard Norris Williams

First class passenger Richard Norris Williams, rescued in collapsible A, also “saw Captain Smith and a ‘quartermaster’ near the bridge” heard gunfire, but says that he did not look around. “Water washed over the boat deck right after this according to him” (courtesy of Tad Fitch, e-mail 12/05/2000).

12. Un-named male passenger

An anonymous man named the officer as "Murdock" and also revealed the identity of the victim in his report in the Daily Sketch of April 30, 1912. He said: "I saw Mr. Murdock shoot down an Italian. This officer performed heroic work all through."