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Edward John Smith (1850)

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Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR (27 January 1850 – 15 April 1912) was an English naval reserve officer, and ship's captain. He was the officer in command of the and died when the ship sank in 1912. There is a statue to his legacy in Beacon Park, Lichfield, England.


 personal life
Edward John Smith was born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, England to Edward Smith, a potter, and Catherine Hancock, née Marsh, who married on 2 August 1841 in Shelton, Staffordshire. His parents later owned a shop. Smith attended the Etruria British School until the age of 13 when he went to Liverpool to begin a seafaring career. He began his apprenticeship on the Senator Weber owned by A Gibson & Co., Liverpool.

On Tuesday 12 July 1887 Smith married Sarah Eleanor Pennington. Their daughter, Helen Melville Smith, was born in Waterloo, Liverpool, England, on Saturday 2 April 1898. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house, named "Woodhead", on Winn Road, Highfield, Southampton.

 Ship captain
Smith joined the White Star Line in March 1880 as the Fourth Officer of the . He served aboard the company's liners to Australia and to New York, where he quickly rose in stature. In 1887, he received his first White Star command, the . In 1888, Smith earned his Extra Master's Certificate and joined the Royal Naval Reserve (thus entitling him to append his name with "R.N.R."), qualifying as a full Lieutenant. This meant that in a time of war, Smith could be called upon to serve in the Royal Navy. Later, as a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve, Smith's ship had the distinction of being able to wear the Blue Ensign of the R.N.R.; British merchant vessels generally wore the Red Ensign .

 Bigger commands
Smith was 's captain for nine years commencing in 1895. When the Boer War started in 1899, Smith and the Majestic were called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony. Two trips were made to South Africa, both without incident, and for his service, King Edward VII awarded Smith the Transport Medal, showing the "South Africa" clasp, in 1903. Smith was regarded as a "safe captain". As he rose in seniority, Smith gained a reputation amongst passengers and crew for quiet flamboyance. Some passengers would sail the Atlantic only in a ship commanded by him. He became known as the "Millionaires' Captain" because England's upper class were usually the ones who requested he be in command of the ships they sailed on.

From 1904 on, Smith commanded the line's newest ships on their maiden voyages. In 1904, he was given command of the then-largest ship in the world at the time, White Star's new . Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, sailing 29 June 1904, went without incident. After three years with the Baltic, Smith was given his second new "big ship," the . Once again, the maiden voyage went without incident. During his command of the Adriatic, Smith received the Royal Naval Reserve's long service decoration, along with a promotion to Commander. By virtue of his receiving the long service decoration, he would now be referred to as "Captain Edward John Smith, RD, RNR", with RD standing for "Reserve Decoration."

 Olympic class command
Smith had built a reputation as one of the world's most experienced sea captains, and so was called upon to take first command of the lead ship in a new class of ocean liners, the — again, the largest vessel in the world at that time. The maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York was successfully concluded on 21 June 1911, but as the ship was docking in New York harbor, it experienced a small incident. Docking at Pier 59 under the command of Captain Smith with the assistance of a harbour pilot, the Olympic was being assisted by twelve tugs when one got caught in the backwash of the Olympic's starboard propeller. The tug was spun around, collided with the bigger ship, and for a moment was trapped under the Olympic's stern, finally managing to work free and limp to the docks.

The Hawke incident
On 20 September 1911 Olympic's first major mishap occurred during a collision with a British warship, , in which the warship lost her prow. Although the collision left two of Olympic's compartments filled and one of her propeller shafts twisted, she was able to limp back to Southampton. At the resultant inquiry, the Royal Navy blamed Olympic for the incident, alleging that her massive size generated a suction that pulled Hawke into her side. On the bridge during this incident was Captain Smith.

The Hawke incident was a financial disaster for White Star, and the out-of-service time for the big liner made matters worse. Olympic returned to Belfast and, to speed up the repairs, Harland and Wolff was forced to delay Titanic's completion, in order to use one of her propeller shafts and other parts for the Olympic. Back at sea in February 1912, Olympic lost a propeller blade and once again returned to her builder for emergency repairs. To get her back to service immediately, Harland & Wolff yet again had to pull resources from Titanic, delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March to 10 April.

 RMS Titanic

Despite the past trouble, Smith was again appointed to be in command of the greatest steamship when RMS Titanic left Southampton for her maiden voyage. Although some sources state that he had decided to retire after completing Titanic's maiden voyage, an article in the Halifax Morning Chronicle on 9 April 1912 stated that Smith would remain in charge of the Titanic "until the Company completed a larger and finer steamer."

On 10 April 1912, Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, took a taxi from his home to Southampton docks. He came aboard the Titanic at 7AM to prepare for the board of trade muster at 8:00AM. He immediately went to his cabin to get the sailing report from Chief Officer Henry Wilde. After departure at 12:00PM, the huge amount of water displaced by Titanic as she passed caused the laid-up New York to break from her moorings and swing towards the Titanic. Quick action from Smith helped to avert a premature end to the maiden voyage. At 11:40PM on 14 April, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The ship sank two hours and forty minutes later, killing an estimated 1,500 people. Smith was one of those who died. His body was never recovered.

It is not known how Smith died on the night of the sinking. Robert Ballard's book, The Discovery of the Titanic, and historians alike claim that Smith was on the bridge at 2:13 AM, 7 minutes before the final sinking and went down with the ship. Some sources state that Smith quietly wandered off to the ship's wheelhouse, while others say he was actively present in the radio room. Working near Collapsible B, Junior Marconi Officer Harold Bride reported seeing Smith dive into the sea from the open bridge minutes before the final plunge began. One story states he carried a child to the overturned collapsible B after the sinking and swam off to freeze in the water, but according to historians featured in the A&E Documentary Titanic: Death of a Dream, that story is generally considered romantic fiction.

The below his memorial statue in Lichfield states: "Commander Edward John Smith, RD, RNR. Born January 27 1850, Died April 15 1912, Bequeathing to his countrymen the memory and example of a great heart, a brave life and a heroic death. Be British."

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Edward Smith", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.