Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic

For a man who would spend most of his life conquering the ocean waves, and died upon the Titanic, Captain Edward John Smith, born 27 January 1850, began life in a place that was far removed from the sea – his birthplace was the landlocked town of Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent, in the heart of the North Staffordshire Potteries.

Captain Edward Smith TitanicSmith’s ancestors on his father’s side had a long association with the town of Hanley, and had strong links to the pottery industry which had grown up in the area – Smith’s father and grandfather worked as potters, and the younger Smith seemed destined to follow them into the family business.


However, after leaving school at the tender age of twelve, the boy seemed intent on a sea-faring career.  At thirteen, he was taken on as an apprentice with A. Gibson & Co of Liverpool.  Smith quickly gained the necessary qualifications, and by 1869, he was serving onboard a clipper ship, the Senator Weber, an American-built vessel operated by his employers.

Having proved himself an eager and able seaman, Smith joined the White Star Line in March 1880, and was immediately given the post of Fourth Officer on the SS Celtic.  This was the beginning a dazzling career with Thomas Ismay’s shipping company, which saw him quickly move up the ranks.  For seven years, Smith served on various White Star vessels, including freighters to Australia and passenger liners to New York.  Finally, in 1887, he was given his first command as captain of the SS Republic.

Continue reading

Charles Lightoller – Second Officer on the Titanic

Charles Lightoller served as the Second Officer on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which sunk, having struck an iceberg, on 15 April 1912. Lightoller survived.

Born on 30 March 1874, Charles Lightoller began life in the Lancashire town of Chorley.

The young Lightoller was initially brought up by his father, his mother having died not long after his birth.  But, by the age of 13, his father had abandoned him, and the boy was forced to fend for himself.  In 1888, he began a four year nautical apprenticeship on board the Primrose Hill.

Lightoller’s early nautical career was adventurous, to say the least.  On various voyages, he survived a shipwreck, a cyclone, a severe bout of malaria and a fire which had ignited a cargo of coal.  After a brief stint prospecting for gold in the Yukon Territory of Canada, Lightoller joined the White Star Line in 1900, by which time he was well acquainted with the drama of the high seas.

In 1903, on a voyage to Australia, Lightoller met his future wife, Sylvia Hawley-Wilson, who was returning to Sydney after a visit to England.  The pair married quickly, and Sarah accompanied her new husband home on the return voyage.  The pair would go on to have five children. Continue reading

J Bruce Ismay – a summary

Joseph Bruce Ismay, Chairman and Managing Director of White Star shipping, survived the sinking of the Titanic, one of his ships, and has been condemned by history for taking a place in the last life boat.

J Bruce Ismay was born in Crosby, near Liverpool, on 12 December 1862.  He was the eldest of seven children born to Thomas Henry Ismay, an industrialist, and Margaret Ismay (née Bruce).

Ismay’s family had strong connections to England’s shipping industry. His paternal grandfather, Luke Bruce, was a prominent ship-owner and his father was partner in the shipping company, Ismay, Imrie & Company.  When the younger Ismay was almost 7 years old, his father established the White Star Line shipping company.

As a young boy, Ismay attended Elstree preparatory school, before being sent to Harrow, a first-rate public school.

Father and Son

It has been said that the relationship between Ismay and his father was fraught, with Ismay Snr in the habit of humiliating and bullying his son at every opportunity.  The fractious interactions between father and son had a profound effect on the impressionable boy, who would become shy, withdrawn and emotionally isolated.  This was a pattern which would be perpetuated into adulthood – Ismay had very few friends, and when he wasn’t working, lived a hermit-like existence.

Continue reading

The Most Expensive Accident

“What was the most expensive accident to befall a man-made vessel over the past 100 years?”

The majority of respondents to this recent poll on History In An Hour’s Facebook page chose the sinking of RMS Titanic as the most likely answer. With almost 4,500 people participating in the survey, the other options and results were as follows:

A. The sinking of RMS Titanic, mid-Atlantic, 1912 61.18%
B. The Swissair Flight 111 crash, Nova Scotia, 1998 6.54 %
C. The Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster, Texas, 2003 31.05%
D. The MetroLink train crash, California, 2008 1.23%

Interestingly, the question posed in this poll sparked a thought-provoking debate on the interpretation of the word ‘expensive’. When considering the cost of such disasters, should we focus solely on the financial loss, or do we also take into account the loss of life? And, if we do consider the death toll, how can we possibly compare the two? The answer is, of course, we can’t – the loss of human life can never be measured in monetary terms, nor should it be. Continue reading