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Titanic’s captain


Shortly after 5 a.m., on Wednesday 10 April 1912, dawn broke over Southampton with the promise of calm weather. At the docks, the Titanic, securely warped into White Star’s berth number 44, showed a little more activity aboard her than there had been over the last six days. The ship-keeping crew, headed by Chief Officer Henry Wilde, were up early getting the vessel ready for the busy day ahead.

At ‘Woodhead’, their home in Winn Road, Ted and Eleanor Smith were also up early that morning perhaps taking breakfast together before he set off for work. The chances are that the couple were alone in the house apart from the cook and the maid; Melville may have been away at boarding school and so perhaps missed seeing her father before he set off aboard the Titanic.

Breakfast over, Smith then spent a little time in his study that morning, packing his bag and sorting whatever documents he needed for the voyage and it was here in ‘the sacred room of his’, as Eleanor herself recalled, that the couple said their farewells. Then, at a little before 7 a.m., Smith donned his overcoat and bowler hat before setting off as usual.

It was spring and outside, as a reporter later noted, the early flowers were coming into bloom in the captain’s garden. As he made his way down the path, Smith spotted the paper lad, eleven-year-old Albert ‘Ben’ Benham, coming out of next door’s garden, so he paused at the gate. ‘All right son,’ said Smith when the boy noticed him standing there, ‘I’ll take my paper.’

Ben handed the paper over then moved on to finish his round. It had hardly been the most dramatic moment in history, but young Benham would remember that brief meeting for the rest of his life.

Smith had probably ordered a taxi to take him down to the docks as Winn Road was some distance from the noisy bustling harbour front and his route would have taken him through the centre of Southampton before turning down the hill towards the sea. From here there was a clear view down to the waterfront and the Titanic’s four funnels would have been easily visible, towering over the neighbouring ships and buildings.

Alighting at the docks, Captain Smith boarded the Titanic at 7.30 a.m., and made his way to the bridge where he received the day’s sailing report from Chief Officer Wilde, then made his way to his quarters. As on the Olympic, these were situated just behind the bridge on the starboard side of the boat deck and could be reached by cutting through the wheelhouse and chart room, thus providing him with quick and easy access to the bridge should any problems occur. His quarters consisted of a sitting room, bedroom and a private lavatory complete with a bath. The latter was an elaborate affair fitted with four taps, two for hot or cold fresh water, two for hot or cold salt water, a luxury only usually afforded to first-class passengers.

Extract taken from Titanic Captain: The Life of Edward John Smith by Gary Cooper

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