16. Captain Edward Smith is unfairly treated over Titanic’s collision with an iceberg
As one of the most senior captains serving the White Star Line, Edward Smith had the honor of commanding Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912. Though he was aware of the presence of ice reported in his path, he continued on course at a high rate of speed. He has since been condemned for such action as reckless, though it was standard practice at the time. All of the major ocean liners operated under rigidly held schedules regarding departures and arrivals. The schedules were often of supreme importance for passengers traveling for business purposes. Speculation, usually in fictional accounts of the voyage in films, that White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay ordered the Captain to maintain speed is unlikely. The order would not have been necessary. Smith would have continued as he did, relying on the lookouts to provide sufficient warning.
Obviously, they did not. Titanic struck an iceberg with a glancing blow, which sprung several hull plates and caused it to sink about two hours later. Conflicting reports of Smith’s behavior as the ship went down exist, with some claiming he actively worked to get as many as possible into the boats. Others claim he did little or nothing, and that he wasn’t seen on the boat deck at all. His duties would have taken him to the radio room, the signal rockets, and the bridge. He couldn’t have been everywhere at once. At any rate, he last appeared, according to one account, standing on his bridge. Others reported having seen him swimming in the water. Neither the collision nor the shortage of lifeboats was his fault. Nonetheless he is frequently criticized for steaming at speed toward an ice field, causing the loss of the ship.