Captain E.J. Smith - Memorials and 'Curse'
According to the Daily Sketch of 17th April, 1912, "at Captain Smith's house the garden is full of spring flowers, but the blinds are half drawn as if to show that the fate of the captain is still in doubt. When I called this morning I was told by the maid that Mrs Smith was prostrated with grief. No communication has been received from the captain since he sailed from Southampton."
The Philadelphia Press of April 19th, 1911 under the headline of "Sympathy for Captain's Family" wrote:
"There is no more pathetic figure in Southampton than Mrs. Edward J. Smith, widow of the commander of the ill-fated Titanic. The Smiths and their one daughter, a golden-haired and hithero vivacious girl of thirteen years, reside in a suburban villa in Winn Road, and in maritime and social circles they were the most popular. The widow is a prominent member of the Southampton Rifle Club, in connection with which she has organised a strong ladies' section. She is also the head of the brigade of the Red Cross Society and is identified with many other local movements. She and her daughter are absolutely prostrated. They refuse to see any but intimate friends, but their poignant grief to some degree is lessened by the shoal of sympatheic messaged received from all parts."
Eleven days later, on the 28th of April, a message from the grief-stricken widow of Captain Smith was posted outside the White Star Line offices in Southampton:
“To my fellow sufferers: My heart overflows with grief for you all and is laden with sorrow that you are weighed down with this terrible burden that has been thrust upon us. May God be with us and comfort us all. Yours in deep sympathy, Eleanor Smith.”
In Smith's hometown, Hanley, where he was hardly known beyond his circle of close friends, the news of Smith's connection to the area was not seen as good publicity, and so the council made no move to commerorate Smith directly. However that did not mean there were no tributes being paid. On June 6th, 1912, his wife Eleanor wrote to her nephew Frank Hancock “I wish you could know –read all the magnificent tributes paid to him. I never knew any one man created such esteem and love as he had the power of doing, and no son of England died a more noble death….”
Here are some of the well known memorials:
Hanley City Hall
In the Etruria School, which Smith had attended when he was growing up, they placed two portraits and a brass tablet in his memory on one of the wall of the Hanley Town Hall, with a ceremony on Tuesday 16 April 1913, with the unveiling of a cenotaph, along with a picture of Smith in his RNR dress uniform, which bears the inscription:
"This tablet dedicated to the memory of COMMANDER EDWARD JOHN SMITH R.D. R.N.R. Born in Hanley, 27th January 1850, Died at sea, 15th April 1912. Be British. Whilst in command of the White Star SS Titanic that great ship struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean during the night and speedily sank with nearly all who were on board. Captain Smith having done all man could do for the safety of passengers and crew remained at his post on the sinking ship until the end. His last message to the crew was “Be British.”
Seaman’s Church Institute in New York City
A tablet that was hung inside the institute, which has since been demolished, that attempted to capture the essence of Captain Smith. It read: He sailed the sea for forty years, Faithful in duty. Friendly in spirit. Firm in command. Fearless in disaster. He saved women and children and went down with his ship. Record of Service Edward J. Smith R.D. R.N.R.
A wax image of Captain Smith was created at the Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition in London. Captain Smith’s figure, located near the portrayal of telegraph inventor Guglielmo Marconi, proved to be very popular. On the 7th May, 1912 'Daily Sketch' newpspaer wrote: "An excellent model of Captain Smith, the brave captain of the Titanic, has just been added to Mme Tussaud's Exhibition. Mr John Tussaud has modelled the figure from a 'Daily Sketch' photograph taken on the Titanic shortly before she started on her fatal voyage." However the wax image was sadly lost during a fire on the 18th of March 1925.
In November 1913 a number of Smith's old friends and passengers, notably the Bishop of Willesden, Lady Astor and the Duchess of Sutherland, formed the Captain Smith Memorial Committee, and commissioned Lady Kathleen Scott, the widow of Captain Robert Scott (of the Antartic) to create a bronze statue 7ft 8 inches high mounted on a 7ft high pedestal. With The Potteries not interested, they found a location in Beacon Park, in the south Staffordshire city of Lichfield. Some residents of Lichfield presented a petition to stop the project, pointing out that Smith had no legitimate connection to their town and questioning whether the Captain was of sufficient national importance to justify a stature. However, with the force of the Duke of Sutherland’s committee and its many prominent members, the objection ultimately was rebuffed.
A statue, sculpted by Kathleen Scott, wife of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, was unveiled in July 1914 at the western end of the Museum Gardens in Beacon Park, Lichfield.
The statue was unveiled on a sunny afternoon of Wednesday 29 July 1914 by Smith's daughter, Melville. Eleanor Smith ended the ceremony by placing a wreath of red and white roses at the foot of the statue. A plaque adorning the pedestal included these words:
COMMANDER EDWARD JOHN SMITH R.D. R.N.R BORN JANUARY 27 1850 DIED APRIL 15 1912 BEQUEATHING TO HIS COUNTRYMEN THE MEMORY & EXAMPLE OF A GREAT HEART A BRAVE LIFE AND A HEROIC DEATH “BE BRITISH”
In later years an additional inscription was added above the plaque: “Capt. of RMS Titanic.” The pedestal is made from Cornish granite and the figure is bronze. Lichfield was chosen as the location for the monument because Smith was a Staffordshire man and Lichfield was the centre of the diocese. The statue originally cost £740 (£70,000 with inflation) raised through local and national contributions.
Above: The statue of Captain Smith in the Museum Gardens in Beacon Park, Lichfield, Staffordshire. (Click images to enlarge)
Legacy and Titanic curse?....
Eleanor Smith continued living in Southampton at first, but eventually moved to London. Tragically, on April 28, 1931, she was struck by a taxi in front of her home and died from the resulting injuries. She was only a couple of months shy of her 70th birthday. She was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, in Woking, Surrey.
According to the book Titanic Officers and a Gentleman, there was indeed a number of tragic events that led to rumours of the "curse of the Titanic":
"Smith’s daughter, Mel, possibly was first married to Captain John Gilbertson, the youngest captain in the British Merchant Marine when he took command of the Morazan for the Libby Line. Unfortunately, he died of blackwater fever, a complication of malaria which causes the red blood cells to burst open, leading to the failure of the kidneys."
"Mel married Sidney Russell-Cooke in 1922 and gave birth to twins on June 18, 1923. Tragedy continued to plague the family, fueling continued comments about the curse of the Titanic. Sidney was fatally injured in a hunting accident in 1930. Mel’s son, Simon, who never married, was killed in action as an RAF pilot during World War II on March 22, 1944. Mel’s daughter, Priscilla, wed a lawyer by the name of John Phipps, but she died of polio the following year. This left Mel quite alone, but at least she did not wallow in sorrow. She continued to live an active life, even to the point of driving sports cars and becoming a pilot, surprising endeavors given that she had moved to the quiet village of Leafield in 1934."
"Mel was particularly pleased with Lawrence Naismith’s portrayal of her father in the 1958 movie A Night to Remember. The locals in Leafield often referred to her as “The Titanic’s Captain’s Daughter.” But when the Anglican Church bells in Leafield tolled out her death on August 18, 1973, Captain Smith’s hereditary line had come to an end." 61.)
Ted and Eleanor's daughter Helen Melville Smith, mostly shortened to "Mel" or "Melville", was 14 when the Titanic disaster happened and she lost her father. According to a letter written by her mother Eleanor on Thursday 6th June 1912. "Melville went away to boarding school last May 7th so I am alone. She is happy and has the same bright-happy disposition as her Father."
In 1922 she married a stockbroker, Mr Sidney Russell Cooke, who consequently died in an accidental shooting incident in his chambers at Kings Bench Walk, The Temple, London, on 18th August 1930; he was apparently cleaning his double-barrelled shotgun while holding it towards his stomach, when it went off. This meant that her father, mother, husband, son and daughter all died in tragic circumstances all before she was 43. In later life she resided for many years in a cottage known as "Pratt's" on the south side of the village green at Leafield, near Witney in Oxfordshire.
She was a long term friend of David Rolt, a British artist, who painted leading figures from the arts, politics and high society during the 1940s and 50s. Rolt painted at least two portraits of Mel. According to the website roberteaglefineart.com "in his early twenties Rolt had formed a relationship with Mel Russell-Cooke, daughter of the captain of the Titanic. A vivacious woman who drove fast cars and held a pilot's licence, she was 18 years older older than Rolt and already married, but their relationship continued until the artist was in his 40s...his friendship with Mel continued until her death in 1973."