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Was Murdoch Drunk?

History of drinking in the Murdoch family

  • There are two occasions when drink actually caused the death of a member of the Murdoch family:

    1. Captain Alexander Murdoch

    Alexander who was born 1st of Jan 1827 and drowned on the 16th of April 1868 at Hull Town (or Borough of Kingston-upon-Hull) while first mate aboard the brig Gleaner of Limekilns. Henry Pitblads, a cook aboard the Gleaner of Limekilns testified at the Coroner's Inquest Report the next day that he was with Murdoch "from quarter past 10 to quarter past 11. We were in a public house in Waterworks Road called the Earl of Durham. We left there about quarter past 11. He was worse for liquor. He had been tasting all afternoon. He was able to walk but it was as much as he could do to take care of himself. I left him in front of the Earl of Durham. I was going on board and asked him to do so. He said no he would have a sweetheart before he went on board. There was no woman with him. I can't say if he had any money. He had paid for two glasses of ale. I left him and went on board. He went up the street towards the theatre after some girls - I did not see him come up to them."

    Others then testified that upon returning to the ship Murdoch had fallen overboard, leading to his death. (50.)

    2. Captain William Murdoch

    Captain William Murdoch was born on the 21st of July 1845. He served on the Antilles, Angerona, Irongraig and the Silverhorn.

    Though retired, Murdoch had agreed at the owner's request to assist the schooner's master in bringing the vessel home. The vessel left Port with 51 tons of coal. Regrettably, it appears that the master had got drunk in Whitehaven, and old William had a cup too many himself. The Mary went aground off Mary Port at Rascarrel Rocks at Auchencairn Bay West Coast of Scotland. Murdoch was struggling to put on his lifejacket and was washed overboard. He was aged 60 and died on the 4th of April 1906 within site of his home.


2. Supporting Evidence

Accounts of the captain and his officers being possibly drunk are not new. Take a look at the following accounts:

1. Quartermaster Robert Hichens

Robert Hichens' own conduct aboard lifeboat no.6 would later come under scrutiny after female passengers claimed he lay uselessly huddled in blankets, drinking whiskey and refusing to return to the Titanic to rescue others.

Peuchen: 'Hichens got at some brandy
and was incapable.'

One who publically accused Hichens of drinking was Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, a Titanic survivor who was in lifeboat no.6 of which Hichens was put in charge. Major Peuchen, in a Saturday 20 April 1912 edition of The Toronto World said: "Our sailor in charge had also got at some brandy and was incapable. So we had no provisions."

Another occupant of lifeboat 6, Mrs Lucian Philip Smith (Mary Eloise Hughes), 18, from Huntington, West Virginia, although not naming him, spoke of a "drunken sailor" which clearly seems to indicate Hichens. She said: "“This lifeboat was permitted to be lowered with but one sailor in it and he was drunk. His condition was such that he could not row the boat and therefore the women had to do the best they could in rowing about in the icy waters." (The Denver Post, April 19, 1912:)

Hichens: 'Mrs. Mayer accused me of drinking all
the whisky, which I deny, sir'
(Click image to enlarge)"

1st Class passenger Mrs Leila Meyer (née Saks) also inflamed Hichen's anger when she suggested that he was drunk, swore and took blankets in a newspaper interview.

On Day 5 of the United States Senate Inquiry Robert Hichens publically defended these accusations, stating: "Mrs. Mayer [Meyer], she was rather vexed with me in the boat and I spoke rather straight to her, and she accused me of wrapping myself up in the blankets in the boat, using bad language, and drinking all the whisky, which I deny, sir." (25.)

Hichens also on Day 5 made a further statement to clarify: "I would like to make a little statement as regarding Mrs. Mayer's [Meyer] statement in the newspapers about my drinking the whisky sir, and about the blankets. I was very cold, sir, and I was standing up in the boat. I had no hat on. A lady had a flask of whisky or brandy, or something of that description, given her by some gentleman on the ship before she left, and she pulled it out and gave me about a tablespoonful and I drank it." (25.)

2. Fifth Officer Lowe

Fifth Officer Lowe's use of strong language during the evacuation did cause some rumour of drinking that Lowe found highly offensive. On Day 5 of the Senate Inquiry Senator Smith asked Lowe:

Smith: Are you a temperate man?
Lowe: I am, sir. I never touched it in my life. I am an abstainer.
Smith: I am very glad to have you say that.
Lowe: I say it, sir, without fear of contradiction.
Smith: I am not contradicting you, and I congratulate you upon it; but so many stories have been circulated one has just been passed up to me now, from a reputable man, who says it was reported that you were drinking that night.
Lowe: Me, sir?
Smith: That is the reason I asked the question.
Lowe: No, sir, this (indicating a glass of water) is the strongest drink I ever take.(25.)

Fifth officer Lowe: "I never touched it
[alcohol] in my life. I am an abstainer."

However, despite Lowe being an "abstainer" a certain Daisy Minahan provided a signed affidavit at the request of Senator Smith in which she described Lowe in a bad light, as saying to her "'Jump, God damn you, jump.' I had showed no hesitancy and was waiting only my turn. He had been so blasphemous during the two hours we were in his boat that the women at my end of the boat all thought he was under the influence of liquor." (25.)

Lowe was apparently so angry about this misrepresentation that he was only appeased when Senator Smith made an announcement before adjourning for lunch on Day 10, April 29: "I I desire to make a statement to go upon the record. In my examination of Officer Lowe the other day I asked him in reference to his habits. He informed me he was a teetotaller. I accepted his statement as final, and congratulated him at the the time. There is not the slightest disposition on the part of the committee to cast any reflection upon Mr Lowe's habits. I think the difficulty arose of the statement of one of the witnesses, referring to his disposition rather than to his habits, and I am very glad to make that correction." (Titanic Valour: The Life of Fifth Officer Harold Lowe (52.) )

3. Captain Smith

In 2000, in an article entitled Controversy About 'Titanic' First Officer by Catholine Butler related an account from a Victoria Farrell-Cofield of Vancouver who stated:

"The night that the Titanic hit the iceberg, there was a big party going on and Captain Smith could not be aroused from sleep. Apparently, he had celebrated a little too much. He was in charge at the time the ship was steaming forward and hit the iceberg. Actually, they did not see the iceberg until they were on top of it, and then it was too late."

In 2012 a previously unseen letter was unearthed in which survivor Emily Richards claimed Captain Smith was drinking in the saloon bar before the collision. The 24 year old second class passenger, travelling with her two sons, while her brother George died in the diaster, made the allegation in a letter she wrote home to her mother-in-law, Mrs Richards, from Penzance, Cornwall, while she was board the Carpathia. The letter reads:

"The boat struck a iceberg at 11 o'clock on Sunday night. The Captain was down in the saloon drinking and gave charge to some-one else to stare [sic] the ship. It was the Captan [sic] fault. My poor brother George ... drowned as far as we know now." (Daily Mail, 9 March 2012 news article)

24 year old second class passenger Emily Richards claimed Captain Smith
was drinking in the saloon bar before the collision.

The letter was up for sale, with Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge acknowldeging that 'as far as we know there are no other witness reports that put the captain in the saloon drinking on the evening of the sinking. So Emily Richards's account is not consistent with the dozens of others that exist." (Daily Mail, 9 March 2012 news article)

"Emily Richards's account is not consistent with the
dozens of others that exist."
(Click to enlarge)

Also Una Reilly, the co-founder of the Belfast Titanic Society, questioned why Emily Richards had not made the accusation public if what she had witnessed was true. 'She may have witnessed the captain in the saloon bar but what he was drinking can't be verified. You can't say that she was mistaken because she was the one who was there, but I do find it strange that she did not repeat this accusation later on in interviews and inquiries. I have never heard this accusation being cast upon Captain Smith before. It was never raised at the two official enquiries into the disaster to my knowledge....I can't imagine that he would have been drinking with the passengers.'(Daily Mail, 9 March 2012 news article)

4. "Incapacitated by champagne"

Edward Dorking's lectures as mentioned the San
Francisco Call
of August 12, 1912 (Don Lynch).

According to the San Francisco Call of August 12, 1912, Third class passenger 19 year old Edward Dorking began delivering 10 minute lectures about his experience, which rather curiously included that the "lookout gave warning three times of the iceberg that sank the vessel, intimates the officers were incapacitated by champagne, and emphatically refutes the stories that the band played a hym as the vessel went down, as it was impossible to stand on the deck." Afterwards he would answer questions from the audience.

However during one the lectures a member of the audience challenged his "hateful" description of Ismay which according to the Denver Rocky Mountain News of July 26 1912 began a row that was severe that the "police were called to quiet what would have probably been a riot."

This latter development in particular suggests that Dorking was prone to embellish his accounts for theatrical effect, with disastrous consequences and so does cast doubt on his accounts, especially his allegation that "the officers were incapacitated by champagne". (For more information on Edward Dorking see here.

5. Luis Klein

Of all the accounts of drunken behaviour Luis Klein's is probably the most infamous. Klein was a Hungarian man who alleged he was a surviving member of the crew with some sensational evidence involving "the officer of the watch was asleep on deck when the Titanic smashed into the iceberg" and other crew "drunk or drinking". His account entitled 'Officer on Watch Accused' appeared in the April 22nd 1912 edition of the New York Times:

April 22nd 1912
New York Times
'Officer on Watch Accused'

Titanic survivor Luis Klein's story is that the officer of the watch was asleep on deck when the Titanic smashed into the iceberg's projecting spur, and that other officers and members of the crew were drunk or drinking. Wine he said was being passed out of the cabin where an elaborate banquet was in progress. The festivities were at their height he said, when the impact of the berg brought them to a sudden ending.

New York Times April 22 1912
(Click image to enlarge)


Klein to Point Out to Investigators Officers He Says Were Drunk.

Special to The New York Times.
CLEVELAND, Ohio, April 22.

"It isn’t necessary to keep me under arrest. I’ll willingly go to Washington and point out the officers and the members of the crew surviving who were intoxicated when the Titanic struck the iceberg," was the declaration made by Luis Klein, Titanic sailor, to Federal officials to-day just before he left for the capital to give his testimony before the Senate Investigating Committee. Klein sticks to his story that the lookout was asleep and others of the officers and crew on board the Titanic were intoxicated and to blame for the disaster.

"I’m telling the truth." he declared through a Hungarian interpreter to-day. Klein is held on the technical charge of mutiny. This, however. was nolled tonight when he signed an agreement to proceed to Washington and give his testimony. Belief in his story was strengthened to-day when he was put through a grilllng cross-examination by Federal officers. He was warned of the serious nature of his charges.

"I realize the serious nature of the charges I am making," he said. " l have nothing to fear, for I shall tell the truth. I will point out to the committee officers of the Titanic if they are present at the hearing. I rrnean the ones who had been at the dinrier party that night and had been drinking. I don‘t remember their names. but I'll know them when I see them."

Klein is unable to read or speak English, yet he was able to tell a story of the wreck of the Titanic that could not be broken down. White Star officials admitted today that Klein may have been one of the survivors. Klein says he remembers little of what- happened to him after being taken aboard the Carpathia and until after his arrival in New York on account of his harrowing experiences. On account of his weakened condition District Attorney Denman has arranged that he be given medical attention when he arrives in Washington.

However in another article on the same day Klein's "weird tale" is subsequently discredited:

New York Times
Monday 22 April 1912

Sailor's Weird Tale


One of the wildest stories yet circulated in connection with the disaster has reached the committee from Cleveland. There a man describing himself as a Hungarian named Luis Klein, a surviving member of the crew of the Titanic, told a story which was so extraordinary that he was taken before the Hungarian Consul and Vice Consul. Cross-examination failed to vary his story. When it was wired to Chairman Smith he telegraphed to the local United States District Attorney to have Klein held and then obtained by telegraph the sanction of the Attorney General.

Officer on Watch Accused

Klein's story is that the officer of the watch was asleep on deck when the Titanic smashed into the iceberg's projecting spur, and that other officers and members of the crew were drunk or drinking. Wine, he said, was being passed out of the cabin, where an elaborate banquet was in progress. The festivities were at their height, he said, when the impact of the berg brought them to a sudden ending.

The report of the alleged Hungarian sailor is discredited here. It is pointed out that even if it were conceivable that on a ship of the Titanic's type such lax discipline could prevail, there is absolutely no other testimony to bear it out. In support of his story the Hungarian recites that he has a medal for life-saving presented to him by the Hamburg-American Line. He says he shipped on the Titanic at Liverpool, but that he has lost his papers.

Members of the committee are not yet ready to discuss any of the testimony they have heard, though it can be stated that they are much pleased with the result of the quick dash for New York. They are particularly interested in the whole subject of the part played by the wireless telegraph.

However, in the end Klein never took the stand to give evidence during the Senate inquiry. Although his name was called up several times during the Inquiry according to the detective who was guarding him, he suddenly escaped and left his belongings in his room. Some newspapers reported he was likely paid alot of money to get out of town.

Klein's disappearance was covered by Senator Smith in the Senate Inquiry on Day 11 (Tuesday, April 30, 1912) with the testimony of Charles H. Morgan, the Deputy United States Marshal from Cleveland, Ohio:

Smith: As such deputy marshal, did you bring Luis Klein from Cleveland to Washington?
Morgan: Yes, sir.
Smith: Was he in your custody while here?
Morgan: Well, I was with him - trying to be with him - yes, sir.
Smith: Did he sign this paper (handing witness paper)?
Morgan: I did not see him personally, but I know that he did, because it came out from the office.
Smith: In consequence of that, no process was served on him?
Morgan: I think not; no, sir.
Smith: I want to read this in the record, in order that the record may dispose of this witness properly...

Office of the United States Attorney,
Cleveland, Ohio, April 22, 1912

The United States Attorney, and
The United States Marshal,
Cleveland, Ohio.

Gentlemen: I hereby waive issuance and service of process and subpoena on me in the matter of the investigation of the so-called Titanic disaster, before the United States Senate subcommittee, and voluntarily consent to be taken by the United States marshal from Cleveland, Ohio, to Washington, D. C., for the purpose of giving my testimony before said committee.
Luis Klein.

Smith: Do you know what has become of this witness?
Morgan: No.
Smith: Do you know when he departed from his temporary abode here?
Morgan: We got here Tuesday morning, and I saw him up to 11 o'clock Tuesday night, and was to bring him up here. I was to get him up and help him - get him out of bed at 8 o'clock; but it seems he left the hotel at 7 o'clock, leaving what few things he had. He went out without his collar and necktie.
Smith: And he has not been seen since?
Morgan: No, sir.
Smith: Have you endeavored to find him?
Morgan: Yes, sir, I immediately notified the people here, and have been following instructions, trying to locate the man.
Smith: You have not succeeded?
Morgan: No, sir.
Senator Fletcher: Had anybody seen him during the night?
Morgan: Nobody did; no, sir - that is, according to everybody at the hotel; and I know that no one saw him up to 11 o'clock at night.
Smith: Did you stop at the same hotel with him?
Morgan: I did, yes, sir; and the night clerk and the bell boys and all said there was not anyone with him - at least to the best of their knowledge. I am very positive they did not.
Senator Fletcher: That is all.
Smith: That is all. You may be excused, and you need not remain any longer under the orders of the committee.

A month after the New York Times ran the first story on Klein, on May 22 they followed it up with the following article:

New York Times May 22 1912
(Click image to enlarge)


Wideners Tell Facts of Dinner Party Attended by Capt. Smith.

Special to the New York Times

An interesting feature about the wreck of the Titanic that will figure in Chairman Smith's report, to be filed with the Senate tomorrow exonerates Capt. Smith of the Titanic from any suspicion of drinking on the evening of the disaster. Facts concerning the dinner party given by the Wideners of Philadelphia that evening, at which the Captain was present, have recently been put at the Chairman’s disposal by members of the Widener family, and they will go into the record. The only charge of intemperance brought against any of the officers of the Titanic came from a Hungarian describing himself as Louis Klein, a member of the crew. Klein made his charges in Ohio, and was brought here as a witness, though he had no papers to show that he had ever served on the Titanic, and could not speak a word of English. After reaching Washington he left the hotel at which he was under surveillance by the Senate's Sergeant at Arms. and has not been heard of since.

According to research by Nilsson, Luis Klein ended up "running a concession, described as an entrepreneur, a theatrical production about Titanic" on "Winward pier in California" (Titanic Historical Society forum, 2012).