Captain E.J. Smith - White Star Command

On 14 February 1888 Smith decided to apply for his Extra Master’s certification, a voluntary certification but the highest the Board of Trade offered and hence the most difficult. It is perhaps not surprising that Smith failed the navigation section, the first time he had had ever failed an exam. The fee was 2 pounds, half of which was returned upon failure to pass, so Smith applied again three days later and on the 20th of February 1888 finally passed the test.

Captain Smith's first White Star Line command - the S.S. Baltic, a four-mast steamship built at Belfast by Harland and Wolff and launched in 1871. The oil painting shows the ship flying the flag of the White Star Company from her mainmast and the American flag from her foremast. It is signed ‘N. Jacobsen 1879’. Artist: Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
(Click to enlarge)

The new and more advanced qualification soon had its effect; his first official captaincy of a White Star Line vessel was for the aging Baltic, twin sister to the Republic, from March 27th 1888 for two transatlantic runs, but in June he also took short command of the Britannic, although possibly as an 'acting captain'. Incidentally, one year later, in February 1898 the Baltic foundered in the North Atlantic after a collision with a wreck, with no loss of life.

He also reached out to the Royal Naval Reserve, and in August 1888 his credentials were sufficient for him to qualify for an immediate appointment as a full Lieutenant.

Captain Smith in the 1890s (Image: Encyclopedia Titanica)

On December 8, 1888, Smith became Captain for the maiden voyage of White Star’s Cufic, a cattle transporter, from Liverpool to New York. Not only Smith's first maiden voyage but it was the first time that Bruce Ismay, at the time heir to inherit his father's White Star Line business, became aware of him, a relation that would last right up until Titanic.

From April 1889 to July 1889 Smith commanded the Celtic, the first White Star Line vessel he had worked aboard 8 years ago as Fourth Officer. Later that year he was captain of the Coptic in the Australian service but returned to the North Atlantic as commander of the Adriatic from December 1890 to February 1891.

During the period of 1891 to 1895 there was much sorrow in the Smith household. Firstly in March 1891 Smith learned that his first ship, the Senator Weber had sank, taking the lives of 14 sailors. At the time he was captain of the Runic (from March - April 1891) then from May he commanded the Britannic. Then on November 1st, 1893, shortly after the Britannic left Liverpool for New York, Smith’s 86-year-old mother, Catherine, died. Later his half-sister Thyrza’s husband, William Harrington, died at the age of 57 on March 1, 1895, when Smith was home from sea.  Two months later to the day, Joseph Hancock, his half-brother who had inspired him to go to sea, died from a heart attack on his way home from a local fish market.