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Known as 'E.J.' by his friends and colleagues, Edward John Smith was born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, England in January of 1850. His parents being modest shop owners and his father a potter, Smith learned at an early age about being humble and the value of an honest buck. His parents, Edward Smith and Catherine Smith, instilled in him a sense of honor that would carry into his final moments.

As a youth, Smith worked a series of oddjobs before attending Etruria British School. When Smith was 13, he moved to Liverpool and apprenticed at Gibson & Co., located in Liverpool. Smith started what would end up being his career, when he joined the White Star Line in 1880.

As an employee of White Star Line, Smith worked his way up through the company on White Star owned ships until he was granted his first command of the Republic. As E.J. worked his way up to the eventual rank of Captain, he gained a reputation as flamboyance. It was said that certain high rollers would only sail on a ship across the Atlantic if good old Captain Smith was in command. He would eventually go on to command other White Star ships the Coptic, Majestic, Baltic, Adriatic and Olympic. When Smith attained the rank of commodore within the White Star Fleet, it was very common to see Smith command the maiden voyage of newly commisioned ships. Along with the commodore rank came a £1,250 per year salary and a no-collision bonus of $200 for every year without a, yep you guessed it, collisions.

Edward J. Smith also served in the Boer War; where he was in command of several troopships headed for the Cape.

E.J.'s run-in with fame or perhaps infamy came when he assumed command of the newly christened Titanic. As you should know, the ship hit the iceberg, and the sinking began. Captain Smith at this time was reported to go to the bridge, where after assessing the damage, ordered the general evacuation of the ship. This is where there are conflicting reports about what happened to Smith during his final hours. Reports vary from the movie depiction of his death on the bridge, to him swimming to a lifeboat with a baby in hand to unload the baby before swimming off into the darkness, to him comitting suicide via a gunshot to the head (in the movie, Officer Murdoch shot himself), to him going below decks and never returning. Whatever his fate may have been, it can be said that his decades of training didn't prepare him for a disaster of this magnitude. Reports say that Smith seemed lost and confused in the final hours before the sinking. For more information on this, see Why the Titanic Sank.

There are reports that Smith was over his head when assuming command of the Titanic. The new class of ships were much more massive and contained much more power than the older classes. Several examples of this are: the Germanic capsized under the command of Smith after ice had built up on her riggings, the Olympic incident with a tugboat while in port (both due to the size and power of the ship), and another Olympic accident involving the smaller ship Hawke where a near collision occurred.

Edward Smith's wife was named Eleanor. Their only child was a daughter; Helen Melville. Located in Portswood, Southampton, England, the family lived in a very upscale brick house.

The final chapter of the saga of the ill-fated captain of the Titanic, involves his daughter. In the year 1914, his daughter erected a statue of her father, the late Edward J. Smith. The statue was unveiled in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England by Helen and still stands today. The famous Madame Tussaud's wax museum had a wax portrait of Captain Smith. Unfortunately, the portrait was destroyed by fire in the roaring 20s.

Captain Smith was a paragon of old world virtues. When social status and class were more important than they are today, Captain Smith knew his place in the world. He knew he was there to serve the wealthy and 'father' the third class. When it came down to it, and his final moment was upon him, his sense of honor did not leave him, and he did what all old world captains hoped they would have one day; a watery grave.


Sources: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Louvre/2209/smith.html, and http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/bio/c/d/smith_ej.shtml

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