The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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RMS Adriatic was an ocean liner of the White Star Line. She was the fourth of a quartet of ships measuring over 20,000 tons, dubbed The Big Four. The ship was the only one of the four which was never the world's largest ship; however, she was the fastest of the Big Four. The Adriatic was the first ocean liner to have an indoor swimming pool and a Turkish bath.
She was built by Harland and Wolff and was launched on 20 September 1906 (the same day as the Cunard Line's Mauretania). When she was completed, she was 75 ft wide (23 m). She set off on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York on 8 May 1907 under the command of Captain Edward Smith. She was changed to the Southampton run after her maiden voyage. She was, however, the ship that inaugurated White Star's Southampton service and was the first White Star liner to use the newly constructed dock in Southampton, named the White Star Dock (it was renamed in 1922 to the Ocean Dock). She ran this route until 1911 when Olympic took it over with the Adriatic returning to the Liverpool run.
During World War I, the Adriatic served as a troopship and survived the war without incident. After the war ended, she returned to passenger service. In 1928, she was converted to a "cabin-class" ship. In 1933, she was withdrawn from the North Atlantic route and was converted into cruising.
The Adriatic left Liverpool for the last time on 19 December 1934, her longest voyage ever, to be scrapped at Onomichi, Japan, in 1935.
Murdoch's letter to "Miss Nancy"
In what has been described as one of only three known letters in Murdoch's hand, correspondence to a “Miss Nancy” allegedly in 1909 (although most likely in 1907) while he was serving as first officer aboard the Adriatic, has been revealed by RR Auction. Headquartered in Amherst, NH, RR Auction is globally recognized as the trusted source for authentic autographed memorabilia and rare signed documents.
Their "Titanic 100 Year Anniversary Auction" booklet contains the following information on the letter:
The only known Murdoch letter in private hands
1650 William Murdoch. First officer on the Titanic (1873-1912) who was the officer in charge on the bridge
when the Titanic collided with an iceberg. After the collision, he was put in charge of the starboard
evacuation during which he launched 10 lifeboats, accounting for almost 75% of the survivors. ALS signed
"Wm.M.Murdoch," two pages 5x8, embossed White Star On Board R.M.S. 'Adriatic' letterhead, July 4, 1909.
Letter to "Dear Miss Nancy". In full:
"Your letter of June 24th came to hand on my arrival at Hampton 6 days ago, glad to learn that you are all
O.K. You should have re4c'd 4 P[ost]/c[ard]s altogether & Mr. Owen says he sent one. We have had a wretched
time one way & another since we left Liverpool, strikes over N.York side & every body & everything strange
at our new port on this side. I just returned from Scotland on Tuesday after having been up seeing my sister
married, as you see how little time I have had on my hands.
I have never a thing from or about Dr.Blackwood, what on earth has become of him? Mr. Owen says he will
write you or rather Miss May a long letter when his hand gets better. With kind remembrances to Miss
Maggie, Miss May, Mr. & Mrs. Watkins & also to yourself."
In the lower left of the second page, Murdoch adds a brief postscript which reads, "Will send some more
American p/cs. WMM." In fine condition, with some scattered mild toning and soiling, a bit heavier along
horizontal folds of first page.
In 1909, Murdoch was serving as first officer aboard the Adriatic, the largest ship of the White Star fleet
and the line's flagship. The Adriatic was under the command of Captain Edward Smith, who was the most senior
captain in the company and would later command the Titanic. Aboard the Adriatic, Murdoch also served with
later Titanic crew member Joseph Boxhall, and he remained first officer on the Adriatic until May 1911, when
he was sent to Belfast to join the Olympic, Titanic's sister ship. Murdoch is almost unobtainable; of the
three letters known to exist, two are houses is museums and the third is offered here. This is a true
Titanic rarity! Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA....(MB $500)
The latest news on the auction is that the letter was expected to make $6,000 (Galloway News)
Who is "Miss Nancy"?
The letter of course raises many questions -most importantly who is the "Miss Nancy" he is writing to, in addition to the other names referenced (Mr. Owen, Miss May, Miss Maggie, Dr Blackwood and Mr. & Mrs. Watkins). The answer may be a little easier to discern if we can accurately determine the date of writing.
One correspondent named Vicki has pointed out that "upon inspecting the letter’s date, the last digit of the year does appear to resemble a rushed '7', with a small flourish marking the start of the horizontal stroke, which then sweeps upward and then downward to form a big loop, instead of the tight corner you’d find in a neater '7.' I don’t think someone would try to establish a starting flourish on a '9,' but I suppose it could just represent a stray flick of the wrist. "
If the letter was indeed written in 1907 and not 1909 this does make more sense. It places it several months prior to his marriage to Ada but while still aboard the Adriatic as first officer. Vicki also notes that it would tie in with the content of the letter in which he writes “since we left Liverpool ...everybody + everything strange at our new port on this side.” Murdoch is here likely refering to when the White Star Line moved its main departure point from Liverpool to Southampton in June 1907. He would be unlikely to call it a "new port" after two years. However if the letter was written in July 1907, a month after the move, it would make complete sense.
It would also be easy to see a connection between the "Miss Nancy" Murdoch is writing to here, and the "weeping woman" who appeared during the Senate hearings in New York asking after Murdoch, although presently there is nothing other than speculation. In a Sunday April 21, 1912 article in the New York Tribune the reporter writes about the dramatic "appearance of a young woman, said to be a Miss Harding, who sobbingly inquired for Second Officer Lighttoller [sic], from whom she sought some further tidings of the first officer, Murdock [sic], who went down with the ship.” Without further information it is difficult to draw anything but very speculative conclusions, but one does wonder whether she was possibly a Miss Nancy Harding.
Also, thanks to Tiphaine Hirou in France, we are able to compare the way William Murdoch writes the number '9' from his signing of the Medic menu on September 10th, 1900. If you look at the image below you can see a clear difference between the two, despite the fact that his signature has not changed, with the number 9 on the Medic menu having a strong circular look without any embellishes; it looks nothing like the proposed number '9' in his private letter, which I think we can safely say was written seven years later, in 1907.
If anyone has any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.