The general feeling aboard the Titanic after the lifeboats had left her sides was that she would not survive her wounds, despite this the people left on the Titanic displayed the utmost heroism.
William Thomas Stead, the famous English journalist, was so little alarmed that he calmly discussed with one of the passengers the probable height of the iceberg after the Titanic had slammed into it.
Confidence in the ability of the Titanic to remain afloat doubtlessly led many of the passengers to death. The theory that the great ship was unsinkable remained with hundreds who had entrusted themselves to the gigantic hulk, long after the officers knew that the vessel could not survive.
The officers and captain behaved with superb gallantry and there was perfect order and discipline among those who were still left aboard, even after all hope had been abandoned for the salvation of the ship.
Many women went down, steerage women who were unable to get to the upper decks where the lifeboats were launched from, maids who were overlooked in the confusion and cabin passengers who refused to desert their husbands or who reached the decks too late, as the ship was settling for her final plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Survivors say that the final hours were not passed in complete darkness. The electric plant held out until the last moments and even as they watched the ship sink, from their floating lifeboats, her lights were gleaming in long rows as she plunged under headfirst. Just before she sunk some said that the ship broke in two following explosions coming from the bulkhead.
Captain Washed Overboard
Murdoch’s last orders were to Quartermaster Moody and a few other petty officers who had taken their places and were lowering the boats. Capatin Smith came up to him on the bridge several times and then rushed down again. They spoke to one another only in monosyllables.
There were stories that Captain Smith when he saw the ship actually going down, had committed suicide. There is no basis for such tales. The Captain, according to the testimonies of those who were near him almost until the last, was admirably cool. He carried a revolver in his hand ready to use it on anyone who disobeyed orders.
“I want every man to act like a man for manhood’s sake and if they don’t, a bullet awaits the coward,” he said.
With the revolver in his hand ( a fact undoubtedly gave rise to the suicide theory) the captain moved up and down the deck. He gave the order for each lifeboat to make off and he remained until every boat was gone. Standing on the bridge he finally called out an order; “Each man save himself.” At that moment all hell broke loose. It was the last call of death. If there had been any hope among those on board before, all was gone now.
The bearded admiral of the White Star Line fleet, with every life-saving device launched from the decks, was returning to the deck to perform the sacred office of going down with the ship when a wave washed him from the ladder.
The Titanic was sinking rapidly by the head, with the twisting sidelong motion. Murdock saw the skipper get swept away but did not move. Captain Smith was one but of many lost at that moment. Murdock would have known that the last desperate thought of the gray mariner was to get to his bridge and die in command. That the old man could not have done this may have had something to do with Murdock’s suicidal thoughts.
The wave that swept the captain off the deck threw him close to a crowded lifeboat. Hands reached out, but he wrenched himself away, turned and swam back to the ship.
Some say he said, “Goodbye, I am going back to the ship.”
He disappeared for a moment, then reappeared where a rail was slipping underwater. Cool and courageous to the end, loyal to his duty under the most difficult circumstances, he showed himself to be a noble captain and with it, he died a noble death.
Both Officers Perish
Quartermaster Moody saw the skipper scramble aboard again onto the submerged decks and then vanish altogether. As Moody’s eyes lost sight of the skipper he just saw in time Murdock take his own life. The man’s face was turned towards him and he could not mistake it.
“I saw Murdock die by his own hand” said Moody, “saw the flash from the gun, heard the crack that followed the flash then saw him plunge over on his face.”
Others reported hearing several pistol shots on the decks below the bridge, above the groans, shrieks and cries.
The Band Plays On
The band had broken out to the strains of “Nearer, My God, To Thee” some minutes before Murdock lifted the revolver to his head. Moody saw all of this as the band played a beautiful hymn.
The strains of the hymn and the frantic cries of the dying blended in a symphony of sorrow.
The great force of the Titanic sinking was unaided by any violence of the elements, and the suction, not so great as feared, rocked but mildly the group of lifeboats now a ¼ of a mile away.
Just before the Titanic disappeared from view men and women leapt from the stern. Over a hundred jumped at the last moment, according to Colonel Gracie. Gracie was one of only a very few officers saved.
As the vessel disappeared, the waves drowned out the majestic hymn which the musician played as they went to their watery grave. The most authentic accounts agree that this hymn was not “Nearer, My God, To Thee”, which it seems had been played shortly before, but “Autumn” , which is found in the Episcopal hymnal and which fits appropriately the situation on the Titanic in the last moments of pain and darkness. One line ” Hold me up in mighty waters”, seems so bitterly ironic.