A tribute to Captain Edward John Smith that marks the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic’s Fateful Voyage.
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“The Olympic is unsinkable, and Titanic will be the same when she is put in commission.” He continued, “Either of these two vessels could be cut in halves and each half would remain afloat almost indefinitely. The non-sinkable vessel has been reached in these two wonderful craft.” “I venture to add,” Concluded the Captain, “that even the engines and boilers of these vessels were to fall through their bottoms, the vessels would remain afloat.” ~Captain Edward John Smith
Captain Smith was viewed as the stereotype of how a brave captain should act, working to the last to save lives before going down with his ship, yet he is also blamed by many for causing one of the worst maritime disasters of all time.
So why does the public continue to be fascinated by the captain of the Titanic, Captain Edward John Smith?
The son of a pottery presser and grocer rose to become ‘the millionaire’s captain’, the number one choice for the aristocrats of the day, many of whom chose to sail with him because of his reputation for safety and affability.
Captain Smith rose through the Edwardian social classes which was seen as an achievement in itself but he went on to captain some of the biggest ships of the day, including Titanic’s sister ship the Olympic.
“Confidence was quickly restored; all being convinced that the Titanic could not founder. Captain Smith nevertheless appeared nervous; he came down on deck chewing a toothpick. ‘Let everyone,’ he said, ‘put on a lifebelt, it is more prudent.’ Soon after midnight, Captain Smith gave the order to prepare the boats, but still no general alarm was raised.” ~Captain Edward John Smith
There were several books written about the Titanic Captain. Among the many myths surrounding the captain, the most famous and ominous is that he ignored ice warnings.
However, ice warnings were just that, simply warnings that ice was seen at X coordinates at a certain time which Smith may have registered rather than reacted to.
Captain Smith was undoubtedly a forceful leader who pushed his ships hard in conditions that may have scared other captains, it was a fact of history that the weather was calm and clear that very fateful night – it was not unusual for any captain to sail ships into ice regions at high speeds and several captains from other shipping companies testified to this.
I believe Captain Smith lived up to the stereotype, perhaps one that he himself helped to create, as to how ships’ captains should behave when disaster strikes, namely that they should stay with their vessel and either be the last man off, or go down with it.
Captain Smith’s actions were not far from the thoughts of many observers when the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground on January 13th off the western coast of Italy with more than 4,200 passengers and crew.
Its Captain, Francesco Schettino, now faces possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship in which 32 people were either killed or are missing.
Captain Smith’s leadership taught us all something. He left a yardstick not only for sea captains to live up to but for all leaders to live up to.
There’s no doubt that Captain Smith made mistakes. However, in the end there is one thing you cannot take away from him. He did not skirt his responsibilities or try to weasel his was out of them. He did what any great leader should do. He went down with his ship. In fact, there was witness testimonial that he dove into the frigid sea as the bridge went under water. Captain Smith paid the ultimate price as a result. How many of our leaders today would be prepared to do the same?
I’m John R. Salkowski, Founder of AchieveSuccessAcademy.com, Entrepreneur, Author, and Speaker on Leadership, Success and Overcoming Adversity. Retired Police Officer, Survivor of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) stemming from a shoot and kill robbery incident.
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