At about 11.40pm (ship’s time) on the 14th of April 1912 the White Star liner Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. On the other side of the world, in Auckland, New Zealand it was then already about 10 past 2 in the afternoon of the 15th April.
Berthed in that New Zealand port on that afternoon was the Huddart Parker steamer Wimmera, having arrived early that Monday morning from Gisborne. It was a clear to partly cloudy day in the city with fresh to gale force southerly winds and with a forecast maximum temperature of 63° Fahrenheit (17.2° Celsius). She departed for Sydney after 11.00pm that night.
The news of the Titanic‘s collision with the iceberg broke in the newspapers in New Zealand the next day, Tuesday 16th of April, yet it wasn’t until the following day, the 17th of April that the press reported that she had actually sunk with a heavy loss of life. The Wimmera, in the meantime was still steaming across the Tasman Sea towards Sydney and her wireless operator may have picked up the news on the vessel’s wireless equipment installed just six months previously.
Aboard the Titanic on her maiden voyage was 37-year-old William John Murdoch, born in Clifton in Cumberland (Cumbria), England of Irish-born parents, Nathaniel and Annie Murdock (Murdoch).
William Murdoch was a member of the Titanic‘s crew – a fireman, who laboured below decks helping to keep the liner’s furnaces supplied with coal. He was a married man and together with his wife, Catherine, and their three children, Joseph Robson Murdoch, Anne Martin Murdoch and William John Murdoch, called the district of Pottinger in East Belfast, home.
Murdoch had initially signed onto the Titanic on 29 March 1912 to crew her from Belfast to Southampton. However, after her delivery to the English port he signed on again, on 6 April 1912, for her maiden voyage across the Atlantic.
William Murdoch was not the only Murdoch among members of the Titanic‘s crew. More well known was William McMaster Murdoch, the ship’s 1st Officer who was on watch on the evening of the disaster and who died in the sinking. Coincidently, and somewhat confusingly, the maiden surname of William John Murdoch’s mother was McMaster!
William John Murdoch was one of 325 members of the Engineering crew, 253 of whom would perish. He survived.
Following the loss of the ship, Murdoch was rescued along with other survivors by the SS Carpathia and taken to New York where he disembarked on 18 April 1912.
He returned to sea and by September the following year was in Australia. It appears he also signed up to crew another ship on its maiden voyage, in this case the McIlwraith and McEacharn liner, Katoomba, which, like the Titanic, had been built in the shipyards of Harland and Wolff in Belfast. In July the vessel departed from Glasgow for Sydney via Plymouth, Durban, Fremantle and Melbourne. She arrived in Sydney at the end of her maiden voyage on 15 September 1913 with William Murdoch aboard as a fireman.
He stayed working in Australian waters and between September 1913 and May 1918 he is regularly recorded as a fireman and crew member of the Katoomba when she arrives in Sydney. He also served on at least one other ship, the Wollowra, which also entered Sydney in those years. Following his arrival in Sydney aboard the Katoomba on 6 May 1918, for some reason he then signs up, on 17 May, as a trimmer aboard the SS Wimmera. On the ship’s article’s he states his address as 6 Templemore Street, Belfast.
Aboard the Wimmera he undertakes its next voyage from Sydney to New Zealand and returns to Sydney on 13 June 1918. He remains onboard for her next voyage across the Tasman arriving in Auckland on Saturday 22 June 1918.
The Wimmera departs on her return voyage the following Tuesday morning and by daybreak the next morning is at the bottom of the sea.
William Murdoch survives the sinking of the Wimmera and comes ashore on one of the ship’s lifeboats which lands near Mangonui.
With other members of the Wimmera‘s crew and passengers he is returned to Sydney aboard the Union Steam Ship Co.’s vessel Manuka. Not undaunted, he quickly returns to sea again and signs up as a fireman on the Manuka. Over the next several years he continues to be employed at sea.
On 7 June 1923, the SS Berrima departed London for Australia. Aboard as passengers were William John Murdoch’s wife, Catherine (44 years), and his daughter Annie (19 years) and son William John (18 years). Their address is stated as 6 Templemore Street, Belfast but it is an address to which they will not return as they intend to settle in Australia.
William John Murdoch and his family resided in Sydney and lived at a number of different properties during the following decades. His son also takes up the profession of seaman.
On the 1st of July 1941, William J. Murdoch, passed away from cardiac failure at the Western Suburbs Hospital, Croydon at the age of 66 years.
On the following day he was buried at the Independent Cemetery, Rookwood.
The text of the headstone, although deteriorating with the loss of the tin letters, read as follows:
“IN LOVING MEMORY OF
MY DEAR HUSBAND AND FATHER
WILLIAM JOHN MURDOCH
PASSED AWAY 1ST JULY 1941
AGED 67 YEARS
ALSO OUR DEAR MOTHER CATHERINE
PASSED AWAY 22ND MARCH 1965
AGED 86 YEARS
© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021