William McMaster Murdoch lived from 28 February 1873 to 15 April 1912. He was serving as First Officer on board the RMS Titanic when it collided with an iceberg, and was among the 1,500 who died when it subsequently sank. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William McMaster Murdoch was born in Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway. He was the fourth son of Captain Samuel Murdoch. William's grandfather and four of his grandfather's brothers were also sea captains it is is perhaps not surprising that he chose to follow in the family tradition. After attending school in Dalbeattie, Murdoch became an apprentice mariner with William Joyce & Co, of Liverpool.
In 1891 he passed his second mate's Certificate on his first attempt. From May 1895 he served as First Mate on the Saint Cuthbert, which two years later sank in a hurricane off Uruguay. During the years from 1900 to 1912, Murdoch worked for White Star Line on a series of its vessels. In 1903, he met Ada Florence Banks, a 29 year old New Zealand school teacher, while crossing the Atlantic. They were married in Southampton on 2 September 1907. In May 1911, Murdoch was appointed First Officer on the RMS Olympic, intended to be the biggest passenger vessel of its day. She was only surpassed by her sister ship, the RMS Titanic, and Murdoch found himself given the post of First Officer for the Titanic's maiden voyage in April 1912.
Murdoch was the officer in charge on the bridge when an iceberg was spotted at 11:39pm on 14 April 1912. Murdoch is generally believed to have responded by ordering "Hard a'starboard" and setting the telegraph used to communicate orders to the engine room to "Full Astern". To no avail, because 37 seconds after the iceberg was sighted, it was struck by the RMS Titanic. When the order was later given to abandon ship, Murdoch was in charge of the starboard evacuation and was last seen attempting to launch one of the collapsible lifeboats. It is not certain what became of him, though by one account he was washed into the sea during the ship's final moments afloat. Some of the many film and TV depictions of the sinking of the Titanic have shown Murdoch committing suicide as the ship sank, though there is no evidence that he did so. There is a memorial in his honour in his home town of Dalbeattie.