Titanic captain originally failed navigation test

 

The captain of the Titanic which sank after colliding with an iceberg in 1912 is believed to have originally failed his navigation test, TV historian Tony Robinson said today.

But Edward John Smith, who famously went down with the ship, was eventually given the all clear and he received his Masters Certificate in February 1888.

He is among the well-known seamen to appear in The Great Britain, Masters and Mates Certificates 1850-1927, which were published today on the family history website Ancestry.co.uk.

The question of what shall we do with the drunken sailor? was a sobering question which puzzled 19th Century politicians and led to the stricter regulation of seamen.

The 280,000 documents, released in partnership with the National Maritime Museum, detail the seamen who passed examinations designed to test their experience and general good conduct, and give evidence of their sobriety.

The system aimed to combat drunk and disorderly behaviour, which was rife in the Merchant Navy during the early 19th century.

Launching the newly accessible records in London today, Robinson, of TV's Time Team, said: "It is believed, for instance, that Captain Smith who was eventually the man in charge of the Titanic when it sank failed his exams the first time round because he did not have sufficient navigating skills."

He went on: "In the mid 19th Century there was an incredible problem in Britain's Merchant Navy which was essentially that all the sailors were getting hammered all of the time.

"It's quite understandable. They were away from their homes for years on end, away from any port for months on end with nothing to do on the ship.

"In addition to that, water went off very quickly. It went brackish and alcohol is obviously quite a robust preservative so they were drinking far more rum than you or I would think to be appropriate."

Robinson added that as sailors began to earn a more generous wage, increasing amounts of money were spent on alcohol.

"In the early 1800s, doctors were becoming much more interested in health generally and they realised that this was a real social problem. There's one doctor that I've read was working on a ship and described one sailor as being so drunk that he had 'lost the ability to look after his personal attention', and somebody else had been drunk non-stop for 10 days.

"So the Victorians documented and recorded all of this and set tests which would ensure that there senior staff were sober and could exhibit good conduct."

Upon passing, men were awarded a Masters Certificate as proof that they were fit for service. Certificates specified the recipient's name, address, certificate number, birth date, birth place, port of issue, examination date and the previous ships on which they sailed.

It was the Mercantile Maritime Act of 1850 that led to the introduction of Masters Certificates by the British Board of Trade and all ranks, from mates to captains, were required to sit these examinations.

After the new law was introduced in 1850, disorderly sailors were quickly forced to clean up their act. Crucially, legislation stated that seamen were no longer permitted to "sell bad drugs", "work under the influence of alcohol" or "fraudulently alter" their Masters Certificates.

Other famous examples of captains who managed to successfully pass their examinations include:

:: Captain George Moodie - Master of the renowned British tea clipper the Cutty Sark, he was awarded his certificate in Fife in 1861 before captaining numerous voyages to India.

:: Sir Edgar Britten - despite running away to sea aged 15, he qualified as a Master in December 1900 and went on to captain the RMS Queen Mary, a large ocean liner that was later used as a troopship carrying Australian soldiers to the UK.

"All of this stuff is hand-written and the ink has faded, often there's very bad handwriting and mistakes are made or rats ate the documents," said Robinson.

"So it's a complex activity, cleaning this up and putting it online but the more people that become interested in family history the more cost effective it becomes."

Ancestry.co.uk international content director Miriam Silverman said: "These records provide fascinating insight into Merchant Navy life at the turn of the 19th Century and signal the end of the stereotypical 'drunken' and disorderly sailor.

They also went a long way to helping the Merchant Navy become respected the world over.

"They are also a rich source of information for anybody looking to find out more about a seafaring relative, or trace the career of a famous captain."

John Sloan has used the newly released documents to learn more about the life of his ancestor, the Merchant Navy's Captain Christen Klitgaard.

"I had a lot of information about him anyway through Ancestry.co.uk, but one of the things I was missing was his Masters Certificate which was a very important document to prove that he was actually a qualified captain."

Captain Klitgaard first went to sea in the 1800s as a cabin boy at the age of 15. From there he progressed through the ranks to the post of Captain, eventually becoming a ship owner.

"He actually ended up spending 50 years at sea and covering one million miles, which was always his ambition," said Mr Sloan.

"During that time he got married and had 10 children, all of whom sailed with him.

"He actually trained at Queen Alexander hospital to become a midwife so that he could be on hand (to help deliver his children)."

PA

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

    £850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn