It now appears that Titanic captain Edward John Smith had a rather shaky start to his ill-fated career — one that ended up with him going down with the ship in 1912. Prior to becoming an officer, Smith failed his first set of exams "because he did not have sufficient navigating skills." Eventually, however, he was given the go-ahead to commandeer a ship when he received his Masters Certificate in February 1888.
This juicy bit of background knowledge was uncovered by the family history website Ancestry.co.uk who recently published a restored document titled, "The Great Britain, Masters and Mates Certificates 1850-1927." The captain, who was born in 1850, worked at a Forge before joining the White Star Line in 1880 when he was assigned as the Fourth Officer of the SS Celtic. He became captain of the Republic in 1887.
Smith was finally given his official certificate from the office of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen a year later — a document that read, "Whereas it has been reported that you have been found duly qualified to fulfil the duties of Master in the Merchant Service, we do hereby, in pursuance of the Merchant Shipping Act 1854, grant you this Certificate of Competency."
Interestingly, and as the Telegraph reports, the whole Extra Master system was an effort to stamp-out drunk and disorderly conduct, which was a serious problem for the Merchant Navy in the early 19th century. Legislation introduced in 1850 stated that seamen were no longer permitted to "sell bad drugs", "work under the influence of alcohol" or "fraudulently alter" their Masters Certificates.
It's worth noting that Captain Smith was considered an incredibly competent officer and sailor. He was nicknamed the "Millionaires' Captain" for his reliability, and because only the wealthy would sail with him.
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