For 5 years he apprenticed in Liverpool at William Joyce & Co. He passed his 2nd mates certificate after 4 years. He then served aboard the 'Charles Cosworth' of Liverpool, trading to the West Coast of South America. On May 17, 1885, he became 1st mate on the 'Saint Cuthbert.' She sank in a hurricane off Uruguay in 1897.
In Liverpool in 1896 he earned his extra master's certificate (#025780). In 1900 he joined the White Star Line as 2nd officer aboard the 'Medic.'
In 1901 he met and married an Australian schoolteacher, Ada Florence Banks. They had no children. He served on several White Star ships from 1900 to 1911 including the Olympic, on which he was 1st officer.
Murdoch was originally chief officer on Titanic. However, Captain Smith requested that Henry T. Wilde be transferred from the Olympic. Because of the transfer Murdoch was shuffle down to 1st officer.
On the night of the sinking Murdoch was the officer of the watch. 6th officer Moody and 4th officer Boxhall were the junior officers on at the time. Murdoch relieved Lightoller at 8:00 PM, Lightoller informed him that they were in the vicinity of ice.
Lookout Frederick Fleet spotted 'a dark mass ahead'. He rang the crow's nest bell three times to denote an object dead ahead, and phoned the bridge to report the sighting to 6th officer Moody that there is an iceberg right ahead. Moody thanked him and relayed the message to Murdoch. Murdoch gave the fatal order "hard to starboard, engines full astern."
The ship was moving too fast, and with the engines full astern there was insufficient flow of water against her rudder to turn her. Murdoch ordered hard to port but it was too late. Instead of missing the berg, she grazed it. The berg inflicted a series of small tears in her side. Murdoch then ordered full stop and closed the watertight doors.
Captain Smith appeared on the bridge and demanded to know what had happened. Murdoch reported, "It was an iceberg sir. I turned her hard a' starboard and ran the engines full astern but she was too close. I tried to port round it but she hit. I closed the water tight doors." Captain Smith ordered the ship's carpenter to sound the ship (assess for damage). Murdoch began to prepare the lifeboats for launch.
As Titanic foundered, Murdoch worked feverishly to load the boats. When women and children were not available he filled the boats with men. Murdoch's boats were more full than Wilde's and Lightoller's.
The cause of Murdoch's death had not been determined due to the fact that his body was never recovered. There are some accounts that claim that he committed suicide by shooting himself after he inadvertently shot and killed a steerage passenger. It is widely agreed that an officer did kill himself but the question of which officer is just as widely debated.
No one thought to inform Mrs. Murdoch of her husband's fate. At the U.S. Senate Inquiry she burst in hoping to find news of him. Charles Lightoller, friend of Murdoch, was charged with informing.
In Murdoch's hometown one can find a memorial to their fallen hero.