Donald Winston Smith
Date of birth: 17 September 1940
Place of birth: Bedford House, Bromley Street Cobridge, Stoke On Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 5JW
Employment: Property owner, company director
Date of death: 6 November 2017 (aged 77)
Note: I recommend watching the film in "Full Screen Mode." To activate "Full Screen Mode," you need to click on the video title which will take you to YouTube and then click on the lower right hand box.
Don Winston Smith was well known during the 1990s as 'the Great Nephew of Captain E J Smith, Master of the Titanic' and also for his 'collection of artifacts owned by Captain Smith'.
A 1993 documentary produced and presented by Ray Johnson was released entitled "The Story of Captain Smith and the Titanic" in which Don Smith appears prominently. The video actually has very little about Captain Smith himself, with most of its running time retelling the story via an interview with passenger Eva Hart and audio recreations of other accounts and period music.
About five minutes into the video we are introduced to Don Smith as the Captain's "great nephew." Don refers to the level of interest and that he receives letters from "all over the world, want to know about him, have I got a photograph of him?"
Don Smith then talks about the statue: "Whenever I go to Lichfield, even if it's for five minutes, it's just off the main road, Beacon Park, I just go and have a quick look, I should think I have looked at the statue thousands of times. Just a feeling of nostalgia. Look at that and think he's a man I would have liked to have met."
Don then goes on to show several items: "This telescope has always been on show in my house… The telescope has been in the family ever since I can remember. My father used to tell me about it. It is inscribed "Captain E.J. Smith" and on the end of it, it says the "Olympic." It is as it was - I put the leather on it because the piece had worn away over the years. It was in my father's collection - his father gave it to him and it was the personal property of Edward John Smith, my great uncle."
He also shows a cigar holder, and a pair of epaulettes (shoulder pieces, showing the rank), two pocket watches and sextant, which came from a 'coal house belonging to one of my uncles. "I had the boxed cleaned up and as it was being cleaned the initials came up "EJS" Edward John Smith. The sextant is complete, there is nothing missing from it, except that it is slightly damaged. The date inside is 1909."
The Staffordshire Film Archive is still selling this DVD for £12.99 which includes in the description - "Don Smith shows us some of Captain Smith’s possessions, handed down through the family." (Link: https://www.filmarchive.org.uk/products/captain-smith-and-the-titanic)
During the 1990s Don Smith was signing various pictures, most likely at conventions. For example there is an autograph of the 1991 British Titanic Society Convention.
One item includes a signed "cover from the 1994 Titanic artifacts exhibition. It is by artist Michael Farrier and is a "Wessex" cover. It is number 16 of 500 produced. It is personally signed by Don Smith who is the Great Nephew of Captain E J Smith, Master of the Titanic, he is well known for his collection of artifacts owned by Captain Smith. It is number 1 of 50 personally signed. It is in perfect condition. Can be shipped anywhere, please ask for quote." (Worthpoint.com)
The earliest of these autographs comes from 1991, and several seem to include a stamp he used which reads: "Personally autographed by Donald Smith, Great Nephew to Captain E.J. Smith, Master of the Titanic."
He also apparantly wrote a number of articles that appeared in the Atlantic Bulletin, the Journal of The British Titanic Society.
The LA Times of August 13, 1994 reported that "relatives of the Titanic’s victims and others argue that the relics recovered by U.S. and French salvagers in 1987 and 1993 should have been left with the wreck and that it is ghoulish to hold an exhibition of them. Don Smith, great-nephew of the Titanic’s captain, Edward J. Smith, who went down with the ship, said the exhibition of 150 items is “nothing short of grave robbery. The dead should be allowed to rest in peace.”
Already by the turn of the new century, suspicions were being raised regarding the authenticity of Don Smith's claim. Well-known Liverpool based Titanic historian and Secretary of the British Titanic Society, Geoff Whitfield, responded to an enquiry on the Encyclopedia Titanica message board in which he was reminded that he met Don Smith at the 1995 Titanic artifact exhibit at Greenwich. Geoff Whitfield responded:
Don Smith who for years claimed to be the great nephew of Capt. Smith. As there were no brothers or sisters, other than half-brothers etc. this cannot be correct. There is a link but quite a tenuous one.
However, as late as 2002, Don Smith was still in the news about Titanic - this time on the BBC:
Titanic collection on display
A private collector also released the navigational equipment and a cigar holder used by the captain of the ill-fated White Star liner. Captain Edward John Smith's precious personal effects - including a sextant and a telescope - are now owned by Don Smith, whose grandfather was a cousin of the legendary mariner.
Mr Smith, 63, a property developer from Stoke-on-Trent, had the items handed down to him as a teenager by his own grandfather who himself received them from the late Captain Smith's wife in 1912 shortly after the tragedy.
Mr Smith, now the closest living relative of his late famous forebear, plans to visit Dundee later this week. It will coincide with the arrival of 91-year-old Millvina Dean, one of the three remaining survivors of the tragedy and the exhibition's guest of honour. Mr Smith said: "These items were a close part of the man, his job and his life.
"I am happy to be able to share such personal things with visitors to the Dundee expo.
"And I trust their presence there - along with so many other amazing pieces of history - will continue to fuel the enormous and enduring interest in the ship and her tragic tale."
According to Companies House, Donald Winston Smith became the company director of "W SMITH (STOKE ON TRENT) LIMITED", appointed on the 27th of February 2002 at the same time as the company was incorporated. The nature of the business was listed as "Freight transport by road." It seems the company was involved in refrigerated transport. His date of birth was listed as September 1940 and his address at the time Bedford House, Bromley Street Cobridge, Stoke On Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 5JW. A photograph of a lorry with the company name on it was taken in 2012, which also included the phrase "Established in 1922" indicating it was allegedly not a new company.
However it only lasted 4 years, with the last accounts recorded 28 February 2006 and the company ultimately went into liquidation in 2010, dissolving 22nd of November 2016. (Link: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/04382878)
Shortly after the 2002 BBC article Don Smith seems to disappear from any further reports about Captain Smith. There is a post dated May 14, 2002 on the Encyclopedia Titanica website: "'Don Smith' claimed to be a relative of the late 'Captain Smith 'He wrote a number of articles that appeared in the Atlantic Bulletin, Journal of The British Titanic Society. He also appeared on local television. I think the BTS exposed him as a fraud as he would not substantiate his claims to be related to Captain Smith."
By 2004 there was a post by "Guest (R17)" aka "Miles" on the Encyclopedia Titanica message board asking:
There was a guy who claimed to be Captain Smiths Nephew or something some years back - he appeared on TV , video's and at conventions. He also signed things. Then I remember something about him not being a possible fraud ? Did he come fourth and prove himself in the end ? Never heard the end of all of that.
Member Iain Stuart Yardley replied:
Don't know if it's true but I heard Don Smith stormed out of a convention presentation a few years ago after an expert told those gathered that Captain Smith was downright foolish to plough ahead in an area that was littered with so much ice.
I also heard that there was some doubt expressed as to the legitimacy of Don Smith's claim, something to do with the family history and lineage etc. When Don Smith was confronted with this I heard he said he didn't have to prove anything to anybody.
All this is heresay to me and I only mention it so that someone may be able to confirm or deny it.
The closest to an 'official' explanation came from a "Donald J A Smith" apparently not a relation, who wrote the following, on the 12th of May, 2004:
Miles, your question is an interesting one that raises important and sensitive issues. Because Mr Smith and a mutual friend - whose name all of us on ET know - would never reply, I will attempt to do so. Yet, it is only with great reluctance, and the intention of respecting every confidence we exchanged and every promise I made. That being so, what can be left for me to say? Merely this: Mr Smith never made - nor would it be in character for him to ever make - any 'claim for himself'. Rather - with both innocence and intelligence - he continued to believed what had been told him, with assurances and material proofs, from earliest childhood. An altogether fine person; upright, unassuming and without 'side'. I personally regret - though I fully understand and respect it - that Mr Smith remains intent upon never again - even privately - discussing his being or his not being the 'great-nephew of Captain Smith of the Titanic'. Not even if he is.
In the 2008 Stoke-on-Trent City Council election a Donald Winston Smith was listed for Burslem North representing the Conservative Party. The election took place took place on 1st of May 2008. Donald received a total of 493 votes, or 20.8 percent. He did not win. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Stoke-on-Trent_City_Council_election)
On the 6th of November 2017 Donald Winston Smith died at the age of 77 at the Amberley House Care Home, 358 Ubberley Road, Bentilee, Stoke-on-Trent ST2 0QS. The listing reads as follows:
SMITH Donald Winston (Don) Former Owner of W Smith Transport Cobridge Peacefully on November 6th 2017 at Amberley House Care Home, Don aged 77 years of Cobridge. The dearly beloved son of the late William (Bill) and Dorothy. Loved brother of the late Russell, much loved by Robert and Alex and a very dear friend to many. Funeral cortege from Birch House for service and cremation at Carmountside Crematorium on Tuesday November 28th at 12 noon. Will relatives and friends kindly meet at Carmountside. Family flowers only. Donations preferred for the Alzheimer's Society. Donations and enquiries to: WILLIAMSON BROTHERS Family Funeral Directors, Birch House, Birches Head Road, Hanley Telephone 01782 212880.
Donald Smith's family tree is available to view on Ancestry.com. In it we see that Donald Smith was born on the 17th of September 1940, at Bedford House, Bromley Street Cobridge, Stoke On Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 5JW. His father was William Smith (1916-1975). His grandfather was John S Smith (born 1883). In 1911, John Smith was a "Potters Placer" living in Middleton, Staffordshire, according to the 1911 census form.
If we compare his paternal lineage with that of Captain Smith we discover that William Smith and John S Smith do not appear at all. In fact, we already know it would be impossible as Captain Smith only had a half-brother whose family name was Hancock from his mother's previous marriage. Even when exploring further afield, there does not seem to be a connection between any of Captain Smith's parental lineage and that of Don Smith.
Geoff Whitfield has said that "there is a link but quite a tenuous one." Don Smith indeed was born in the same area as Captain Smith's family. The name Smith is a common one. However there is of course likely a connection somewhere down the line, but not at all close enough to call himself a 'close relative' and certainly not a 'great nephew'.
It is perhaps not surprising to discover that Donald Smith is not a close relative of Captain Smith. Unlike many relatives of Titanic's officers, he notably never openly offered any photographs or family details about his ancestor, only the few 'artifacts' which have never been professionally authenticated.
As we have ascertained that Donald Smith cannot have been Captain Smith's great nephew, it begs the question: Did Don Smith knowingly perpetrate the myth that he was a family member? Did he fake the inscriptions on the family arttifacts and earn money signing documents?
I don't think so. He stated in the interview: "It was in my father's collection - his father gave it to him and it was the personal property of Edward John Smith, my great uncle." The implication here is that it was a family story, one that he had accepted without question. According to his genealogy, his father died in 1975 - almost 20 years before he began appearing in the media as a "great nephew". It was likely a family story that had never been fully investigated.
It is also notable that as far as I know, the items Donald Smith used to present as family heirlooms have never appeared in any museums or exhibitions, revealing the fact that their authencity is also up for debate.
Which means we are left with the only statement on the matter by a "Donald J A Smith" on Encyclopedia Titanica, which seems to be the final word on the matter:
Mr Smith never made - nor would it be in character for him to ever make - any 'claim for himself'. Rather - with both innocence and intelligence - he continued to believed what had been told him, with assurances and material proofs, from earliest childhood. An altogether fine person; upright, unassuming and without 'side'. I personally regret - though I fully understand and respect it - that Mr Smith remains intent upon never again - even privately - discussing his being or his not being the 'great-nephew of Captain Smith of the Titanic'. Not even if he is.
NOTE: If you have any further information on Don Smith or anything mentioned in this article please contact me.