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Robert Hichens

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Newlyn, Cornwall, UK
Death: September 23, 1940 (58)
Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland (United Kingdom)
Place of Burial: Trinity Cemetery, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City, Scotland
Immediate Family:

Son of Philip Hichens and Rebecca Hichens
Husband of Florence Hichens
Father of Edna Florence Hichens; Frances Hichens; Phylis May Hichens; Robert Hichens; Ivy Doreen Hichens and 1 other
Brother of Philip James Hichens; William C Hichens; Richard Hichens; Juliet Hichens; Frederick Hichens and 3 others

Occupation: 1906 Master Mariner,1912 Quartermaster Titanic
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Robert Hichens

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/robert-hichens.html

  • Name: Mr. Robert Hichens
  • Titanic Survivor
  • Born: Saturday 16th September 1882 in Newlyn, Cornwall, England
  • Age: 29 years 6 months and 29 days (Male)
  • Nationality: English
  • Marital Status: Married to Florence Mortimore
  • Last Residence: 43 James Street, Southampton, Hampshire, England
  • Occupation: Quartermaster
  • Last Ship: "Dongold"
  • Deck Crew
  • First Embarked: Southampton
  • Rescued: (Boat 6/helmsman))
  • Disembarked Carpathia: New York City on Wednesday 18th April 1912
  • Died: Monday 23rd September 1940 aged 58 years
  • Buried: Trinity Cemetery, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
  • Reference: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-lifeboat-6/ Life Boat No. 6
  • Reference: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-deckplans/ R.M.S. Titanic deck plans

Robert Hichens -Titanic survivor crew-member

Robert Hichens was a British sailor who was part of the deck crew on board the RMS Titanic when it sank on its maiden voyage on 15 April 1912. He was one of six quartermasters on board the vessel and was at the ship's wheel when the Titanic struck the fatal iceberg.

Quartermaster Hichens gained notoriety after the disaster because of his conduct in Lifeboat No. 6, of which he was in charge. Passengers accused him of refusing to go back to rescue people from the water after the ship sank, that he called the people in the water "stiffs", and that he constantly criticized those at the oars while he was controlling the rudder. Hichens was later to testify at the US Inquiry that he had never used the words "stiffs" and that he had other words to describe bodies. He would also testify to have been given direct orders by Lightoller and the Captain to row to where a light could be seen (a steamer they thought) on the port bow, drop off the passengers and return. Later it was alleged he complained that the lifeboat was going to drift for days before any rescue came. When the RMS Carpathia came to rescue Titanic's survivors he said that the ship was not there to rescue them, but to pick up the bodies of the dead. By this time the other people in the lifeboat had had enough of Hichens, especially Denver millionaire Margaret "Molly" Brown. Although Hichens protested, Molly Brown told others to start rowing to keep warm. After a last attempt by Hichens to keep control of the lifeboat, Molly Brown threatened to throw him overboard. These events would later end up being depicted in the Broadway musical and film, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. During the American inquiry into the disaster, Hichens denied the accounts by the passengers and crew in lifeboat 6. He had been initially concerned about the suction from the Titanic (he knew it was going to founder) and later by the fact that being a mile away from the wreck, with no compass and in complete darkness, they had no way of returning to the stricken vessel.

On 23 September 1940 Hichens died of heart failure aboard the English Trader which was moored off the coast of Aberdeen, Hong Kong.

....................

See The Man Who Sank Titanic review of the book written by his Great Grand daighter Sally Nillson.

http://www.allatsea.co.za/zatitanic.htm

"Robert Hichens (possibly also spelt as Hitchens) was born in Newlyn, Cownwall, on the 16th September 1882, son of Philip Hichens and Rebecca Wood. On the 23rd October 1906, he married Florence Mortimore in Manaton, Devon. He worked aboard mail boats and liners of the Union Castle line. Prior to sailing on the Titanic, he was living in Southampton with his wife and two children. [in 1911 he was in Newlyn, Cornwall CJB) He was one of six Quartermasters on the ship. Robert was at the wheel when the warning came from the lookout that an iceberg had been spotted ahead. He swung the wheel as far as possible. Later that night he was relieved by another Quartermaster and he was put in charge of Lifeboat 6. He testified at the US inquiry into the accident. Afterwards, he returned to England and testified in the English inquiry.

It is claimed that he became a harbour master in Cape Town, according to one Henry Blum in a letter to a Thomas Garvey. Henry was an acquaintance of Robert, and was a Quartermaster on a British ship that docked in Cape Town in 1914. According to him, the harbour master who met the ship was Robert Hichens. Henry claimed that he and Robert had a talk in which he was told that Robert had been set up in South Africa in return for his secrecy regarding the Titanic. So far, no research has found this part of the story to be true. His family members stated that he did spend some time in Durban and Johannesburg.

Robert's brother, William, lived in Johannesburg in 1915. William returned to England in 1918 and married Penelope Rouffignac Cotton in Newlyn. They had 2 children, Penelope and William, in South Africa. Penelope died in Johannesburg in 1959.

Robert served in the Royal Naval Reserve in the First World War In 1919 he was working as a Third Officer on a small vessel out of Hull. In the late 1920s, he was living in Torquay, Devon, where he did boat chartering. In 1931, the family moved to Southampton. Robert had a run-in with the law and was released from prison in 1937. He died on the 23rd September 1940 aboard a cargo ship. His wife lived in Southampton until her death in the early 1960s. The couple had six children - Edna Florence, Frances, Phyllis May, Robert, Ivy Doreen and Fred".

............

Titanica entry and at Ancestry.co.uk - Broomfield Family Tree

(Public Record Office: BT350/CR10 Reproduced with Permission) Robert Hichens [1] was born in St Peter's Square, Newlyn, Cornwall on 16 September 1882. He was the son of a fisherman, Philip Hichens and Rebecca Hichens (née Wood) who was originally of Whitby, North Yorkshire [2].

Robert was the eldest of the family, his younger siblings were, Angelina, William (Willie), Richard (Dick), Julliette, Frederick (Feddoe), Sidney (Sid), James (Jim) and Elizabeth (Lizzie).

By 1906 he was shown on his marriage certificate to be a "master mariner". He had married Florence Mortimore at the parish church of Manaton, Devon on 23 October in that year.

Hichens had served as Quartermaster on many vessels but never in the North Atlantic. He had worked aboard mail boats and liners of the Union Castle and British India lines. Immediately prior to Titanic he worked on the troop ship Dongola sailing back and forth to Bombay, India 3. At the US Enquiry into the sinking of Titanic Hichens stated that he had served on ships 'up about Norway and Sweden and Petersburg, and up the Danube.' On Titanic he was one of the 6 Quartermasters and signed-on on 6 April 1912. At that time he gave his home address as 43 St James Street (St. Marys, Southampton), he lived there with his wife and 2 children [4].

On the night of 14 April 1912 Robert Hichens was at the ship's wheel (having relieved Q.M. Oliver at 10 p.m.) when the warning came from the lookout that an iceberg had been spotted ahead of the ship. When the order came to hard a'starboard he immediately swung the wheel as far as it would go.

At about 12.23 he was relieved by QM Perkis at around which time one of the officers shouted 'That will do with the wheel, get the boats out.' Later, Second Officer Lightoller told Lookout Fred Fleet to get into Lifeboat 6 on the port side and put Robert Hichens in charge of that boat. The lifeboat (capacity 65) left the ship at about 12.55 with only 28 persons on board with the order that they were to make for the lights that could be seen in the distance.

Robert's conduct on the lifeboat would later come under intense scrutiny. After being rescued and landing in New York, Senator William Smith had subpoenaed 29 crew members for the US Inquiry and the remaining crew were to return to England on April 20 aboard the steamer Lapland. Robert hadn't received any notification, and so he was aboard Lapland when it left New York at 10 a.m. Shortly after departing the ship received a wireless to stop and await a boarding party. When the boarding party arrived 5 more crew were taken ashore, among them was Robert.

He gave his testimony on 24 April.

'I was put in charge of lifeboat 6 by the Second Officer, Mr Lightoller. We lowered away from the ship. I told them in the boat that somebody would have to pull. There was no use stopping alongside the ship, which was gradually going by the head. We were in a dangerous place, so I told them to man the oars - ladies and all. 'All of you do your best.' I relieved one of the young ladies with an oar and told her to take the tiller. She immediately let the boat come athwart, and the ladies in the boat got very nervous; so I took the tiller back again and told them to manage the best way they could. The lady I refer to, Mrs Mayer, was rather vexed with me in the boat and I spoke rather straight to her. She accused me of wrapping myself up in the blankets in the boat, using bad language and drinking all the whisky, which I deny, sir. I was standing to attention, exposed,steering the boat all night, which is a very cold billet. I would rather be pulling the boat than be steering, but I saw no one there to steer, so I thought, being in charge of the boat, it was the best way to steer myself, especially when I saw the ladies get very nervous. I do not remember that the women urged me to go toward the 'Titanic'. I did not row toward the scene of the 'Titanic' because the suction of the ship would draw the boat, with all its occupants, under water. I did not know which way to go back to the 'Titanic'. I was looking at all the other boats. We were looking at each other's lights. After the lights disappeared and went out, we did hear cries of distress - a lot of crying, moaning and screaming, for two or three minutes. We made fast to another boat - that of the master-at-arms. It was No 16. I had thirty-eight women in my boat. I counted them, sir. One seaman, Fleet; the Canadian Major, who testified here yesterday and the Italian boy. We got down to the 'Carpathia' and I saw every lady and everybody out of the boat, and I saw them carefully hoisted on board the 'Carpathia', and I was the last man to leave the boat.'

After the close of the inquiry Robert returned to England aboard the Celtic, arriving in Liverpool on 4 May 1912. On 7 May 1912 he testified at the British Enquiry where he had 492 questions put to him.

It has been claimed that Hichens went to South Africa a year or two after the Titanic sinking and became Harbourmaster at Cape Town, although research has shown that he never in fact held any such senior position [5]. Whether or not Robert Hichens was ever in South Africa is unclear, but it is known that his brother William lived around this time in Johannesburg6 . In 1917 a fellow Titanic survivor (possibly Edith Haisman) claimed to have run into Robert there. During the First War Robert served in the Royal Naval Reserve and in a Labour Corps. It was later stated that his Service character was very good. It is known that by 1919 Robert Hichens was working as a third officer on a small vessel named the Magpie out of Hull. His crew records at that time show that he held no Board of Trade certificates whatever.

Towards the end of the 1920's Robert and his family moved to live in Torquay, Devon. (A harbour town in the south west of England where his wife's sister, Beatrice was living.) It is believed that Robert's wife, Florence, ran a guest house business in the fashionable Warberry area of the town. Flo's younger sister had married a man from Torquay, and it seems the two were very close.

In Torquay Robert was engaged in boat charter and for this business in 1930 he purchased a motor vessel, Queen Mary from a Torquay acquaintance, Frederick George Henry Henley (known as Harry). Harry had put his boat up for sale due to arguments with other Torquay boatmen which had ultimately led to the subsequent loss of his license. Harry then followed the occupation of fish dealer.

Robert purchased the boat for £160 of which he paid the initial sum of £100 with the remainder to be paid within 2 years. Robert then arranged a £100 loan from a Mr J E Squires of Torquay. He was able to repay £50 but due to a poor season in 1931 he was unable to repay the balance to Squires who then took the boat from Robert to settle his debt.

It appears that by the end of 1931 his wife and children had left Robert and moved to Southampton. For the next 12 months Robert toured the country looking for work, a search which proved unsuccessful. It is believed that Robert became a heavy drinker, brought on no doubt by various factors in his life. Perhaps his experiences on Titanic, bleak job prospects, having no money to speak of and the fact that his wife had left him.

So much so that toward the end of 1933 he was determined to kill Harry Henley who had sold him the boat in Torquay and in Robert's eyes was the main cause of his current predicament. Somewhere on his travels he had managed to acquire a revolver for £5 and came to Torquay to carry out the deed.

He arrived in Torquay on 12 November 1933, having paused briefly at Newton Abbot on the way. Shortly after arriving in Torquay Robert met up with Thomas Robert John Holden, a fisherman whom he had known previously in Torquay. He was later quoted as saying to Holden 'I have come down to do Henley and myself.'

By 6pm in the evening Robert was drinking with another acquaintance, a docker, Charles Henry Stroud, who had known Robert for about 4 years. Robert showed Stroud the revolver who said 'Put it away. Don't be a fool. He isn't worth swinging for.' Robert replied 'I'll take your tip, I shan't give the hangman a job.' Later in the evening Robert produced the gun again saying 'This is harder than a boxing glove.'

By 10.00pm Robert was heavily intoxicated on rum having been to at least 3 public houses during the course of the evening. After closing time he took a taxi, driven by Harry Scrivings to Harry Henley's house at 6 Happaway Court, Stentiford's Hill, Torquay.

What happened next is taken from the Torquay Times newspaper of 1 December 1933.

Henley opened the door and came outside. Hichens was standing with both hands in his pockets, and in his right hand pocket was the revolver. He asked Henley for money, saying 'I am on the ground I want you to pick me up.' Henley naturally said 'Why do you expect me to pick you up when you owe me £60 already?' Hichens said 'I am sorry, it is all through the drink that I am like this.' Henley said 'Then I have to suffer for that as well as you. I wont lend you a penny because you have been a rogue and a scamp to me.' Hichens later said 'Is this your last word?' he then pulled his hand suddenly from his trousers pocket and with the words 'Take that' raised his hand to the level of his head. It was an ill-lighted place and Henley thought that Hichens was hitting him with his fist and put up his arm with the idea of warding off a blow. Then came 2 explosions. Hichens had fired the revolver and very nearly succeeded in his object because the shot went through the head and came out 3 and a half inches behind, but he did not strike a bone, and although Henley lost a lot of blood he was not really seriously injured. Henley pushed Hichens away and in an instant fired another shot which went downward and wide. Henley then punched Hichens in the face and Hichens fell. After Hichens fell Henley ran to the Police to fetch help. After falling Hichens got up again but after 30 yards fell again and lay down on the footpath. While lying on the footpath Hichens put his hand towards his head and fired but the only injuries found on him when the Police came were injuries to the nose caused no doubt, by the blow Henley struck.

Robert was then taken to the Police station in a semi-conscious state and said, amongst other things 'Is he dead? I hope he is' and 'He is a dirty rat, I would do it again if I had a chance, I intended to kill him and myself, too. He has taken my living away.'

Robert had 2 letters on his person when arrested. One dated 11 November 1933 written at Newton Abbot was addressed to the Editor of the Sunday Chronicle, the second, dated 12 November 1933 said My dear little brother - Just a last note to you. You may come to identify my body as your brother. My home is gone - no dole - no pension - can't get an officer's berth - result death by my own hand.

The following morning at the Torquay Court he was remanded in custody for a week. On the 29 November 1933 he appeared at the Winchester Assizes. His wrists were bandaged as during remand he had attempted to cut his wrists.

Released from prison in 1937, Robert Hichens died on 23 September 1940 aboard the cargo ship English Trader. Florence continued to live in Southampton until her death from a brain tumour in the early 1960's.

Notes


1. On Robert's birth certificate the spelling is "Hichens", but Rebecca, his mother, signs with a cross, so this is probably just the way the Registrar thought it might be spelled. (Rebecca had never been taught to read or write - a too common situation in the Westcountry prior to the Education Act of 1870). On the marriage certificate it is spelled "Hitchens", and this is the way many officials and also his wife's relatives spelled it.

2. Rebecca Wood was born in the 1860s (Source: Birth Certificate) and died in Newlyn,Cornwall in 1929 (Source Death Certificate)

3. The Dongola was built in Glasgow in 1905 and broken up at Barrow in 1926.

4. Robert and Florence were to have 3 further children after 1912, Doreen (born in Southampton in 1914), Robert (known as Bob, born in Southampton in August 1918) who was to subsequently lose a leg in an accident in Torquay. The names of the other children were Florence, Freddie and Edna.

5. The source for the story is purportedly one Henry Blum [in a letter to a Thomas Garvey], who was an acquaintance of Hichens. Blum was a quartermaster on a British vessel that docked in Cape Town in 1914. According to Blum, the "harbour master" who came out to meet the boat was Hichens, although harbourmasters do not routinely meet ships but are in charge of overall port traffic and tariffs. Blum claimed he and Hichens had a talk in which he was alleged told that Hichens had been set up in South Africa in return for his secrecy regarding Titanic.

6. From a surviving letter it is known that William Hichens was in South Africa on November 8th 1915. William Hichens returned to England in 1918 to marry Penelope Rouffignac Cotton. Penelope was born in 1893, and christened 14th Jan 1893, in Paul parish, Cornwall. Penelope and William where married in Paul parish Newlyn. Together they had two children, Penelope Hichens and William Hichens. Shortly after marriage they returned to South Africa to live. Penelope died in Johannesburg in 1959.

BOAT No. 6.* No male passengers.

Passengers: Miss Bowerman, Mrs. J. J. Brown, Mrs. Candee, Mrs. Cavendish and her maid (Miss Barber), Mrs. Meyer, Miss Norton, Mrs. Rothschild, Mrs. L. P. Smith, Mrs. Stone and her maid (Miss Icard).

Ordered in to supply lack of crew: Major A. G. Peuchen.

Said good-bye to wives and sank with ship: Messrs. Cavendish, Meyer, Rothschild and L. P. Smith.

Crew: Hitchens, Q. M. (in charge). Seaman Fleet. (One fireman transferred from No. i6 to row.) Also a boy with injured arm whom Captain Smith had ordered in.

Total: 28. (Br. Inq.)

INCIDENTS

Lightoller's testimony (Am. Inq., p. 79) : I was calling for seamen and one of the seamen jumped out of the boat and started to lower away.

British Report (p. 38) puts this boat first to leave port side at \2.65. LightoUer's testimony shows it could not have been the first.

The boat was half way down when a woman called out that there was only one man in it. I had only two seamen and could not part with them, and was in rather a fix to know what to do when a passenger called out :"If you like, I will go." This was a first-class passenger. Major Peuchen, of Toronto. I said: "Are you a seaman?" and he said: "I am a yachtsman." I said: "If you are sailor enough to get out on that fall — that is a difficult thing to get to over the ship's side, eight feet away, and means a long swing, on a dark night — if you are sailor enough to get out there, you can go down"; and he proved he was, by going down.

F. Fleet, L. O. (Am. Inq., 363) and (Br. Inq.) : Witness says there were twenty-three women. Major Peuchen and Seamen Hitchens and himself. As he left the deck he heard Mr. Lightoller shouting: "Any more women?" No. 6 and one other cut adrift after reaching the Carpathia,

Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, Manufacturing Chemist, Toronto, Canada, and Major of Toronto's crack regiment. The Queen's Own Rifles (Am. Inq., p. 334), testified:

I was standing on the Boat Deck, port side, near the second officer and the captain. One of them said: "We must get these masts and sails out of these boats; you might give us a hand. I jumped in, and with a knife cut the lashings of the mast and sail and moved the mast out of the boat. Only vi^omen were allowed in, and the men had to stand back. This was the order, and the second officer stood there and carried it out to the limit. He allowed no men, except sailors who were manning the boat. I did not see one single male passenger get in or attempt to get in. I never saw such perfect order. The discipline was perfect. I did not see a cowardly act by any man.

When I first came on this upper deck there were about 100 stokers coming up with their dunnage bags and they seemed to crowd this whole deck in front of the boats. One of the officers, I don't know which one, a very powerful man, came along and drove these men right off this deck like a lot of sheep. They did not put up any resistance. I admired him for it. Later, there were counted 20 women, one quartermaster, one sailor and one stowaway, before I was ordered in.

In getting into the boat I went aft and said to the quartermaster: "What do you want me to do?" "Get down and put that plug in," he answered. I made a dive down for the plug. The ladies were all sitting pretty well aft and I could not see at all. It was dark down there. I felt with my hands and then said it would be better for him to do it and me do his work. I said,

'Now, you get down and put in the plug and I will undo the shackles/' that is, take the blocks off, so he dropped the blocks and got down to fix the plug, and then he came back to assist me saying, "Hurry up." He said: "This boat Is going to founder." I thought he meant our lifeboat was going to founder, but he meant the large boat, and that we were to hurry up and get away from it, so we got the rudder in and he told me to go forward and take an oar. I did so, and got an oar on the port side. Sailor Fleet was on my left on the starboard side. The quartermaster told us to row as hard as we could to get away from the suction. We got a short distance away when an Italian, a stowaway, made his appearance. He had a broken wrist or arm, and was of no use to row. He was stowed away under the boat where we could not see him.

Toward morning we tied up to another boat (No. 16) for fifteen minutes. We said to those In the other boat: "Surely you can spare us one man If you have so many." One man, a fireman, was accordingly transferred, who assisted in rowing on the starboard side. The women helped with the oars, and very pluckily too.*

We were to the weather of the Carpathian and so she stayed there until we all came down on her. I looked at my watch and it was something after eight o'clock.

Mrs. Candee's account of her experience is as follows :

She last saw Mr. Kent in the companionway between Decks A and B. He took charge of an ivory miniature of her mother, etc., which afterwards were found on his body when brought into Halifax. He appeared at the time to hesitate accepting her valuables, seeming to have a premonition of his fate.

She witnessed the same incident described by Major Peuchen, when a group of firemen came up on deck and were ordered by the officer to return below. She, however, gives praise to these men. They obeyed like soldiers, and without a murmur or a protest, though they knew better than anyone else on the ship that they were going straight to their death. No boats had been lowered when these firemen first appeared upon the Boat Deck, and . it would have been an easy matter for them to have "rushed" the boats.

Her stateroom steward also gave an exhibition of courage. After he had tied on her life preserver and had locked her room as a precaution against looters, which she believed was done all through the deck, she said to this brave man: "It is time for you to look out for yourself,'* to which the steward replied, "Oh, plenty of time for that, Madam, plenty of time for that." He was lost.

As she got into boat No. 6, it being dark and not seeing where she stepped, her foot encountered the oars lying lengthwise in the boat and her ankle was thus twisted and broken.

Just before her boat was lowered away a man's voice said : "Captain, we have no seaman." Captain Smith then seized a boy by the arm and said: "Here's one." The boy went into the boat as ordered by the captain, but afterwards he was found to be disabled. She does not think he was an Italian.

Her impression is that there were other boats in the water which had been lowered before hers. There was a French woman about fifty years of age in the boat who was constantly calling for her son. Mrs. Candee sat near her. After arrival on the Carpathia this French woman became hysterical.

Notwithstanding Hitchens' statements, she says that there was absolutely no upset feeling on the women's part at any time, even when the boat, as it was being lowered, on several occasions hung at a dangerous angle — sometimes bow up and sometimes stern up. The lowering process seemed to be done by jerks. She herself called out to the men lowering the boat and gave instructions: otherwise they would have been swamped.

The Italian boy who was in the boat was not a stowaway, he was ordered in by the captain as already related. Neither did he refuse to row. When he tried to do so, it was futile, because of an injury to his arm or wrist.

Through the courtesy of another fellow passenger, Mrs. J. J. Brown, of Denver, Colorado, I am able to give her experiences in boat No. 6, told in a delightful, graphic manner; so much so that I would like to insert it all did not space prevent:

In telling of the people she conversed with, that Sunday evening, she refers to an exceedingly intellectual and much-travelled acquaintance, Mrs. Bucknell, whose husband had founded the Bucknell University of Philadelphia; also to another passenger from the same city, Dr. Brewe, who had done much in scientific research. During her conversation with Mrs. Bucknell, the latter reiterated a statement previously made on the tender at Cherbourg while waiting for the Titanic. She said she feared boarding the ship because she had evil forebodings that something might happen. Mrs. Brown laughed at her premonitions and shortly afterwards sought her quarters.

Instead of retiring to slumber, Mrs. Brown was absorbed in reading and gave little thought to the crash at her window overhead which threw her to the floor. Picking herself up she proceeded to see what the steamer had struck; but thinking nothing serious had occurred, though realizing that the engines had stopped immediately after the crash and the boat was at a standstill, she picked up her book and began reading again. Finally she saw her curtains moving while she was reading, but no one was visible. She again looked out and saw a man whose face was blanched, his eyes protruding, wearing the look of a haunted creature. He was gasping for breath and in an undertone gasped, "Get your life preserver." He was one of the buyers for Gimbel Bros., of Paris and New York.

She got down her life preserver, snatched up her furs and hurriedly mounted the stairs to A Deck, where she found passengers putting on lifebelts like hers. Mrs. Bucknell approached and whispered, *'Didn't I tell you something was going to happen?" She found the lifeboats lowered from the falls and made flush with the deck. Madame de Villiers appeared from below in a nightdress and evening slippers, with no stockings. She wore a long woollen motorcoat. Touching Mrs. Brown's arm, in a terrified voice she said she was going below for her money and valuables. After much persuasion Mrs. Brown prevailed upon her not to do so, but to get into the boat. She hesitated and became very much excited, but was finally prevailed upon to enter the lifeboat. Mrs. Brown was walking away, eager to see what was being done elsewhere. Suddenly she saw a shadow and a few seconds later someone seized her, saying: "You are going, too," and she was dropped fully four feet into the lowering lifeboat. There was but one man in charge of the boat. As it was lowered by jerks by an officer above, she discovered that a great gush of water was spouting through the porthole from D Deck, and the lifeboat was in grave danger of being submerged. She immediately grasped an oar and held the Lifeboat away from the ship.

When the sea was reached, smooth as glass, she looked up and saw the benign, resigned countenance, the venerable white hair and the Chesterfieldlan bearing of the beloved Captain Smith with whom she had crossed twice before, and only three months previous on the Olympic. He peered down upon those in the boat, like a solicitous father, and directed them to row to the light in the distance — all boats keeping together.

Because of the fewness of men in the boat she found it necessary for someone to bend to the oars. She placed her oar in an oarlock and asked a young woman nearby to hold one while she placed the other on the further side. To Mrs. Brown^s surprise, the young lady (who must have been Miss Norton, spoken of elsewhere), immediately began to row like a galley slave, every stroke counting. Together they managed to pull away from the steamer.

By this time E and C Decks were completely submerged. Those ladies who had husbands, sons or fathers on the doomed steamer buried their heads on the shoulders of those near them and moaned and groaned. Mrs. Brown's eyes were glued on the fast-disappearing ship. Suddenly there was a rift in the water, the sea opened up and the surface foamed like giant arms and spread around the ship and the vessel disappeared from sight, and not a sound was heard.

Then follows Mrs. Brown's account of the conduct of the quartermaster in the boat which will be found under the heading presently given, and it will be noticed that her statements correspond with those of all others in the boat.

The dawn disclosed the awful situation. There were fields of ice on which, like points on the landscape, rested innumerable pyramids of ice. Seemingly a half hour later, the sun, like a ball of molten lead, appeared in the background. The hand of nature portrayed a scenic effect beyond the ken of the human mind. The heretofore smooth sea became choppy and retarded their progress. All the while the people in boat No. 6 saw the other small lifeboats being hauled aboard the Carpathia. By the time their boat reached the Carpathia a heavy sea was running, and. No. 6 boat being among the last to approach, it was found difficult to get close to the ship. Three or four unsuccessful attempts were made. Each time they were dashed against the keel, and bounded off like a rubber ball. A rope was then thrown down, which was spliced in four at the bottom, and a Jacob's ladder was made. Catching hold, they were hoisted up, where a dozen of the crew and officers and doctors were waiting. They were caught and handled as tenderly as though they were children.

women and children first i3i kitchens' conduct

Major Peuchen (Am. Inq., p. 334) continued:

There was an officers' call, sort of a whistle, calling us to come back to the boat. The quartermaster told us to stop rowing. We all thought we ought to go back to the ship, but the quartermaser said "No, we are not going back to the boat; it is our lives now, not theirs." It was the women who rebelled against this action. I asked him to assist us in rowing and let some of the women steer the boat, as it was a perfectly calm night and no skill was required. He refused, and told me he was in command of that boat and that I was to row.

He imagined he saw a light. I have done a great deal of yachting in my life. I have owned a yacht for six years. I saw a reflection. He thought it was a boat of some kind; probably it might be a buoy, and he called out to the next boat asking them if they knew any buoys were around there. This struck me as being perfectly absurd.

I heard what seemed to be one, two, three rumbling sounds; then the lights of the ship went out. Then the terrible cries and calls for help — moaning and crying. It affected all the women in our boat whose husbands were among those in the water. This went on for some time, gradually getting fainter and fainter. At first it was horrible to listen to. We must have been five eighths of a mile away when this took place. There were only two of us rowing a very heavy boat with a good many people In It, and I do not think we covered very much ground. Some of the women In the boat urged the quartermaster to return. He said there was no use going back, — that there were only a "lot of stiffs there." The women resented It very much.

Seaman Fleet (Am. Inq., p. 363) :

All the women asked us to pull to the place where the Titanic went down, but the quartermaster, who was at the tiller all the time, would not allow It. They asked him, but he would not hear of It.

Mrs. Candee continues :

HItchens was cowardly and almost crazed with fear all the time. After we left the ship he thought he heard the captain say: "Come alongside," and was for turning back until reminded by the passengers that the captain's final orders were: "Keep boats together and row away from the ship." She heard this order given.

After that he constantly reminded us who were at the oars that if we did not make better speed with our rowing we would all be sucked under the water by the foundering of the ship. This he repeated whenever our muscles flagged.

Directly the Titanic had foundered a discussion arose as to whether we should return. Hitchens said our boat would immediately be swamped if we went into the confusion. The reason for this was that our boat was not manned with enough oars.

Then after the sinking of the Titanic Hitchens reminded us frequently that we were hundreds of miles from land, without water, without food, without protection against cold, and if a storm should come up that we would be helpless. Therefore, we faced death by starvation or by drowning. He said we did not even know the direction in which we were rowing. I corrected him by pointing to the north star immediately over our bow.

When our boat came alongside No. 16, Hitchens immediately ordered the boats lashed together. He resigned the helm and settled down to rest. When the Carpathia hove in sight he ordered that we drift. Addressing the people in both boats Mrs. Candee said: "Where those lights are lies our salvation; shall we not go towards them?'* The reply was a murmur of approval and immediate recourse to the oars. Hitchens was requested to assist in the toilsome rowing. Women tried to taunt and provoke him into activity. When it was suggested that he permit the injured boy to take the tiller and that Hitchens should row, he declined, and in every case he refused labor. He spoke with such uncivility to one of the ladies that a man's voice was heard in rebuke: "You are speaking to a lady,'* to which he replied: "I know whom I am speaking to, and I am commanding this boat.

When asked if the Carpathia would come and pick us up he replied: "No, she is not going to pick us up; she is to pick up bodies." This when said to wives and mothers of the dead men was needlessly brutal.

When we neared the Carpathia he refused to go round on the smooth side because it necessitated keeping longer in the rough sea, so we made a difficult landing.

In Mrs. Brown's account of her experience she relates the following about the conduct of the quartermaster in charge of the boat in which she was:

He, Quartermaster Hitchens, was at the rudder and standing much higher than we were, shivering like an aspen. As they rowed away from the ship he burst out in a frightened voice and warned them of the fate that awaited them, saying that the task in rowing away from the sinking ship was futile, as she was so large that in sinking she would draw everything for miles around down with her suction, and, if they escaped that, the boilers would burst and rip up the bottom of the sea, tearing the icebergs asunder and completely submerging them. They were truly doomed either way. He dwelt upon the dire fate awaiting them, describing the accident that happened to the S. S. New York when the Titanic left the docks at Southampton.

After the ship had sunk and none of the calamities that were predicted by the terrified quartermaster were experienced, he was asked to return and pick up those in the water. Again the people in the boat were admonished and told how the frantic drowning victims would grapple the sides of the boat and capsize it. He not yielding to the entreaties, those at the oars pulled away vigorously towards a faintly glimmering light on the horizon. After three hours of pulling the light grew fainter, and then completely disappeared. Then this quartermaster, who stood on his pinnacle trembling, with an attitude like some one preaching to the multitude, fanning the air with his hands, recommenced his tirade of awful forebodings, telling those in the boat that they were likely to drift for days, all the while reminding them that they were surrounded by icebergs, as he pointed to a pyramid of ice looming up in the distance, possibly seventy feet high. He forcibly impressed upon them that there was no water in the casks in the lifeboats, and no bread, no compass and no chart. No one answered him. All seemed to be stricken dumb. One of the ladies in the boat had had the presence of mind to procure her silver brandy flask. As she held it in her hand the silver glittered and he being attracted to it implored her to give it to him, saying that he was frozen. She refused the brandy, but removed her steamer blanket and placed it around his shoulders, while another lady wrapped a second blanket around his waist and limbs, he looking "as snug as a bug in a rug."

The quartermaster was then asked to relieve one or the other of those struggling at the oars, as someone else could manage the rudder while he rowed. He flatly refused and continued to lampoon them, shouting: "Here, you fellow on the starboard side, your oar is not being put in the water at the right angle. No one made any protest to his outbursts, as he broke the monotony, but they continued to pull at the oars with no goal in sight. Presently he raised his voice and shouted to another lifeboat to pull near and lash alongside, commanding some of the other ladies to take the light and signal to the other lifeboats. His command was immediately obeyed. He also gave another command to drop the oars and lay to. Some time later, after more shouts, a lifeboat hove to and obeyed his orders to throw a rope, and was tied alongside. On the cross- seat of that boat stood a man in white pajamas, looking like a snow man in that icy region. His teeth were chattering and he appeared quite numb. Seeing his predicament, Mrs. Brown told him he had better get to rowing and keep his blood in circulation. But the suggestion met with a forcible protest from the quartermaster in charge. Mrs. Brown and her companions at the oars, after their exercise, felt the blasts from the ice-fields and demanded that they should be allowed to row to keep warm.

Over into their boat jumped a half-frozen stoker, black and covered with dust. As he was dressed in thin jumpers, she picked up a large sable stole which she had dropped into the boat and wrapped it around his limbs from his waist down and tied the tails around his ankles. She handed him an oar and told the pajama man to cut loose. A howl arose from the quartermaster in charge. He moved to prevent it, and Mrs. Brown told him if he did he would be thrown overboard. Someone laid a hand on her shoulder to stay her threats, but she knew it would not be necessary to push him over, for had she only moved in the quartermaster's direction, he would have tumbled into the sea, so paralyzed was he with fright. By this time he had worked himself up to a pitch of sheer despair, fearing that a scramble of any kind would remove the plug from the bottom of the boat. He then became very impertinent, and our fur-enveloped stoker in as broad a cockney as one hears in the Haymarket shouted: "Oi sy, don't you know you are talkin' to a lidy?" For the time being the seaman was silenced and we resumed our task at the oars. Two other ladies came to the rescue.

While glancing around watching the edge of the horizon, the beautifully modulated voice of the young Englishwoman at the oar (Miss Norton) exclaimed, *'There is a flash of lightning."

'It is a falling star," replied our pessimistic seaman. As it became brighter he was then convinced that it was a ship. However, the distance, as we rowed, seemed interminable. We saw the ship was anchored. Again the declaration was made that we, regardless of what our quartermaster said, would row toward her, and the young Englishwoman from the Thames got to work, accompanying her strokes with cheerful words to the wilted occupants of the boat.

Mrs. Brown finishes the quartermaster in her final account of him. On entering the diningroom on the Carpathia, she saw him in one corner — this brave and heroic seaman ! A cluster of people were around him as he wildly gesticulated, trying to impress upon them what difficulty he had in maintaining discipline among the occupants of his boat; but on seeing Mrs. Brown and a few others of the boat nearby he did not tarry long, but made a hasty retreat.

R. Hitchens, Q. M. (Am. Inq., p. 451. Br. Inq.) explains his conduct:

I was put in charge of No. 6 by the Second Officer, Mr. Lightoller. We lowered away from the ship. I told them in the boat somebody would have to pull. There was no use stopping alongside the ship, which was gradually going by the head. We were in a dangerous place, so I told them to man the oars — ladies and all. "All of you do your best.*' I relieved one of the young ladies with an oar and told her to take the tiller. She immediately let the boat come athwart, and the ladies in the boat got very nervous; so I took the tiller back again and told them to manage the best way they could. The lady I refer to, Mrs. Meyer, was rather vexed with me in the boat and I spoke rather straight to her. She accused me of wrapping myself up in the blankets in the boat, using bad language and drinking all the whisky, which I deny, sir. I was standing to attention, exposed, steering the boat all night, which is a very cold billet. I would rather be pulling the boat than be steering, but I saw no one there to steer, so I thought, being in charge of the boat, it was the best way to steer myself, especially when I saw the ladies get very nervous.

I do not remember that the women urged me to go toward the Titanic. I did not row toward the scene of the Titanic because the suction of the ship would draw the boat, with all its occupants, under water. I did not know which way to go back to the Titanic. I was looking at all the other boats. We were looking at each other's lights. After the lights disappeared and went out, we did hear cries of distress — a lot of crying, moaning and screaming, for two or three minutes. We made fast to another boat — that of the master-at-arms. It was No. 16. I had thirty-eight women in my boat. I counted them, sir. One seaman. Fleet; the Canadian Major, who testified here yesterday, myself and the Italian boy.

We got down to the Carpathia and I saw every lady and everybody out of the boat, and I saw them carefully hoisted on board the Carpathia, and I was the last man to leave the boat.

Encyclopedia Titanica Research Articles

  • Whatever Happened to Robert Hichens by Phillip Gowan and Brian Meister

Articles

  • The Times, 30 November 1933, Torquay Shooting Charge
  • Torquay Times, 1 December 1933, Article
  • Daily Mirror, 26 July 1937, Titanic Survivors Prison Cell Claim

Inquiry Testimony

  • (Courtesy of the Titanic Inquiry Project)
  • Senate Hearings, 24th April, 1912, Testimony
  • Senate Hearings, 24th April, 1912, Additional Statement
  • Board of Trade Hearings, 7th May, 1912, Testimony

References

  • British Census 1881Colonel Archibald Gracie (1913) The Truth about the Titanic. New York, Mitchell Kennerley
  • Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Sheila Jemima (1997) Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage, Sutton Publishing, Southampton City Council. ISBN 0 7509 1436 X
  • United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912

Acknowledgements

  • George Behe, USA
  • Don Lynch, USA

Contributors

  • Peter Clarke
  • Steve Coombes, UK
  • Chris Dohany, USA
  • Senan Molony, Ireland
  • Graham Pickles, UK
  • Brian Ticehurst, UK

Sources (4)

1901 England Census Ancestry.com

1891 England Census Ancestry.com

UK, RMS Titanic, Crew Records, 1912

1911 England Census Ancestry.com Titanic Crewman and Survivor. He was the helmsman of the passenger ship RMS Titanic, regarded as the most famous disaster in modern maritime history. He was stationed at the Titanic's wheel at the time of the ship's collision with an iceberg during the liner's maiden Atlantic crossing on April 14th 1912. He escaped the sinking ship after being placed in charge of lifeboat number six by Second Officer Charles Lightoller. He was rescued by the ship Carpathia and arrived in New York City on April 18th 1912. A week later, he was ordered to appear before the United States Senate to give sworn testimony as a material witness to the disaster. Following the Titanic sinking, he continued working in the maritime industry in various low paying and menial jobs, resulting in severe financial difficulties and debts. He spent four years in prison following an unsuccessful murder-suicide attempt against a man he owed money, whom he blamed for a failed business venture. After his release from prison, he returned to a life at sea and died on board the cargo ship English Trader. His final resting place was discovered less than two weeks before the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking.

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Robert Hichens's Timeline

1882
September 16, 1882
Newlyn, Cornwall, UK
1908
1908
Age 25
Cornwall, England
1911
1911
Age 28
Devon, England
1940
September 23, 1940
Age 58
Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland
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Trinity Cemetery, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City, Scotland