Robert Hichens portrait from seaman's record cards CR10. Catalogue reference: BT350/1
On the night of 14 April 1912 Robert Hichens was at the ship's wheel when the warning came from the lookout that an iceberg had been spotted ahead of the ship. He was put in charge of lifeboat six, which was holding 28 other people. They left Titanic at 00.55.
He gave his testimony to the US inquiry on 24 April 1912. After the inquiry closed Robert returned to England, arriving in Liverpool on 4 May. Three days later he testified at the British inquiry where 492 questions were put to him.
During the First World War Robert served with the Army Service Corps. By 1919 he was working as a third officer on a small vessel named the Magpie. Towards the end of the 1920s Robert and his family moved to Devon, where Robert became engaged in boat charter after purchasing a motor vessel from Harry Henley. By the end of 1931 Robert’s wife and children had left him and moved to Southampton.
Over the following year Robert unsuccessfully toured the country looking for work. It is believed that he became a heavy drinker, possibly brought on by his experiences on Titanic, bleak job prospects, lack of money and family problems. On his travels he bought a revolver for £5 and decided to kill Harry Henley.
Robert arrived in Torquay on 12 November 1933 and that evening became heavily intoxicated. After closing time he took a taxi to Harry Henley's house. Read what happens next in this extract from the Torquay Times Newspaper of 1 December 1933. Robert Hichens was released from prison in 1937 but died on 23 September 1940 aboard the cargo ship English Trader.
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 won’t 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 two 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.'
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.
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.