In the ongoing series, read the stories of the people who designed, built and sailed on the Ship of Dreams.
This is one of the many stories of a crew member who worked on RMS Titanic.
Man at the wheel when Titanic hit the iceberg.
Born in Cornwall in 1882, Robert worked as a Quartermaster on Titanic. He was the eldest of a family of nine. He started his career aged 21, working on the Revenge Royal Navy Ship. In 1906, he married Florence Mortimore in Manaton Devon.
Right before his time on RMS Titanic, Robert was stationed on the troop ship Dongola, which operated between the UK and Bombay, India.
He boarded Titanic on the 10th April 1912 as a crew member. His duties included running errands, checking the ship's water temperature, obtaining keys and maintaining the officer's corridor.
The night of the Titanic disaster, he took the wheel at 10pm and sadly the ship struck the iceberg at 11.40pm while he was on duty. He stayed at the wheel until 12.23am when he was ordered to uncover one of the emergency lifeboats and to take charge of Lifeboat 6 by Second Officer Lightoller. He was instructed to head toward the light that was seen in the distance and then return for more passengers.
The lifeboat departed the ship around 12.55am with only 28 people on board, including Molly Brown and lookout Frederick Fleet. However, about a mile away, both Titanic's lights and the light in the distance went out, leaving them stranded.
Following Titanic’s sinking, Lifeboat 6 came across and tied up to Lifeboat 16 and took a fireman from the boat to help with the rowing. They were one of the last boats to be rescued by the RMS Carpathia at 8.00am. Robert made sure everyone disembarked from the lifeboat before he got off himself.
Following the sinking, there were several inquiries to determine what caused the tragedy. Robert appeared at the US Inquiry and was asked just under 500 questions. His testimony tells his story of his time on Titanic and what he did before being rescued.
Robert continued working out at sea on various ships after the disaster, but sadly suffered another tragedy when his beloved wife died from a brain tumour on 23rd March 1940. Following this tragic loss, he returned to the sea and passed away on 23rd September 1940 at the age of 58, aboard a ship named English Trader in Aberdeen. His resting place is now in Trinity Centre in Aberdeen.
Simon Medhurst, great-grandson of Robert Hitchens, visited Titanic Belfast recently and shared with us the story of how he discovered his connection to RMS Titanic. Having always had an interest in the world-famous ship and a passion for collecting Titanic memorabilia from his early 20s, Simon found his birth father at the age of 45 and discovered his personal connection to the Titanic story.
Although Robert didn't have much, due to a life spent at sea, his family have a treasured Mahogany lap tray with a map on it which he carried with him on his journeys wherever he went to sea.
Simon said that “Being the great-grandson of a Titanic survivor gave me a new perspective. My desire has transcended beyond only being a collector to being an ambassador for sharing the Titanic story and the story of the individuals on Titanic.
Being in Belfast, the birthplace of Titanic, is one of those 'got to be done' events for everyone and everyone connected or who has a fascination with the story of Titanic. It is there that you experience the lives, stories and heroism of all those on the Ship of Dreams.”
The Titanic Experience
The Titanic Experience is the world’s most authentic retelling of the iconic story.
The self-guided tour extends over nine interactive galleries where you discover the sights, sounds, smells and stories of the ship, as well as the people and city that made her.