New Evidence -Why Quartermaster Hichens Was Not in Capetown in 1914


Sally Nilsson, great-granddaughter of Quartermaster Robert Hichens, based her book "The Man Who Sank Titanic" on a dubious letter that put Hichens as a Harbourmaster in Cape Town in 1914 leading to an inference that he was 'paid of' by the White Star Line with a lifelong job for as long as he remained silent. More seriously, the letter alleges that First Officer Murdoch was at the time of collision 'asleep and drunk at the rear of the pilot house' leading Nilsson to ultimately accuse him of gross negligence leading to disaster.

The total lack of logic and most importantly evidence in such an accusation has been previously discussed in the article "Was Murdoch Drunk at the Wheel?" including 12 key issues which debunk the theory which you can read here: Was Murdoch Drunk at the Wheel? | William Murdoch

However I am pleased to announce that author Senan Molony has uncovered new evidence that proves that Hichens simply was not in Cape Town in 1914, which he believes lays to rest the 'Harbourmaster' theory and by extension the unfounded allegation of a drunk Officer of the Watch.

Read the new evidence here: Why Hichens Was Not in Cape Town in 1914 | William Murdoch
 

Scott Mills

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Hitchens, from my understanding of his life, had a rather checkered career after the Titanic including attempted murder and ultimately ending in suicide. I am rather confident he was not "paid off" by White Star Line, nor do I think Murdoch was drunk, but I do not trust his testimony and there are many other reasons for him to have maintained his "silence" after the Titanic disaster that have nothing at all to do with being given large sums of money.

His career would have been at stake, as I assume nobody might hire someone who either made himself seem culpable in such a disaster or a sailor who would easily "give up" his employer. Also, even if the man had nothing more to say, the guilt he felt as the man "at the wheel" would have been intense, and his response to that guilt would frame everything he would ever say about Titanic.

And as a for instance to where my mind tends to go when we talk hitchens--Titanic was Hitchens first (and only I believe) trip on a White Star vessel, his first (and again only I believe) time behind the wheel of a ship of Titanic's size, and his first time on the North Atlantic. So when Lights granddaughter claimed that Hitchens responded to the starboard hard over order incorrectly, while I agree there is no proof nor compelling reason to believe it was the case, I am not as inclined as others to just dismiss the whole allegation as utterly impossible.
 
Hi Scott

Hitchens, from my understanding of his life, had a rather checkered career after the Titanic including attempted murder and ultimately ending in suicide.

Yes a very checkered and sad life, although I think he died of heart failure not suicide. He did attempt suicide though.

I am rather confident he was not "paid off" by White Star Line, nor do I think Murdoch was drunk, but I do not trust his testimony and there are many other reasons for him to have maintained his "silence" after the Titanic disaster that have nothing at all to do with being given large sums of money.

Interestingly, during the 1930s he sold several stories to newspapers about his Titanic account no doubt in an effort to raise money to survive that I have only just discovered thanks to Senan. However these accounts do no suggest any incorrect steering or any of the other subsequent allegations made. It does contain one very interesting part of Titanic lore often discussed that I hope to be able to put on my website soon, if Senan allows me.

And as a for instance to where my mind tends to go when we talk hitchens--Titanic was Hitchens first (and only I believe) trip on a White Star vessel, his first (and again only I believe) time behind the wheel of a ship of Titanic's size, and his first time on the North Atlantic. So when Lights granddaughter claimed that Hitchens responded to the starboard hard over order incorrectly, while I agree there is no proof nor compelling reason to believe it was the case, I am not as inclined as others to just dismiss the whole allegation as utterly impossible.

Yes it is good not to dismiss any allegation outright without first looking at the evidence. An officer suicide is a good example of this. However in the case of incorrect steering the size of the ship would make no difference to Hichens in the relatively small wheelhouse where he would have been unable to see anything at all and rely simply on orders, which were incidentally cross-checked by a junior officer (in this case Moody) so it would require at least three people -Murdoch, Hichens and Moody to have all made what would have been a very elementary mistake.

For a thorough investigation of the steering error allegation take a look here: Did Murdoch Make a Fatal Steering Error? | William Murdoch
 

Scott Mills

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I agree with everything you've said. And even if the story about the incorrect "hard over" were true, you are absolutely correct in that it would have made little difference. I imagine the worst case scenario would be (and as it happens fits with Light's granddaughter's story) would be Hitchens turning the wheel hard over to starboard, and immediately being corrected such that the "error" would merely have delayed the port bow swing by a second or two. Could that have happened? Certainly. Would these speculative seconds have "saved" the Titanic or slowed her foundering? Impossible to determine, and even magical confirmation of this story would merely lead to conclusions about this question which are wildly speculative. In the end though, yes I never imagined a scenario where a helm error steered Titanic in to the iceberg.

Now imagining the above scenario as true, I think it would be fair to assume the man would be racked with guilt above and beyond the survivor's guilt he already felt as well as any extra feelings he had regarding just being the man "at the wheel." I think it is fair to say that most men would be ruined by this, which given Hitchen's life, gives us even more to speculate about.

In the end though, there is only weak circumstantial evidence and a story from the granddaughter of a man long dead. No good reason at all to believe it was the case.

But, I do not trust Hitchen's testimony. There is so much that simply cannot be account for in the evidence he gave (for instance the scope and aim of Titanic making way again after the collision).
 

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