Robert Hichens


Dec 12, 1999
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I reviewed the testimony of Mrs. J. Stuart White, which she gave during the Senate inquiry, on May 2, 1912. Mrs. White seemed to have a level head, and a good grasp of the facts. She was appalled at what had happened (i.e., the ship running in to the icefield, "sailors" in the boat who didn't know what an oar was, no open decks except the boat deck, etc.). She was in Boat no. 8, with the Countess of Roth. Further, she describes the statement made by a crewman: "If you don't stop talking through that hole in you face there will be one less in the boat." The "Titanic" movie attributed this statement to Quartermaster Hichens, which is obviously wrong because he in was in a different boat (no. 6). She even told the senator that there wasn't any "bravery" among the men: "They speak of the bravery of the men. I do not think there was any particular bravery, because none of the men thought (the Titanic) was going down. If they had thought the ship was going down, they would not have frivoled as they did about it." Mrs. White also correctly noted that the ship broke in two. In sum, Mrs. White's testimony reflects a level of common sense, and sets the record straight on a lot of the assumptions people have about the Titanic disaster. It's worth reading.
 
G

George R Smith (K4gs)

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This being a movie it can't be correct all/most of the time. If you watch all of the movies about Titanic you will see a lot of changes...As the comment about paying for distroying White Star Line property and other comments. The hearings had a lot of Showboating (on the part of the government that is) and you have to really read it to weed out the junk HI. As said, I doubt that many of the deck hands and stewarts knew what was going on, But most of the below deck crew sure did and some never had a chanch to be either brave or a coward I think. What of the other people that never had a chanch to even try and save therselves ??? Anyway your comments have giving me something else to think about and that is the best...
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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This post is an off-shoot of another discussion on the board in which one of the key points raised was the validity of claims that Quartermaster Hichens (whom I’m certain we’d all characterise as a bastion of truthful uprightness — not) held a job as a Harbour master in Capetown.

This information is derived from a letter from Thomas Garvey, who in turn derived it from a Mr Henry Blum (and could anyone reproduce the text of this letter here? I’d be very interested in seeing the source for this). Blum is alleged to have claimed to have met Hichens working as a harbourmaster in Cape Town in 1914 when he came out to meet the ship Blum was working as a QM on, and Hichens claimed to have been given the position as a pay off for keeping silent about certain unspecified events connected with the Titanic disaster (information for this is derived from the ET Hichens bio).

Queries have been raised on this board in the past as whether Hichens (who did not hold a master or extra-master’s certification) would have been given the position he is claimed to have held, or whether this was another example of self-aggrandisation on the part of this character.

Fortunately, my discussions with George have led someone to come forward to shed some interesting new light on the Hichens claims (and more doubt on the truthfulness of this character). It turns out that Titanic researcher Senan Molony, author of the superb and acclaimed title ‘The Irish Aboard Titanic’, has done some digging on this very subject. Here is part of the text of one of his emails, which he has permitted me to cite here:

In March 1999 I was down in Cape Town and took the opportunity to go into the harbour master's office, as you do.... I'm not making this up. I specifically wanted to find out about Hichens.
They had a golf-club type gold nameboard up of all the Harbour Masters.

Guess what? Hichens’ name is not there. So I left them my address and email etc etc and asked them to write to me…as perhaps I misunderstood his job and that he was a pilot or somesuch.

I was talking with a very nice woman there and she promised to look up all the old musty books (they had 'em, too) and write to me. She never did.

What it suggests to me is that, whether Hichens was ever in Cape Town or not he sure WASN'T harbour master. That's a plum position. And it wasn't Hichens.


Sen’s information and the material on the ET bio have given me a couple of ideas for angles to pursue in the New Year to investigate where in South Africa and what Hichens was doing, although as there are already researchers on the case they may well beat me to it. Perhaps even someone out there can contribute some more material on the subject? At any rate, I think at the very least this seriously casts into question the claims allegedly made by Hichens about being given the Harbour Master job…what a surprise, eh? :)

Inger
 

Phillip Gowan

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Inger,
It appears that Hichens was definitely in Southampton in the May/June timeframe of 1914 as that is when his daughter Doreen (yes, both Hichens and Lightoller had daughters named Doreen) was conceived. The next child, Robert, made his appearance in Southampton in August of 1918 so we have a clue that if he was in South Africa for a period of time, he was back in Soton by late 1917. Finding what became of him is my number one goal now that Cassebeer is found and I already have reason to doubt the assertion that he was killed in the bombings during World War II. Some of the "new" information in his biography is also incorrect insofar as timeframes/dates. He still remains elusive to me though I think I'm getting constantly closer. With a little luck and perseverance his final whereabouts will come to light in 2001. I do not think he died in England as there is no death record on file for him from the last date that I can prove he was alive up thru dates when he would definitely have been deceased. And there was no consular report of death filed for him in England.

Wish I knew more--but that will come.

Phil

Regards,
Phil
 

George Behe

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Ahh, but Phil -- was Hichens really the father? :)

Thanks for the information, Phil and Inger. Sounds like something might be rotten in the state of Denmark re: the Hichens account. (Now if further light could only be shed on the Fred Fleet bribe account and the Walter Lord informant bribe account.) :)

All my best,

George
 

Phillip Gowan

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Well, Florence did name him on the birth certificates of all their children--but think of all those lonely months she spent with her husband on the high seas--she might have gotten lonesome indeed :)

Phil
 

Dave Gittins

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Hichens wouldn't even make it as a pilot. Pilots in major ports are at least Masters. Maybe he was one of the crew of a pilot boat. More likely, the whole tale is twaddle. If White Star wanted to wangle Hichens a job there were easier ways than inserting him in the public service of a distant country.
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day, all -

Good to hear that such progress is being made on tracing his movements in that period, Phil! I understand from his ET bio that he served in the RNR during the war...these records are gradually being moved from the MoD to the PRO (indeed, the process might already be complete). Has anyone tried tracking him through his RNR record? Wretchedly incomplete things that they are, they do start improving around the period of WWI which is right around what you're targeting.

Dave - good point about Hichens not making it as a pilot. I had a glance at the English maritime legislation last night regarding the licensing of pilots, and it didn't look too promising for Hichens :)

All the best,

Inger
 

Senan Molony

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What we know for an indisputable fact is that former Quartermaster Robert Hichens had made miserable progress up the greasy pole of the White Star Line by 1919, seven years after the Titanic disaster.
Records held at Kew show him at that stage to be merely a Third Officer of the puny SS Magic. A bywater, rather than a comfortable sinecure.
I do know that ten years later, after being released from prison, he was still claiming to have "special information" about the RMS Titanic disaster.
The crucial thing here is that maybe he did and maybe he didn't.
It seems he was hawking it around a few British newspapers, and the newspapers didn't bite. There are a couple of possible grounds for this, mainly two - stuffy Establishment clubbiness on the part of the papers, OR the fact that Hichens was down on his luck and making demands. Newspapers don't like the look of people who give off a vibe of desperation, seem anxious for their next drink, or appear overly money-orientated. And for good reasons, many of them legal.
It is also because newspapers on this side of the world don't like giving money for info at the best of times (guess Gill was particularly lucky to enjoy the last thrash of yellow journalism in the States, a bit like Binns and Bride), but also because the money-motive undermines the cornerstone of credibility.
My guess is that the papers weren't prepared to pay for the "special information" but got a story out of it anyway by revealing it was around. And I would strongly suspect that Hichens would have been saying that the Titanic had been encountering ice long in advance of her fatal berg.
There are good grounds for believing that, and I have sent some of them to George in the past. Captain Hartorff of the Frankfurt in particular was adamant that the Titanic must have been going through ice long before her crash.
I don't believe, however, that there is any evidence at all of the White Star Line bribing Hichens. All the established evidence is against that, and in fact suggests the direct contrary - with his repeated bleatings stemming from a belief that he had been hard done by.
Finally, as a newspaper man, I can report that we are always getting people wandering in off the streets with tales. It doesn't make them true, and it doesn't make them untrue either, it just doesn't make them *reliable.*
I have interviewed plenty of nut cases and timewasters and runaround-merchants, but we do manage to have a laugh every so often. I promise you this next story actually happened:
The whereabouts of Lord Lucan is the "Jimmy Hoffa" mystery of this part of the globe. The answer to this peer's disappearance would be a newsman's Holy Grail. He vanished in 1974 after the murder of a nanny in his London home. About 1985, a colleague of mine at the Irish Independent had an interview over several hours with a well-dressed man, nicely groomed, perfectly spoken. The man carried a briefcase. Inside the smart case were reportedly exclusive photos of Lord Lucan, taken in the tropics where the man had been on holidays. The man knew what he had. So did we. It was dynamite. All that remained was to come to an arrangement.
The negotiations dragged on. Lawyers were called on all sides. Guarantees were drawn up - crises of confidence intervened - all was dragged back from the brink. Finally the man was prevailed on to open the case so that we could at least *look* at the pictures to establish their bona fides.
The entire newsroom now had its collective ear bent towards the unfolding drama. The click of that briefcase-lock I can still hear across the sudden aural desert of should have been a cacophonous jungle. *Click!* went the case.
Out came the pics. My colleague began to splutter... these must be sensational! He finally forced out the fulminating words: "But, but, but, but, but... these are pictures of YOU!!"
"Yes," answered the honoured gentleman, drawing himself up to his full height. "I am Lord Lucan." Of course, he looked more like Jimmy Hoffa.
As he was being propelled out of the lift down from the newsroom and out into the noisy street, he fought to resist and win a reprieve:
"Wait! Wait! I know where Shergar is buried!"

Hichens may have had the truth, but when you haven't got credibility it really doesn't matter. And big shipping lines, like newspapers, don't hand out the dosh to people who can easily be portrayed as embittered and vindictive.

It happened to Paula Jones... until her particular subject kept hitting on ice maidens so regularly - a serial Titanic - that the credibility problem swung the other way.
 

George Behe

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Phil, I've got a question for you. Perhaps I've overlooked some obvious tidbit that would answer the following question, but how do you know that Hichens' child was *conceived* in Southampton in June of 1914? Do you know for a fact that Hichens' wife was in Southampton at that time? (If the child was *born* in Soton nine months later, couldn't Hichens have had a frolic with his wife in South Africa and then sent her home to England to be near her family at the conclusion of her confinement?)

Thanks for any clarification you might offer, old chap. I'm really looking forward to your visit to Michigan. :)

All my best,

George
 

Phillip Gowan

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Hey George,
That is a possibility that I've thought of and not out of the realm of what should be considered. My feeling is that that is not the case as all through the years the family seems to center in Soton--and all the children were born there at the same home address--makes her sound kind of sedentery. There are a number of records that I've uncovered on the family and I've yet to find any evidence that Florence and the kids ever left. But then, you never know. I'm working now on tracking the daughters with some success and although it appears that his children are dead, I'm hoping for some well-informed grandchildren. I know a few details that I'll save for later :) that throw at least one accepted idea out the window.

How does February 19th sound for a visit up your way?

Take care,
Phil
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Smolony, great to see you :) Have had some new ideas since our email exchange yesterday on tracing the progress of Hichen's career through the 1910s - dates/certificates are easy enough, and I'll do that when I get back in January. Don't be too surprised to see him turn up on the Magic in 1918...shortage of qualified manpower in the war years meant that the big lines took men they would not have employed as officers otherwise. Bestic, for example, would not have had a pre-war berth with Cunard as he only had a 'certificate in steam'. All had certificates, however (and I'm assuming up to Master).

Agree with all you say re the hawking of stories (daughter of Journo speaking). :)

All the best,

Ing
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Phil!

I'll ask Ray if he has anything shakin' on Feb. 19 and will get back to you. (At the moment it sounds fine to me.)

Take care, old chap.

George
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Robert Hichens A Humanist Epistemological Commentary

(Note: This one's quite serious, unlike "Vigilance Bound".)

I've noticed in my readings here on ET, and in my own perspective lately, that the reputation of Quartermaster Robert Hichens has taken quite a terrific pounding. The content and implication of many posts, including my own, suggests or even outright proclaims that Hichens veracity was highly dubitable.

Now, I'm no proponent of silent respect for the dead, but I began to wonder why his image has become so sullied -- not so much what the allegations against him are, but what the underlying basis is for them and for wagging the finger directly at Hichens. So, to clarify even my own thinking, I began to investigate some of the comments that tend to call into question the man's truthfulness. It may be playing the devil's advocate, but the study was worthwhile and interesting, at least to me.

Inger Sheil has initiated and inspired (in "Harbour Master Hichens") some very intriguing research into Hichens' South Africa (Capetown) connection, and the results of these labors by her and the others involved -- Phil Gowan, Senan Molony, George Behe, etc. -- could go far towards clarifying a highly charged (and highly significant) factual issue, that of whether or not Hichens was indeed a Capetown "harbour master", as purportedly claimed. My only input here to that factual debate is to point to the comments found on his ET biography and ask whether the statements attributed *possibly* to Edith Haisman -- "In 1917 a fellow Titanic survivor (possibly Edith Haisman) ran into Robert in Johannesburg" -- lend circumstantial credence to his presence in South Africa, if not his prestigious position.

But my actual intent here, roughly put, is to examine whether Hichens can legitimately be labeled the bald-faced liar one might conclude him to be, based on the "discrepancies" noted in the various accounts of his wherabouts and doings. For example, the Capetown story itself (if proven false) would *seem* to indict Hichens' character. But epistemologically speaking, if the tale were indeed a hoax, what would we then "have on" Hichens, the man? Very little actually, since the account itself is third-hand. If it were ultimately discovered that Hichens never even set foot in Capetown, all we would truly know -- without much further investigation -- would be that there were untruths or misinterpretations *somewhere* along that line of communication! But who then would we blame -- Hichens, Blum, Garvey? The actual culpability for any falsehoods there is by no means clearly attributable yet.

Lets' take another example. The ET biography of Robert Hichens seems to imply a propensity towards misstatement of the facts in the following paragraph:
Prior to joining the Titanic he 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. Prior to Titanic he worked on the troop ship Dongola sailing back and forth to Bombay, India. ... At the US Enquiry into the sinking of Titanic Robert stated that he had served on ships 'up about Norway and Sweden and Petersburg, and up the Danube.'​
Now I may be mis-reading it, but that passage seems to imply, to me at least, that Hichens deliberately misstated his professional history with allegations of SERVING ABOARD SHIPS "up about Norway and Sweden and Petersburg, and up the Danube". However, that's not exactly what Hichens said, and the context of the questioning was not at that point directed towards his curriculum vitae(US 459):
Senator SMITH. Had you ever been among icebergs before?
Mr. HITCHENS. Yes, sir.
Senator SMITH. Where?
Mr. HITCHENS. Up about Norway and Sweden, and Petersburg, and up the Danube.
Senator SMITH. So they were not unfamiliar sights to you?
Mr. HITCHENS. No, sir.​
So it's not his career, but his familiarity with icebergs that's the issue at this point in the hearings. And if my perception of an implied falsehood in the ET account is correct, it seems far less weighty taken in this context. (Or the experience could be truthful.) Moreover, though I have no expertise in the wanderings of the North Yorksire fishing fleet, Robert was described as the son of a fisherman! Is it possible theat his North Sea and Baltic reminiscences were of that vintage, rather than in the Mercantile Marine?

(continued in next post)
 
Sep 20, 2000
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(continued)

Dave Gittens has pointed out -- dealing less with Hichens veracity than his intelligence -- that Hichens was "the clown who asked if there was a bouy there". (I may have misquoted you slightly, Dave. My apologies, if so.) That lambaste, insofar as I can see from the American Inquiry, stems originally from Major Peuchen's testimony (US 338):
Maj. PEUCHEN. ... He thought probably it might be a buoy out there of some kind, and he called out to the next boat, which was within hearing, asking if he knew if there was any buoy around there. This struck me as being perfectly absurd, and showed me the man did not know anything about navigating, expecting to see a buoy in the middle of the Atlantic. ...​
However, Peuchen's stern assessment of Hichens' "foolishness" is apparently countermanded in the British Inquiry during the testimony of Francis Carruthers, ship surveyor:
24021. (Mr. Cotter-To the Witness.) When you surveyed the “Titanic” at Belfast did you notice what kind of lifebuoys she carried? - Yes.
24022. What were they? - Solid cork.
24023. Did you notice whether she had any lifebuoys with acetylene gas attachments to them? - No, she had not any at Belfast.
24024. Have you seen those kind of lifebuoys? - No, I have not.
24025. Have you seen the Admiralty lifebuoys? - No, I do not think so.
24026. Did you notice whether she had two large buoys fastened to the after-bridge? - No, I did not see any. I know the Admiralty lifebuoys.
24027. Will you tell my Lord what they are, and how they are worked? - Well, if it is the kind that I have seen on the war vessels, they are attached to the side ready for slipping off. When they slip off and get into the water there is a light; the water makes a light.
24028. You did not notice whether she carried any of those? - No, I am almost sure she did not.
Mr. Cotter: My object in asking this question my Lord is this. We know the difficulty of the boats turning back; they would not know their way to where she had sunk. If she had carried these buoys and had been lost they would have been floating and a light burning from them. That is the reason I am asking these questions.
The Commissioner: I am told this vessel had life buoys which ignited a lamp when they fell into the water. “Holmes Lights,” they are called; they are not the same as the Admiralty lifebuoys, but the same effect.
Witness: She had these Holmes lights attached to the lifebuoys.
24029. And the effect is the same as that of the Admiralty buoys? - When they strike the water.
24030. When they strike the water the light springs up? - Yes.
Mr. Cotter: There is another buoy with a small tin canister attachment containing calcium phosphate, and they have to be knocked with a kind of spring bit, to knock holes, and they are used for throwing over the side at night supposing a person fell overboard.​
From this passage it can be noted that a few types of emergency buoy were employed in this era, so Hichens' query may not have been as ludicrous as Peuchen thought. Conversely, Peuchen seems to be reveal a complete ignorance of the existence of this type of buoy, which Hichens may have had prior experience with -- he did serve on other ships, including the British troopship Dongola, which might have carried such equipment.

Hichens marriage certificate has been noted to proclaim him a Master Mariner, but even with further scrutiny of the document, it's hard for me to find that incredibly damaging. Might we not simply have a case of "puffery" there -- a young seaman's over-eager exaggerations, deriving from a desire to impress his intended betrothed? An untruth, for sure, but certainly not felonious, and possibly understandable from a humanist perspective. (I once pursued a Help Wanted ad for a "Management Position with the Marriott Corporation". Thinking this was my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a brilliant career in hotel management, I followed up, only to find the job was in fact with a burger chain which Marriott happens to own. Perhaps Hichens inflation can be ranked similarly -- maybe he just considered himself a "master among mariners", and said so!)

I'm certainly not defending to the death a man who had obvious severe problems. My reading of Hichens life story convinces me that he was very likely an alcoholic -- a disease unrecognized as such in that era. And he apparently had a very big mouth, especially after he got a few belts into him! (The Torquay Incident illustrates this.) So without saying yea or nay to the "harbour master" portion of that tale, I can certainly see why White Star would want him out of the limelight if he really DID have any inside information. The man simply couldn't keep his mouth shut!

But whether he was a shameless perpetual or pathological liar is far less clear to me. I welcome further comments though, since this is really an invitation to research, rather than any "final word" on my part.
 

Inger Sheil

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John -

I'm now reserving all judgement on Hichens and his truthfullness - or the veracity of sources concerning his stint in South Africa - until someone can establish to my satisfaction what his career path was, and whether he ever attained the rank of master mariner and if so what positions he held (and yes, I'll be working on that myself :) ). I am also - at this stage - unwilling to express a view on whether he ever lived in South Africa or held a job in a South African port (either as harbour master or pilot or perhaps some other position). I think it's entirely possible that he might have worked there at some point, but the time frame and the nature of his employment all need to be examined.

Dave Gittens recalled the radio interview with Hichens that was somewhat exagerated (boats capsizing when they attempted to rescue victims in the water, for example) but he certainly wouldn't be the first or last survivor to garble events. I do seem to remember some self-aggrandisement in comments attributed to him in an early newspaper report that was rather at odds with the recollections of passengers who were with him in the lifeboats, but would have to dig this out when I return to the UK.

All I'm prepared to commit myself to at this stage is the idea that the sources relating to Hichens - and his career - need a good deal more investigation before we can start realistically assessing them. It illustrates yet again the dangers in accepting a source such as the Hichens/Blum/Garvey letter at face value - even if this source were first hand, we would need to find corroborative material for the details (date, place, position Hichens held, etc).

Regards,

Inger
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Inger:

Ya know? In all truthfulness, I'm not sure if we're agreeing or disagreeing here. (Or maybe just coming from widely divergent perspectives.) The healthy skepticism you're expressing towards the Capetown connection is entirely sensible to me. These recent revelations are a bombshell! And while the jury's not all in yet, it will be extremely interesting to see where all of this leads.

Where we may be differing is in our individual philosophical reactions to the doubt imposed by these questions concerning Hichens. For me -- and this is strictly a matter of personal "take" -- I don't really have enough information to dismiss the man outright, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. On the other hand, I find no fault with your posture of reserving judgement in toto, which is every bit as valid.

My writings stemmed mostly from a personal observation that *various* posts on ET seemed to reinforce a growing, shared notion that Hichens was absolutely "full of it" in general. Frankly, I've had similar inklings myself in the past, but think them now mere impressions picked up along the way. Much of my motivation for researching those points was a deliberate attempt to backtrack in my own mind, and interrogate whether those impressions really were fact-based -- an exercise in intellectual honesty, if you will.

In doing so, I arrived squarely back at a position of neutrality, which forces me -- by personal temperament -- to extend the benefit of the doubt regarding Hichens' overall credibility until further evidence comes to light. Now, I'm not saying I'd readily buy a used car from him, but I'm willing to believe he has a car to sell.
wink.gif


As for the Hichens/Blum/Garvey letter, who knows? Only time will tell on that one, and then perhaps only the ultimate truth or falsehood of the account will be firmly established. I do know that if *I* were writing a book and had ostensibly reliable evidence to offer, I'd probably include it myself. (I'd probably even include some more questionable accounts, with the proper caveats.) But that's just a matter of editorial style. After all, Carr Van Anda of the New York Times -- the only one to get it right about the sinking -- was quite liberal in following through on his hunch that the ship has indeed sunk. The more conservative newsmen merely followed the herd and proclaimed her safe. In that case, the validity of a liberal approach to the evidence was certainly borne out.

(Oh! And my apologies to all, in retrospect, for that hideous title. It's without a doubt the most atrocious heading I've ever attached to a scribbling!)
happy.gif
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Inger (or anyone else involved in this):

While this is not directly related to Hichens' Harbour Master theme -- that I know of -- I found it an interesting question, perhaps worth pursuing.

In Hichens' biography here on ET, the following paragraph can be found related to the Torquay shooting incident:
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.''​
While the omission may not be significant, does anyone know what the contents of that FIRST letter -- to the Editor of the Sunday Chronicle -- were, or where that information might be referenced? As pertains to the spirit (if not the letter) of the thread here, the second note is at least suggestive ("no dole -- no pension"). And since, under the circumstances, the first letter was likely related -- a farewell note and revelations to the world? -- it would certainly be interesting to know what it said, don't you think?

Any takers? Thanks!

John Feeney
 
Sep 20, 2000
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By the way, Inger did open this thread with a really intriguing question: Can the contents of the Garvey/Blum/Hichens letter be reproduced here? I understand that it's in the Don Lynch collection, and that Don originally uncovered it. (I could be mistaken.) It would certainly be enlightening to read the actual document, if permissable.

Cheers!
John Feeney
 

George Behe

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Hi, John!

A very thoughtful and perceptive posting. I think we're all looking forward to learning more about Mr. Hichens.

All my best,

George
 

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