Was Robert Hichens mentally unstable?


William Oakes

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Everything that I have read concerning QM Robert Hichens makes him out to be a nasty and unchivalrous bloke!
On the night of the sinking he was at the wheel of the Titanic and was the man who followed the order to put her hard to starboard.
Later in the evening, he was in command of Lifeboat No. 6.
The testimony following the rescue, after the sinking paints Hichens in a very dark and cruel light.
Witnesses, survivors in his lifeboat give consistent accounts of his brutality throughout that freezing morning at sea.
Hitchens refuse to participate in any labor, making women row the lifeboat.
When they requested to return to the area of the sinking to help, his reply was "No, and there's nothing but stiffs back there."
The man had to know full well that those "stiffs" were many of these ladies husbands.
Hitchens repeatedly reminded everyone in the boat that they were hundreds of miles from land, without food, water, a compass and charts, surrounded by ice and that they were, "Likely to drift for days."
When asked if the Carpathia was coming to pick them up, Hitchen's reply was, "No, she is not going to pick us up; she is coming to pick up bodies."
This man's conduct throughout the evening was remarkably unbecoming of an officer.
It was later reported that on board the Carpathia, he was actually heard bragging about his own heroism to anyone who would listen.
I am perplexed why a man would conduct himself in such a matter in the midst of such a moment of posterity.
The only thing that i can attribute it to is mental instability.
I welcome your thoughts and opinions.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I don't particularly like QM Hichens' (I don't think there is a 't' in the surname) character but I don't believe he was "mentally unstable" in the conventional sense. I think his family were lower middle class and growing up in late Victorian England as the oldest of 9 siblings would have left its mark on his nature. He probably did not get much education and the early move to the sea and working in rough Scandinavian ships probably gave him the rough edge. He was still a young man on the Titanic and at the wheel during the collision. I don't think many people believe the story that following Murdoch's "Hard-a-Starboard!" order Hichens panicked and initially turned the wheel the wrong way - I certainly don't; but the fact that he was the helmsman might have left a bit of uncalled for guilt immediately afterwards.

Then the stress of being in charge of a lifeboat even as the ship sank with so many of his colleagues certain to die would have made Hichens - or anyone - anxious and edgy. That, plus having to contend with an abrasive and self-indulgent character like 'Molly' Brown could easily have frayed his temper. The fact that his wife and kids left him in 1931 and later he was jailed for grievous bodily harm on a contemporary sailor suggests that Hichens was certainly not a nice man but I don't think he was mentally unstable.
 
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William Oakes

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The fact that he shot a man twice, who he owed money to, after purchasing a boat from the man; led me to wonder if the man was all there psychologically.
At the very least he had poor coping skills, no ability to deal with stress, and a terrible mean streak. I found his conduct reprehensible.
 

Mark Baber

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Moderator's note:

As mentioned in Arun Vajpey's message the correct spelling is "Hichens" and the thread title has been revised to reflect that.
 
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Kyle Naber

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It sounds to me that he was talking to himself out loud in a way. Your mind sometimes can list every worst possibility in a stressful situation like this and he probably was feeling a great bit of guilt.

I do have to agree with his statement about returning to the site of the disaster. If they would have gone back, they either would be swamped by tens of people at a time trying to climb onto the boat, or it would be too late and not worth the effort in the first place.
 

Arun Vajpey

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The fact that he shot a man twice, who he owed money to, after purchasing a boat from the man; led me to wonder if the man was all there psychologically.
At the very least he had poor coping skills, no ability to deal with stress, and a terrible mean streak. I found his conduct reprehensible.
Well that incident was 20 years after the Titanic went down and a lot would have happened in Hichens' life in the interim. There might have been other issues involved that prompted his violent action. Considering that it followed the break-up of his marriage, I wonder if the motive was something more personal.
 
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Simon Medhurst

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As the Great grandson of Robert, I probably am biased. But he was a man of remarkable skills as a Quartermaster on Titanic at the peak of his career. I believe anyone going through what they went through that night would mentally scar you. And he suffered later in life because of it and yes he did wrong in what he did and he served his time for it,
 
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Bo Bowman

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One thing we can all agree on, is that every man and woman who survived that tragedy had baggage from it. Survivor's guilt, fear of ships/drowning, what we call PTSD today, anger issues, regrets, you name it, they had to struggle with it. That goes double for crewmen, triple for chip's officers and others in responsibility (e.g. Ismay), and perhaps times ten for the men who were on the bridge or in the crow's next that night. A study of their post-wreck lives would, in most cases, illustrate what happens when the human mind has exceeded its capacity for such emotions. Anger, alcoholism, inability to hold relationships, and suicide are just some of the more obvious manifestations. Perhaps that is what holds our fascination for this story. We wonder, if we were there, would we have fared half as well as they did? God bless them all.
 
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William Oakes

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One thing we can all agree on, is that every man and woman who survived that tragedy had baggage from it. Survivor's guilt, fear of ships/drowning, what we call PTSD today, anger issues, regrets, you name it, they had to struggle with it. That goes double for crewmen, triple for chip's officers and others in responsibility (e.g. Ismay), and perhaps times ten for the men who were on the bridge or in the crow's next that night. A study of their post-wreck lives would, in most cases, illustrate what happens when the human mind has exceeded its capacity for such emotions. Anger, alcoholism, inability to hold relationships, and suicide are just some of the more obvious manifestations. Perhaps that is what holds our fascination for this story. We wonder, if we were there, would we have fared half as well as they did? God bless them all.
I agree with everything that you've said.
It confirms my original assertion that Hichens was indeed mentally unstable.
I base this upon statements from witnesses in the lifeboat.
I believe that he had a complete nervous breakdown
That's not necessarily a judgement against the man, it is an observation of his mental health.
 

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