Whatever Happened to Robert Hichens


Jun 8, 2002
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I just finished reading the much-anticipated research article, "Whatever Happened to Robert Hichens?", by Phil Gowan and Brian Meister. My congratulations and thanks go to these gentlemen for their skillful research and writing and for providing a closing chapter on this man's sad life--a gift not only to the Titanic community but, more importantly, to the Hichens family.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
This article went a long way towards clearing up a very old mystery and I was thrilled to be able to read it after Phil and Brian spent so much time running this to ground. One thing bugs me just a tad though; Why was it that Robert's family was never able to get a streight answer on his death when it happened?

It's not as if this sort of information would be a critical state secret. Was it just something that fell through the cracks to be forgotten? Phil, Brian, any ideas?
 

Phillip Gowan

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Apr 10, 2001
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Thanks for the compliments guys. Brian and I really appreciate it. We're in Southampton now for the BTS convention and have spent a great deal of time with the various Hichens descendents over the last few days--Old Robert may have been a salty crewman but his descendants are truly FIRST CLASS.

In answer to your question Michael as to why the family never got a straight answer, only one of them ever really tried. The children had begun to go their separate ways by the time their mother died and the youngest, Fred, was only 14 at the time of her death. Robert had spent his years in prison and also traveling on the high seas and hadn't been a nurturing father, showing up at random times through the years. As soon as Florence was buried, Robert left again and after a month or so stopped sending any monetary assistance to Fred. At 14 he had to begin to fend for himself, sometimes living with siblings and sometimes with friends. Then Robert died in September of 1940 and no one apparently knew who his survivors were or how to contact them. Fred was the only one that had any great interest in finding out what became of their father but they all assumed he was still alive *somewhere.* After 3 years passed Freddie married at a very young age and that is when he began to search for his father in earnest, being convinced that if Robert was indeed alive, someone would have heard something of him within that 3 year period. The search took a couple of years and finally they did receive a certificate of some sort saying that he had died aboard the ship ENGLISH TRADER and had been buried at sea. Until we tracked down the exact information last year, that is all the family really knew. His only surviving daughter-in-law is a spry 79 year old now and over the course of the past two days I've shared several meals and visits with her and she told me they had had no idea he had actually died off the coast of Scotland. But despite Robert's less than fatherly attitude, Fred always loved him and spoke fondly of him and wouldn't rest until he knew for sure that he was dead or not.
 
May 9, 2001
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Phil and Brian, I really enjoyed reading about the life of Qmst. Hichens. Hats off to you both for such a fine read.

Any other details regarding the financial link to the White Star Line in the years after Titanic? That type of company interest in his wellbeing could be interpreted as probably a form of hush money, or perhaps just a genuine benevolence toward a sailor whose career is now handicapped by such an unfortunate circumstance.

Is there any evidence to point more definitively as to the nature of that relationship? Or is that pretty much a dead end path?

Again, congratulations on the article.

Yuri
 

Leona Nolan

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Dec 17, 2002
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I have just finished the article and just wanted to pass on my congratulations. Well done to the both of you on the research. Found the article to be well written and presented
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Again, congratulations
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Trent Pheifer

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Just finished the article and can just say, it was GREAT! Other than that ditto to what everyone else said lol.

-Trent
 
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Susan Leighton

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To Phillip Gowan and Brian Meister:
Thank you so much for the very enlightening article on Robert Hichens. The article was extremely well written and obviously painstakingly researched. The mystique surrounding the quartermaster, who was at the helm during the crucial maneuvers before and after Titanic hit the iceberg, has always fascinated me. Your article provided insightful information into his background and dispelled the rumours concerning his life after the disaster. I was delighted to read that the Hichens' and Brown families were reunited in harmony after all these years.
I have a question though, that might be answered here(or at least pondered upon):
Do you think Robert Hichens' behavior in the
lifeboat was a reaction to what must have been
a bone-chilling experience at the helm....
OR...was his behavior just characteristic of
who he was as a man??

I find Robert Hichens...the man...and his actions associated with Titanic...to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the enigma that is Titanic.

Phillip:
In your most recent post above you indicated ( paraphrase) that you shared several meals and visits with Robert's son Fred's daughter-in-law (whew---did I get that right?!)..."a spry 79 year old and she told me they had had no idea he had actually died off the coast of Scotland. But despite Robert's less than fatherly attitude, Fred always loved him and spoke fondly of him and wouldn't rest until he knew for sure that he was dead or not". That must have been truly remarkable to visit with this woman.
Excellent research!!....and very tender remarks regarding the family ...and the man...who is a major contributor to the Titanic mystery.
Thank you both for your dedication to this research and especially for sharing it here
happy.gif

Susan Y. Leighton
 

Phillip Gowan

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Apr 10, 2001
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Susan,
Am very appreciative of your nice comments and interest in the story of Robert Hichens. Getting to know his family has been one of the nicest highlights of my Titanic research.

Concerning your question about his behaviour in the lifeboat, I have my own ideas (unsubstantiated) but think there is no doubt that he was guilty of a lot of what was testified. What I don't think is clear, is exactly what motivated him to say the things he did. I don't think that he "just did it to do it." I have my own suspicions that the first class women may have provoked some of it with ostentatious demands and he responded by taunting them all night. All of us have had some experience of dealing with personalities that envision themselves as superior and sometimes responding in a nasty way is the human response. Not defending Hichens you understand, just trying to find a motivation for what he said and did that night.

I have trouble uploading photos on ET but have asked Phil Hind to put some of the Hichens photos up for me. One of them will be Hichens' granddaughter Brenda Broomfield and Muffet brown doing an April 15th "re-inactment" after the three of us had lunch at the Cowherds Restaurant in Southampton. Another is of Brenda with her 79 year old aunt Dorothy Hichens--their first meeting since 1957. The third is the newest member of the Hichens clan--the "Next Quartermaster."

Thanks again for your compliments and I hope you enjoy the photos.

Phillip
 
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Ben Ayers

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Attention Phillip Gowan. Hello Phillip, I am a Press Officer working on the Science Museum's Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition which opens on 16 May. I am trying to track down some living descendants of passengers from London. I would be grateful if you could get in touch if you think you may be able to help me. My e-mail address is [email protected].

Many thanks,

Ben
 

Phillip Gowan

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Apr 10, 2001
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Reunion of the Brown and Hichens family (Brenda Broomfield and Muffet Brown in a 90th anniversary reenactment :).
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Phillip Gowan

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Apr 10, 2001
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First meeting of Robert Hichens' granddaughter Brenda and her Aunt Dorothy Hichens in 46 years. April 11, 2003, Southampton, England.
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Phillip Gowan

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Apr 10, 2001
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The newest addition to the Hichens family-maybe a Quartermaster in the making. This is Robert Hichens' great-great-grandson.
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Mar 15, 2001
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Those are really great photographs Phil, thanks for sharing them with us. Dorothy certainly doesn't look her age, she looks much younger.
 
May 12, 2005
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Yes Phil, many thanks. It's good to finally see the "fight" photo between the Browns and the Hichens. Have heard about it since last year but never saw it till now.
 

Beth Barber

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Jun 7, 2001
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What a great Article!!! Thank you so much Phil and Brian! Ditto on what all the above posts say! - Beth
 

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