Robert Harmes was born in Ballari, Karnataka, British-India on 2 July 1881.
He was the son of an English father, John Frederick Harmes, and an Irish mother, Isabella Templeton, who were married in Belfast in 1875, his father being described as a waiter at the time. The family were of an Anglican (Church of England/Ireland) religious background.
What brought the family to India remains unclear although it is likely that Robert’s father served with the British Army. Two children were born there; Robert and his elder brother John James (1879-1880), who died as an infant. The stay in India lasted only a few years and by 1884 the family had resettled in Belfast where Robert was gifted with two younger siblings: Andrew arrived in 1884 and Isabella in 1887.
As a young man Harmes also served with the British Army but he later deserted in 1900.
Robert and his family appear on the 1901 census as residents of 56 Riga Street and he was described as a general labourer. He was married on 22 February 1902 in Belfast’s Domestic Mission Church to Agnes Allen (b. circa 1881), a mill worker, and their address was specified as 20 Dundee Street.
The 1911 census states that Robert and Agnes had welcomed six children up to that point, losing two in infancy. Their known children were: John Frederick (b. 1902), Isabella (b. 1903), Robert (b. 1905), William Eames (b. 1907), Agnes (b. 1910), Alice Allen (b. 1914) and John Frederick (b. 1916). On the 1911 census the family were residents of 22 Dundee Street in Belfast’s Woodvale area.
Harmes’ ship prior to Titanic had been the Olympic. He joined Titanic at Belfast for the delivery trip to Southampton where he then disembarked.
In September 1912 Robert Harmes was a signatory of the Ulster Covenant, a petition signed by nearly 500,000 citizens opposing Irish Home Rule.
Serving in the merchant service during the first half of WWI, Harmes was described as a marine fireman in March 1916 when he signed up for the war effort with the Royal Engineers. In April 1917 he was appointed Lance Corporal before promotion to Corporal later that year. He was eventually discharged in August 1919.
Following the war Harmes returned to working at sea and spent the rest of his life living at 65 Aberdeen Street in Belfast. Widowed in April 1954, Robert Harmes died on 3 February 1958. He is buried with his wife in Belfast’s City Cemetery (plot J1 359).