Robert "Robbie" Purvis was born in Alnwick, Northumberland, England on 7 June 1893. He was one of two children born to Robert Purvis, a baker, and the former Eleanor Kinghorn. He had a younger sister, Dorothy Eleanor (b. 1900).
The Purvis family appear on the 1911 census as residents of The Battery in North Alnmouth in Northumberland but Robert was not listed, presumably at sea at the time; between 1908 and 1911 Purvis was a waiter aboard Carmania.
In April 1912 he was serving as a waiter aboard the eastward-bound voyage of the Carpathia when that ship rescued the survivors of the Titanic. He wrote a detailed letter to his parents about the rescue which was reprinted in local media:
We came quite close to the iceberg which the Titanic struck. It was about a mile long and 100 feet high. There were plenty of bergs scattered about, but none so big as this one. We had to come right through amongst them in the dark looking for lifeboats. We sailed exactly over the spot where the Titanic went down, just a dark patch on the water with deck chairs and cushions and dead bodies (some babies) all floating about amongst the wreckage. It was a heart-rending sight.
Robert Purvis continued to work at sea, later settling in Southampton and working as head waiter aboard the Queen Mary.
He married in 1926 to Kate Copp (1905-1978) and they had two children. The couple lived at 43 Wilton Crescent, Shirley for the rest their lives.
Robert died in Southampton on 1 May 1969. His ashes were scattered at South Stoneham Cemetery, Southampton.