Mr Henry Samuel Etches was born on 12 October 1868 in Freemantle, Southampton, Hampshire, England.
He was the son of John George Etches (1829-1887) and Caroline Elizabeth Newman (1833-1902). His father was Scottish by birth and his mother was from Southampton and they had married in the latter city on 12 May 1853.
One of a dozen children, Henry's siblings were: Elizabeth Maria (b. 1854), Sarah Isabella (b. 1855), Caroline (b. 1857), John George (b. 1859), Catherine (b. 1861), Mary Ann (b. 1863), Alice (b. 1865), Thomas Charles (b. 1867), Helen (b. 1870), Francis Edward (b. 1872) and Walter William (b. 1874).
For reasons unknown, Henry and his family are not listed on the 1871 census. They appear on the 1881 census as living at 68 Park Road, Millbrook, Hampshire when his father was described as a master painter. Henry was absent for the 1891 census but his then-widowed mother was living as a boarder at 47 St Mary's Road, Southampton.
Described as a steward, Etches was married in St Anne's church in Bermondsey, London on 1 January 1896 to Lilian Rachel Smith (b. 14 May 1873 in Pershore, Worcestershire), daughter of farmer Thomas Smith and the former Ellen Stanley. Henry and Lilian would remain childless.
By the time of the 1901 census Henry is absent but his wife is listed as a visitor at 114 Derby Road, St Mary, Southampton. He is again absent at the time of the 1911 census, with his wife then listed as living at 23A Gordon Avenue, Portswood, Southampton.
When he signed on to the Titanic he gave his address as 23A, Gordon Avenue, Southampton. His previous ship was the Oruba and as a bedroom steward, he could expect to earn wages of £3, 15s per month. He was in charge of eight aft portside first-class cabins on B-deck and one (A-36) on A-deck, that of Thomas Andrews.
During the voyage, Etches reported at the cabin of Thomas Andrews every morning at 7.00 am, describing how Mr Andrews seemed to be busy all the time working on his new ship. Etches stated that Andrews had charts rolled up by the side of his bed and papers of all descriptions on his desks and was constantly taking notes on any improvements that could be made. He would see him at other points during the days aboard, mainly on E-deck and always with an entourage, taking notes for improvements.
On Sunday 14th April Etches had been on watch until 9.00 pm when he turned in, being required back on duty by midnight. He was asleep in his own E-deck quarters amidships when the collision occurred. Something stirred him awake but he could not say what it was and called out to his mate "What time is it that they are going to call us next?" His mate replied "I don't know" and Etches turned to go back to sleep again but had only just done so when he heard an "extra loud" shout, "Close watertight bulkheads," recognising the voice as belonging to boatswain Nichols. Etches got up and looked out of his quarters and saw Nichols and a seaman running up Scotland Road towards the stern.
Etches then began to dress but before finishing doing so again looked out onto Scotland Road; within this short space of time third-class passengers had started filing aft from the quarters in the bow, many carrying all their belongings. He started out into the corridor for another look and had only walked a few metres when he met a passenger carrying a chunk of ice who asked "Will you believe it now?" before throwing the article to the deck.
Possibly unnerved, Etches returned to his quarters to complete dressing after which he went out into the corridor to make his way up top, brushing past bedroom steward Edmund Stone who was just coming off his watch. Etches asked Stone the time but Stone dismissed the question and said "Never mind about that; there is something else for you to do. I saw them pull up bags of mail, and the water running out of the bottom of them."
Etches then ascended to A-deck and saw the bedroom steward he was supposed to relieve assisting passengers there, most of the cabin doors having been flung open with half-dressed passengers standing around. He asked the steward "Have you called all of your people?" and the steward replied that he had, retorting "Yes, but I can't get them to dress." Etches then went to B-deck to summon his own charges, including Benjamin Guggenheim and his manservant Victor Giglio. Etches stated that Guggenheim answered his door immediately; the steward entered and took down the lifebelts from the top of the wardrobe. The millionaire quipped "This will hurt." to which Etches replied "You have plenty of time, put on some clothes and I will be back in a few minutes." When Etches did return he assisted Mr Guggenheim into a lifebelt and they left the cabin, passing by cabin B78 (that of the Spencers) which he found shut. He banged on the cabin door with both hands and a man's voice answered "What is it?" followed by a lady's voice asking "Tell me what the trouble is." Etches advised that they should open the door and he would explain everything, but to please get ready with lifebelts. The cabin's occupants (which he recalled belonged to an American couple, the man being "a stiff-built gentleman" and the woman a "rather short, thin lady") remained reluctant to open the door and Etches moved on.
At around 12.20 Etches was still going along B-deck when Thomas Andrews, who was without a lifebelt of his own, stopped him to ask if he had taken care of all of his passengers; Etches stated that he had not and was just about to see if William Ernest Carter and his family were ready; he went to open their cabin door but was informed by Bruce Ismay's private secretary William Harrison, whose cabin adjoined that of the Carter's, that they had already vacated.
Andrews then ordered Etches to follow him to C-deck, heading down a pantry staircase and asking him to make sure the passengers open their cabin doors and advise them that their lifebelts were on top of the wardrobes and on the top of the racks and to assist them to get them on. The pair walked along C-deck together when they encountered purser McElroy surrounded by a large group of ladies, he asking them to go back to their rooms and not to frighten themselves but, as a preliminary caution to put their lifebelts on. Mr Andrews retorted "That is exactly what I have been trying to get them to do" and with that he walked down the stairwell to D-deck and that was the last that Etches saw of him. Purser McElroy then advised him to head up to the boat deck, which he did, with orders to tell all the other bedroom stewards to assemble their passengers at the boat deck.
Etches arrived at the starboard boat deck just as lifeboat 7 was being loaded; he asked the quartermaster if it was lifeboat 5 (his assigned boat) but was told that it was not. He then went to lifeboat 5 which was still being prepared so he assisted in launching lifeboat 7, describing how himself, officers Murdoch and Pitman, Bruce Ismay, a quartermaster and two other stewards were present at as the boat was being filled. He described one baby boy (Trevor Allison?) with a small woollen cap over his head entering the lifeboat.
After boat 7 was lowered without difficulty Etches moved forward and began assisting at lifeboat 5, standing at the forward fall with a quartermaster Alfred Olliver and three other stewards. The boat was only partially filled when no more women were in sight; both officer Murdoch and Bruce Ismay called out for more women several times but initially, none came forward until one solitary woman appeared, Ismay asking her to get into the boat. The woman (who Etches later identified as Mabel Bennett) said "I am only a stewardess" to which Ismay replied "Never mind, you are a woman, take your place" and she got in, the last woman Etches saw entering the boat. He described there being two firemen already in the bow of the lifeboat with officer Pitman standing on the boat deck waiting, whilst Etches waited with another steward and quartermaster Olliver on deck. Pitman asked him if this was his assigned lifeboat and he replied that it was; he was ordered in, to be followed by Alfred Olliver. First Officer Murdoch then ordered Pitman into the boat, the two shaking hands and exchanging a "goodbye and good luck" shortly before the order was given to lower the boat. Only moments prior to that he observed a woman who had been placed in the boat stand up and place her arms around her husband's neck, reportedly a stout American man, whom she told "I can't leave you." Etches turned his head away from this emotional farewell but when he glanced back he noticed the man had climbed into the bottom of the boat, with a disembodied a voice calling out to have him expelled. It was too late however as the lifeboat had already begun lowering. As several first-class men escaped in this boat, it is unclear as to who this supposed interloper was.
After boat 5 was launched, with what Etches related as holding 42 persons, he stated that officer Pitman gave the order to head away from the ship and they pulled away about a quarter of a mile before the men laid on their oars. From this vantage point Etches watched the final throes, as described at the US inquiry:
She seemed to raise once as though she was going to take a violent dive, but sort of checked, as though she had scooped the water up and had levelled herself. She then seemed to settle very, very quiet, until the last, when she rose up, and she seemed to stand 20 seconds, stern in that position (indicating), and then she went down with an awful grating, like a small boat running off a shingly beach.
After the ship had foundered, with Etches stating that there was little disturbance of the water, lifeboat 5 held back a few minutes before officer Pitman gave the order to return to the scene of the wreck. This was met with widespread opposition from ladies in the boat, with two ladies sat near Etches in the bow asking him to "appeal to the officer not to go back. Why should we lose all of our lives in a useless attempt to save them from the ship." Etches assured the women he had no such sway over the officer. The protestations worked however and lifeboat 5 did not return to the wreck to pick up survivors.
After he arrived in New York Etches was called before the U.S. Senate Inquiry into the sinking.
In years after the disaster Etches continued to work at sea and would spend the entirety of the 1920s serving aboard Olympic as a bathroom steward; crew manifests describe him as standing at 5' 7½" and weighing 162 lbs. By the advent of the 1930s, he had transferred to the Calgaric as bathroom steward, serving on the Havana-New York-London run.
By 1939 Henry and Lillian were living on Grosvenor Road, Southampton but within the next few years moved to his wife's birthplace of Pershore, Worcestershire; his last recorded address was at Eaton Villa, Fladbury in Pershore.
Henry Etches died in Pershore on 30 September 1944 as a result of chronic myocarditis; he was 75 and left his estate valued at £824 to his widow Lilian.
Lilian Etches rallied for a further decade before her death in Pershore on 19 February 1954.