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 Southampton in 1853. Henry was one of eleven children, his siblings being: Elizabeth (b. 1854), Sarah (b. 1856), Caroline (b. 1858), John George (b. 1860), Mary (b. 1862), Catherine (b. 1864), Alice (b. 1866), Thomas (b. 1868), Helen (b. 1871) and Walter (b. 1875).
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 and his father is described as a master painter. Henry is absent for the 1891 census but his now-widowed mother is living as a boarder at 47 St Mary's Road, Southampton.
Henry was married in 1896 in London to Lilian Rachel Smith (b. 1873 in Pershore, Worcestershire) but would not have any children. On the 1901 census Henry is absent and 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 now 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. As a bedroom steward he could expect to earn wages of £3, 15s per month.
Etches' station aboard the Titanic was on the aft portside of B Deck. He was in charge of 8 cabins on B deck and one on A deck, A-36, that of Thomas Andrews. He would later testify:
Every morning at 7 I went to his (Andrews) cabin. I would take him some fruit and tea. I used to see him again when he dressed at night. That would be a quarter or twenty minutes to 7, as a rule. He was rather late in dressing. I had met him several times at Belfast because I had been on the Olympic.
After the collision Etches, who was off duty, became curious and walked forward along the E deck working alleyway ("Scotland Road"), and as he entered the third class accommodation he met a passenger who dropped a lump of ice to the floor with the words 'Will you believe it now?'
Later when the danger was more apparent Etches helped his first class passengers into their lifebelts. In B-84 he struggled to persuade mining and smelting tycoon Benjamin Guggenheim to wear his lifebelt; he eventually succeeded and gave Guggenheim a thick sweater before directing him to the Boat Deck. Later Guggenheim would remove both and spend his last moments alive dressed in his finest evening wear. At another cabin (C-78) Etches banged loudly on the door and when the people inside asked what the trouble was Etches explained but despite his warnings he was not allowed in and eventually he moved on. Etches was rescued in lifeboat 5 and pulled an oar as Third Officer Pitman guided them back towards the scene to pick up swimmers, one woman implored Etches to persuade Officer Pitman not to return and eventually Pitman decided to stand-by despite the desperate calls of those in the freezing water.
After he arrived in New York Etches was called before the U.S. Senate Inquiry into the sinking.
In years after the disaster Henry appears to have left the sea and moved to his wife's birthplace of Pershore, Worcestershire and later lived at Eaton Villa, Fladbury in Pershore. He died there on 30 September 1944 as a result of chronic myocarditis aged 75 and left an estate of £824 to his widow Lilian who later died in 1954 in Pershore.