Mr Robert John Hopkins was born Robert John Wilson at 50 Falls Road in Belfast, Ireland on 1 December 1868.1
Hailing from a Roman Catholic family, he was the son of John Wilson, a saddler, and the former Catherine McMullen who had seemingly married around 1865. Little is known of Robert's early life but his father perhaps died when he was still a small infant and his mother was remarried to butler James Hopkins on 5 July 1870; from that marriage, Robert gained a half-sibling, James Edmund John (b. 29 January 1871).
Robert was shown working as an able seaman on several crew lists in the 1890s and early 1900s on ships operating out of Liverpool, including the Garrick and Cymric and in 1902 his address was given as 1 Bagot (?) Street. In March 1908 he was serving as an able seaman aboard the SS Wylam.
Spending much of his life in the USA, Robert was married, perhaps in New York around 1904 to Annie Gamble, née Graham.
Annie was born in Glenavy, Co Antrim, Ireland in 1864, later being baptised on 8 March that year; she was one of several children from a Roman Catholic family born to Patrick Graham and Letitia McGarry. Her family later resettled in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland sometime prior to the 1880s where Annie worked as a cook. She was first married in Greenock on 28 April 1886 to William Gamble and had two daughters, Mary (b. 20 May 1887) and Emily (b. 21 April 1889). Little else is known about that part of her life but in May 1903 Annie, by then a widow, and her daughter Mary crossed the Atlantic aboard the Columbia, destined for the home of her brother Francis Graham in New Jersey.2
The marriage between Robert Hopkins and his wife Annie produced two children, both sons; Robert Henry was born in New York on 22 August 1904. They seemingly returned to their native Ireland shortly after and settled in the Ormeau area of Belfast where their second child James Thomas was born in 1906.
Robert would be absent from the home (most likely at sea) when the 1911 census was taken but his wife and sons and stepdaughter Mary "Minnie" Gamble were recorded as living at 5 Spring Street off the Ormeau Road in south Belfast.
Just prior to the Titanic disaster Robert faced a personal tragedy. Having been at sea since late January 1912, Hopkins returned home--31 Belmont Street, Ormeau, Belfast--in the early hours of 4 March 1912 and was greeted by his wife who seemed to be in normal health but who was odd in appearance. Annie had a history of mental illness and was described as occasionally "unhinged"; she had previously been committed, twice in Belfast and once in Liverpool. During her husband's latest absence her daughter Minnie reported that she was "queer" and on one occasion had threatened to throw herself into the river.
Annie made Robert his breakfast later that morning and he later left her to go and collect his wages from the shipping office. Errand complete, after several hours Hopkins returned home but received no answer after knocking the door several times. Fetching a key from a neighbour he gained entrance to his home and quickly glanced into the kitchen then went upstairs but could not find his wife. Returning back downstairs Hopkins went to replenish the coal in the fire and whilst opening the scullery door, to his horror, he saw his wife hanging above him, suspended from a bannister by a rope. He cut her down but it was too late as she had been dead for some time; her death was later recorded as suicide by temporary insanity.
With a family to support Hopkins returned to work and was aboard Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton; he signed-on again for the maiden voyage on 6 April 1912 and gave his address as 14 Woodstock Road, Belfast and his previous ship as the White Head. As an able seaman he could expect monthly wages of £5.
Hopkins was rescued in lifeboat 13 and later recounted his experiences:
"... While the [life]boat was going down... I noticed, as did the others, that it was going to land right under the exhaust pipe from the engines, which would have surely swamped it. I called up and the lowering was delayed long enough to rectify that. Then boat No. 15 was lowered almost on top of it, being stopped just in time by a call from below. I had to cut away the falls with my knife. The drop from the boat deck to the water, under ordinary circumstances, was 95 feet. In this case it was much more, for the bow at the time was sinking and the stern was lifted high in the air. Even then though I did not think she would go down..."
Not required to give evidence at either the British or American Inquiries into the disaster, Hopkins refused company orders to sail back to Britain and quit the White Star Line, expecting no financial relief from them.
Hopkins found work elsewhere and later on in 1912 he ended up back in Britain. Perhaps despondent over the death of his wife, his recent brush with death aboard Titanic and being let go from employment, Hopkins had a run-in with the authorities on account of drunken and disorderly behaviour:
A TITANIC SURVIVOR
Robert John Hopkins (44), an A.B., was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Avonmouth on Tuesday. Prisoner, on his discharge book being examined, was found to be one of the survivors of the ill-fated Titanic. At the time of his arrest he had 2s 2d in his possession, and when charged he told the magistrate he had been paid off a week ago.
Alderman Saise: "What have you done with the money given to you from the Titanic Survivors' Fund?"
Prisoner: "I have not had any."
As Hopkins had an excellent series of discharges from several of the Transatlantic steamship companies, he was discharged, and advised not to get drunk again. - Western Daily Press, 13 September 1912
Robert returned to life at sea and by July 1917 he was serving as able seaman and quartermaster aboard Lapland; immigration records describe him as standing at 5' 6", weighing 161 lbs and with a tattoo on his left arm.
Hopkins settled permanently in the USA and worked as a stevedore in Hoboken, New Jersey; the 1920 US census shows him living on Polk Street, Hudson.
Robert Hopkins, whose last address was 1035 Garden Street, Hoboken, died in St Mary's Hospital, New York on 17 November 1943, just shy of his 75th birthday, and was survived by his two sons. He was buried in Holy Name Cemetery, New Jersey; his final resting place remained unmarked for many years until the Titanic International Society arranged for a headstone to be placed there in 2016.
Robert's eldest son Robert as a teenager, circa 1921
In America his son Robert also became a seaman; he died in Brooklyn on 8 November 1990. His son James reportedly served in the British Army but his final whereabouts remain uncertain.