Robert Edward Steel was born in Guernsey in the Channel Islands in 1882 and grew up in Southampton.
He was the son of Robert Steel (b. 1859 in Leith, Midlothian, Scotland), a seaman and ship's rigger, and his wife Mary (b. 1860 in Guernsey) who had married around 1881. He had one sibling, a sister named Mary "May" Ann (later Mrs Alfred Charles Gapper, 1884-1929).
He first appeared on the 1891 census when he, his mother and sister were living at 12 Anglesea Terrace, St Mary, Southampton. He most likely went to sea at a young age and when the 1901 census was conducted both he and his sister were absent from the family home, then 27 Paget Street, St Mary. His sister was listed elsewhere as a servant at 3 The Polygon, All Saints, Southampton. Again absent from the 1911 census, Robert's parents were by then living at 2 Nelson Street, Southampton.
Steel was taken onto Titanic as a substitute after several crewmembers reported late for departure. His engagement, alongside that of fellow trimmer Alfred Cotton, was so hurried that no details of their address or previous ship was recorded. As a trimmer Steel could expect to earn monthly wages of £5, 10s.
Robert Steel, who was unmarried, died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified. The following death notice appeared in The Hampshire Independent (unknown date):
STEEL--April 15th, 1912, at sea, on S.S. Titanic, Robert Edward Steel, the beloved and only son of Robert and Mary Steel, of 2, Nelson Street, Chapel, Southampton.