107 #87: ‘Molly” Brown tried to make lifeboat number six go back to pick up survivors, but was prevented by Quartermaster Robert Hichens

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TRUE. Margaret Brown’s own account, told to the New York Times on 20th April, 1912, makes no mention of her urging the boat to go back, but the lengthy, two-part account she wrote for the Newport Herald states:

‘When none of the calamities that were predicted by our terrified boatman was experienced, we asked him to return and pick up those in the water. Again we were admonished and told how the frantic drowning victims would grapple the sides of our boat and capsize us. He not yielding to our entreaties, we pulled away vigorously toward the faintly glimmering light on the horizon.’

Major Arthur Peuchen confirmed that some of the women had wanted to go back, although he did not mention any by name. However, Peuchen and Hichens had a serious disagreement in this boat over Hichen’s alleged behavior towards the women:

AGP092: ‘While these cries of distress were going on, did anyone in the boat urge the quartermaster to return?’

‘Yes; some of the women did. But, as I said before, I had had a row with him, and I said to the women, “It is no use you arguing with that man, at all. It is best not to discuss matters with him.” He said it was no use going back there, there was only a lot of stiffs there, later on, which was very unkind, and the women resented it very much. I do not think he was qualified to be a quartermaster.’

Hichens denied that any of the women had wanted to go back or had said anything about it, and that he had said ‘stiffs’—but he denied only the use of the word rather than the whole incident. Peuchen’s account tallies with what Margaret Brown remembers as far as Hichens is concerned:

‘To me there was not one tragic harrowing element near me. We were in a boat, we were safe and we were at work. I was simply fascinated. In a few moments the man in the back of the boat began to complain that we had no chance. There were only three men in the boat. For at least three hours he seemed to break the monotony of it. We stood him patiently, and then after he had told us that we had no chance, told us many times, and after he had explained that we had no food, no water, and no compass I told him to be still or he would go overboard. Then he was quiet. I rowed because I would have frozen to death. I made them all row. It saved their lives.’

However, Peuchen claims that it was he who got the women to row:

AGP137: ‘Did any of the women help with the oars?’ ‘Yes; they did, very pluckily, too. We got the oars. Before this occurred we got a couple of women rowing aft, on the starboard side of our boat, and I got two women to assist on our side; but of course the woman with me got sick with the heavy work, and she had to give it up. But I believe the others kept on rowing quite pluckily for a considerable time.’

Certainly there were women rowing, whether this was instigated by Margaret Brown or Major Peuchen, or both, or one of the other women is not known for certain. However, the main argument that night seems to have been about Hichens’ attitude, rather than the question of returning to pick up survivors. In Hitchen’s favour, it should be noted that nearly all Titanic’s lifeboats failed to return to pick up survivors, and Hitchen’s had been given orders by Second Officer Charles Lightoller to steer lifeboat No. 6 away from Titanic, towards a light which could be seen in the distance. Hitchen’s did not know that rescue ships were on their way but—as Quartermaster in charge—he would have been better to keep his very understandable fears to himself.

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  1. I’m sorry but what an absolute COWARD! The family can try justify Hichens actions of that night as rubbish but when the whole life boat has come back saying he prevented nor go back to help. Explained by family as they were gonna die anyway?? What rubbish! When a woman especially in those days pulls you up and starts ordering u around cause ur a coward and too concerned about saving his own skin rather that anyone else! Again as explained by family. Oh he knew they were gonna die. Come on! Wake up to urself I’m sorry Hichens family but ur relative is the definition of cowardess.

    1. Easy to say by us all from the safety of our armchairs – but rowing back in a small boat on the Atlantic in the dark, to thousands of desperate drowning people – when there was no guarantee your lifeboat would survive there waves at daybreak anyway; no one but 5th Officer Lowe made that decision – and he emptied out his passengers first, before he went back…

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