The Man at the Wheel

When 23-year-old Robert Hichens married in 1906, his marriage certificate stated his occupation as “master mariner.” Indeed, he had served aboard numerous ships, including mail boats and small liners, usually in the position of quartermaster. But until he was hired in April of 1912 as one of Titanic’s six quartermasters, his experience at sea did not include the North Atlantic.



Titanic Quartermaster Robert Hichens

At 10:00 p.m. on April 14th, Hichens relieved another quartermaster at the ship’s wheel, his fourth time at that post since the ship had left Southampton. The air temperature dropped as the ship continued on course through calm waters. When the lookouts in the crow’s nest sited the iceberg ahead, they immediately telephoned the bridge. First Officer William Murdoch gave Hichens the order, “Hard a’ starboard!” At the same time, Murdoch ordered the engines stopped and reversed.

Hichens correctly turned the wheel to port as far as it would go. Basically, this maneuver would cause the tiller to turn to starboard and the ship to turn to port, and pass to the left of the oncoming iceberg. It’s possible that if the Titanic had turned a little more, it might have missed the berg. But by stopping and reversing the engines, the ship slowed down, and many experts believe this made the collision a certainty. The iceberg scraped and bumped the ship along its starboard side, causing the rivets along the hull to pop open and water to rush into six of the ship's sixteen compartments.



Lifeboat 6 approaching RMS Carpathia

Later, as the lifeboats were loaded, Hichens was put in command of Lifeboat 6. It held just 28 passengers and crew, including Denver millionaire Margaret “Molly” Brown, but had a capacity for 65. Following rescue, passengers testified at the inquiries that Hichens refused to go back to try and save anyone in the water. They said he called the bodies “stiffs” and argued with those who were manning the oars. Hichens appeared at the American and British inquiries and denied all claims, stating the lifeboat was over a mile from the wreck site by the time the ship sank.



Robert Hichens testifying at Titanic Inquiry

Hichens returned to England and obtained work aboard various ships. He then began to drink heavily and was unable to find steady employment. After the breakup of his marriage, he was arrested for attempted murder. Following his release from prison in 1937, he died aboard a cargo ship in 1940 at the age of 58.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica,

The First to See the Iceberg

Three watch groups of two men each took turns in Titanic’s crow’s nest during her maiden voyage. At 10:00 pm on the night of April 14, 1912, Frederick Fleet, 24 and Reginald Lee, 42, climbed 75 feet to their station. They’d each served several years aboard other ships in various capacities and were considered experienced lookouts. The air temperature hovered near 30 degrees, but with Titanic running at 22.5 knots, Fleet and Lee were bound to feel much colder in their perch high above the ship.

fleet on titanic

Frederick Fleet


Reginald Lee

A half hour before they came on duty, a message had been sent to the crow’s nest to watch for ice. But the warning was not passed on to Fleet and Lee. Perhaps if they’d been aware of the possibility of ice, they would have paid closer attention. Another mistake that caused much discussion after the disaster was that the binoculars normally available for the lookouts to use were missing. They may have aided the men as they scanned the horizon, although from the crow’s nest it was possible to see a distance of 11 miles, especially on such a calm, clear night.


Titanic's bridge (center) and crow's nest on mast (right)

For the first 1 ½ hours into their watch, the men saw nothing. Then around 11:30, Fleet noticed a slight haze along the horizon. It almost didn’t seem worth mentioning to Lee. But a few minutes later a black object suddenly appeared in their path. It could only be an iceberg. Fleet rang the bell three times, indicating something directly ahead. He picked up the telephone which rang in the wheelhouse.

Sixth Officer Moody answered. “What do you see?”

Fleet replied, “Iceberg right ahead!”

From the bridge outside the wheelhouse, First Officer William Murdoch saw the iceberg by then himself. He gave the order, “Hard a’ starboard,” which would cause the ship to turn to port. Fleet waited in the crow’s nest, watching the bow gradually swing to port. At first, it seemed Titanic would clear the 60-foot berg, but as it moved alongside the starboard bow, Fleet and Lee heard it scrape the hull as ice fell on the decks. The time between the sighting of the iceberg and the collision had been less than a minute.


Frederick Fleet

Both Fleet and Lee survived the sinking and later testified at the inquiries into the disaster. Reginald Lee died a year later of pneumonia while working aboard the Kenilworth Castle. Frederick Fleet returned to sea for the next 24 years, then worked for Harland and Wolff as a shipbuilder. His wife died in 1964, and his brother-in-law, with whom the couple lived, evicted him. He committed suicide two weeks later and was buried in a pauper’s grave. In 1993, donations for a proper headstone were made to the Titanic Historical Society.


Headstone for Frederick Fleet. Binoculars were left by a visitor.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica and

Titanic's youngest officer, the faithful James Moody

James Paul Moody left his home in Scarborough, England to attend King Edward Nautical School in London. He graduated in 1911 at the age of 23, and was hired by the White Star Line to serve aboard the luxurious Oceanic. Less than one year later, he was transferred to the Titanic as her Sixth Officer and sent to Belfast, where Titanic would be fitted out and prepared for her maiden voyage. Excited to be sailing aboard the world’s largest vessel, Moody was well-liked and loved to joke with his fellow crewmen. moody1

Sixth Officer James P. Moody

The Titanic sailed from her home in Belfast to Southampton, where most of her crew was hired. Stewards, stokers, trimmers, cooks, errand boys, lift boys and other crewmembers boarded early on April 10th, prior to passenger arrivals. Six members of the crew, however, stayed too long at the local pub and had to run to catch the ship. When they reached the docks, James Moody had just ordered the gangplank to be pulled aboard. Not wanting to lose their new jobs, the men argued, but Moody refused to let them board. Six others had already been hired in their place.

Moody was responsible for the daily measuring of the air and water temperatures. He also took the 8:00-12:00 am and pm watches, plus the “dog watch” from 4:00-5:00 pm.

At 11:39 pm on the night of April 14th, he was on watch on the bridge with First Officer William Murdoch. Lookout Frederick Fleet phoned the bridge. Moody answered and said, “What do you see?”

Fleet replied, “Iceberg, right ahead!” Moody immediately told Murdoch, who sent an order to the engine room on the telegraph. “Stop! Full speed astern!” followed by orders to turn the ship and close the doors between the watertight compartments. Despite their efforts, the Titanic rammed into the iceberg along its starboard side.


The Titanic Officers, with James Moody seated on the far left

As soon as Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats to be filled and lowered, Moody was sent to help with loading passengers into boats on the port side. When told by Fifth Officer Lowe to go with Boat 14, he refused. Although it was traditional for lower ranking officers to be given the position of manning a lifeboat, Moody told Lowe to take his place. He then went to the starboard side to assist Officer Murdoch.

James Moody was last seen by a ship’s trimmer, working to launch one of the collapsible lifeboats. His body was not recovered. He was 24 years of age.

The memorial plaque below, near his childhood home in Scarborough, is in honor of James Moody. Note the inscription near the bottom, with the Biblical quote from his mother's tombstone: "Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends."  Additional memorials have been erected to remember the sacrifice of Titanic's youngest officer.

plaque for moody