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Gravestone honours Titanic rescue hero Robert Hopkins 73 years after his death

By Claire McNeilly

Published 17/05/2016

Robert John Hopkins
Robert John Hopkins
The grave of Robert John Hopkins
Brian Hopkins, grandson of Robert John Hopkins

A Belfast man whose legendary heroism saved the lives of more than 100 people on Titanic has finally received a gravestone - 73 years after his death.

Robert Hopkins was the seaman whose quick thinking stopped the occupants of two packed lifeboats plunging into the freezing Atlantic on that disastrous night - his bravery was even depicted in the 1997 blockbuster movie Titanic - yet he has rested in an unmarked grave in New Jersey since he died in 1943, aged 74.

But that all changed when members of Titanic International Society, who had been holding a convention in nearby Newark, visited the Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City and realised that Robert had never been officially recognised - even in death.

And at the weekend a black granite headstone bearing his name was unveiled and blessed.

"We're just wondering how many more descendants of those who got saved may not be alive today if Robert hadn't done what he did, and we're very honoured by that," said grandson Brian Hopkins, one of several family members who attended the unveiling of the gravestone.

It reads: "Beloved father Robert John Hopkins; able-bodied seaman and survivor of RMS Titanic; November 30, 1868-November 17, 1943."

The granite also bears the phrase: "Nearer My God to Thee", the 19th-century hymn by Sarah Flower Adams, based loosely on Genesis 28:11-19, which Titanic folklore suggests was the tune the band was playing as the mighty Belfast-built vessel perished.

Robert, who emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1900, was asleep in his bunk when Harland and Wolff's pride and joy, which was carrying 2,225 people, hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912. The Belfast native, then 43 years old, was assigned to help load and launch the lifeboats, of which there were only 20 - the legal minimum - capable of carrying just 1,178 passengers.

As the doomed liner lurched towards its inevitable fate, First Officer William Murdoch ordered Hopkins to board Lifeboat 13, which was carrying many of the ship's third-class passengers.

But Lifeboat 15 had already started its descent while Hopkins's boat was still underneath it - a miscalculation that meant that it was in danger of crushing the passengers on Lifeboat 13 and collapsing itself.

Titanic International Society co-founder and president Charles Haas said: "Robert and another crew member went to work with a penknife to cut the ropes holding Lifeboat 13 up. If he hadn't dong that, many lives would have been lost."

Ultimately, Robert's actions saved 103 people (including himself) who were among the 705 who survived the then unparallelled maritime disaster.

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