'My great-grandad not to blame for Titanic disaster, he was obeying orders'
The great-grandson of the "man who sank the Titanic" has defended the quartermaster as a hero who saved lives - rather than the man often blamed for sinking the famous White Star liner.
Simon Medhurst (49) started the Titanic Memorabilia group on Facebook after discovering he was a great grandson of Robert Hichens, the man at the helm of the Belfast-built vessel when it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
Simon found out that his father, who left his mother when he was a baby, was related to Robert Hichens, just five years ago after the two were reconciled.
The Titanic enthusiast was speaking ahead of a gathering of 120 relatives of the ship's passengers here later this week.
"I felt it was important that the Titanic community come together in Belfast because it allows relatives and enthusiasts to meet in the birthplace of the Titanic and help preserve the memory of Titanic," he said.
After a 20-year obsession with all things Titanic, Simon discovered his personal connection.
"My father left my mum when I was six months old. I never knew who he was until 2012, exactly 100 years after the Titanic sunk which was a really weird experience", he explained. Quartermaster Hichens is a controversial figure. Instead of guiding the ship away from danger, he steered the Titanic directly into the iceberg after a frantic "hard a-starboard" order at 11.40pm on April 14, 1912.
Mr Medhurst, who lives in Chelmsford, dismissed the claims and said "he would never have taken his eyes away from his compass" and insisted that his great grandfather must have been obeying orders.
Hichens, described as a "master mariner" on his 1906 wedding certificate, was almost 30 years old and at the peak of his career when disaster unfolded.
Simon cannot accept the experienced seaman would have made such a huge blunder. Further controversy surrounds Hichens' conduct on lifeboat six which had a capacity of 65.
After being put in charge of the boat he headed off, as instructed, "toward the lights" but with only 28 people on board.
"The idea was to offload passengers and then return. As a quartermaster your aim would be to get away from the ship, you would never go around the ship," Simon explained.
Hichens defended himself at the time against newspaper reports accusing him of being drunk but admitted taking a gulp of "whisky or brandy, or something of that description" from a lady on his boat.
Simon said many people initially refused to board the boats because they failed to comprehend that the "unsinkable ship" they were on was indeed sinking.
"In my eyes he did exactly what he was instructed. He was no angel, a rough cut sailor, but I think a lot of it is rumour."
Simon, who will be joined by his 70-year-old father and his own sons, said he is delighted to bring such a large group together on the famed replica of the grand staircase to mark 105 years since the tragedy claimed 1,500 lives.
The gathering will take place at the Titanic visitor attraction on Friday, April 14 and at Belfast City Hall on April, 15 where a commemorative service will be held and lunch will be served.