The 21st of April, 1912 began early for the crew of the Mackay-Bennett. They had laid up the day before, at a spot that, a week prior, had just been another point in the vast expanse of the North Atlantic. It was here that the RMS Titanic had foundered and though the scene was once again quiet, the hallmarks of that disaster remained: icebergs, wreckage, and bodies. But in the fading light, they only managed to retrieve four victims out of more than 1,400 that had gone into the sea.1
The morning of the 21st blessed them with good weather and they seemed determined to make the most of the opportunity. For twelve hours the ship’s crew - comprised entirely of volunteers - had worked the waters, retrieving the victims buoyed in the water by their white life jackets. By dusk, they had retrieved fifty-one bodies. The dead came from all avenues of life. Some were rich, some were poor. Some were seeking a new life while others were returning to an old one. But for seventeen, nothing was known about their lives, not even their names. They were never identified.2
One of these unknowns was a man estimated to be thirty-two years of age and with dark hair. He bore no identifying marks or tattoos that might have suggested a life lived at sea. Nor did he have any monogrammed handkerchiefs or calling cards that suggested he was a man of means and refinement. He had just the clothes on his back - a flannel singlet, checked cotton trousers, a white steward’s coat, and a blue serge jacket - and in his pockets were a few coins, a set of keys, and a scrap of paper with two addresses. He was presumed to be a member of the crew, and deemed by the man recording his effects to “probably an Italian cook.”3
With little else to go on, and with space and embalming materials at a premium aboard ship, this unidentified man was returned to the sea from which he was briefly retrieved, at 8:15 that evening. He thereafter existed only as a description on a slip of paper. He became No. 26.4
In 2018 a collaborative effort was undertaken to re-examine the particulars of No. 26, to see if anything new could be ascertained. This re-examination hinged upon that slip of paper found in his pocket. On it was written two names and addresses. Who were these people? Could their identities reveal more about No. 26?
The starting point of this inquiry began with the first of the two addresses: “Mr. Freyer, Lawrence Villa, Stephenson Rd. Cowes.” A cursory search was made to verify that the information on the slip of paper had been correctly transcribed and recorded. Immediately it became apparent that it was not. In the 1911 census, there was no individual listed by the surname Freyer residing in Cowes, nor even on the entire Isle of Wight.
A revised search was conducted for the name Fryer, whereupon a number of potential candidates emerged as having lived on the Isle of Wight in 1911. Upon review of all the males with the surname Fryer living, one emerged as the person in question. His name was Victor Emmanuel Fryer.
Victor Fryer was born, lived and died on the Isle of Wight, and in 1911 listed his address as Lawrence Villa, Stephenson Rd., Cowes. He was likely an employee of the Earl Yarborough, who owned Lawrence Villa. Fryer was forty-two at the time of the census and, most tantalizing, listed his occupation as yacht’s cook. If No. 26 was indeed a cook as the crew of the Mackay-Bennett supposed,, this similarity of their professions was striking. Had they been shipmates in the past?5
Unfortunately this line of inquiry was soon exhausted, as there was no information to be readily obtained about any forays Mr. Fryer may have made beyond the Isle of Wight. He was a lifelong resident. There was no record of any ships he may have served on. Only that he had experience as a seagoer and as a cook.
Focus shifted to the second name found on that slip of paper, fortuitously recorded by a Mackay-Bennett crewman in pencil, almost as an afterthought: “G.R. Barnes, 22 Sidney Street, Cambridge.” As with Fryer, a search was made to verify the transcription was correct. Two independent sources were located - an 1883 directory of businesses in Cambridge, and a 1902 list of donors to Royal Masonic Institution for Boys - both of which confirmed that there was indeed a G. R. Barnes located at 22 Sidney Street in Cambridge.6
Together, these sources provided insight into the life and occupation of Mr. Barnes. In the directory he was listed as being a confectioner and pastry cook. In the donor list he was recorded as a lifetime subscriber, suggesting he was successful at his trade. That both Barnes and Fryer worked in the culinary arts made for a compelling case that No. 26 was indeed a cook as well. Were the three professional associates? Friends?
Unlike Mr. Fryer, a greater amount of information relating to the life of G.R. Barnes has survived, allowing for a fuller picture of his life, and his connection to No. 26. George Robert Barnes first appeared in the 1861 Census. He was the son of Thomas and Susan Barnes, of Poole, in Dorset County. Born in 1852, he was the eighth of nine children. By the 1881 census he was self-employed as a baker in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. Here he occupied the familiar 22 Sidney street address, which housed his business for the next several decades. In 1884 he married Sarah Elizabeth Hatt, though the union produced no children. He died on September 2nd, 1914.7
Based upon this brief biography, a comparison was made of known biographical data of related to Titanic victims. No victim was tied to Barnes’s birth town of Poole. One, however, came from Cambridge: Arthur William Barringer. Barringer was born in 1878, and was thirty-four years old when he died aboard Titanic - almost the exact estimated age of No. 26. Furthermore, he served aboard ship as a first class steward - a tantalizing detail given No. 26 was recovered wearing a white steward’s coat.8
But why would Barringer have known Mr. Barnes? Their professions were dissimilar, as were their age. Barnes was more than twenty years older. Barringer does not appear in the 1901 census, indicating he had left Cambridge. By 1906 he was residing in Southampton, where he presumably remained while in the employ of White Star. Why would he have Mr. Barnes’s address, more than a decade after having left the area?9
Absent something more concrete, the Cambridge connection between these two men seemed tenuous at best. A new approach was needed and a step back was taken. A survey of Barnes’s siblings and their offspring was undertaken, to seek any potential common links to Barringer that might strengthen his tie to G.R. Barnes. Instead, in rapid fashion, an answer of a different sort would be found.
In the course of compiling biographical data, a major detail was uncovered, involving George Barnes’s elder brother Joe David. Joe David was born in 1846. He worked throughout his life as a blacksmith, and resided with his wife Maria in Southampton, a place sadly tied to Titanic both as her port of departure, and the place from which scores of her crew made a home.10
Joe birthed three children, the youngest of whom was born in 1872. This youngest son remained in Southampton, and in 1912 was a crew member aboard the SS Philadelphia. When a miner’s strike led to a shortage of coal, the Philadelphia was laid up, and on the 5th of April, 1912, Joe’s son signed on to a new ship: The RMS Titanic.11
It was on the Titanic that he worked as an assistant baker, the same profession that his uncle George R. Barnes had practiced for decades at his shop at 22 Sidney Street, in Cambridge.12
On April 15th, 1912, this man found himself witness to one of the most extraordinary events in twentieth century history, though he, like so many others, did not live to relate his experiences in letters and to newspapers. His only witnesses were the crewmen of the Mackay-Bennett who retrieved him on April 21st, 1912, just long enough to record his meager possessions in a ledger, before returning him to the sea.
The man heretofore known only as No. 26 had a name. That name was Frederick Charles Barnes.
- Clifford Crease, Diary of Clifford Crease, 20-21 April 1912, Nova Scotia Archives, Wilcox Family Nova Scotia Archives MG 1 vol. 2605 no. 4, online, accessed 7 January 2018, available from
- Ibid.; “List of Bodies,” RMS Titanic Resource Guide, Nova Scotia Archives, online, accessed 6 January 2018, available from .
- “Body No. 26 Male Unidentified,” RMS Titanic Resource Guide, Nova Scotia Archives, online, accessed 6 January 2018, available from .
- Crease, Diary, 21 April 1912, available from .
- Fryer, Victor Emmanuel, “Census of England and Wales 1911.” Class: RG14; Piece: 5690; Schedule Number: 67 Office of National Statistics, available from www.ancestry.com; Brannon, George, The Pleasure Visitor’s Companion in Making the Tour of the Isle of Wight, 10th ed. (Isle of Wight: Wooten Common, 1842), 38.
- Kelly, E.R., ed., Kelly’s Directory of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk (London: Kelly & Co., 1883), 169; Royal Masonic Institution For Boys: A List of the Patrons, Officers, Committees, Governors, and Subscribers, (Lond: McCorquodale & Co., Limited, 1903), 371.
- Barnes, George Robert, “Census of England and Wales 1861.” Class: RG9; Piece: 1341; Folio: 105, Page: 27, GSU roll: 542798, Office of National Statistics, available from www.ancestry.com; Barnes, George Robert, “Census of England and Wales 1881.” Class: RG11, Piece: 1669, Folio: 71, Page: 16, GSU roll, 1341399, Office of National Statistics, available from www.ancestry.com; Barnes, George Robert, “England and Wales: National Probate Calendar,” Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1966, 1973-1995, 103, available from ancestry.com
- Barringer, Arthur William, “Census of England and Wales 1891,” Class: RG12, Piece: 1285, Folio: 3, Page: 2, GSU roll, 6096395, Office of National Statistics, available from www.ancestry.com.
- Barringer, William, “Census of England and Wales 1901,” Class: RG13; Piece: 1530; Folio: 83; Page: 34, Office of National Statistics, available from www.ancestry.com; Barringer, Arthur William, “Marriages Registered in January, February, and March 1906,” England and Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, p13, available from www.ancestry.com
- Barnes, Joe David, “Census of England and Wales 1911.” Class: RG14; Piece: 5962; Schedule Number: 296, Office of National Statistics, available from www.ancestry.com.
- Barnes, Frederick Charles, “UK, RMS Titanic, Crew Records, 1912,” 22-23, available from www.ancestry.com.