Encyclopedia Titanica

James Barker

RMS Carpathia Assistant Storekeeper

James William Barker
James William Barker

Mr James William Barker was born in Camberwell, London, England on 26 May 1887. He was the son of postal worker Alfred Barker and the former Jane Stevenson, of Surrey and Hampshire, respectively. He had an elder sister, Florence. 

In April 1912 Barker was serving as an assistant storekeeper aboard the Carpathia when that ship rescued the survivors of the Titanic disaster. Shaken out of his sleep, he was ordered to prepare beds, blankets and hot food for the influx of new passengers. 

“We got greater speed out of the old Carpathia that night than ever before. We got the distress signal about midnight and reached the Titanic about 4 am, an hour sooner than expected. Our first sight was a flare which we thought came from the ship. You know the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable. We expected to pick up all her passengers and crew. But when we got there we started picking up the Titanic’s boats and we learned the ship had gone…” - Asbury Park Press, 4 January 1959

It was also at this time that Barker came to the realisation that he had lost two close friends in the sinking, his old Carpathia colleagues William Theodore Brailey and Roger Bricoux, members of the ship’s orchestra, recalling that the two had been the envy of other Carpathia crewmen when it was learned that they were transferring to the new Titanic. 

During the rescue Barker, a keen amateur photographer, fetched his camera and took several photographs of the rescue, some of the most famous images, including that of collapsible D approaching the Carpathia, and that of another lifeboat right alongside the ship, bobbing under an open gangway door. Barker also cherished other pieces of history for the rest of his life, the Titanic’s nameplate and a drinking cup, both liberated from lifeboat 2, the first lifeboat to reach the rescue vessel. 

Collapsible D
One of Barker’s famous rescue photographs, collapsible D approaching the Carpathia

Barker left the Carpathia shortly after that historic voyage; in February 1915 he emigrated to the USA, initially settling in New York and continuing to work at sea. In May 1916 he married fellow migrant Kate Louise Burford (b. 28 April 1889; d. 4 February 1978) of London and the couple had two sons, John and Alfred. The family made several trips back to Britain. 

By the 1920s Barker had left his ocean-going career behind and went on to work as a statistician at New York’s National Biscuit company for 38 years, retiring in 1953. In 1958 he and his wife were special guests at a New York screening of A Night to Remember and he enjoyed getting the chance to meet some of the survivors he had a hand in rescuing.  

Titanic Lifeboat Nameplate
Barker in 1959, holding lifeboat 2’s nameplate
(Asbury Park Press, 4 January 1959)

James Barker spent his last years living in Ocean Grove, New Jersey where he and his wife had moved in 1963 to be closer to the sea. Following a brief illness, he died on 29 October 1973 at the age of 86. He was survived by his wife and both his sons.

Newspaper Articles

New York Times (19 April 1912) James Barker's Account
Sandra Otto Ashbury Park Press (4 January 1959) It was a Calm Clear Night - Then Came the SOS
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Carpathia Crew Summary

Name: Mr James William Barker
Age: 24 years 10 months and 20 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Single
Occupation: Assistant Storekeeper
Ship: Carpathia
Died: Monday 29th October 1973 aged 86 years

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