There was an echo of the Titanic disaster at the Torquay County Court on Saturday, when Mr E Hutchings made an application under the Workmen’s Compensation Act on behalf of George Barnhouse, an old age pensioner, residing at Arch Row, Stentiford’s Hill, Torquay. Mr Hiscott appeared for the White Star Company.
Mr Hutchings said two questions would arise in the case which would have to be decided. One was, whether or not a man who embarked in the Titanic in the name of “Charles Barnes”, was the son of the applicant, and if so whether or not the applicant was partially dependent on him. The case arose out of the loss of the Titanic. It was admitted that there was a stoker on board the ill-fated ship named Charles Barnes, and applicant said this was his son Robert Barnhouse. He (Mr Hutchings) proposed to call evidence to show that Barnes sent 3s per week to his father to enable him to pay his rent and would also be giving evidence which would absolutely establish his identity.
George Barnhouse, 3 Arch Row, Stentiford’s Hill, Torquay, stated that he was 74 years of age. His son Robert, was born in 1870. Witness and his wife had been in receipt of Old Age Pension and Robert had sent sufficient money to pay the rent. When writing he signed himself “Your affectionate son, Robert”, but he generally went in the name of “Charlie Barnes”. He did not know the line of vessels his son had sailed on, but he was aware that he was on the Titanic and that the vessels sailed from Southampton. Robert used to send orders or stamps to the amount of 12s or 15s. Witness had another son Arthur Sydney - on the railway near Southampton.
Cross-examined, witness said his son left him 16 or 18 years ago, but had kept in communication with him, either by letter or through friends. He first commenced to send money four years ago. His son could write, although sometimes his landlady wrote for him. He could certainly write his name.
Mr Hiscott: I suggest that you have not received money at all from your son.
Do you think I should tell you an untruth?
Did you lose sight of your son for five years? - Yes.
Do you know that for five or six months he would not go to sea at all, that he was not very industrious and remained at home a lot? - No.
Are you aware that he was in hospital for a long time? - Yes, in 1910.
Did he send you any money then? - No.
Arthur S. Barnhouse, cleaner at Eastleigh, on the South Eastern Railway, said he had stayed with his brother Robert for weekends at Southampton. He was on the Oceanic and then the Titanic. Witness had seen his discharge book and Union book. He went under the name of Charles Barnes. His brother was a peculiarly reserved man. He wrote to his brother as “C.Barnes”, fireman, when he was on the Oceanic.
Mr Hiscott said he would admit that Barnes was Barnhouse, but the question which he would raise was whether the father was partially dependent upon this son.
Witness, cross-examined, said he had had a conversation with Mrs Curtis, who told him that his brother had not the money to send to his father.
Mr Hutchings: Do you know that Mrs Curtis has been interfering in this case, and has claimed that Barnes was her son? - Yes.
Mr Hiscott called Mrs Curtis, who stated that Charles Barnes had lodged with her for nineteen years. She had looked upon him almost as a son. He had been employed by the White Star Company, but there were periods when he did no work. On one occasion he was home for eleven months. Her husband had kept him. Barnes could not read or write. She used to write all his letters for him. He could not even write his own name. When the Titanic went down Barnes was considerably in her debt. At the insistence of the Seaman’s Union she claimed compensation as Barnes foster mother, but the claim was refused. She and her husband had kept Barnes going.
In cross-examination Mrs Curtis admitted that some years ago she wrote to Barnes’s father for him, but quite recently she had denied that Barnes was Barnhouse’s son. Fifteen months before the Titanic went down Barnes was always in trouble. Later he gave up the drink and was a different man. He said he had never had anything from his parents and did not intend to give them anything.
Mr Hiscott held that there was no corroborative evidence that applicant had been in receipt of money from his son. The Company which he represented had had between 600 and 700 claims made against it, but only fought a few, where there was a doubt. There was considerable doubt in this particular case. It was admitted that for eleven months this man did no work whatever. That being so how could he have sent money to his parents? There was no reliable evidence that they received one shilling from him. Applicant asked for £70, but how he arrived at this amount it was extremely difficult to say.
Mr Hutchings said the evidence of Mrs Curtis could not be relied upon, seeing that she had at first written to the applicant as the father of Robert Barnhouse, and subsequently denied that he was his son.
The Judge said it was clear that Mrs Curtis had been extraordinarily kind to this young man. She had befriended him for 19 years. The father and mother had no great moral claim upon him.
Mr Hutchings said an attempt had been made to show that his client was a dishonest old man, and that he had been guilty of perjury. He (Mr Hutchings) would like if possible, to have an opportunity of corroborating the statement he had made.
The Judge said it was a curious case, and the claim was very shadowy indeed. The applicant’s claim was an absolutely uncorroborated claim, and yet if it was a good claim, there should have been no difficulty in obtaining corroboration. Still the applicant appeared to be a truthful witness. What was he to do? It was not a case in which corroboration by any rule of the Court was absolutely a condition precedent to the right to find in his favour. Still the story told by the applicant was most vague and shadowy. With regard to Mrs Curtis she had been most kind to this young man. She had found him destitute, clothed, fed and housed him for many years, and his obligations to her were almost greater than to his parents. He (the Judge) thought the old man had received sums from his son from time to time as present’s and had, therefore, been partially dependent upon him. He intended to award applicant £5 and costs, believing that was equivalent to what he had lost.
Mr Hiscott asked that costs should not be awarded under the circumstances.
In the discussion which followed, Mr Hutchings mentioned that a claim by applicant on the Lord Mayor’s Titanic Relief Fund was rejected on the ground of want of sufficient proof of identity.
His Honour gave costs on the £5 (which it was said would be 10s only) remarking that the claim for £70 was altogether too high.