Claim For Loss on the “Titanic”
At Torquay County Court on Saturday Judge Lush-Wilson arbitrated in an action under the Workman’s Compensation Act by George Barnhouse, of Stentiford’s Hill, Torquay, against the owners of the Titanic respecting the loss of his son, who, it was alleged, was amongst the victims of the disaster to that ship last year.
Mr E. Hutchings, for the applicant, said that there were two points to be decided. One was whether or not a man named Charles Barnhouse was the son of applicant, and the other was whether or not the applicant was partially dependent on his son. It was admitted that among the victims of the Titanic disaster was a stoker named Charles Barnes. Mr Hutchings contention was that Charles Barnes’s proper name was Robert Barnhouse, and that he was a son of George Barnhouse, the applicant. Evidence would prove that point conclusively. Applicant was in receipt of an old-age pension, and it would be proved that his son contributed from time to time such sums as were about equivalent to his father’s rent.
Applicant, of St Mark’s Road, Stentiford’s Hill, said that he was 74 years of age. His son, Robert, was born on December 8th 1870. For the last few years his only income consisted of the old-age pension. His wife also received the old-age pension. He paid 3 shillings a week for rent. When his son wrote to him he always used his proper name, but he also passed by the name of Charles Barnes. Applicant managed to pay his rent with the money his son usually sent him when going on a voyage. He could not say on what other ships his son had sailed besides the Titanic. Sometimes his son sent him money from Southampton, and sometimes from other places. His address was always on his letters. Sometimes his son would send 12 or 15 shillings in postal orders, and sometimes in stamps. Whilst his son was in the hospital at Southampton about three years ago, he did not receive any money. His son had written him two or three letters since. The letters were always burned.
Witness had a son employed on the railway near Southampton.
In the course of cross-examination by Mr C.F. Hiscock, of Southampton, who represented the owners of the Titanic, Mr Barnhouse stated that his son, Robert, left home nearly twenty years ago. He continued to receive letters from his son during the whole of that time.
“Is it not a fact that he was entirely lost to the family until 1908, when he was met casually at Southampton by one of your other sons?” enquired Mr Hiscock.
“I had known where he was”, replied Barnhouse.
“Had you any communication from him?” - I had friends who told me where he was.
“Was that not in 1908?” - No.
When did your son first begin to send you money?” - Four years ago, when I had the old-age pension.
“When did he last send you any money?” - The voyage before he sailed the Titanic.
“Do you mean seriously to tell the Court that your son sometimes sent you 12 shillings worth of stamps?” - Yes, and sometimes 15 shillings worth.
“Did he write letters to you?” - Yes.
“Is it not a fact that your son could neither read or write?” asked Mr Hiscock.
Applicant assured the Court his son could write.
“Are you sure about that?”
Applicant answered the question in the affirmative. Barnhouse spoke of a letter alleged to have been in his son’s handwriting, and forwarded to Mr Hiscock.
“Was not the letter which you sent to the White Star Line in the handwriting of your son’s landlady?” - No.
“Are you quite sure?” I am referring to the letter concluding with the words ‘From your loving son, Robert Barnhouse’”.
Applicant, after examining the letter, said that it was in his son’s handwriting.
“Just look at it again”, urged Mr Hiscock.
“Are you quite sure about it? Do you seriously wish to tell the Judge that your boy could write?”
“Yes”, again returned Barnhouse, who added that he received another letter from his son besides that.
Barnhouse was shown another letter by Mr Hiscock, who asked, “Is that the letter you wrote to the White Star Line in 1912?”
Applicant: The letter was in his own handwriting.
“Did you say in that letter, ‘I can prove to you that this man is my son Robert, and Mrs Curtis knows it. I enclose Mrs Curtis’ letter, which Mrs Curtis sent to me, as Robert could not write’. Is that true?”
“He could write”, declared Barnhouse.
“Is it not a fact that your son Robert could not write his name?” - He could write his name.
“I did not ask you whether your son could write his name? You have told his Honour that your son used to write letters to you. Is not this your letter, written in August last, to the White Star Line, saying that your son could not write? You do say so here, don’t you? I suggest that you have not received money from your son at all”. - Do you think I should come here and tell an untruth?
“You might be mistaken. Do you remember your son coming to Torquay to see you about two years ago?” - Yes.
From the time your son left Bristol until he saw you at Torquay, I suggest you never saw him at all”. - I had not seen him from the time he left Bristol until about three years ago.
“Do you know that for periods of six or nine months your son did no work at all?” - My son was always at sea.
“How do you know about that?” - Had he not been doing he could not have sent me any money.
“Do you know that your son was not a very industrious boy, and that used to stay at home a great deal, and did no work at all? Are you aware that for five or six months he would not go to sea at all? - I don’t know that.
“Do you know that he had an accident in 1908, and that he was in the hospital at Southampton for a long time?” - I think that was in 1910, but I am not sure.
“Do you suggest that when your son was in the hospital he sent you money?”
Applicant replied that at that time his son did not send him any money for about ten weeks.
“Do you know what your son’s wages were when he was at sea?” - No; nor am I aware what he paid Mrs Curtis.
In re-examination, applicant admitted that to the time he received the old-age pension he was at work, and did not need any assistance.
Arthur Sidney Barnhouse, son of the applicant, said he was a cleaner in the employ of the London and South Western Railway Company at Eastleigh, near Southampton. In recent years his brother Robert had lived at 45 York Road, Southampton, with Mrs Curtis. Witness had visited and stayed for weekends with his brother at Mrs Curtis’s. Formerly Robert was on the Oceania, and he left that ship to join the Titanic.
Answering further questions, witness said that he could not say when his brother changed his name. On all his voyages his brother was known as Charles Barnes. He used to tell witness that he sent money to his father.
Mr Hiscock objected to this evidence.
His Honour: You never saw your brother send money to his father?
Witness: No. You could never get to the bottom of him. My brother was a very funny man, and seldom “let out anything”. I have written to him. Twelve months ago last October I wrote to him at Plymouth, when he was a fireman on the Oceania. About that time we came to Torquay for a holiday. The man who was staying with Mrs Curtis was Robert Barnhouse.
Mr Hiscock did not think there was any doubt that “Charles Barnes” was Robert Barnhouse. The question for the Court to decide was whether or not the applicant was partially dependent upon his son.
Arthur Barnhouse stated, in reply to Mr Hiscock, that his brother Robert must have left home about twenty years ago. “We lost sight of him to a certain extent, but my father said he knew where Robert was. I know that my brother George met him some years ago at Southampton.
“Did he send your father money?” queried Mr Hiscock.
“I don’t know. He told me he used to send money home. Mrs Curtis said he had no money to send to his parents.
“You know that Mrs Curtis has denied that Charles Barnes is your brother and the son of your father?” enquired Mr Hutchings, in re-examination.
Edith Curtis, of 45 York Road, Southampton, said that she was the wife of William Curtis, a confectioner. Charles Barnes lived at her house for a period of nineteen years and three months prior to the Titanic disaster. She had known him for over twenty years. Her husband formerly kept a licensed house at Bristol. Whilst there, a fire occurred on the premises. “Charles Barnes was at one time in the bar. His hands were burnt in the fire. The young man was then in a state of destitution. We took him in, and he stayed with us up to his voyage on the Titanic. I treated him as my son, and brought him up as one of my own children. For some time he sailed as a trimmer for the White Star Line, but he did not go to sea regularly. He would sometimes have ‘a spell’ during the last four years of his life.”
Mr Hutchings objected to this statement.
His Honour: It is admissible for the witness to say that at certain times he stayed with her ashore.
“There were breaks in the trips?” suggested Mr Hiscock.
Mrs Curtis said that the young man took only twenty trips in four years. Each sailing occupied eighteen days until the strike arose, and then the trips occupied twenty-one days. The longest period “Barnes” remained with her during the last four years was eleven months. During that time he did not work at all. Sometimes, after he “signed on”, he would not join the ship. For a voyage of eighteen days the young man received £3 6s, less deductions for blankets, tobacco &c. Each time “Barnes” went to sea he used to pay £1. He was supposed to pay her 12 shillings a week for board and lodgings, and he paid her £2 per voyage. When he was not at sea she kept the young man. “Barnes” was not able to read or write. In December 1908, she wrote a letter on his behalf to his people at Torquay, and enclosed a photograph. “I used to write all his letters for him”, added Mrs Curtis. The young man could not write his own name. She had never directed for him an envelope that contained money for anybody. When, last October twelve months, deceased went to Torquay, she advanced him £2. When the Titanic was lost he was in her debt to a considerable extent. On the ground that she had been the young man’s foster mother, she made a claim against the respondents after the Titanic disaster, but she did not receive any compensation. When “Barnes” went to the hospital he would not stay, and, consequently, she had to pay for a cab to take him to hospital every morning. The expense was borne by her. Subsequent to the accident, he did nothing for eleven months. The whole of that time he was kept by her. Very often she advanced him money for clothes to enable him to join the ship.
“Why”, asked Mr Hutchings, “did you write me the other day and say that Arthur Barnhouse was not his brother?”
“He used to bring in a young man called Tom Brown, who, he said, was his brother, but from conversation I had with him afterwards I know that Arthur Barnhouse is the dead man’s brother”.
Mr Hutchings pointed out that in 1908 Mrs Curtis wrote on “Barnes’s” behalf to his mother and father as “Mr and Mrs Barnhouse”, at Torquay.
Mrs Curtis said she had forgotten all about that letter.
“Why did you write me the other day to say that Charles Barnes was not the son of this old man?” repeated Mr Hutchings. “You say he is not the old man’s son?”
“No, I do not say that. I knew him as Charles Barnes for twenty years. He told me that he left home when he was fourteen years of age, that he had never received anything from his people, that he never gave them anything, and that he never should give them anything”.
Mr Hutchings explained that in the letter Mrs Curtis wrote on the young man’s behalf to his parents he spoke in affectionate terms of his father and mother, and stated, “I would have sent you a present, but I am very short”.
“I can pledge my oath that he never sent his mother a present or anything else”, declared Mrs Curtis, who added that for nine years, “Barnes” had nothing for himself.
Addressing the Court, on behalf of the respondent company, Mr Hiscock said that it was now known that deceased had passed by the name of Barnes for a period of about twenty years. There was no evidence to support the claim by the applicant they he was partially dependent upon his son, or that his son had frequently sent him such sums as 12 or 15 shillings in stamps. The evidence of the father as to the son writing him letters was completely negated by the evidence of Mrs Curtis, who declared that deceased could neither read or write. Some six hundred of those claims had been received by the respondents, who had never fought a case unless it was surrounded by doubt. The young man had only done eighteen months work during the last four years of his life. During eleven months of that period he did nothing at all, and therefore it would have been impossible for him to have sent anything to his parents, especially in view of the fact that he was frequently borowing money from Mrs Curtis.
Dependency meant in law dependency at the date of the young man’s death. Of that there was no evidence. Moreover, if the applicant had any other form of income he would not be entitled to the full amount of the old-age pension, inasmuch as at the time he received the pension he would have had to sign a declaration that he had no other source of income.
Mr Hutchings suggested that if there was any doubt in his Honour’s mind as to Barnhouse having received money from his son, applicant should be given an opportunity of instituting enquiries and producing evidence in corroboration of his statement.
The Judge considered that the case throughout was a vague and shadowy one. There was absolutely no corroboration of the applicant’s story. Nevertheless, his Honour thought that the old man had been a truthful and honest witness. The Judge commented upon the kindly manner Mrs Curtis had acted towards deceased, but pointed out that it was very possible that he might have sent money to his father without her knowledge. He had decided to award applicant £5 and costs.
[Note: George Barnhouse lived at Arch Row in Stentiford's Hill, just three buildings away from Happaway Court where helmsman Robert Hichens was arrested twenty years later for attempted murder!]