Mr Ernest Edward Archer was born in Whitenap near Romsey, Hampshire, England on 10 July 1876, later being baptised on 10 September that same year.
He was the son of Richard Archer (1842-1888), a farm labourer, and Ann Townsend (b. 1848), natives of Romsey, Hampshire and Dorset respectively who had married in Romsey on 12 February 1867.
One of eight children, Ernest's siblings were: Herbert (b. 1870), Eveline Ella (b. 1873, later Mrs Harry George Mills), Beatrice Amy (b. 1879), Cecil Victor (1880-1882), Ada Alicia (b. 1883), Agnes Mabel (b. 1884) and James Richard (b. 1887).
He first appears on the 1881 census living at Whitenap Lodge in Romsey. His father died in the early weeks of 1888 leaving his mother with eight children. She was remarried in 1890 to Joseph Annett (b. 1851), a Romsey-born sawyer, and the family appear on the 1891 census living in Spring Place, Romsey where a 16-year-old Ernest is described as a grocer's labourer. He is believed to have gone to sea within the next year or so and later became rated as an able seaman.1
Ernest was married in South Stoneham Registry Office on 26 September 1896 to Elizabeth Mary Spencer (b. 28 March 1876 in Woolston, Hampshire, daughter of seafarer Edward Jeremiah Spencer and Frances Callen); both listed their address as 19 Dukes Road, St Denys, Portswood.
The couple had a total of nine children, seven living past infancy and their surviving brood comprised: Ethel Elizabeth (1898-1976, later Mrs Arthur Thomas), Ernest Edward Arthur (1899-1968), Walter John (1900-1972), Amy Beatrice (1904-1987 later Mrs Ivan C. Robinson), Florence Eva (b. 1907), Elsie Ada (1910-1913) and Hilda Bessie (1913-1967, later Mrs Edgar B. Griffiths).
Absent from both the 1901 and 1911 census records, Ernest's family were recorded as living at 6 Albert Road, St Mary and 59 Porchester Road, Woolston respectively on those occasions.
When he signed-on to the Titanic in Southampton on 6 April 1912, Ernest gave his address as 59 Portchester Road, Woolston, Southampton. He had transferred from the Oceanic and as an able seaman, he received monthly wages of £5. He had served with White Star since around April 1907 and was neighbours with another Titanic crewman, James Witter, who lived at 56 Porchester Road. He joined the ship on the morning of departure, 10 April.
On the night of the sinking Archer was in his bunk asleep, situated forward on E-deck. A light sleeper by his own admission, he was startled awake by a crushing sound which he likened to the anchor being dropped and the cable running through the hawse pipe. Although feeling no awareness of a thud or crash he described a "grating sensation" running through the ship. He jumped out of his bunk, threw on a pair of trousers and headed barefoot to the forward well deck where he saw numerous small chunks of ice scattered along the starboard side.
Archer returned to his bunk where he put on his shoes, a jumper and a cap; whilst doing so the boatswain arrived and ordered all men up on deck; he mustered with other men near the forecastle ladder where boatswain Nichols ordered them to proceed to the boat deck. He and the other men did so and once at the boat deck they began to prepare the lifeboats for launch; his assigned boat was lifeboat 7.
Archer did not leave in his assigned boat and assisted in lowering three starboard boats, the numbers he could not recall, when an unidentified officer came and pressed for more crew on the port side. Over on the port side boat deck, Archer helped load and lower boats 12 and 14, before crossing back to starboard and seeing boat 15 away. He then returned to the aft port side boat deck where he was ordered by an officer to check the plug was in place in boat 16. He jumped into the boat and confirmed the plug was in place at which point passengers began passing in, he assisting them and declared that there was no panic or disorder in doing so.
Once the boat was filled with around 50 persons the officer ordered it lowered; the boat reached the water and cleared the ship without difficulty. An additional crewman, master-at-arms Henry Joseph Bailey, slid down the falls to take command of the boat with Archer and able seaman James Forward.
After rowing about a quarter of a mile away from the ship Archer claimed they stopped there and stood by; he was certain that the ship would not sink and believed they would soon be summoned back. During the wait, Archer claimed to hear two explosions, spaced about twenty minutes apart and what he attributed to water reaching the boilers. Seated in the bow of his lifeboat, Archer watched the ship gradually sink and saw all lights extinguished; he could not say, however, if the ship broke apart during her final throes and described her as a black mass.
After the ship had disappeared a female passenger reportedly called on the crewmen to return the boat to the wreck to try and rescue anybody from the water; Archer did not identify the woman and he could not say what was said after that; the lifeboat did not return to the scene. One of the stewardesses in the boat asked that she be allowed to row to help keep warm.
Archer stated that those in his lifeboat spotted a light in the distance and they began to row towards it; however, the light of the Carpathia appeared in the opposite direction and they turned around and headed for her instead. A fireman was transferred from boat 9 to assist in their rowing towards the rescue ship.
Ernest returned to his family in Southampton and continued to work at sea during WWI in troop transport; with his opinions of seafaring life perhaps coloured by his experiences he reportedly forbade both his sons from becoming seamen and instead had them apprenticed in the shipyards. He and his family lived at 59 Portchester Road, Woolston for the rest of his life.
Suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis in years after the disaster, which his family attributed to his shock and exposure, Ernest died in prematurely in Southampton's R.S.H. Hospital on 17 October 1917 2 at the age of 41; he is buried in an unmarked grave in St Mary Extra Cemetery, Sholing, Southampton.
His widow Elizabeth was never remarried and she remained in Southampton where she died on 26 February 1960.