Above: Trustees Eddie Daley and Josephine Farley at the grave of Titanic victim Ernest Barker
Published: 20 April, 2012
by PETER GRUNER
UP to 20 people gathered around the grave of a Titanic victim from Islington for a moving memorial ceremony at Highgate Cemetery on Sunday.
The gathering held a minute’s silence for first-class steward Ernest Barker, born in 1871, whose family ran the Golden Lion pub in Charlotte Street, off Caledonian Road, until the turn of the 20th century.
There was a short reading by a member of the group from a book, The Loss of the SS Titanic, written by survivor of the sinking, Lawrence Beesley. The group also remembered all of the 1,500 people who perished when the ship hit an iceberg and and sank 100 years ago on April 15, 1915.
The event was particularly poignant as the Barker family grave had remained forgotten and untended for more than 25 years. Highgate Cemetery trustee Ian Kelly remembered hearing about it in the 1990s, knew it was in the eastern part of the cemetery near Chester Road, but couldn’t remember precisely where.
The discovery was made by another trustee, Eddie Daley, following a three-hour concentrated grave-by-grave search.
Research into Ernest Barker and his background was carried out by fellow trustee Josephine Farley and featured in the current Friends of Highgate Cemetery newsletter.
Ms Farley writes: “Ernest’s duties [aboard the Titanic] would have been broadly similar to those of a waiter, working long hours with often demanding customers for £3.15s per month supplemented by tips. Why he made the ultimately disastrous shift from pub manager to a sea-going steward’s job with few prospects, is uncertain.”
According to records, Ernest was off duty when the collision with the iceberg happened. His body, clad in pyjamas and jacket, was retrieved by the Mackay Bennett, a ship that was chartered by the White Star Line to search for bodies.
In his pocket were a pipe, knife, pouch and some letters, including one addressed to a Miss Con Barker, who may have been a sister as he wasn’t believed to be married.
Mr Daley said that the grave has been completely cleaned by stonemason Neil Luxton: “We’re hoping to provide information about the grave for visitors in our publicity material. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear from any of the family’s ancestors.”
• Additonal research by Robert Considine.