Algernon Barkworth and the Titanic
Algernon Barkworth of Hessle Survives the Titanic Tragedy
The story of the tragedy that befell the Titanic in April 1912 is well known and continues to excite the interest of many a century later. What is less well known is that several local people survived the disaster. Among the survivors were, Fourth Officer, Joseph Boxhall of Hull, Edmond Ryan of Hull and Algernon Henry Barkworth of Hessle. Also on board was George Hogg, a lookout, who was born in Hull but by 1912 lived in Southampton.
Algernon Barkworth was born around 1865 and lived at Tranby House (now part of Hessle High School) in Hessle. He was the son of Henry Barkworth, a Hull Timber Merchant and landowner, and Catherine. Their son, who was a lifelong bachelor, became a Justice of the Peace and an East Riding councillor but it was his voyage on the ill-fated Titanic, which brought him lasting renown. He was described by the Scarborough Mercury as a young man of independent means who had booked his passage to see what the ship was like, he intended to stay abroad for about a month. His mother meanwhile was staying in Scarborough.
Algernon was, as befitted his social station in life, booked into a first class cabin (A 23, Ticket Number 27042 ) at a cost of £30 for the maiden, and only, voyage of the 'unsinkable' vessel. He mixed with the very wealthy passengers and White Star dignitaries so vividly brought to life in the film. But unlike so many other souls Algernon survived and did, indeed, tell his tale.
The first indication of his survival came in a cable from Reuters and a couple of days later (22nd April) Algernon confirmed his rescue to the Hull Daily Mail: "Please announce Algernon Barkworth, Hessle, arrived New York on Carpathia, ex Titanic sank. Jumped into sea, drop thirty feet. Just before she sank. Swam clear, and saw Titanic sink. Cold intense. Held onto overturned lifeboat for six hours. Picked up eventually by one of Titanic's boats, Suffering from frost-bitten fingers." On April 24th Hessle Urban Council congratulated Mrs Barkworth on her son's survival.
As the doomed vessel made its way across the north Atlantic Algernon enjoyed the luxurious comfort of the First Class services and was relaxing in the Stateroom when disaster struck. After the initial jolt caused by the collision with the ice-berg Algernon made his way onto the forecastle deck to find it covered in powdered ice. Looking up he saw that the foremast was leaning heavily to starboard. Sensing the possible danger, Algernon returned to his cabin and put on his warmest clothes, including a fur coat. He then made his way back to the deck where he overheard Captain Smith advising a group of ladies to "Go back to your cabins ladies. Put on your lifebelts and come back to the boat deck. I assure you that there is no danger." Algernon thought that Captain Smith's advice 'sounded rather bad'!
As he made his way along the deck Algernon heard the band playing and confirmed that it played on as long as it possibly could to help keep up people's spirits. In an interview he said that he would never forget the 'jarring notes of the waltz' the band was playing.
Algernon stayed on board the stricken ship as long as he could. It took him some time to pluck up the courage to leap into the sea. But whilst many seemed to accept their ultimate fate he determined to take the only chance open to him and jump overboard. He looked down from the top rail of the boat deck and saw the floating wreckage from the ship. He felt the intense cold of the dark night. He sensed the even colder peril of the icy sea. And as he looked down he imagined injuring himself should he fall onto the wreckage. Then it struck him: "Fancy, thinking of such a thing at such a time!" he told the Times. If he did not jump, he was doomed anyway. At least by jumping he had a chance, however slight.
After climbing over the rail he held on to it with one hand before allowing himself to drop into the freezing depths. He plunged under and came to the surface swallowing mouthfuls of salty water. Then he swam away to avoid the danger of being sucked under by the sinking ship.
Although Algernon said in his cable from New York that he was in the water for six hours he later rectified this statement. In such numbingly cold conditions it would have been impossible to stay alive for more than a few minutes. In fact he clung to a piece of wreckage before being helped onto an upturned lifeboat. A sudden 'volley of explosions' hit the air as the ship broke apart. As he clung to this wreckage the heart rending cries and screams of the dying could be heard all around, but he was powerless to help.
Over twenty men stood on this lifeboat, perhaps for five hours, before another lifeboat (- and, yes, as in the film they encountered the rescuing boat because of an officer blowing his whistle!) came to their assistance.
The S. S. Carpathia picked up the occupants of Algernon's boat and he had to climb a rope ladder to safety. They were taken to New York from where Algernon cabled his safety home. He returned to Hessle to be elected a member of the East Riding County Council in the May elections.
Although his physical injuries were slight, the mental trauma of the incident and the cries of the dying must have remained with him for the rest of his life. Whilst family, friends and others congratulated Algernon on his survival he was inundated with requests, regarding those who had perished, which he was unable to answer. And like the 'jarring notes of the waltz' he must have felt for them throughout his life.
Algernon Barkworth died in January 1942, of toxaemia, and was buried at Kirk Ella church. His house (Tranby House, Heads Lane, Hessle) was sold to the ERCC for £6,000 and forms part of Hessle High School.
The story of Algernon Barkworth's survival can be read in the Hull Daily Mail of April and May 1912.
© Michael G Free, May 1999, updated April 2012. Photo: PH Collection