A tale of real pathos unfolded at Chiswick Auctions showroom last week. Under the hammer was a silver sugar sifter from the Titanic’s Café Parisienne. I met Bob Ballard, the underwater archaeologist who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in the 1980s and knew that he had intended to leave the wreck unsalvaged because he didn’t wish to desecrate a graveyard.
The parent company of the shipping line did authorise salvage operations and many artefacts have been recovered from the wreck, including a purser’s bag containing many pieces of jewellery which were exhibited to mark the centenary of RMS Titanic sinking in 2012.
I wondered how this random piece of silverware had made its way to auction. The answer is that the silver sifter was not on board when the ill-fated ship went down, but had been stolen along with a decanter and several other objects before she embarked on her maiden voyage. The thief was Reginald. L. Barker, a purser who had sailed with the ship from Belfast to Southampton.
He wanted to sail on the maiden voyage but couldn’t afford his uniform, so stole several items from the ship and used them to pay a tailor, Horace Bradshaw, in exchange for his dress uniform. He enlisted on the maiden voyage and lost his life when the ship went down. His body was not recovered. This postcard of him, signed by Miss Millvina Dean (1912-2009) the youngest survivor who was rescued from lifeboat No.13 by the crew of RMS Carpathia, was sold with the sugar sifter.