"Let Go the After Fall": Lead Stoker Frederick Barrett

There isn’t too much information available about Frederick William Barrett’s early years. He was born and baptized in 1883, near Liverpool, England; in 1891, he was noted on the census as a wheelwright, also known as a carman.

It is unknown when exactly Frederick Barrett turned to the sea, although rumor has it that he did so after discovering that his wife was having an affair with another man while he was at work. 

Regardless, he is first discoverable on a crew manifest in 1903, as a fireman aboard the Campania.

The RMS Campania, Fred Barrett's first known vessel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Fred signed onto Titanic on April 6, 1912, as a lead stoker. Curiously, he was one of two men named “Frederick William Barrett” who were hired onto Titanic as firemen.

Immediately following departure on Wednesday, April 10, Fred received orders alongside about a dozen other firemen to empty out the coal bunker in Boiler Room 6 because of a fire. It took three full days, until Saturday, to get it done.

Fred reported that he noted warping and fire damage in the bulkhead.

When Titanic struck the iceberg on Sunday night, Fred was once again in Boiler Room 6. He was speaking to an engineer named James Helsketh when a bell rang and a red light flashed on; Fred immediately called for the dampers to be shut.

Almost simultaneously, there was an enormous crash and water shot into the boiler room from the ship’s side. Fred and James managed to get into Boiler Room 5 just in time, as the watertight door was descending and about to lock. Then they saw it.

The water was flooding into that room, too.

Fred went back into Boiler Room 6 with another engineer, Jonathan Shepherd, within 15 minutes of the collision, and testified later that the water was already 8 feet high.

All firemen were then ordered to go up top on deck. But Fred was ordered to stay behind.

While he waited with Jonathan and another engineer, the lights extinguished, and Fred was sent to retrieve lamps. 

Shortly thereafter, Fred was ordered by Junior Assistant Engineer Herbert Harvey to lift the manhole cover in order to get at some valves. As this was happening, Jonathan Shepherd ran past, and in the thick steam, did not notice the hole. And he fell in and broke his leg.

Fred and Herbert carried Jonathan away to the pump room to care for him as best they could. 

Soon, the bulkhead between Rooms 5 and 6 buckled, and sea water rushed in. Herbert Harvey screamed an order to Fred: to go up top immediately.

That was the last time Fred, or anyone else, saw Herbert Harvey or Jonathan Shepherd.

Fred climbed a hatchway all the way up to A Deck, and found that there were only two wooden lifeboats still aboard: Lifeboat 13, and Lifeboat 15, both on the starboard side and under the supervision of First Officer William Murdoch.

Fred chose Lifeboat 13.

He later testified that the boat was close to capacity when he literally jumped in, and that a handful of people followed his example. From up above, he heard one of the officers shout that no more should be let in the lifeboat, because the falls would break. Next door, so to speak, Lifeboat 15 also began lowering.

When 13 reached the water, it began drifting due to the water discharged from Titanic’s side.

And it drifted directly underneath Lifeboat 15.

Everyone in Lifeboat 13 shrieked and hollered for those above to stop lowering Lifeboat 15, but they couldn’t be heard. Fred began screaming to the officers up top to “Let go the after fall.”

Lifeboat 15 was bearing down on them and closing the distance fast. Fred scrambled over everyone and dashed to cut through the falls with his knife.

Fred push the boat away within seconds of Lifeboat 15 splashing down beside them.

Lawrence Beesley, who was one of the few men from Second Class to survive, was an occupant of Lifeboat 13 and described the near-disaster as follows. (It should be noted that he mistakes the other lifeboat as No. 14, when it was in fact Lifeboat 15.)

'Stop lowering 14,' our crew shouted, and the crew of No. 14, now only twenty feet above, shouted the same. But the distance to the top was some seventy feet and the creaking pulleys must have deadened all sound to those above, for down she came- 15 feet, 10 feet, 5 feet, and a stoker and I reached up and touched her swinging above our heads, but just before she dropped another stoker sprang to the ropes with his knife.

'One," I heard him say. 'Two,' as his knife cut through the pulley ropes, and the next moment the exhaust steam has carried us clear while boat no. 14 dropped into the water into the space we had the moment before occupied, our gunwales almost touching.

Written by survivor Lawrence Beesley, as cited in "On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage" by George Behe.

And that is how Fred Barrett saved himself and the approximate 70 other people in Lifeboat 13.

There were so many people in Lifeboat 13 that the gunwale was maybe 6 inches above the water.

Once the lifeboat was clear of Titanic, Fred realized that there was no officer in the boat. And so he took command, despite the fact that he was wearing nothing more on his shoulders than the thin shirt he’d been wearing on duty when the collision occurred.

Q. What officer was in charge?

A. No officer in it. Because I had no clothes I felt myself giving out and gave it to someone else. I do not know who it was.

But after enduring for an hour in the raw chill, Fred became too cold to carry on, and forfeited the tiller to another man.

A woman wrapped Fred Barrett in a cloak, and he fell asleep. Hours later, when the Carpathia was in sight of the lifeboats, those occupants of Lifeboat 13 rowed toward it, all while singing the hymn "Pull for the Shore."

Fred was called before the Senate Inquiry. And in May of 1912, when Senator William Alden Smith, the head of the Inquiry, toured RMS Olympic, he was informed by the captain that “one of [his] stokers” had been on board Titanic. So Fred Barrett was joined by Senator Smith in the boiler rooms to discuss Fred’s firsthand experience.

Fred Barrett went on to marry in 1915, and stayed at sea until the early 1920s. He was widowed after only 7 years of marriage, in 1923.

Fred Barrett died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1931, at the age of 48. His one surviving child, a son named Harold, was 10 years old.

The other Fred Barrett on board Titanic did not survive the sinking.


Behe, George. "On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage." The History Press, 1912.



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