When conducting historical research it’s always a treat to uncover connections to famous people.
Of course, one must tread with caution before stating absolutely that Horatio Barber had ties to inventor Thomas Alva Edison and the WWI Ace known as The Red Baron and the early 18th century pirate Stede Bonnet.
In Airy Somethings, our biography of the aviation pioneer, we can confirm two of those connections.
Thomas Alva Edison owned the Darby Mine just south of Cobalt, Ontario. He had hoped to find cobalt for his battery company. Unfortunately, it did not pan out and he put the mine on the market.
In 1907, Edison wrote to his mine manager. Presumably he answered a question about dealing with Barber’s company, Canada Mines. Edison replied,
“These men [in Barber’s group] in my opinion are fakers. We want cash and no use of my name in promoting.”
You can read a thorough account of Edison’s mining projects in The Darby Mine, Thomas Edison’s Latchford Venture by George Lefebvre in Selected Chapters of Temiskaming Heritage – proceeds of the 2017 Speaker’s Symposium.
(I hope Mr. Edison doesn’t mind that I make use of his name in promoting Mr. Barber’s story!)
Horatio has an indirect connection to the famous Red Baron through his brother, Dr. George Walter Barber. From our biography:
“During his legendary aviation career in WW1, Richthofen was reputed to have shot down 80 enemy aeroplanes. He himself was killed while flying in combat. To this day, controversy remains as to who shot him down, and whether the shot was fired from the air or from the ground.”
Two autopsies were conducted on Richtofen’s body. The examining surgeons on the first team reached conflicting conclusions. The body was examined a second time under the Presidentship of the Director-General of the Australian Army and Air Force Medical Service – Colonel George W. Barber.
In 1935, Dr. Barber wrote a letter to Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean about his findings, and concluded,
The bullet hole in the side of the plane coincided with the wound through the chest and I am sure he was shot from below while banking.
The third association of note was brought to our attention after Airy Somethings went to press. The great-grandson of Dr. Barber told us that the Barber siblings, through their mother Isabella Loughborough, are direct descendants of Stede Bonnet, a notorious early eighteenth-century pirate. (The 1718 account of his arrest and trial is available from the Library of Congress.)
“The Barber link with Stede Bonnet and with Barbados was slightly conjectural up until very recently, but a relative found a will which proves the link in the chain. Isabella’s grandmother Oriana Harris moved from Barbados to England and Stede Bonnet was her great-grandfather.”
It’s too soon to say with absolute conviction that Horatio’s notorious tendencies are rooted in his Barbadian ancestor, but it is intriguing to consider the possibility!
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Airy Somethings, the Extraordinary Life of the Aviation Pioneer, Horatio Barber by Terry Grace and Maggie Wilson is available to purchase online and at local booksellers.
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“Thomas Alva Edison, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front”. ca 1922; Photographic print is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c05139. Public Domain.
Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron December 31, 1916; from Willi Sanke postcard #503 (cropped). Immediate source: The Wartenberg Trust. Public Domain.