Month: May 2019

Irving Taylor Barnes Maritime Journals

Alden Ludlow, contract archivist
May 2, 2019

For diversity and fun within a small family archive, it is hard to beat the Christine Barnes Family Collection. Last August we took a look at the Civil War letters of Daniel Stone, great-grandfather to Christine Barnes (1923-2015), the namesake of the collection. Today, let’s take a closer look at her father, Irving Taylor Barnes.

Irving Taylor Barnes (1894-1968) and Edith Perkins (Butman) Barnes (1898-1986) were married in Wellesley on October 26, 1921. Irving was from Waltham, Edith from Wellesley; he was an electrical draftsman, and papers in the collection reveal that he worked for the Marconi Company, and later Edison utilities.

Two items draw attention here, both relating to Irving’s life and work. Barnes was involved in electrical engineering and radio transmission, and two small books, a “Standard Diary” and a “Log Book,” reflect his interest in these topics. Barnes attended the Boston Radio Institute c.1913, and then went to work for the Marconi Company office in Boston, which assigned him to serve as a wireless radio operator on ships.

 Photos, L-R: Irving Taylor barnes aboard the SS Mascotte; the 1917 diary; the 1923 log book.

The “Standard Diary” in this collection starts out with hum-drum daily accounts of weather conditions and travel information… But on April 23 entry he abandons this method and opts for pages of personal narrative about his travels and work in what amounts to a mini-autobiography for the years 1913-1917.

His diary vividly recounts his maritime operations serving as a wireless radio operator aboard passenger and cargo ships travelling in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. His account tells of port calls in Havana, Key West, and Tampa, as well as other cities. This diary covers the years 1914-1917, with reminiscences of 1913, when he started working for the Marconi Company.

In a photo of Barnes, he is holding a life preserver carrying the livery of the Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) SS Mascotte. The Mascotte went into service in 1886, running a route from Tampa to Key West to Havana, and back. The steamship was in the P&O line from 1900 to 1923, allowing us to conclude this was one of the ships on which Barnes served when writing his diary.

The second item in this series is a “Log Book” dated 1923, mostly recording weather conditions and radio station reception; it is not clear whether this is a personal account, or a work-related project, or both. He records meticulous data, in a very neat hand, quite cryptic to the average reader… But to someone knowledgeable about the history of wireless radio, or weather patterns in the Gulf of Mexico, it could well be a treasure-trove!

Even the smallest archival collections contain surprises. They offer a window into the past, as well as insight into the activities and interests of people as they went about their daily lives. At the time, the communication technology Barnes was working with was cutting edge, and that was just a century ago.

— Alden R. Ludlow, WHS archivist

Processing of the Christine Barnes Family Collection was made possible through a grant from the Wellesley Community Preservation Committee. The collection finding aid can be found at URL: