Horatio Claude Barber

(1875 - 1964)

Horatio Claude Barber was born in Croydon on 11 September 1875 at Thornton Heath, Surrey, the son of Charles Worthington Barber and Isabella Barber (née Loughborough).

Lauded as one of Britain's aviation pioneers, which he undoubtedly was, his early life was much more that of a charlatan and con man. Educated at Bedford Modern School from 1891 to 1892, he left the UK soon after finishing school, but his whereabouts until 1896 are unrecorded. Barber's older brother George had settled in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia in 1895. In 1896 he was appointed the new medical officer at Kalgoorlie hospital, and one H C Barber was appointed secretary – presumably Horatio. On 3 December 1897, H C Barber resigned his post as secretary with the intention of moving to British Columbia, Canada.

Barber arrived in England on 3 February 1898, and then travelled on to Canada. From then until 1903 he appears to have spent most of his time on the Canadian or American west coast. In 1903, it appears Barber was operating a swindle in California, offering to teach farming to young Englishmen. However, he disappeared in December, leaving behind creditors and his young 'students' stranded, in debt and without work.

Barber moved on, finally ending up in York, Ontario, Canada. Silver had been discovered in Cobalt, northern Ontario, and the buying and selling of stocks in these mines had become big business. Barber formed a company in 1905, Incorporation and Securities Company of Canada, most likely to help clients with financial transactions on the stock market. In 1906 he went to Cobalt where he opened the Cobalt Open Call Mining Exchange. Barber was then given as the 'Fiscal Agent' for The Hudson Bay Extended mine, a wildcat mine that produced nothing. By now, Barber was promoting himself as a stockbroker, director and secretary, fiscal agent, organizer and mine operator.

In September 1906 Barber incorporated Canadian Mines Ltd, with plush offices in Toronto. One of the mines that the company promoted, alongside established successful ones, was wildcat mine named the Abitibi and Cobalt Mining Company. Typically unable to supply shares in the more established mines, Barber would push shares of the effectively useless A & C Mining Company.

Barber left Cobalt rather suddenly in October 1906 and opened a branch of Canadian Mines Ltd in Larder Lake, where gold had been discovered. There he began promoting another wildcat mine, the Larder Lake Proprietary Gold Fields Ltd. However, little gold was ever produced by the mine and it went into liquidation in January 1909.

Once again Barber disappears. In July 1907 his wife and children sailed from Canada to England, Barber apparently not with them. It is possible that te family stayed in Greece for some time, but Barber does not reappear until December 1908, when he visited the Paris Salon de L'automobile, where aeroplanes were also exhibited. Exactly when Barber became interested in aeronautics is unknown, but it must have been before the Paris Salon, as on 27 January 1909 he applied for a patent (GB190901999A) on a method of stability by adjusting wing dihedral, granted on 25 November.

Barber returned to England, where he found a suitable workshop in some disused railway arches at Battersea and there began construction but, lacking engineering knowledge, entrusted the work to a consulting engineer, Howard Wright. Barber leased a plot of land from the War Office at Larkhill, on Salisbury Plain, where he built a shed, completed by May 1909 at the latest. The monoplane was completed and delivered to Larkhill in the first week of June 1909.

Meanwhile, the Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd had been formed in the preceding April. The directors and only shareholders at that time were Charles Worsley Battersby and Herman Rudolph Schmettau. The former was a stockbroker of the partnership of R C May and Battersby and the latter a solicitor of the firm of Hays, Schmettau and Dunn, who appear to have acted for Barber and provided him with a poste restante address at that time. Barber was the Syndicate's general manager but he never became a shareholder. At the formation of the company Barber sold it his patents, monoplane and hangar, by which it might be inferred that the Syndicate provided him with the finance necessary for him to continue his experiments.

By March 1910 his designs were making successful flights and in September 1910 the Syndicate became the first occupant of the sheds newly erected at Hendon flying field; there Barber gained his RAeC Aviators Certificate (No 30) on 22nd November of the same year, flying a Valkyrie Monoplane.

On 4 July 1911 the Valkyrie B was used to transport the first air cargo in Britain (a box of Osram lamps). In late 1911 a School for Aeronautical Engineers was opened at Hendon Aerodrome, with Barber as technical chief. This seems to have been relatively short lived, though the facility remained open after ASL had closed.

Early in 1912 the twin-propeller Viking biplane was built, which was to be the last of Barber's designs. In February he became the first Associate Fellow of the Aeronautical Society. He continued his research and experimental work for a few months but in April 1912 withdrew from active aviation due to increasing costs. The company's aircraft and spares were to have been auctioned on April 24, but that was pre-empted by Frederick Handley Page who paid cash for all the assets of ASL.

That same year Barber had tried to insure himself against any liability from passengers of his aircraft, but this was unknown at the time and Lloyd's asked him to write his own policy, the first aircraft insurance policy. From then until the war he was engaged as a consultant on both aviation engineering and insurance, and had a large practice which included members of Lloyd's whom he advised on all questions relating to aircraft insurance. On the engineering consultancy side, he is thought to have initiated the design of the Grahame-White Type VI, the design of which was completed by J D North, who had worked for ASL before moving to Grahame-White.

Late in 1912, Barber visited Constantinople (Istanbul), viewing first-hand the First Balkan War. On 5 April 1913 he had his first lesson towards an Airship Pilot's Certificate, though was never to gain the certificate itself.

Following the outbreak of WWI, Barber was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant (on probation) in the Royal Flying Corps Military Wing on 12 August 1914, and appointed Flying Officer. Initially posted to 3 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron, he was confirmed in rank in October and posted to the newly formed 14 Squadron at Shoreham on 3 February 1915. Promoted to Lieutenant on 16 March, he was appointed Engineering Officer (Grade 1), with the temporary rank of Captain, on 18 March 1915, and promoted to Captain on 1 September. Barber left 14 Squadron when it embarked for Egypt on 7 November, and was transferred to a Reserve Aircraft Park. Found unfit for General Service for a great deal of 1916, he was transferred to ASRN (SAD) in May 1916 as Officer in Charge of Officer Instruction, and then to 1 School of Aeronautics, Reading, in July. Finally he was posted to the Central Flying School at Upavon on 29 January 1917 as an instructor in theory and construction.

On its formation on 1 April 1918, Barber received a temporary commission in the RAF with the rank of Captain, but he relinquished his commission on 11 February 1919 due to continuing ill health.

In 1917 Barber published a book The Aeroplane Speaks and in 1927 Aerobatics. In 1919 he joined the Aviation Insurance Association as a consultant and from 1919 to 1921 was Chairman of Lloyds Technical Committee for Aviation.

In 1922 Barber returned to the USA, where he formed Barber and Baldwin Inc., with Robert H Baldwin, Brooks Parker and Archibald Black, the first underwriting agency in the USA to specialise in aircraft insurance. He then set up the Aero Underwriters Corporation in 1928, including it's two subsidiaries, the Aero Indemnity Co. and the Aero Insurance Co. By 1929 he was chairman of the Insurance Brokers division of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America Inc., and had parted company with Barber and Baldwin.

In 1930, Barber and his family moved to Jersey, the Channel Isles, and from December 1933, when he bought a house in St. Helier, was effectively in retirement. On the outbreak of WW2, he returned to England. In September 1940 he moved to Bermuda and travelled considerably to the American and Canadian west coasts. The family returned to St. Helier in the immediate post war period.

In 1947 he travelled to St. Kitts and Nevis, where he bought an old hotel, which became the Bath Hotel. He bought other adjacent parcels of land and organised the Leeward Islands Development Co. Ltd., intent on developing a luxury hotel complex. Unfortunately the Barbers time on the island eventually became confrontational with residents and the family moved to Bermuda in 1952. Eventually the family returned to Jersey.

Horatio Claude Barber died in St Helier, Jersey, the Channel Isles, on 6 July 1964.

Biography References
  1. Airy Somethings - The Extraordinary Life of the Aviation Pioneer Horatio Barber, Tery Grace and Maggie Wilson (Publ. by authors, 2019)

V1.4.4 Created by Roger Moss. Last updated August 2020