Barnes and Mullins

Barnes and Mullins

Albert Mullins’ Baggage Discovered 100yrs After Tragic Shipwreck

In a remarkable journey back into history, diver Mark Reynolds’ 1986 exploration beneath the cold depths of the St. Lawrence River uncovered a treasure trove within the remains of the ill-fated RMS Empress of Ireland. Among the finds were artefacts and notes belonging to Albert Mullins, co-founder of Barnes & Mullins, the renowned British musical instrument distributor and exporter. Mr Mullins was travelling home from a two-year sales expedition accompanied by his wife Kate and their daughter Eileen.

The RMS Empress of Ireland, an ocean liner of unparalleled splendour, measuring 570 feet and boasting a weight of 14,200 tons, was a jewel in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s fleet. Departing Quebec City with 1477 individuals on that fateful May 29, 1914, tragedy struck when she collided with the Norwegian coal ship, SS Storstad, succumbing to the icy waters in a mere 14 minutes, claiming the lives of 1012 souls, Albert Mullins and his 10yr old daughter Eileen, among them.

Reynolds’ remarkable find in the heart of the wreckage introduced three wooden artefacts—a miniature puzzle-furniture set, stackable wooden candleholders, and a meticulously carved tea bowl, most likely from China. These artefacts hint at the Mullins family’s travels during their extensive two-year sojourn across the British commonwealth selling banjos, mandolins, and other musical instruments.

Of significant interest were handwritten notes discovered among the artefacts, believed to be penned by Albert Mullins himself, and confirmed by the cross-referencing of a hand-signed portrait in B&M’s possession. There were notes revealed a compelling list of music stores and instrument makers, primarily in Montreal and Toronto, indicating many of the family’s contacts made during the last section of their overseas travels. Notable names on this list included the famed Edmond Archambault store on Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, the precursor to the renowned Archambault chain of stores, which remains an emblem of Canada’s musical culture. Additionally, the notes referenced “Chas Lavallée” and “The Bell Piano + Organ Co Ltd.,” creating further historical ties between Albert Mullins and the vibrant musical scene of Canada’s past.

As the impending 110th anniversary of the Empress of Ireland’s sinking approaches, the significance of these artefacts grows. They offer a glimpse into lives lost and stories untold, paying homage to the legacies of those who sailed on that fateful voyage. The artefacts, brimming with historical significance, help weave a narrative that transcends time, allowing us to reflect on the lives and journeys frozen in the depths of history.

Barnes & Mullins would like to thank Canadian historian, David Saint-Pierre for his continued pursuance of this story and his assistance in uncovering a little more detail about Albert Mullins, B&M’s co-founder about whom we have little other information.

The full article co-authored by David Saint-Pierre and Brian Cleary, which features many images of the artefacts found, can be read here:

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