I was saved from the Titanic

A vivid eyewitness account of the legendary shipwreck and its aftermath. Edited by Randy Bryan Bigham

I was saved from the Titanic

Titanic Research

A vivid eyewitness account of the legendary shipwreck and its aftermath. Edited by Randy Bryan Bigham

Chapter 2 : Tide of Remembrance

Mercifully there is a limit to the human capacity for suffering. In moments of great shock and sorrow we can only feel so far and in place of consecutive thought the mind turns over a medley of trivialities. If it were not so, we should find life utterly unendurable. On that night of horror when we rowed away where we had seen the Titanic sink, we scarcely spoke to one another. Our ears were too full of those terrible cries of despair from the poor souls she had carried with her for us to want to break the silence that succeeded them. There was only the plash of the oars as the men rowed, seeking perhaps to flee their thoughts, and now and then a muttered sentence as they strained their eyes for some sign of the other boats.

Lifeboats threaded their way past icebergs in the early dawn of April 15

But I noticed these things in a hazy, detached sort of way, for I had gone through too much in the hours since I left my cabin to think clearly, and to add to it I was enduring the agony of seasickness. Now anyone who has ever suffered from this unromantic and very distressing complaint will agree that there are few things more calculated to destroy one's morale and unfit one for mental effort. While some hundreds of yards away men and women were going to their deaths beneath the icy Atlantic, I lay stretched out along the side of the boat scarcely conscious of anything but my own suffering. Had I been pitched into the sea myself I should not have made the least resistance; in fact death would have been in the nature of a relief.

Once or twice during the night I revived a little and tried to talk to reassure Cosmo, who was very worried on my account for, as he told me afterwards, I appeared so ill he feared I might die of exposure before we were rescued. The others followed my example and when the men rested on their oars we chatted of little unimportant things, as people do when they have been through a great mental strain. With one accord we avoided the tragic side of the wreck, for we did not trust ourselves to speak of it, but we tried to make feeble jokes about our plight. I remember I teased Miss Francatelli about the weird assortment of clothes the poor girl had flung on before leaving the ship, for she was generally very fussy over her clothes.

"Just fancy, you actually left your beautiful nightdress behind you!" I told her and we laughed as though I had said something witty, though in our hearts we felt far from laughter 1.

"Never mind, madam, you were lucky to come away with your lives," said one of the sailors 2. "Don't bother about anything you had to leave behind you."

Another voice 3 took up the tale: "You people need not bother about losing your things for you can afford to buy new ones. What about us poor fellows? We have lost all our kit and our pay stops from the moment the ship went down." For the first time Cosmo came into the conversation. "Yes, that's hard luck if you like," he said. "But you'll get another ship. At any rate I'll give you a fiver each towards a new kit."

It was said with his characteristic impulsiveness and I don't think anybody thought much of it at the time but I remember every word for it had a tremendous bearing on our future. I little thought then that because of these few words we should be disgraced and branded as cowards in every corner of the civilized world.

The awful night wore on while we sat huddled in the boat. I heard Cosmo, who was sitting behind me, rubbing his hands together to keep them from freezing, and now and then when the men stopped rowing Miss Francatelli would take their numbed hands in her lap and rub them to get a little warmth in them. Soon she, too, was overcome with cold and lay down in the bottom of the boat. We had nothing to eat, but Cosmo found a few cigars in his pocket and broke them in half and shared them with the other men. They had only two matches among them but somehow they managed to light them and the smoke was reassuring.

Towards morning the light wind which had died down overnight rose again and the sea began to get rough; as the first faint streaks of dawn broke, we saw rows of "white horses" racing towards us, beautiful but very alarming. Our little boat could never have lived long in a rough sea.

Fortunately we saw something else, or rather I did, for the others refused to believe me at first, when I told them I could see two lights far away in the distance, too big and too steady to be stars 4. They insisted it was my imagination. But the lights grew gradually bigger until they resolved themselves into the outline of an approaching steamer, the Carpathia 5

Carpathia

The Cunard Liner Carpathia rescued the Titanic’s 711 survivors

By this time the sun was rising. I shall never forget the beauty of that dawn stealing over the cold Atlantic, stretching crimson fingers across the gray of the sky, lighting up icebergs till they looked like giant opals, as we threaded our way past them. The men were rowing for all they were worth, and one began to sing. We were all nearly hysterical with the reaction from our miseries of the night and as we saw other boats alongside of us we imagined most of our fellow passengers on the Titanic had been saved like us; not one of us guessed the appalling truth. As we drew up beside the Carpathia the dreadful experiences we had gone through seemed to have passed away like a nightmare.6

Miss Francatelli and I were so numb with cold that we could not possibly climb the rope ladder which they let down from the ship, and they had some difficulty getting us up on deck, but it was managed at last and oh! the joy of setting foot on the ship. We clung to each other like children, too exhausted to speak, only realizing the blessed fact that we were saved.

I can never be grateful enough for the kindness shown to us on the  Carpathia; from Captain Rostron 7 and Mr. Brown, the Purser, downwards, crew and passengers vied with one another in their attentions to us and to all the survivors. Everything that could possibly be done for our comfort had been thought of. Preparations had gone on all night since first the wireless picked up the Titanic's message of distress. Bakers had been baking bread to feed three thousand, blankets had been heated and passengers doubled up with strangers everywhere to offer their cabins to the survivors.

Captain Rostron

Captain Sir Arthur Rostron, commander of the Carpathia

The moment I stepped on deck a motherly stewardess rushed up and flung a warm rug round my shoulders while another took charge of Miss Francatelli. We were taken below where we were given brandy and steaming hot coffee and offered changes of clothing. Cosmo and the two Americans, whose names we found out were Mr. Stengel 8 and Mr. Salomon 9, were delivered into the care of a steward who prepared hot baths for them and served them breakfast. I felt too ill to eat anything and after being given a sedative I was put to bed in a beautiful cabin which two passengers gave over to Cosmo and myself. There I lay for hours, to exhausted to rouse myself.

•          •          •

I did not wake until the following morning when the sun was streaming in through the portholes and for the moment I completely forgot the events of the last forty-eight hours, and was surprised only by the unfamiliarity of the cabin. Then a stewardess came in with some tea and on seeing her instead of my Irish stewardess on the Titanic, suddenly everything swept over me in a tide of remembrance. I recalled the Titanic as I had last seen her, plunging to her grave under the Atlantic, I heard again the heart-rending cries from her decks, and burying my face in the pillows I sobbed uncontrollably. It was the first time the full realization of the disaster came to me.

Later in the morning a kind American woman 10, who was in the next cabin, came in and helped me to dress and we went on deck together. Here we found numbers of fellow survivors, grouped about the ship, discussing the tragedy. Each of them had some new story of horror to tell, many nearly distraught with anxiety over the fate of husbands or sons of whom they could get no tidings.

One of the women I talked to was Mrs. Tyrell Cavendish 11. She was heartbroken over the loss of her husband who had put her into one of the first boats to leave the wreck but had then gone back to save other women and children. The boat in which she had escaped had carried twenty-four women and only two sailors to row them. One of the men was so overcome by the cold he had collapsed in the bottom of the boat. The women had each taken their turn at the oars and somehow managed to get the boat alongside the Carpathia

Several of them had been almost frozen during the night for they were only half-dressed and without shoes or stockings. Another woman 12 told me that one of the sailors in her boat had collapsed over his oar. She was sitting quite close to him and had tried to restore him until she realized he was dead. So she had propped him against her knee and had sat like that all the remainder of the night so that the other women in the boat should not be alarmed. A lovely little boy 13 of two years old, the son of rich Americans, had been brought away by his nurse 14, who was distracted with grief. The child's mother had refused to leave her husband and both had gone down with the ship. In another cabin were a mother and her three daughters 15, hoping against hope for news of the father and brother who had packed them into one of the boats then waved "good-bye" as they stood on deck.

One of the saddest figures was an elderly woman shabbily dressed with a shawl over her head, who had been landed from one of the boats and mistakenly left on the first class deck. She ran hither and thither peering over the sides of the ship, ringing her hands and talking and moaning to herself in a language none of us could understand. We tried to speak to her in English, French, German, and Italian, but she only shook her head. In the end Captain Rostron saw her, guessed her nationality, and sent for somebody from third class who could talk Russian. A man and woman came and her joy at finding people who understood her was touching, although they had little enough comfort to give her and could only listen to her sad story. They told us that she was the only one left of an entire family which had been emigrating to the States. Her husband, her four children, and her brother and his wife and family had all gone down on the Titanic. All that day and for the remainder of the voyage until we arrived in New York the Carpathia was a ship of sorrow as nearly all were grieving over the loss of somebody.

Baker Charles Joughin

Ship’s baker Charles Joughin managed an extraordinary escape

There were one or two little comedies, which came as a welcome relief. One of them was the escape of the Titanic's baker 16 who had been extraordinarily lucky. After the ship struck the iceberg he had gone to his cabin and drunk half a bottle of brandy "to steady his nerves." As he set the bottle down the ship gave a dreadful lurch, though he attributed his loss of equilibrium to the effects of the brandy at the time. Then hearing the sound of scurrying feet as the crew rushed on deck, he decided to follow them. At the door of his cabin he looked back and the half-finished bottle of brandy caught his eye. It was a pity to waste it on the sea, he thought, so he drank it. When he eventually arrived on deck he was in an optimistic mood and indifferent as to his probable plight, which was fortunate for him as just then the ship settled down and he, with hundreds of others, was flung into the icy water. He was not in a state to offer much resistance and contented himself with swimming mechanically about, keeping himself afloat rather from a subconscious sense of self-preservation than from any consistent effort.

While he was doing this he came upon a raft rigged by others of a more energetic frame of mind and as there was a vacant place he was allowed to climb upon it. By that time he had been in the water for over an hour and was nearly frozen but after being taken aboard the Carpathia he recovered. The doctors who attended him said that without any doubt the bottle of brandy had saved his life for without it he could never have withstood the intense cold so long. This is one of the few humorous stories I ever heard of the loss of the Titanic although I fear it is one of which temperance advocates will not approve.

On our second day on the Carpathia Cosmo and I were discussing our terrible night in the boat when he said suddenly:

"Oh, by the way, I must not forget that I promised those poor fellows a fiver each towards a new kit. I shall write them checks and give them out tomorrow."

"Yes, indeed they deserve it for the way they kept their courage up," I answered. "I am going to ask them all to write their names on my lifebelt before we get ashore for I should like to keep it in memory of our wonderful escape."

Lady Duff Gordon asked the sailors who rowed them to safety to sign her lifejacket

So Cosmo sent for Hendrickson 17, the firemen to whom he had first promised the money that night, and asked him to let him have a list of the men who had manned the boat. Later he came back to me with it. "Just imagine, there was only one seaman, Symons 18, among them," he said to me as we looked at the list. “All the rest were firemen.”  He sent for Miss Francatelli and, as he had no checkbook with him, she wrote out drafts on half-sheets of notepaper which Cosmo signed. The purser supplied stamps. Then Cosmo sent for the men and they came up on the promenade deck where an informal little presentation took place. All the passengers who were there cheered as the men came forward rather sheepishly to receive the envelopes containing the checks and the ship's doctor, who was interested in photography, took a picture of them all 19. Then they came to say "good-bye" to me and wrote their names on my lifebelt..."Symons, Hendrickson, Taylor, Collins, Pusey, Sheath and Horswill." I have kept it ever since.20

As we went back to our cabin I said to Cosmo: "You know I think some of the other survivors might have done the same thing for the men in their boats and raised a collection among themselves. Of course one could not expect the third class passengers to do it but the first and second class could well afford it and it would have been only a small thing to do for these men who have lost far more by being shipwrecked than we have."

Cosmo agreed with me. "At all events I don't regret having done it," he said. "Probably the others did not think of it."

Neither of us could have guessed that this simple act of kindness was forging a link in the chain of evidence which was to be used with such force against us.


Titanic Survivors

Aboard the rescue ship, the Duff Gordons posed with other occupants of their lifeboat for this souvenir snapshot

I shall never forget the night of our arrival in New York. Nor will anyone else who was aboard the Carpathia and witnessed the harrowing scenes at the Cunard Line pier, where ten thousand men and women had waited for over two hours in a drizzling rain for news of friends and relatives who had been on the Titanic. Before the ship anchored we caught glimpses of white anxious faces with desperate eyes scanning our decks as the vast crowd waited silently. Women wrapped in costly furs and millionaires who had driven up in luxurious cars stood shoulder to shoulder with men and women from the slums, allied in a common sorrow, hoping the same forlorn hope. Most of the women were crying and the men stared straight ahead with set faces.

In one group I recognized Elsie de Wolfe 21, Miss Marbury 22, Bainbridge Colby 23, and Mr. Merritt 24, the editor of the Sunday American 25. A few minutes later we were down the gangway and they were alternately laughing and crying over us. Only then did I begin to realize the agony of mind they were in while they waited for us. They had only been told we were among the survivors but had no confirmation of the news to depend on. All had been in suspense when it became known that many of those rescued had since died on the Carpathia. Nobody dared to do more than hope for the best until they had actually seen the passengers disembarked.

We drove to the Ritz where we found a suite of rooms had been prepared for us. Elsie had filled them with flowers, and there were new clothes laid out for us. At dinner that night we were all very gay and drank champagne. Every few minutes the telephone would ring and I was kept busy answering the messages of congratulations while flowers and other presents were showered upon us. But I could not be quite happy even in the warmth of our welcome for I kept remembering the men and women who had sat at dinner that last night on board the Titanic. It seemed so long ago. I could scarcely believe only four days had passed.

Elsie De Wolde

Lady Duff Gordon’s good friend, decorator Elsie de Wolfe, met her at the pier on the Carpathia’s arrival in New York

•          •          •

It was to escape from my thoughts that I flung myself with renewed energy into my work. I shut myself up in my studio and spent the whole day there, refusing to see anyone. But I was not to be left in peace. About three days after our arrival in New York the first thunder clouds of the storm that was to break over our heads gathered up. The most extraordinary reports began to be circulated about the wreck of the Titanic and as these passed from one to another they were magnified into fantastic stories without a shred of truth. The horror and grief which had shaken America resolved itself into a sort of hysteria. Everyone looked for a victim to blame for the tragedy and class hatred ran high. The wildest rumors as to the "scandalous conduct' of the "millionaires" who had been passengers were put about and these were sedulously fanned by the agitators. The names of men who had been drowned were heaped with the vilest abuse, were proclaimed far and wide as cowards, and in some cases their relatives were booed at in the streets. Nobody knew exactly how these stories started but they gained currency nonetheless.

It was said that Colonel Astor and George Widener had been shot aboard the Titanic while fighting with women to get into the lifeboats;  that a boatful of women had been turned out to make room for the pet dogs and luggage of Mrs. Astor; that any steerage passengers who had been saved had forced themselves on deck as Captain Smith and his officers had given orders that only first and second class were to be allowed to get into the boats; that the hatches had been fastened down on the third class compartments. It was said Captain Smith had been attending a noisy dinner party on the night of the accident and that he was so drunk that he was unable to take any part in the control of the ship;  that the first officer had shot himself on the bridge; and that practically every man in first class had tried to stampede the boats, trampling women and children underfoot.

Madeleine Astor

One of many rumors that titillated the public was that a lifeboat was reserved for Madeleine Astor’s luggage and pet dogs

I need not say how false these rumors were. Everyone knows now that Colonel Astor and George Widener died as did the rest of the men who went down with the ship –– like brave men, having helped to load the lifeboats with women and children. And the memory of Captain Smith has been too abundantly established as a sailor and a gentleman to need any comment from me.

The majority of the rumors were directed against J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line. It was stated that he was  responsible for the accident, since he had caused the Titanic to deviate from her proper course. His picture was published all over the States with the caption that this was the man "who so managed the line that the Titanic disregarded all warnings, neglected all precautions, drove headlong into a known and definitely located sea of ice, killing thirteen hundred heroic men, while he, himself a coward, escaped in a lifeboat with women and children."

Of course we heard all these reports –– it was difficult not to for the papers were full of them –– but we never connected them in any way with ourselves. Then one morning we received a newspaper cutting sent by a friend who felt we ought to defend ourselves from the terrible accusations being made against us but of which we had so far heard nothing. It was the account of an interview which a certain Robert Hopkins, a seaman on the Titanic, had given to the press. It had already appeared in several papers, we were told. This man, Robert Hopkins, had stated that he could throw light on the mystery of the "Millionaire's Boat" (we had already read amazing stories of this boat but had no idea they referred to us), which had been the first to leave the ship. It was occupied, he stated, by Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Lady Duff Gordon, and eleven others, only two of whom were women. A man, whom Hopkins asserted was an American millionaire, had promised the boat's crew to "make it all right with them" if they "would get right away from the ship," which they did. Each member of the crew, concluded Hopkins, received a check for 5 pounds upon Coutts' Bank when they were taken aboard the Carpathia

Five Pound Cheque

Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon’s gift of five pounds to each member of his lifeboat’s crew was misconstrued as a bribe

Naturally this tale loosed the whole of the "yellow press" upon us, and every day the papers had some new addition to make. Hopkins was interviewed again and further drew on his inventive powers, the other seamen were asked to give their version, and our fellow passengers also made statements, which completely cleared Cosmo and should have put an end to the story then and there. All the men of our boat's crew indignantly denied the statement Hopkins had made and explained the real circumstances in which the checks were promised. Hopkins, who had been in another boat 26, could not possibly have known what transpired in ours, but hearing of the presentation of the checks on board the Carpathia he had put his own interpretation on the incident.

At first we were inclined to take no notice of the scurrilous attacks being made on us in New York. "It is such a ridiculous story that it cannot possibly do us any harm," Cosmo said. "Nobody will believe a thing like that." But a lie that has a grain of truth in it is very difficult to refute. It was an undeniable fact that Cosmo had given each man in our boat a present of 5 pounds towards a new kit, though from a very different motive than the one imputed to him.

Then Mr. Tweedie 27, our lawyer and very good friend, wired us from London that the stories, which had appeared in certain American papers, were being quoted in England. He advised us to return immediately and to insist on being present at the Board of Trade Inquiry on the loss of the Titanic, so that we might have a chance of personally refuting the abominable libels. So although I had intended to stay several weeks in New York we sailed on the Lusitania on May 7.


Notes

1. Lucy’s comment about her secretary’s negligee was widely reported as “There is your beautiful nightdress gone,” implying she said it as she watched the ship going down. But the remark was made some time afterwards, about 3 a.m., according to British Inquiry transcripts.

2. Fireman Robert Pusey

3. Fireman James Taylor

4. Approximately 3:30 a.m.

5. RMS Carpathia of the Cunard Line, en route from New York to Genoa and other Mediterranean ports.

6. Boat 1 reached the rescue ship just after dawn at about 4:30 a.m., being the second boat to be picked up.

7. Captain Arthur Henry Rostron (1869-1940), following the Carpathia's arrival in New York, was honored along with his crew for their heroism by the Committee of Titanic Survivors, headed by Mrs. J.J. Brown. Rostron received the investment of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919 and was knighted in 1926. His autobiography Home from the Sea was published in 1931. In 1934 Captain Sir Arthur Rostron was presented with the Medal of the Legion of Honor.

8. Charles Emil Stengel (1857-1914), a New Jersey leather manufacturer.

9. Abraham Lincoln Salomon (1868-1959), a New York wholesale stationer.

10. This was probably Edith Rosenbaum (1879-1975), a fashion stylist, buyer, and journalist (later known as Edith Russell) whom Lucy met aboard the Carpathia. Edith Rosenbaum was saved in Boat 11

11. Mrs. Tyrell Cavendish (1886-1963), nee Julia Siegel, was the daughter of New York merchant Henry Siegel. Julia Cavendish escaped in Boat 6.

12. Mrs. Frederick R. Kenyon (1880-1958), nee Marion Stauffer, left the ship in Boat 8.

13. Trevor Allison (1911-1929), son of Mr. and Mrs. Hudson J. Allison of Montreal.

14. Nurse Alice Cleaver (1889-1984), survived with the infant Allison in Boat 11.

15. Mrs. Mark Fortune (1851-1929), nee Mary McDougald, and her daughters Mabel, Alice, and Ethel. They were saved in Boat 10.

16. Chief Baker Charles Joughin (1878-1943) was rescued from atop Boat B.

17. Lead Fireman Charles Hendrickson

18. Lookout George Symons

19. Lucy seems to have confused the ship's surgeon Dr. McGee with Carpathia passenger Dr. Frank Blackmarr who actually took the series of photographs.

20. Lucy's Titanic lifejacket was photographed by the London Daily Sketch at the time of the publication of her memoir.

21. Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950), later Lady Mendl, the decorator and hostess. De Wolfe was a columnist for The Delineator in 1911-1912 and for Good Housekeeping in 1912-1913. She published her definitive decorating book The House in Good Taste in 1913, her Recipes for Successful Dining in 1934, and her autobiography After All in 1935.

22. Elisabeth Marbury (1856-1933), theatrical and literary agent, released her memoir My Crystal Ball in 1932

23. Bainbridge Colby (1869-1950), Lucy's American legal representative, joined former President Theodore Roosevelt in forming the National Progressive Party in 1912, served as Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson in 1920-1921, and authored a memoir, The Close of the Wilson Administration and Final Years, in 1930.

24. Abraham Merritt

25. William Randolph Hearst's flagship paper for which Lucy wrote a weekly fashion column between 1910-1922.

26. Seaman Robert Hopkins escaped in Boat 13.

27. R.W. Tweedie

Related Biographies:
Cosmo Edmund Duff Gordon
Lucy Christiana, Lady Duff Gordon

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