Defending the Duff Gordons


Randy Bryan Bigham

Thanks to my friend John Hemmert I received today a copy of an editorial in defense of the Duff Gordons that I'd never read before.

I was very happy to get this as it puts into perfect perspective the situation that engulfed the couple in the wake of the Titanic. More so than any account I've read so far, this article gives a fair assessment of the "Duff Gordon Incident." It really "says it like it is."

It is too long to quote in full here (I may transcribe it all later) but I thought I'd share a bit of it.

Here is an excerpt from the piece, published in "The Spectator" (London), 25 May 1912:

"...One reads with disgust such an extract as this from the examination of Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon by Mr. Harbinson: -

HARBINSON: Was it in answer to this suggestion as to the direction the boat should go that you said, "I will give you a fiver?"

DUFF GORDON: I really do not understand your question. You must put it plainer.

HARBINSON: My question is this - that you heard this observation as to the direction the boat should go, and that then, 20 minutes after the Titanic sank, you said you would give them a fiver?

DUFF GORDON: I see your meaning now. The man calling out had no effect whatever as to the direction the boat should go.

MERSEY: If you put your question plainer, it would be understood better. Your question really is this: "Did you promise five pounds in order to induce the men in the boat to row away from the drowning?" That is what you meant to ask.

HARBINSON: That is the effect of it.

MERSEY: Why did you not put it in plainer words?

That is surely a masterpiece in the art of being willing to wound and yet afraid to strike. Even those who so unfairly persecuted Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon must have known the truth, that though the occupants of No. 1 boat did not behave heroically they did not behave differently from the manner in which human beings frequently behave in a sudden dangerous crisis that paralyses thought. Soldiers and bluejackets are drilled in order that in an emergency their action may be correct even when it is mechanical. Habit does duty for judgement. But the occupants of No. 1 boat had had no such drill. They were apparently overpowered by the strange and bewildering events...Heroic men would have done their best, no doubt, to pick up the passengers in the water, but the idea that it was quite a simple matter to "go back" and that Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon could have insisted on doing so is a mistake...There were the cries of the people in the water, of course, but if these did not last long it is possible that some of those in the boats did not know where they came from. In any case Sir Cosmo was not in command of his boat...

As for the alleged preference of the first class passengers to the third class (in abandoning ship), we suspect that the order of embarkation was not in the least premeditated, but was determined merely by the fact that the first class passengers were nearer to the deck from which the boats were lowered. If any one persistently believes that a woman in the third class who asked to be taken into a boat would have been refused he has a lower opinion of the officers of the merchant service than we have.

We trust that there is now an end of futile innuendo. An irregular outburst of applause in the court on Monday indicated that the feeling of the public was outraged by the improper use of the inquiry and particularly by the preposterous persecution of Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon..."