Peuchen's bonds and other forgotten fortunes


Arun Vajpey

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I have read on several reliable accounts (including ET) that many First Class passengers left behind money, bonds and valuables that they could have taken with them on lifeboats without too much difficulty. Of course, some of them survived while others didn't, but at the time of leaving their cabins individual passengers would not have known their fate (or maybe even of the Titanic itself). So, human nature being what it is, it makes me wonder why they did it.

Perhaps the most significant among them was Major Peuchen's tin box reportedly containing in excess of $200,000 in bonds. That is a tidy sum today, but 105 years ago it must have been a fortune. Apparently, the box was just sitting on a table when the Major decided to leave it and it probably would not have taken-up more space than the 3 oranges that he took with him instead. What was he thinking?

Then there is Lucy Duff-Gordon's $4000 pearl necklace which reportedly she had only "borrowed" without paying for it. I am sure there were many others like it among both survivors and victims.

I wonder if they all believed that the ship would remain afloat and that they would all eventually be able to get back their property? Weird.
 

Harland Duzen

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I recently brought and been reading the "On a Sea of Glass" by Tad Fitch, Bill Wormstedt and J. Kent Layton. Within, it gives multiple examples of around 12:00 and 12:45 that very few passengers ("1 in 10" to quote Beesley) had noticed the ship tilting down and many having been accidentally brainwashed by media and others boasting of the Titanic being "practically unsinkable" that most thought:

A) The boats is only an health & safety issue and within a few hours we be brought back on board and keep steaming onwards to New York. Why leave?

B) It will take hours for Titanic to sink (if she did) and Steward Robert Wareham suggested "8 to 10 hours" meaning their surely be enough time to move everything if the worst was expected.

Basically, aside from 3rd Class Passengers, crew (stokers, trimmers) and the Officers, most thought Titanic would stay afloat and that they continue and return to their cabins shortly.

Either way, Peuchen was have been a bit miffed when he remember his tin box was still on board!
 
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Aaron_2016

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Mrs White told the US Inquiry in 1912 the following -

"Nobody ever thought the ship was going down. I do not think there was a person that night, I do not think there was a man on the boat who thought the ship was going down. They speak of the bravery of the men. I do not think there was any particular bravery, because none of the men thought it was going down. If they had thought the ship was going down, they would not have frivoled as they did about it. Some of them said, "When you come back you will need a pass," and, "You can not get on to-morrow morning without a pass." They never would have said these things if anybody had had any idea that the ship was going to sink."

Even in 3rd class there was strong desire to stay on the ship. Steward John Hart was instructed to take the women and children in 3rd class to the boat deck. He told the UK Inquiry the following:

"Those that were willing to go to the boat deck were shown the way. Some were not willing to go to the boat deck, and stayed behind. Some of them went to the boat deck, and found it rather cold, and saw the boats being lowered away, and thought themselves more secure on the ship, and consequently returned to their cabin."

Q - You say they thought themselves more secure on the ship? Did you hear any of them say so?
A - "Yes, I heard two or three say they preferred to remain on the ship than be tossed about on the water like a cockle shell."

The stewards in 1st class were instructed to lock the cabin doors to prevent looters, and several passengers who tried to return to their cabins found they were locked by the stewards. We also have passengers like Edith Rosenbaum who gave all of her luggage keys to her steward (19 keys) and instructed him to look after her luggage while she left the ship. She thought the passengers would be transferred to another ship and continue to New York and the Titanic would be towed to Halifax for repairs, and she asked her steward to look after her luggage until the ship reached Halifax and have it delivered to New York.


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Arun Vajpey

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Agreed to all that but Major Peuchen was a Yachtsman with experience of the sea. Even if he initially believed that the Titanic was going to stay afloat, I am sure that by 01:05 hours, just as Lifeboat #6 was about to be launched, he would have - should have - known that the ship was doomed. That being the case, why did he volunteer to man #6? He would not have known that Lightoller was going to pop the "any seamen?" question beforehand and so could not have planned his place on the lifeboat. That being the case, it would have taken him only a few minutes to return to his cabin and pick-up the tin box and perhaps find a place in one of the other boats. Peuchen comes across as rather more enterprising than the average millionaire of the period and I am sure he would have found a place on one of the later starboard boats where Murdoch was following a more logical policy in filling it.

Considering the risks people take when there are opportunities to make lots of money, leaving behind one's own $200,000+ in 1912 seems rather daft to me, no matter how rich Peuchen was.

Finally, even if he believed that the Titanic would stay afloat, in fact especially then, I would have thought that he would hang on to his money rather than have some crew member be tempted by the opportunity. After all, it was more money than some of them would earn in a lifetime.
 

Harland Duzen

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it would have taken him only a few minutes to return to his cabin and pick-up the tin box and perhaps find a place in one of the other boats. Peuchen comes across as rather more enterprising than the average millionaire of the period and I am sure he would have found a place on one of the later starboard boats where Murdoch was following a more logical policy in filling it.
I got several suggestions? Maybe...

Pecuhen being a gent thought he could fix the boat and just stay in the boat a few hours before coming back to help and be a gent?

By 1:05 water could possibly been seen at the bottom of the grand staircase and with any possible lists, Peuchen would have thought it unsafe to go back down lest he be lost?

Since the ET Account states "But Lightoller replied that if Peuchen was as good a sailor as he claimed to be he could slip down the ropes to get into the boat..." Peuchen thought leaving might suggest he was lying thereby preventing him from entering any other lifeboats and / or later be claimed to have been lying so he could enter the boats and end up being ridiculed?

Just some ideas...
 

Arun Vajpey

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Gent or no gent, how many people on these forums would walk away from $200,000 today, let alone the present equivalent of that sum in 1912? I know that I wouldn't.
 

Harland Duzen

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True, but what if the cabin it's in is filling with foaming seawater and / or Bruce Ismay discovers someone has stolen from a 1st Class Stateroom on the maiden voyage of their new flagship!

Either way, Someone's going to be in danger (whether from drowning or a very angry shipping line)!
 
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Aaron_2016

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The stewards were probably stopping passengers from returning to their cabins because the staircases were probably congested with people going in one direction towards the boat deck. The stewards might have also told the passengers they could not return to their cabins because their doors had been locked and they were not allowed to take any luggage or cases with them to the boat deck. He probably thought his money was quite safe in his room.

I think he was undecided that the ship really was going to sink so soon. He spoke to Mr. Hays after the collision - "He said, "Oh, I don't know; you can not sink this boat." He had a good deal of confidence. He said, "No matter what we have struck, she is good for 8 or 10 hours."

This may have reassured Peuchen that the Titanic was not going to sink any time soon and when he helped the crew prepare the lifeboats he may have just instinctively put his talents and experience to use without realizing the ship was going down. Lightoller was telling the passengers it was merely a precaution and that they would return to the ship in the morning. This probably reassured Peuchen that his money was quite safe.


When he got into the lifeboat he did not seem to realize the Titanic was going to sink in about an hour's time as Hichens yelled at him and said - "Hurry up." He said "This boat is going to founder." I thought he meant our lifeboat was going to founder. I thought he had had some difficulty in finding the plug, or he had not gotten it in properly. But he meant the large boat was going to founder, and that we were to hurry up and get away from it. So we got the rudder in, and he told me to go forward and take an oar."

This could suggest that Peuchen was not aware the ship was going to sink until that moment. Then again, he could have thought Hichens was exaggerating the damage and did not believe she would really sink even then. Hard to imagine the world's largest and safest liner was going to sink after a slight collision with an iceberg. As Peuchen said - "I went to see my friend, Mr. Hugo Ross, to tell him that it was not serious; that we had only struck an iceberg."


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Dave Gittins

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I believe I'm correct in saying that Peuchen would have been able to replace his bonds when he got home. Whoever issued the bonds had records of them and replacement documents could have been provided. They were not the equivalent of hard cash.
 

Arun Vajpey

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OK, but is there any evidence that he actually did so? Peuchen was one of the "well known" survivors and since there were so few of them, the media would surely have interviewed him. Since the story about the lost bonds broke soon afterwards, it would have been quite a story if he was able to replace them later. I cannot recall reading that in any book's "Aftermath" chapters.

I have been in 23 week long cruises out at sea and while they have all been on small liveaboard diving yachts with modern communication and rescue facilities, such craft can sink fairly rapidly if there was any serious damage. I asked myself several times what I would do if my boat was going to sink and I had some time to rescue my stuff. I am not a rich man and on such trips always kept my travel documents, insurance, money and credit cards in a small bright red waterproof bag that I could grab quickly if necessary. My own feeling is that after ensuring safety of their loved ones, most people do think of rescuing their money and valuables under such circumstances and it would take monumental determination (or stupidity, if you'll excuse me) to walk away leaving a fortune behind.

After offering mental apologies to Major Peuchen and his descendants, I have tried to picture an alternate theory about his actions but if anything it seemed even more improbable. That theory was that being an experienced yachtsman, Peuchen took stock of the situation and realised fairly early after the iceberg impact that the Titanic was going to sink after all. Therefore, when he finally decided to go up to the boat deck and try his chances of getting into a lifeboat, he was in bit of a rush and simply forgot to take the tin box with the bonds with him. He did not realise his error till he was well away on Lifeboat #6 and by then it was too late to do anything about it. But rather than face the ridicule of the media and his business colleagues, he decided to make-up a "sacrificial story" about deliberately leaving the bonds behind and so come across as something of a hero.

But that did not jell because no one, even under such circumstances as Peuchen found himself in, simply forgets a fortune that they are carrying even under stress. Moreover, Peuchen was travelling alone and so did not have the safety of family or dependents to be concerned about.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Just an update question on this.

Supposing someone else, say a steward checking the cabins, had gone into Peuchen's room shortly after the major vacated it, saw the tin box on the table and, overcome by curiosity, had looked inside? If he had then quietly taken the bonds, secured them and survived himself, would the bonds have been any use to him?
 
Dec 27, 2017
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Just an update question on this.

Supposing someone else, say a steward checking the cabins, had gone into Peuchen's room shortly after the major vacated it, saw the tin box on the table and, overcome by curiosity, had looked inside? If he had then quietly taken the bonds, secured them and survived himself, would the bonds have been any use to him?
Arun, I think that would depend whether they were 'Bearer' Bonds or assigned to Peuchen personally. Bearer bonds are fully negotiable as they are (as the name implies) the property of the Bearer. Interesting idea, I must admit.

Roger
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Thanks. In the film Die Hard the thieves will be after some "negotiable bonds" in the safe and so I assume that they must be bearer bonds. I guess it Puechen left his bonds behind, they must have been made out to him personally.
 
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SmileyGirl

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I am reading this just now, it’s the best book I’ve read on Titanic so far. A real page turner.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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It is. I like the way the facts are presented, particularly doing the sinking process. There is need to keep changing the scenario from one area of the sinking ship to another and this "editing" has been done very effectively in the book. The reader never loses track of any major event and more than anything else, it is easy to form a mental picture of the sequence of events.
 
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SmileyGirl

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Yes I agree. I am literally up to 11.39pm! It’s very well done, it reads like a novel.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I just had a quick read of Hugh Brewster's article about Major Peuchen and unless I have somehow missed it, there is no mention that he got a reimbursement for the $217,000 worth of stocks and bonds that he left in his cabin as the Titanic sank. That would mean that he lost that fortune, which in 2020 money is worth $5.8 million. I know he was rich but he must have been monumentally extravagant or monumentally stupid to have left that small tin box behind.

Reading that article, I learned something that I did not know before. The rather derogatory comments he is supposed to have made to the press in New York about Captain Smith's 'negligence'. He later denied it and so the actual facts seem to be rather murky.
 

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