"A great liner stealing through the vast loneliness of the Atlantic, the sky jeweled with stars, and a thin wind blowing ever colder straight from the ice-fields, tapping its warning of approaching danger on the cozily shuttered portholes of the cabins, causing the lookout man to strain his eyes into the gloom . Inside this floating palace that spring evening in 1912, warmth, lights, the hum of voices, the lilt of a German waltz –– the unheeding sounds of a small world bent on pleasure. Then disaster, swift and overwhelming –– a story of horror unparalleled in the annals of the sea.
Lucy Duff Gordon,
Discretions and Indiscretions, 1932
One of many celebrated passengers aboard the Titanic on that fateful maiden voyage was the fashion designer "Lucile," in private life Lady Duff Gordon, whose salons in London, Paris, and New York were a rendezvous for Edwardian high society and the entertainment world.
In the following account Lucy Duff Gordon discusses her experiences in the sinking of the Titanic and addresses the controversial allegation that she and her husband, Olympic athlete Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, escaped the ship in a lifeboat they commandeered through bribery.
This gripping tale, available online for the first time exclusively on Encyclopedia Titanica, provides compelling insight into what has remained one of the most intriguing episodes in the aftermath of the Titanic catastrophe.
Randy Bryan Bigham has edited and annotated Lady Duff Gordon’s story, which first appeared as three chapters in her autobiography Discretions and Indiscretions. Supplementing this extract are her first press interview about the disaster, published in the New York American four days after her rescue, and her verbatim testimony before the hearings of the British Titanic Inquiry.
As an internationally acclaimed couturiere, Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon (1863-1935) traveled frequently and lavishly. Flitting between the French and American branches of Lucile Ltd, her exclusive London-based fashion house, these junkets aboard the finest vessels of the Cunard and White Star fleets were leisurely and uneventful. But on April 7, 1912, while working in her Paris studio, she received a telegram from her managers in the U.S.A. The wire requested her presence for the leasing of new premises for her expanding New York outlet. "As business called me over in a great hurry," she remembered, "I booked passage on the first available boat. The boat was the Titanic.”
On April 10, accompanied by her second husband, Olympic fencer Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon (1862-1931), the titled dressmaker sailed aboard the ill-fated luxury liner and into the pages of history.
• • •
There had been a good deal of publicity surrounding the Titanic's maiden voyage from Southampton to New York (via ports in France and Ireland), and Lucy, although strangely anxious, seemed excited about making the trip. There was a surprise "send-off" for her in Paris when a delegation of Lucile models and other employees met her at the boat train for Cherbourg and presented her with a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley.
Promoted by the White Star Line as the ultimate achievement in modern shipbuilding technology, the Titanic was not only the largest vessel afloat but regarded as the safest. It isn’t surprising then that, as Harper's Weekly later noted, the wonder-ship's first sailing attracted a "passenger list which was one of the most distinguished ever carried by an Atlantic liner." The Duff Gordons certainly found themselves in distinguished company. Those in first class included some of the best known personalities of the Edwardian era, and were collectively worth an estimated $500 million. On the day the ship set out, the New York Times featured the names of the elite on its front page –– Lucy and Cosmo were absent from the list because they were traveling incognito to, ironically enough, avoid the press.
The decision was most likely prompted by Cosmo, a handsome but reserved Scotsman who seldom accompanied his celebrated wife on business; the baronet detested reporters and especially loathed the tabloid coverage her Ladyship attracted. On the other hand, Lucy, a lively, witty redhead enjoyed the attention.
Wearing long strands of pearls and hats with fluttering veils, the designer was accustomed to traveling grandly, complete with an armful of Pekinese and an entourage of beautiful models dressed in her latest fashions. She didn’t relish foregoing her usual flashy style but consented to Cosmo's terms out of wifely, albeit begrudging, deference. Lucy did, however, bring along for amusement her young friend and personal assistant Laura Francatelli, whom she teasingly called "Franks" and who in turn addressed her formidable employer as "Madame."
The Duff Gordons thus set sail on the Titanic as "Mr. and Mrs. Morgan.” Much speculation has surrounded their choice of this particular alias. It’s been suggested that it was a private joke aimed at elderly American financier J. P. Morgan, owner of the White Star Line, who had cancelled passage aboard his new ship at the last minute, citing illness. The theory isn’t far-fetched; the millionaire's daughter, Anne Tracy Morgan, was a good friend and client of Lucy’s as well as a principal investor in Lucile Ltd's New York franchise. Through Anne, Lucy would probably have known the real reason for old J.P.'s absence on the Titanic, which wasn’t illness, but infatuation with the pretty new mistress he had installed in his villa in the south of France –– hence the pun of Mr. and “Mrs.” Morgan.
Whatever the couple's reason for the pseudonym, their family, at least, was well acquainted with it, as evidenced by a bon voyage telegram they received on board from the Viscountess Tiverton (later Countess of Halsbury), Lucy's daughter by her previous marriage. Sent in care of the Morgan sobriquet, the simple wire read: "Paris, via Marconi - Best love, Esme."
Another explanation for the Duff Gordons’ crossing on the Titanic under an assumed name was that Cosmo wished to avoid the shipboard nouveau riches who tended to swarm about Lucy like so many lost sheep. One more curious fact about the couple's presence on the Titanic was that they occupied two staterooms located across the corridor from each other, cabins A-16 and A-20 on the forward port side of the promenade deck. Why they booked separate cabins is not known, although it’s likely Lucy's somewhat fiery temperament determined the arrangement. She wasn’t used to having her husband along on business and presumably preferred the independence of her own space. Cosmo, too, one imagines, welcomed time away from her frequent "moods." The pair actually spent little time together on board as Franks was an almost constant presence. There to provide the engaging repartee Lucy demanded and which her mild-mannered husband had little facility for, Franks played well the role of doting protégé, listening to her plans, lighting her cigarettes and pouring her brandy.
• • •
The celebrities who converged on the Titanic for its famous, fatal voyage were an impressive, diverse assemblage. Among the Duff Gordons' illustrious fellow passengers were New York real estate scion John Jacob Astor IV (touted as "the richest man in America") and his recent bride, Madeleine, returning from their Paris honeymoon; British philosopher, social activist, and editor of London's Review of Reviews William T. Stead, on his way to attend a peace rally at Carnegie Hall; Major Archibald Butt, military attache to President Taft, coming back from a mission to the Vatican; millionaire industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, travelling with his mistress, French revue singer Ninette Aubart; the Countess of Rothes, en route to California to join her husband, the 19th earl, who was planning to buy land there; philanthropist, retired Congressman, and founder of Macy's, Isidor Straus and his wife Ida, coming home after wintering on the Riviera ; painter Frances Millet; Henry B. Harris, the Broadway producer, and his wife Renee; Denver society maven Mrs. J.J. "Molly" Brown, fresh from a tour of Eqypt; art and rare book collector Harry Elkins Widener; Wimbledon champion Karl Behr; film actress Dorothy Gibson; and Jacques Futrelle, the detective novelist, and his wife May.
The loss of many of these notables and their fellow passengers stunned the world when on April 15, 1912, the reputedly "unsinkable" Titanic, two hours after striking an iceberg, slipped beneath the sea. Reports bore the startling news that of the more than 2,200 men, women, and children aboard, some 1,500 lost their lives in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. Only about 700 people had survived the world's worst maritime catastrophe. Escaping in the Titanic's too-few –– and some only partly-filled –– lifeboats, they were rescued by the steamer Carpathia at dawn.
Ashore the aftermath of the sinking was rife with controversy. In America and England formal investigations into the shipwreck, hearings conducted by the United States Senate in Washington and the British Board of Trade in London, revealed crucial facts. These included the Titanic's inadequate equipage of lifeboats, the failure of the ship's commander, Captain E.J. Smith, to heed wireless warnings from other ships in the vicinity of dangerous ice-flows ahead, and the excessive rate of speed at which the liner was traveling at the time of the collision. Most volatile of all, the inquiries revealed the probable existence of class prejudice aboard which allowed for the preferential treatment of wealthy passengers in abandoning ship.
A flagrant example, newspapers contended, was the case of Cosmo and Lucy Duff Gordon who allegedly secured a monopoly of their under-loaded lifeboat by virtue of their social “ascendancy.” It was claimed that, after the ship sank and others in the boat suggested returning to rescue some of the drowning, the couple had sought to bribe the sailors in charge against considering the proposition, citing their fear of the boat's being swamped in the throng of swimmers.
The reports vilifying the Duff Gordons unleashed a firestorm of criticism, fueled by the sensationalistic tactics of the “yellow” press. Eventually the matter came under the scrutiny of the convening British Inquiry, the official government probe into the Titanic disaster conducted by the Board of Trade and presided over by Justice Lord Mersey. Summoned to testify at the Titanic Inquiry in May (the only passengers to be called out of 102 witnesses), Lucy and Cosmo succeeded in clearing themselves of the charges brought against them. Lord Mersey, however, declared at the close of the hearings that, while the whole of the "Duff Gordon Incident" was immaterial and that allegations of bribery were unfounded, it was his opinion that Cosmo ought to have exercised more leadership by organizing a rescue effort.
While the proud sportsman’s reputation faltered as a result of his gossip-ridden role in the Titanic’s aftermath, his glamorous wife's professional and private life proved distinctly undaunted. With the exception of a widely-syndicated (though embellished), interview in William Randolph Hearst’s New York American, which she consented to just after her rescue, Lucy didn’t write or speak publicly of the tragedy for twenty years.
It was in her 1932 memoir that Lucy finally addressed the ordeal at length, and it is from this spirited narrative that the following text is taken. Excerpted from chapters 13-15 of the U.S. edition of Discretions and Indiscretions, this version is faithful to Lucy's original story in all but a few cases of minor inaccuracies, which have been corrected. For a balanced appraisal of the designer’s experiences, her sworn testimony before the British Titanic Inquiry forms an appendix to this article as does her first published account in the American.
Unlike her husband, Lucy Duff Gordon overcame the stigma of the Titanic disaster. Nevertheless, despite her noteworthy career as "Lucile,” she is best remembered today for the sensational part she played in this epic saga.
A great liner stealing through the vast loneliness of the Atlantic, the sky jeweled with stars, and a thin wind blowing ever colder, straight from the ice fields, tapping its warning of approaching danger on the cozily shuttered portholes of the cabins, causing the lookout man to strain his eyes into the gloom. Inside this floating palace that spring evening in 1912, warmth, lights, the hum of voices, the lilt of a German waltz - the unheeding sounds of a small world bent on pleasure. Then disaster, swift and overwhelming, a story of horror unparalleled in the annals of the sea. 1
It is only now, after so long, that I can bring myself to look back to that terrible last night on board the doomed Titanic. For years the horror was too vivid to bear the searchlight of memory. I had only to close my eyes to see the rows of lighted portholes extinguished row by row, until they sank under the black waters –– to hear the hideous clamor that spread over the quiet sea. I remember thinking at the time how remote and indifferent the stars seemed. I looked up at them with tear-filled eyes, when all was still again, and thought how many scenes of human agony they must have witnessed, and it came to me then that the life and death of Man were very unimportant things.
I had not meant to sail on the Titanic, although urgent business in New York forced me to take the first available boat. To this day I cannot explain my reluctance when the clerk at the White Star offices said: "The only berths we have are on our new Titanic, which will be making her maiden voyage."
"Oh, I should not care to cross on a new ship, " I told him. "I should be nervous."
He laughed: "Why the boat is unsinkable! Her watertight compartments would enable her to weather the fiercest sea, and she is the last word in comfort and luxury."
In spite of his arguments, I refused to book my berth and went home and told my husband 2 of my fears. He laughed, too, but when he realized I was in earnest he offered to come with me. I consented willingly, little knowing that by so doing I was to expose him to a storm of censure that well-nigh broke his heart and ruined his life.
• • •
The first days of the crossing were uneventful. Like everyone I was entranced with the beauty of the liner. I had never dreamt of traveling in such luxury. I remember being childishly pleased at finding strawberries on my breakfast able.
"Fancy strawberries in April, and in mid-ocean," I said to my husband. "You would think you were at the Ritz."
Everything aboard this lovely ship reassured me –– from the captain 3, with his kindly, bearded face and genial manner, and his 25 years' experience as a White Star commander, to my merry Irish stewardess 4, with her soft brogue and tales of timid ladies she had attended during hundreds of Atlantic crossings .
My pretty little cabin, with its electric heater and pink curtains, delighted me so that it was a pleasure to go to bed. And yet, in spite of ridicule, nothing could persuade me to completely undress at night. My warm wrap lay always ready at hand, and my jewel case, with a few of my most treasured possessions, was placed on a convenient table within reach. I have never been psychic so I am loathe to call this feeling of acute fear which I experienced a premonition, yet the fact remains that, though I have crossed the ocean many times both before and since, I have never had it on any other occasion. Something warned me, some deep instinct, that all was not well.
The time passed happily enough. I had my secretary Miss Francatelli 5 with me, as well as my husband, and we both found several friends on board, among them John B. Thayer, a vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his wife 6.
The day of the disaster dawned calm and bright. The sea was exceptionally still but as the day wore on the cold increased. As we walked round the deck I shivered in my furs.
"I have never felt so cold," I said to Cosmo. "There must be icebergs about."
He made fun of my ignorance and Captain Smith, who happened to be passing, assured me that we were far from the ice zone.
Miss Francatelli and I went into my cabin, shut up all the portholes, and lit the stove to get warm, but it was no use, and when we three went down to the restaurant we kept on our thick clothes instead of dressing for dinner.
I remember that last meal on the Titanic very well. We had a big vase of beautiful daffodils on the table, as fresh as if they had just been picked. Everybody was gay and at neighboring tables people were making bets on the probable time of this record-breaking run
J. Bruce Ismay 7, chairman of the White Star Line, was dining with the ship's doctor 8 next to our table. I recall that several men came up and appealed to him as to how much longer we should be at sea. Mr. Ismay was most confidant, and said that undoubtedly the ship would establish a record. Further along the room the Wideners and the Thayers 9 were dining with the Captain and others and there was a great deal of laughter and chatter from their table. At another table sat Colonel John Jacob Astor and his young bride. They were coming back to New York after a honeymoon in Europe. I thought how much in love they were –– poor things, it was the last few hours they were to have together. They were joined by Isidor Straus and his wife. These two so openly adored one another that we used to call them "Darby and Joan." They told us that in their long years of married life they had never been separated for one day or night.
After dinner we went to the lounge where we met Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Meyer 10. I had my little autograph book with me and I got them to write in it. It was one of the "confession" books, which were so popular just then. Mr. Meyer filled in his "Likes," "Abominations," etc., and then came to the column marked "Madnesses." He laughed as he said, "I have only one –– to live," and wrote it down.
We went to our cabins on A Deck. Cosmo went to bed early and Miss Francatelli and I sat chatting by the stove before we undressed 11. I had been in bed, I suppose, for about an hour, when I was awakened by a funny rumbling noise. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. It seemed almost as if some giant hand had been playing bowls, rolling the great balls along. Then the boat stopped and immediately there was the frightful noise of escaping steam. I heard people running outside my cabin, but they were laughing.
"We must have hit an iceberg," I heard one of them say. "There is ice on deck."
I went across the passage to my husband's cabin. He had heard nothing and was very annoyed at my waking him.
"Don't be ridiculous," he said. "Even if we have grazed an iceberg it can't do serious damage with all these watertight compartments. The worst that can happen is that it will slow us down. Go back to bed and don't worry."
However I went and looked over the side of the boat. I could see nothing as it was pitch black. Several other people hurried up on deck but on hearing from a ship's officer that it was "nothing but temporary trouble" they went quietly back to bed. I think to this day that had it not been for this ill-advised reticence, hundreds more lives would have been saved. As it was, the appalling danger we were in was concealed from us until it was too late and in the ensuing panic many lifeboats were lowered half-filled because there was no time to fill them.
I went back to my cabin. Everything outside appeared as usual but I was uneasy and the roar of steam continued to alarm me. Presently it stopped and there came an infinitely more frightening silence. The engines had stopped. Something in the cessation of that busy, homely sound filled me with panic. I rushed back to Cosmo.
"I beg you to go up on deck and see what has happened," I cried, shaking him. He got out of bed rather unwillingly. In ten minutes he was back looking grave.
"I have just been up to the bridge and seen Colonel Astor," he said. "He told me he was going to ask his wife to dress and I think you had better do the same."
I hurriedly put on the warmest clothes I could find 12, covering them with a thick coat. As I was dressing, Miss Francatelli came into the room, very agitated: "There is water down in my cabin and they are taking the covers off the lifeboats on deck." Just as she finished speaking a steward knocked at the door.
"Sorry to alarm you, Madame, but Captain's orders are that all passengers are to put on lifebelts." He laughed and joked, however, as he helped us don them. "Wrap up warmly, for you may have a little trip for an hour or so in one of the lifeboats,” he said.
We followed him out of the cabin. Before the door closed I looked round it for a last time. I shall never forget that glimpse of the lovely little room with its beautiful lace quilt and pink cushions, photographs all around and the big basket of lilies-of-the-valley that my "Lucile" girls had given me when I left Paris. It all looked so pretty, just like a bedroom on land, that it did not seem possible there could be any danger. But as if to give this reassuring thought the lie, a vase of flowers on the washstand slid off and fell with a crash to the floor.
• • •
On the port side was a scene of horror 13. Lifeboat after lifeboat was being lowered in a pandemonium of rushing figures. Over the tumult the voice of a ship's officer roared: "Stand back! Women and children first!"
My legs shook so that I could hardly stand and if it had not been for my husband's arm, I should have fallen.
"Come dear," he said," I must get you to the boats." I clung to him with all my strength and although I could scarcely get out the words, I insisted nothing would make me leave him. He saw that I meant it. Besides the crowd round the boats on that deck was so thick that it was useless to try to approach them.
"We will go round to the starboard side," Cosmo said. "It may be better there. It can't possibly be worse." 14
It was better, for although there were crowds there was no confusion. The lifeboats were being quietly filled with women, while officers and male passengers helped to launch them. Even in that terrible moment I was filled with wonder at the American wives who were leaving their husbands without a word of protest or regret, scarcely a farewell. They have brought the cult of chivalry to such a pitch in the States that it comes as second nature to men to sacrifice themselves and to women to let them to do it. But I had no such ideas about my husband and when two officers came up and tried to force me into one of the boats, I refused. Cosmo pleaded with me while three or four boats were launched 15 and the crowd thinned. But I only said, "Promise me that you will not let them separate us," and I clung to him until at last seeing there was no use resisting, he gave in, and we stood waiting there with Miss Francatelli, who refused to leave us.
Suddenly we saw that everyone in the vicinity had dispersed, except for some sailors who were launching a little boat. We found out afterwards that it was the Captain's "emergency" boat 16. The men who were to man it were all stokers with the exception of one seaman whom the officer placed in charge of it. Seeing nobody else about my husband asked the officer 17 whether we might get into it and on receiving his permission we were helped in 18, followed by two American men who came up at the last moment. I shall never forget how black and deep the water looked below us, and how I hated leaving the big ship for this frail boat. Just beside us was a man 19 sending off rockets and the ear-splitting noise added to the horror of being suspended in mid-air while one of the lowering ropes got caught and was only released after what seemed an interminable time. 20
The officer called out his last instructions to our crew: "Pull away as quickly as possible, at least two hundred yards!" Just as we touched the water I looked back. I could still see the man sending off rockets 21. We rowed out into the darkness.
I have often noticed that on the heels of tragedy comes an absurd anticlimax. In my case it was dreadful seasickness, which was nothing less than torture. To try to keep my mind off my physical suffering I fixed my eyes on the ship. I could see her dark hull towering like a giant hotel, light streaming from every porthole. As I looked, one row of shining windows was suddenly extinguished. I guessed the reason and turned away. When I forced myself to look again, yet another row had disappeared.
A sharp exclamation from my husband roused me from the stupor into which I was falling.
"My God! She is going now!" he cried.
I turned and saw the remaining lights of the Titanic burning with steady brilliance, but only for a moment and they were gone. A dull explosion 22 shook the air. From the doomed vessel there arose an indescribable clamor. A louder explosion followed and the stern of the great ship shot out of the water. For a few seconds she stayed motionless while agonized cries from her decks grew in intensity. Then, with one downward rush, she plunged to her grave and the air was rent with awful shrieks 23. Then silence, which I felt I could not bear; I felt my very reason tottering. Cosmo did his best to comfort me but I lapsed into a sort of unconsciousness from the dreadful seasickness, which persisted at intervals through the night. Between bouts I could see the dark shadows of icebergs surrounding us.
1. The title of this story “I Was Saved From the Titanic” is derived from an article in Coronet (June 1951), excerpted from Lucy Duff Gordon’s memoir, Discretions and Indiscretions. At least two of the three chapters about the sinking in Lucy’s autobiography were based on an account she wrote privately on April 21, 1912. "This description of how I got on the Titanic and our subsequent rescue,” she prefaced her story, “was written in New York three days after we landed from the Carpathia. I wrote it while all the facts were vividly on my mind. I thought it wise to do so and it has proved very useful. I have the original document now."
2. Sir Cosmo Edmund Duff Gordon, 5th Baronet. of Maryculter, was a founding member of the London Epee Club and a tournament coordinator for the International Fencing League. He was also a star member of the British Fencing Team that won the Silver Medal in the 1906 Olympic Games in Greece and was an appointee to the Olympic Council for the 1908 Olympics in London.
3. Captain Edward John Smith, R.N.R. (1850-1912), was Commodore of the White Star Line.
4. Stewardess Sarah Stap (1865-1937) was Ship's Matron, having many of the more distinguished first class ladies under her personal care. Aside from looking after Lucy, she attended to Madeleine Astor. Stap escaped the Titanic in Lifeboat 11.
5. Laura Mabel Francatelli (1880-1967) served Lucy alternately as business and social secretary between about 1909 and 1921. Nicknamed “Franks” by her employer, she wed hotel executive Max Haering in 1913.
6. nee Marian Longstreth Morris (1873-1944). Thayer and her son Jack were among the rescued. She escaped in Boat 4; he swam away from the ship as it foundered and was picked up by Boat B.
7. Joseph Bruce Ismay (1862-1937) was saved in Boat C. Ismay resigned his position as head of the White Star Line in 1913.
8. Dr. William O'Loughlin (1851-1912) was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and the Royal Institute of Surgeons, London.
9. George D. Widener (1861-1912), a Philadelphia multimillionaire, sailed on the Titanic with his wife Eleanor Elkins Widener (1861-1937), and their son, noted bibliophile Harry Elkins Widener (1885-1912). Only Eleanor survived, escaping in Boat 4.
10. Edgar Joseph Meyer (1884-1912), a mechanical engineer, was lost in the sinking. His wife, Julia Saks Meyer (1886-1957), was the daughter of Andrew Saks, founder of the New York department store Saks Fifth Avenue. Julia escaped in Boat 6.
11. Laura Francatelli occupied a separate stateroom, E-36.
12. Lucy's full-length fur coat, reportedly either of squirrel or moleskin, covered a negligee and two peignoirs. She also wore a pair of satin mules and a crepe scarf draped turban style over her head. She carried a small coral-colored velveteen satchel containing an assortment of small jewelry and toiletries. An uninsured $50,000 string of pearls that Lucy had on approval from a jeweler in Venice was not among the pieces she saved. Her grand niece, Susan, Lady Glyn (b. 1923), the only immediate relative old enough to remember Lucy, told the story of her great aunt’s lost necklace: “It was lodged in the Purser’s safe. Of course she couldn’t get it out in the middle of a shipwreck so she had to escape without it, leaving it to go down.” Glyn added that having to pay for the pearls put Lucy “in the red” over the next year.
13. The Duff Gordons came out on the port side at approximately 12:30 a.m. (April 15), when there was some initial confusion as to whether lifeboats would be launched from the boat deck or the A Deck promenade, just below. Crowds of women and children were being corralled to A Deck, then ordered back up again, causing some commotion. In his testimony before the British Titanic Inquiry, Cosmo did not mention being on the portside during the evacuation.
14. Lucy and Cosmo arrived on the starboard boat deck shortly before Lifeboat 7 (capacity 65, occupants 28) was lowered away at about 12:45 a.m.
15. After Boat 7, Boat 5 (capacity 65, occupants 41) was launched at 12:55 a.m.. Boat 3 (capacity 65, occupants 40) followed at 1:00 a.m.
16. Boat 1.
17. First Officer William Murdoch (1873-1912) superintended the loading and launching of lifeboats on the Titanic's starboard side.
18. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe (1882-1944) assisted First Officer Murdoch in loading the starboard boats. He testified at the British Titanic Inquiry that it was he who lifted Lucy into Boat 1. Lowe was afterwards assigned command of port Boat 14.
19. Quartermaster George Rowe (1880-1974) later took charge of Boat C
20. Boat 1's falls became entangled in a guy wire extending abreast of the promenade deck. Perhaps between five and ten minutes were spent in releasing the boat.
21. According to official transcripts of the British Inquiry, Boat 1 (capacity 40, occupants 12) was launched at 1:10 a.m. However, taking the above-cited mishap into consideration, it would seem the time was at least 1:15 to 1:20 before Boat 1 actually cleared the side of the Titanic. Lord Mersey, president of the Court of Inquiry, ventured during the hearings his opinion that Boat 1 cast off no earlier than 1:15 a.m. Although Lucy admits in her memoir that Boat 1 was rowed at least 200 yards away, she and Cosmo later claimed at the British Inquiry that the craft was more than a thousand yards away when the Titanic sank. But the preponderance of evidence, taking the observations of crewmembers into account, suggests the boat was closer to the distance ordered by Officer Murdoch.
22. The explosions heard were probably the sound of the ship breaking apart amidships, which occurred at approximately I 2:15-2:18 a.m.
23. The ship went down at 2:20 a.m. Lucy’s memory that “the air was rent with awful shrieks” following the sinking contradicts her British Inquiry testimony that “after the Titanic sank I never heard a cry.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
• • •
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.
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
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.
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
Many years ago I promised my husband that one day I would tell the true story of the most tragic chapter in our lives and vindicate his honor, yet it is only now, after his death, that I am able to do so. For myself I would have been content enough to let it rest, for I do not altogether believe in uncovering old hurts. But he would have wished me to do it, and I owe it to the memory of one who was in every respect the bravest and most honorable of men.
I suppose the most terrible thing that can happen to a man is for him to be accused of cowardice, for however unjust the charge may be it leaves a stain which can never be wiped out, at least not in his lifetime, for we are more charitable in our judgement of the dead . Now a man can be accused of all sorts of things and get away with them and without losing the respect of other men, but call him a coward and you get back to something primitive, and his own kind will turn on him and make him feel it for the rest of his life. At least that is what happened in my husband's case. He never lived down the shame of the charges that were brought against him and from that time he became a changed man. He never spoke much about it but I know his heart was broken.
I shall never forget his stricken face when we landed from the Lusitania and caught the boat train for London. All over the station were newspaper placards –– "Duff Gordon Scandal"..."Baronet and Wife Row Away from the Drowning"..."Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon Safe and Sound While Women Go Down on Titanic." Newsboys ran by us shouting, "Read about the Titanic coward!"
My son-in-law, Lord Tiverton 1, met us and his loyalty was a great comfort to us both, but he looked rather grave as he spoke of the Court of Inquiry, already in session. "You will have to give evidence," he told us. "It is only fair that you should. You must have a chance of showing how false these abominable stories are. Of course Esme 2 and I know there is not a shade of foundation in them but they have given rise to a lot of nasty gossip."
So we made the journey back to London feeling wretchedly dispirited. At our home in Lennox Gardens 3 we found a stack of letters and telegrams waiting for us. Most of them were from old friends who were furiously indignant at the stories that had been circulated and wanted to assure us of their sympathy. Others were from complete strangers who had read of the case in the papers. These were generally written in the most abusive strain. Some contained offers of advice, more or less practical. Margot Asquith 4 wrote to tell me that she would be at the hearings every day and that she was sure I would come out of the ordeal with flying colors. She advised me to take a stiff dose of brandy "to buck me up," hardly a wise suggestion as preparation for the witness box, but fortunately I did not act on it.
I never realized until the day I attended the Court how absolutely alone we all are in our moments of sorrow. The Scottish Hall in Buckingham Gate, where it was held, was so crowded there was scarcely a vacant place anywhere. Looking at them all as I went in I recognized many who regarded themselves as my intimate friends, yet it came to me that they were rather enjoying the novelty of seeing two people standing in a moral pillory, watching for us to make some slip in our evidence.
The tabloid press were unrelenting in their attacks on Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon
Looking back on it after all these years I think the real cause of the storm which raged round us was that public opinion had to be offered some sacrifice. In the squabble as to whether the Duff Gordons had or had not acted in a cowardly manner the real issue of the Inquiry was very much obscured, at least from the point of view of the man in the street.
Nobody can doubt that the wreck of the Titanic was, as the verdict of the court described it, "an act of God." But equally nobody can deny that had the ship been better equipped in the way of lifeboats, and better organized in the manning of them, far more lives would have been saved. I am writing simply from the point of view of a passenger without technical knowledge of the control of a ship. But I think the tragic reticence of the officers, which kept the majority of passengers in ignorance of the fate of the Titanic and so lost valuable time in which every boat could have been filled to its utmost capacity, was responsible for unnecessary loss of life.
I do not for a moment suggest that anyone was to blame for this. It is very easy to be wise after an emergency and say what ought, or ought not, to have been done. What actually happened at the time was that nobody believed this magnificent boat, the "unsinkable" Titanic, as she had been proclaimed far and wide, could possibly go down. They trusted in her wonderful construction, her powerful pumps and watertight compartments.
The real tragedy of the wreck was that there was no need for a single life to have been lost, for the Leyland liner Californian was only 17 miles away, and she could have taken aboard every man, woman, and child long before the ship sank. But the Californian's wireless was incapacitated and she was deaf to the frantic calls so near to her. Then again had the Titanic struck the iceberg in almost any other fashion than the one in which she did strike it, her watertight compartments would have saved her. But she struck twice, each time on a bulkhead, knocking four compartments into one, the fine razor-like surface of the ice cutting its way through steel plating as though it had been so much paper.
But although there was no blame to attach to anyone for one of the most appalling tragedies of the sea, there had to be some outlet for the public's emotion and so the same thing happened in England as in America. The Duff Gordons were known to have escaped in a lifeboat which contained their secretary, two American gentlemen, and seven sailors. Therefore everybody assumed our escape was one of flagrant selfishness and with one accord mud was heaped upon us. Lord Mersey 5, President of the Court, repeatedly emphasized that the "Duff Gordon incident" had only a small bearing on the inquiry, but this fact was lost sight of the general public who were apparently disposed to regard us as criminals on trial. The spectacle of two people who had just come through the frightful ordeal of the wreck facing an infinitely worse ordeal was one that appealed to the popular imagination and they flocked to the Court to appreciate it to the full.
The charge we had to face was a moral one. We could have incurred no legal penalties, nothing would have been demanded of us had it been proved, but the real issue at stake was to both of us infinitely more serious. As one of the papers put it: “The audience was not to be cheated out of the smallest particle of what has become the scandal of the day in England. It was a terrible spectacle, this man of old family, battling pale-faced, almost pleading, for something still dearer than life, fighting for honor and repute.”
The accusation actually brought against us was one of incredible cowardice. It was based entirely on the statement of one man among our boat's crew, Charles Hendrickson. He stated that after the Titanic went down he had been the only one in the boat who wanted to return to try to pick up survivors, but that all others had overruled him with their objections. I had been the one to offer the most resistance, he said, for I had protested that there was too great a danger of our being swamped and that Cosmo had upheld my objections. 6
This story, coupled with the one Hopkins had spread in America of a 5 pounds bribe, was as terrible as it was untrue. Hendrickson admitted, as did all the men of the boat's crew, that there had been no foundation whatever to the story of the bribe. The explanation he gave was the correct one: the checks had been offered as a voluntary contribution towards a new kit for each man, and the offer had been made long after the sinking of the Titanic. Even so, the story had persisted and it was only after we had both been through a very searching cross-examination on the question of the checks, and the other witnesses had given their evidence, that we were completely cleared on that point.
• • •
It was a lovely spring day, I remember, as we drove to the Court, and it was difficult to believe we were not going to some pleasant social function for there were such rows of elegant cars outside. Inside, too, there was little of the atmosphere of a court, in spite of the imposing array of counsel. All the women there seemed to have put on their prettiest spring frocks. I caught sight of the Duchess of Wellington, Lady Eileen Wellesley, and Margot Asquith, whose bright eyes followed every posture of the witnesses, Prince Maurice of Battenberg, Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, the Russian Ambassador, and many other people who had been guests in our home, eager all of them to see what would happen . 7
As Cosmo stood up to give his evidence I thought suddenly that a court of law can sometimes be a substitute for the arena of the Old World. Once or twice I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was far away from it all. When I opened them again I saw Lord Mersey and the row of counsel through a haze. Sir Rufus Isaacs 8, the Attorney General, led for the Board of Trade. With him were Sir John Simon 9, Mr. Butler Aspinall, Mr. S.A. Rowlatt, and Mr. Raymond Asquith. Sir Robert Finlay, Mr. F. Laing, Mr. Maurice Hill, and Mr. Norman Raeburn appeared for the White Star Line, and there were many others whose names I cannot remember. H.E. Duke 10, now Lord Merrivale, and Vaughan Williams 11, who were appearing for us 12, looked a very small army against so many who were appearing against us, I thought dismally.
Our only defense was a complete denial of Hendrickson's story. There had of course been no such conversation in the boat, certainly none in which we took part. Nobody had suggested going back to rescue possible survivors because we were at far too great a distance from the ship when she went down to have been able to do so. When the Titanic disappeared we were left in our frail boat without a light of any sort, without a compass or any other means of knowing where to search for people in the water. Miss Francatelli and I had been the only women in the boat because we had been the only women left on the forward starboard boat deck when it was launched. My husband and the two American men had only got into the boat because there was no one else there to do so and the officer superintending the loading of the boat had given them permission to get in. The crew of seven had been appointed to man the boat by this officer and they had acted on his instructions in pulling well away from the ship.
When the Titanic sank I was too seasick to have taken part in a discussion as to which direction we ought to follow even if I had wanted to. And Cosmo, who had only been a passenger in the boat, had left the entire navigation to Symons, the seaman placed in charge. Symons in the course of his evidence stated under oath that he considered that to have returned to the place where the Titanic had sunk would have endangered the safety of all on board, as we should have more than probably been swamped. He also affirmed there had been no discussion whatever as to the advisability of returning and that neither Cosmo nor I had made any suggestions on the subject whatever. The story that we had deliberately rowed away and left the drowning to their fate was monstrous.
For over two hours, Cosmo was cross-examined by Sir Rufus Isaacs whilst the crowd of spectators bent forward, anxious not to miss a syllable of dialogue 13. Once when Sir Rufus lowered his voice, Margot Asquith called out impatiently, "Speak up!" and other women echoed her. Several times there were bursts of applause, once especially, when Lord Mersey intervened to rule out a question put by another opposing counsel, Mr. Harbinson. 14
Sir Rufus Isaacs was absolutely relentless in the way he pressed his questions; he was, in fact, thought extremely severe to my husband, as were several of the other counsel. Their attitude evoked a great deal of criticism afterwards when we were finally dismissed from the case, Lord Mersey having announced that he proposed to take no notice whatever of the charge against Cosmo.
Ashmead Bartlett in an article published in The Academy under the title "Inquiry or Star Chamber?" voiced, I think, the general opinion. He wrote: “Every fair-minded person must deplore what passed at the proceedings of the Titanic Court of Inquiry last week. The Court was constituted by the Board of Trade, acting under pressure of public opinion, to investigate the causes which brought about the disaster of the Titanic and the resulting heavy loss of life. It was surely never intended that it should resolve itself into a species of Star Chamber by torturing witnesses who were fortunate enough to survive and to cast the gravest reflections on their characters and conduct. Still less was the Court constituted that efforts might be made to stir up class against class in order to prove that undue preference was shown to the aristocrat and the wealthy. Yet almost the whole of last week's evidence was taken up endeavoring to prove, by counsel on behalf of the Crown and by various other counsel, that Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon were responsible for the fact that No. 1 lifeboat only contained twelve persons, instead of its full complement.”
“Torquemada never placed his victims more unfairly on the rack of the Inquisition than have Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon been placed on the rack of cross-examination. Every counsel, from the Attorney-General Sir Rufus Isaacs (from whom one at least expected some semblance of fair play), to Mr. Harbinson who put the climax on the proceedings with his scandalous question, has endeavored to prove by the most skillful questioning, by suggestio falsi, and by every other weapon in the armory of the cross-examiner, that Sir Cosmo induced the crew of No. 1 lifeboat to row away from the sinking ship by offering them 5 pounds apiece. There is not one tittle of evidence to support this derogatory aspersion. Hendrickson's evidence is not supported by a single other person in the boat. Seaman Symons, who was in charge of the lifeboat, assumed full responsibility for all that occurred and declared that in his considered opinion it would have been most dangerous to have ventured into the drowning multitude, and that he refrained from doing so in order to preserve the lives of those on board.”
On the subject of the 5 pound checks, Bartlett continued: ”Sir Cosmo, taking compassion on the unfortunate plight of these men, who had lost everything they possessed in the world, offered them 5 pounds a piece with which to buy immediate necessities. Was there ever a more natural action for a gentleman to take? Yet on account of this harmless act of sympathy and charity Sir Cosmo has been held up to public vilification and every unworthy motive attributed to him. But all efforts of counsel have failed to prove that either Sir Cosmo or Lady Duff Gordon ever said a single word against going back or that they attempted to induce the crew to row away from the scene of the disaster by offering them a monetary reward.”
“The scene in court on Friday will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. There did not seem to be a single, commonsense man of the world with any idea of fair play in the room. Not one of the eminent K.C.s seemed to grasp the vast and essential difference between men's actions in a time of great emergency and as they appear weeks afterward at a Court of Inquiry when the danger is past and the setting absolutely different. It was not an inspiring spectacle to watch the row of lawyers increasing the sufferings of those who have passed through the most awful ordeal which a man or woman could be called upon to face.”
I was immensely grateful to Ashmead Bartlett for his warm championship of our cause at the time and I am still.
Others were not so kind. George Bernard Shaw indulged his biting sarcasm at our expense. Referring to the cry of "Women and Children First," which he described as a "romantic formula," he wrote:
“And never did the chorus of solemn delight at the strict observance of this formula by the British heroes on board the Titanic rise to sublimer strains than in the papers containing the first account of the wreck by a surviving witness, Lady Duff Gordon. She described how she escaped in the Captain's boat with only one other woman in it and ten men, twelve all told. Chorus: ‘Not once or twice in our rough island story, etc. etc.’” 15
Someone cut this out and sent it to me. It hurt me and I was childishly pleased when the article was replied to by Mr. Benedict Ginsburg who wrote equally bitterly:
”Shaw must now be sorry that in his anxiety to be smart at other people's expense he failed to observe another old formula, ‘Do not write of a matter while it is still sub judice.’ Had he regarded that adage he would have waited and known something of the authenticity of Lady Duff-Gordon's observations and why there were ten men to two women in that particular boat.”
T.P. O'Connor wrote with his usual kindness and tolerance:
“In the case of the Duff Gordons at first the story told against them was ghastly; it was that Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon promised a number of sailors a 5 pound note each before they left the sinking Titanic and secured preferential treatment by an appeal to greed. If the story had been true one might well stand aghast at such selfishness. But it is now distinctly proven there was not a word of truth in the story.”
But despite our complete vindication before the Inquiry and the generous championship we got from the press, a great deal of the mud that was flung stuck to us both.
For years afterwards, I was quite used to hearing people who did not know me whisper: "That is Lady Duff Gordon, the woman who rowed away from the drowning."
For myself I did not mind, for none of the people whose opinion I cared about believed such an outrageous story, but I minded very much for Cosmo's sake. To the end of his life he grieved at the slur which had been cast on his honor.
1. Hardinge,Viscount Tiverton (1880-1943), heir to the first Earl of Halsbury
2. Lucy's daughter Esme Stuart Wallace (1885-1973) married Lord Tiverton in 1907. The Tivertons became the 2nd Earl and Countess of Halsbury in 1921. The late Lady Flavia Anderson (1910-1998) recalled the family story of how her mother Esme heard the news of the Titanic: “When walking from the Ritz my mother read in the papers that the ship had gone down with all hands. She took a taxi to her aunt Elinor Glyn’s and there subsided into a faint for she knew Grandmother (Lucy) was on the Titanic and feared her dead. News only came through gradually that there were survivors and the Duff Gordons were among them.”
3. 22 Lennox Gardens, Knightsbridge.
4. Lucy’s friend and client Margot Asquith (1864-1945), later Countess of Oxford and Asquith, was the wife of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith.
5. John Charles Bigham, Baron Mersey of Toxteth (1840-1929), later Viscount Mersey, presided as Wreck Commissioner of the UK until 1916, during which period he sat as president of successive courts of inquiry into the sinkings of the Empress of Ireland and Lusitania. Lord Mersey later took the position of Lord of Appeals. His son, Capt. the Hon. Clive Bigham, served the Titanic Inquiry as Secretary. Lord Mersey’s descendent Richard Bigham, the late 4th Viscount Mersey (1934-2006), said that “of all his work the Titanic probe was perhaps the most important but it was the most controversial as well, and it gave him no end of worry.”
6. Apart from Hendrickson, only one other crewmember in Boat 1, James Taylor, testified that Lucy objected to returning to pick up swimmers for fear of being swamped. All five others claimed there was no recommendation by Hendrickson to go back to the wreck and that the Duff Gordons made no comment on the subject. Rumors persisted, however, that the couple’s attorneys not only cleverly guided their clients’ statements on this point but manipulated most of the crew to testify favorably in their behalf. Although the evidence suggests Lucy and Cosmo did not influence the crew, monetarily or otherwise, their lawyers would have realized that allowing their clients to admit to opposing a rescue effort might jeopardize their credibility in denying the larger bribery charge.
7. Other spectators included the Earl and Countess of Clarendon, the Russian Ambassador Count Benckendorff, Lady Angela Forbes, Lady St. Helier, Lady Middleton, Mrs. Hwfa Williams, and Mrs. Dudley Ward.
8. Sir Rufus Isaacs (1860-1935), later first Marquess of Reading, served as Lord Chief Justice beginning in 1913, as a cabinet advisor to Prime Ministers H.H. Asquith and David Lloyd George, as Special Ambassador to the U.S.A in 1918-1919, as Viceroy of India from 1921-1926, and as Foreign Secretary in 1931. Although Isaacs had pursued Hendrickson’s accusation against the Duff Gordons with fervor, his biographer wrote: “It seems in the highest degree improbable that Hendrickson’s story about being dissuaded from turning back has any truth. It seems the most natural thing that a man of means, hearing that his fellow victims have suffered in a further degree by losing their kits, should make them a present to enable them to replace it.” (Derek Walker Smith, Lord Reading and His Cases (1946), p. 312).
9. Sir John Simon, eventually Lord Simon, served as Lord Chancellor between 1940-1945.
10. Henry Duke
11. Lord Justice Vaughan Williams
12. Henry Duke and Vaughan Williams acted on instruction from Messrs. A.F. and R.W. Tweedie.
13. Lucy also testified the same day (Monday, May 20, 1912)
14. The question put by this lawyer, representing the interests of steerage passengers, was one that may have helped turn the tide of public opinion in favor of the Duff Gordons. In cross-examining Cosmo, Harbinson asked if the baronet’s attitude was one of indifference: “Would I accurately state your position if I summed it up this way, that you considered that when your were safe all others might perish?” When Mersey rebuked him, claps and shouts of support were so loud throughout the courtroom that he raised his hand as a signal to quell the disturbance. The press noted the shift in sympathy. “We trust there is now an end to futile innuendo,” The Spectator of May 25, 1912 commented. “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 of the preposterous persecution of Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon.”
15. London Daily News and Leader, May 26, 1912.
The following account first appeared in the New York American the morning after the Carpathia landed with the Titanic’s survivors. Although Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon freely told her story of the disaster to the American’s Sunday editor, Abraham Merritt, and consented to publication, she didn’t authorize its final format as a first-person narrative under her byline. Rushed into print, the piece contained numerous inaccuracies, some of which were corrected for later editions. But exaggerations and errors remained in at least three subsequent nationally syndicated versions of the story, and Lucy was obliged to repudiate many of these alleged statements before the hearings of the British Board of Trade’s Titanic Inquiry.
The transcription appearing here is an amalgam of the original full-length article and a later abridged version published in various newspapers, including the Chicago Examiner, the Boston Globe and the Denver Post. Although many small details of the story are erroneous, some critical facts are surprisingly consistent with the preponderance of eyewitness accounts, including Lucy Duff Gordon’s own observations in her memoir, Discretions and Indiscretions.
New York American
April 19, 1912
LADY DUFF GORDON TELLS OF LAST AWFUL SOUNDS WHEN SHIP SANK, PISTOL SHOTS AND PIERCING CRIES
Declares That When She and Her Husband
Entered Lifeboat Other Passengers Twitted Them About Catching
Cold - "Ship Can't Sink." They Said.
Lady Gordon Is Positive That Two Mighty Explosions Preceded the Final Plunge of the
Titanic - After That for an Hour the Moans
and Cries of Drowning Men Were Heard.
By LADY DUFF GORDON.
The night was perfectly clear. We had watched for some time the fields of ice. I noticed a number of large bergs. There was one which an officer pointed out; he said it must be 100 feet high and seemed miles long. 1
I was asleep, awakened by a long grinding sort of shock. It was not a tremendous crash but more as though someone had drawn a giant finger along the side of the ship. I awakened my husband Sir Cosmo and told him I thought we had struck something. He went up on deck and told me we had hit a big iceberg, but that there seemed to be no danger.
Her Husband Bade Her Dress.
We were not assured of this, however, and Cosmo went upstairs again. He came back and said, "You had better put your clothes on because I heard the order given to strip the lifeboats."
We each put on a life preserver and over mine I threw some heavy furs. I took a few trinkets and we went up on deck. There was no excitement at that time. The ship had listed slightly to port and was down a little at the head. As we stood there one of the officers came rushing up and said, "The women and children are to go in the boats." No one apparently thought there was any danger. We watched a number of women and children and some men going into the lifeboats. At last an officer came to me and said, "Lady Gordon (sic), you had better go in one of the boats."
I said to my husband: "Well, we might as well take the boat; it will be only a pleasure cruise until morning.” The boat was the twelfth or thirteenth to be launched 2. It was the Captain's special boat. Five stokers got in and two American passengers –– A.L. Salomon, of New York, and L. Stengel (sic), of Newark. Besides these there were two of the crew, Sir Cosmo, myself, and a Miss Frank (sic). 3
Men said “Ship Can’t Sink.”
There were a number of other passengers, mostly men, standing nearby and they joked with us because we were going out on the ocean. "The ship can't sink," said one of them. "You will get your death of cold out there in the ice."
We were slung off and the stokers began to row us away. Cosmo had glanced at his watch as we cut loose. It was exactly 12:15 A.M (sic), fifteen minutes after the collision with the berg. 4 It did not seem to be very cold. Suddenly I clutched the side of the lifeboat. I had seen the Titanic give a curious shiver. We were probably a mile away.
Heard Pistol Shots and Screams.
Almost immediately we heard several pistol shots and a great screaming arose from the decks. There were no lights on the ship now except for a few lanterns that had been lit by those who remained aboard. Then the boat’s stern lifted in the air and there was a tremendous explosion. After this the Titanic dropped back again. The awful screaming continued. Two minutes after this there was another great explosion. The whole forward part of the great liner dropped under the waves. The stern rose a hundred feet, almost perpendicularly. The boat stood up like an enormous black finger against the sky 5. Little figures hung and dropped into the water. The screaming was agonizing. I never heard such a chorus of utter despair and agony.
The great prow of the Titanic sank under the waves. As it went, the screaming of the poor souls on board grew louder. It took the Titanic perhaps two minutes to sink after the last explosion. It went down without a ripple. 6
We had heard of the danger of suction. But there was no such thing about the sinking of the Titanic. The amazing part of it all to me as I sat looking at this monster being destroyed was that it could be accomplished so gently. Then began our personal miseries of the night. Up to that time no one in our boat, and I imagine no one in the other boats, had really thought the Titanic was going to sink. For a moment a silence seemed to hang over all and then from the water where the ship had been there arose a bedlam of shrieks and cries. There were men and women clinging to bits of wreckage in the icy water.
Says Cries Lasted an Hour.
It was at least an hour before the last shrieks faded. I remember the last cry was that of a man calling "My God! My God!" He cried monotonously in a dull, hopeless way. For an entire hour there had been an awful chorus of shrieks until this last cry. Then all was silent. When the terrible quiet came we waited gloomily in the boat through the rest of the night.
Saw a School of Whales.
At last –– morning. On one side of us were the ice flows. On the other we were horrified to see a school of tremendous whales 7. As the mist lifted we caught sight of the Carpathia looming up in the distance. We were too numbed by cold and shock to cheer, or even utter a sound.
Our boat was among the first picked up by the Carpathia. After I had been helped aboard I stood by the rail and watched the other boats draw alongside and the women and children being assisted out.
Those in the other boats seemed to have suffered greater than we had. In one boat there was a woman whose clothing was frozen to her body. Men on the Carpathia had to chop it off before she was taken below to a warm bed. Several sailors had frozen to death and they lay stiff in the bottom of the boats.
Says Captain was Seen Swimming.
The rumor that Captain Smith committed suicide is untrue. I did not see him after I was away in the boat but others have told me the captain was seen swimming. He picked up a baby floating in the wreckage and swam with it to one of the boats, lifting it aboard only to be told it was dead. The women in this boat, according to the story told me, wanted the captain to get into the boat with them but he refused. Nothing more was seen of Captain Smith. 8
There was absolute calm on the Carpathia There were hundreds of women who had lost their husbands. No one cared to talk. The gloom was terrible. I buried myself in my cabin and did not come on deck again.
LUCY DUFF GORDON
1. There are no known credible accounts of passengers or crew witnessing a field of icebergs prior to the accident.
2. Lifeboat 1 was the sixth boat launched
3. Abraham Lincoln Salomon, Charles Emil Stengel and Laura Mabel Francatelli
4. Boat 1 was lowered about an hour and a half after the ship’s collision with the iceberg
5. Fellow survivor Lawrence Beesley agreed with Lucy’s analogy of an “enormous black finger,” which he quoted in his seminal account of the disaster, The Loss of the S.S. Titanic.
6. The explosions Lucy and other survivors heard were most likely sounds of the ship’s hull breaking up as it went down.
7. There are no other known accounts of a school of whales surfacing near the wreck site.
8. Several similar eyewitness stories claimed Captain Smith was seen in the water after the sinking.
Lucy Duff Gordon's British Inquiry Testimony, May 20, 1912
Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon delivered her evidence before the British Board of Trade’s Titanic Inquiry at the Wreck Commissioner's Court, Scottish Hall, Buckingham Gate, London, on the morning of Monday, May 20, 1912. The hearing was conducted before a committee of shipping, engineering and legal experts headed by the Rt. Hon. Lord Mersey, Wreck Commissioner of the United Kingdom.
LADY DUFF GORDON, Sworn.
Examined by the Attorney-General, SIR RUFUS ISAACS.
12869. Lady Duff Gordon, you will remember on the night of this disaster to the Titanic you were awakened, I think, by the collision? –– I was.
12870. I only want you to tell me one thing before we get to the situation of the lifeboat. Had there been offers to you to go into any of the other lifeboats? –– Oh, yes, they came and tried to drag me away.
12871. You mean some of the sailors? –– The sailors. I was holding my husband's arm. They were very anxious that I should go.
12872. And you refused to go? –– Absolutely.
12873. Well, eventually you did go with your husband, as we know, in what has been called the emergency boat? –– Yes, I did.
12874. Just tell us quite shortly –– I do not want to go into it in any detail –– but quite shortly, how it was you went into that boat. Do you remember? –– Oh, quite well.
12875. Well, would you tell my Lord?–– After the three boats had been gotten away, my husband, Miss Franks and myself were left standing on the deck. There were no other people on deck at all visible and I had quite made up my mind that I was going to be drowned, and then suddenly we saw this little boat in front of us –– this little thing (pointing to the model) –– and we saw some sailors and an Officer apparently giving them orders, and I said to my husband, "Ought we not to be doing something?" He said, "No, we must wait for orders." And we stood there for quite some time while these men were fixing up things and then my husband went forward and said, "Might we get into this boat?" And the Officer said in a very polite way indeed, "Oh, certainly do, I will be very pleased." Then somebody hitched me up from the back and pitched me into the boat and then I think Miss Franks was pitched in. It was not a case of getting in at all. We could not have got in. It was quite high. They hitched us up in this sort of way (indicating) into the boat and after we had been in a little while the boat was started to be lowered and one American gentleman got pitched in and another American gentleman was pitched in while the boat was being lowered down.
12876. (The Attorney-General) I think it is right to say that Mr. Stengel rather confirms that statement if your Lordship will remember. It is not right, according to him, that the three of them came running up, as Symons said. He says he did come up afterwards and was rolled into the boat. (To the Witness) Now you will remember when you got into the boat and before the Titanic sank, did the men start rowing away from the Titanic? –– Oh, the moment we touched the water the men began rowing.
12877. Had you heard any orders given? -––Yes.
12878. Do you remember what they were? –– As far as I remember, it was to row quickly away from the boat for about 200 yards.
12879. "And come back if called upon?" –– No.
12880. You did not hear that? -–– Oh, no.
12881. I do not quite understand. –– I did not hear that.
12882. You did not hear it? –– No.
12883. As far as you knew all they had to do was to row out 200 yards? –– Yes.
12884. Then did the men commence doing that? –– At once.
12885. And did you hear any conversation at all in the boat before the Titanic sank? –– No.
12886. Did you understand the question I was putting to you? –– No, I did not hear it. In our little boat?
12887. Yes. –– No.
Mr. Duke: She said no.
12888.(The Attorney-General) But I have her proof before me and that is why I was not sure she understood the question. –– I have no recollection.
12889. Let me ask you again. I am speaking to you of before the Titanic sank. You understand? –– Yes.
12890. What I am asking you is: before she sank did you hear the men saying anything in the boat? –– No.
12891. Did you hear anything said about suction? –– Well, perhaps I may have heard it, but I was terribly sick and could not swear to it.
12892. What? I am asking you about something which I understood you have said quite recently. –– I was awfully sick; I do not think I could swear to it.
The Commissioner: Read it to her.
The Witness: Yes, will you, please?
12893. I am asking you about something which I only know from your own statement to your solicitor. Did you hear a voice say, "Let us get away?" –– Yes, I think so.
12894. Did you hear it said, "It is such an enormous boat. None of us know what the suction may be if she's a goner?" –– Yes, I heard them speaking of the enormous boat. It was the word "suction" I was not sure of. I see what you mean.
12895. It is not what I mean, Lady Duff Gordon. It is what you are to have said to your solicitor. –– Well, I may have said it. 1
12896. "Such an enormous boat;" that is referring to the Titanic? –– Yes.
12897. "None of us know what the suction may be if she is a goner?" –– That was, I am sure, long before the Titanicsank.
12898. That is what I was asking you. –– Yes.
12899. I put it to you but I do not think you understood the question. –– No, I did not.
12900. It was before the Titanic sank? -–– Yes.
12901. Now after the Titanic sank you still continued to be seasick, I understand? –– Yes, terribly.
12902. I only want to ask you one question about that. Tell me first of all do you recollect very well what happened when you were in the boat? –– No.
12903. Your mind is hazy about it? –– Very.
12904. There may have been some talk which you would not recollect, I suppose? –– Well, I do not know.
12905. You think you might? –– I think I would.
12906. I will put to you definitely what is said with reference to yourself. Did you hear after the Titanic sank the cries of people who were drowning? –– No. After the Titanicsank I never heard a cry. 2
12907. You never heard anything? –– No, not after the Titanicsank.
12908. Did you not hear cries at all? –– Yes, before she sank. Terrible cries.
12909. Before she sank? –– Yes.
12910. Did you see her sink? –– I did.
12911. You mean you heard nothing at all after that? –– My impression was that there was absolute silence.
12912. Were your men rowing? –– Yes.
12913. What, all the time? –– No. They began to row as soon as the ship went down.
12914. Did you hear a proposal made that you should go back to where the Titanic had sank? –– No.
12915. Did you hear any shouting in your boat? (Noticing witness' attention is diverted) It would be better if you would attend to me. –– I am listening. 3
12916. Did you hear anybody shout out in the boat that you ought to go back? –– No.
12917. With the object of saving people who were on the Titanic? –– No.
12918. You knew there were people on the Titanic, did you not? –– No, I did not think so. I do not think I was thinking anything about it.
12919. Did you say that it would be dangerous to go back; that you might get swamped? –– No.
Mr. Scanlan: I have no question.
Mr. Harbinson: I do not wish to ask anything.
Examined by Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS.
12920. There is one question. Have you seen in the London Daily News what purports to be an article specially written by yourself in America? –– I have.
12921. Did you write such an article? –– No.
12922. It is an entire invention from beginning to end? –– Which article?
12923. The one in the Daily News which appeared on the 20th of April. –– Yes, it is rather inventive. A man wrote it from what he thought he heard me saying.
12924. (The Commissioner) Do you mean to say that somebody came to interview you? –– Oh, quantities of people came to interview me.
12925. But this particular man from the Daily News? –– No, he did not. He was a friend having supper with us the night we arrived.
12926. (Mr. Clement Edwards) Will you kindly look at that article (handing the same to the Witness)? –– What am I supposed to say?
12927. If you will look at the heading of the second column on this side you will see that it is an article supposed to be specially written by you and what purports to be your signature appears at the foot of the column.
12928. (The Commissioner) Are you looking at it now, Lady Duff Gordon, for the first time? –– For the first time.
12929. Do you mean to say you have never seen the Daily News with that article in it up to today? –– Never, this is the first time. The last little bit here is also absolutely a story.
12930. (Mr. Clement Edwards) Absolutely what? –– A story.
12931. Then if your signature appears there it is a forgery, is it? –– Oh, absolutely. 4
Mr. Duke: Do you mind letting me see that? (the same was handed to the learned Counsel) I have never seen it till this moment.
12932. (Mr. Clement Edwards) I want to use it for a moment (the document was handed to Mr. Edwards) You say that a friend came and had supper with you, and you suggest he is responsible for what appears here? –– I know he is.
12933. You know he is? –– Oh, yes.
12934. Some of it may be true and some of it may be false? –– Would you like me to tell you the story?
12935. I should like you to answer the question, Lady Duff Gordon. Is this true that you watched several women and children and some men climb into the lifeboats and did an officer say, "Lady Gordon are you ready?" –– It is not true that the Officer spoke to me but I did see women and children handed into the lifeboats.
12936. Is it true that he said, "Lady Gordon are you ready?" –– It is untrue.
12937. Is this true: "I said to my husband, Well, we might as well take a boat, although the trip will be only a little pleasure cruise until the morning?" –– Quite untrue.
12938. That is untrue. Is it untrue that you said it was the Captain's special boat, that five stokers got in and two Americans, Mr. Salomon of New York and Mr. Stengel of Newark? –– I do not remember saying that.
12939. It is true, is it not, that that number of people did get in? –– It was Mr. Salomon and Mr. Stengel and Miss Franks, my husband, and myself. We were the passengers.
12940. "Besides those two passengers there were Sir Cosmo, myself, and Miss Franks." Is it true you said that? –– I think that might easily be.
12941. Is it true that you said this: "Numbers of men standing by joked with us because we were going out on the ocean?" –– No, that is not true.
12942. That is invention? –– Absolutely.
12943. Is it true that you said that some of them said, "The ship can't sink," and that one of them said, "You will get your death of cold out there amid the ice." Is that true? –– No, not true.
12944. Is it true that you said, "I suddenly clutched the sides of the lifeboat. I had seen the Titanic give a curious shiver." That is invention, is it? –– Yes, quite.
12945. Did you say, "Everything could be clearly made out; there were no lights on the ship, save a few lanterns?" –– No.
12946. Is this true: "We watched her –– we were 200 yards away –– go down slowly, almost peacefully?" –– No.
12947. Did you say then, "An awful silence seemed to hang over everything and then from the water all about where the Titanic had been there arose a bedlam of shrieks and cries?" –– No, I never said that.
12948. That is entirely untrue? –– Absolutely.
12949. (The Commissioner) Who was this gentleman? –– He was the editor of the SundayAmerican. His name is Mr. Merritt.
12950. What is the Sunday American? –– It is a newspaper.
12951. Is it published in London? –– No.
12952. Where is it published? –– New York. I could tell you exactly how it came out if I were allowed to.
12953. (Mr. Clement Edwards) Is this true that you said: "Women and men were clinging to bits of wreckage in the icy water?" –– No.
12954. "And it was at least an hour before the awful chorus of shrieks ceased, gradually fading into a moan of despair?" –– No, I never said that.
12955. Did you say this: "I remember the last voice I heard was that of a man crying "My God, my God!" That is untrue? –– Absolutely untrue.
12956. "And we waited gloomily in the boat through the night, the stokers rowing hard so they could keep themselves warm?" –– Quite untrue.
Mr. Duke: May I borrow that?
Mr. Clement Edwards: Yes (handing the paper to the learned Counsel)
Examined by MR. LEWIS.
12957. Do you write for any papers at all? –– Yes, the Sunday American
12958. Did you supply an article to the Evening Herald? –– No.
Mr. Duke: I do not think Lady Duff Gordon can hear. I cannot –– whether "he" wrote or "she."
The Attorney-General: She
12959. (Mr. Lewis) Do you write for the Evening Herald? –– No.
The Commissioner: Mr. Duke, do you wish to ask anything?
Mr. Duke: Yes, my Lord. I think Lady Duff Gordon should explain about this article.
Examined by Mr. DUKE.
12960. When you were in New York you went to an hotel? –– Yes.
12961. And that evening you had supper together with your husband? –– Several people - six ladies.
12962. Did Mr. Merritt come there? –– Yes.
12963. Was he a gentleman you had known? –– A great friend of ours.
12964. Had you any idea of publication of anything at that time? –– Yes.
12965. What did he say to you? –– After he had left us about half-an-hour he telephoned to me and he said, "Mr. Hearst has just rung me up and said we must have your story of the Titanicwreck for tomorrow morning's paper." He said, "May I tell your story as I heard it?"
12966. What did you say? -–– I said "Yes" and he told me afterwards that he telephoned to their head office all he knew about it and that then a clever reporter put it all into words and it appeared next day in the New York American
12967. Your friend told some clever American reporter what he had heard? –– Yes.
12968. And then you were advertised as having written and signed this false article? –– That is it.
12969. And was that published in various papers, did you find? –– Oh, all over, everywhere.
12970. But you had not seen this in the Daily News till when? –– Just now; here.
Mr. Duke: I think that is all I need ask.
The Attorney-General: I do not wish to ask anything.
The Commissioner: Do you want to ask anything, Sir Robert?
Sir Robert Finlay: No my Lord.
The Witness Withdrew.
1. Lucy mentioned the fear of suction in her otherwise largely disputed New York American interview of April 19, 1912.
2. In the New York American as well as in her 1932 memoir, Discretions and Indiscretions, Lucy explicitly recalled victims’ cries after the sinking. It’s possible she was instructed by her attorneys to refute having heard cries in order to strengthen the Duff Gordons’ case against the charge that they bribed Boat 1’s crew not to rescue swimmers.
3. Lucy’s averted glance, either to her husband or one of the couple’s lawyers, indicates her anxiety at this critical point in her cross-examination. Lucy and Cosmo both denied hearing any proposal to return to the wreck site to save people, a line of testimony rumored to have been coached as part of their attorneys’ strategy to defend them against the “blood money” allegation.
4. While she had never seen the London Daily News article until it was presented as evidence in court, Lucy seemed aware that it was a reprint of her contentious New York American story.
My gratitude goes first to Philip Hind for maintaining the foremost online venue for original liner research at Encyclopedia-Titanica.org, I must also thank historians George Behe, Daniel Klistorner, Inger Sheil and Pat Cook for sharing their expertise. My thanks go, too, to the descendents of Cosmo and Lucy Duff Gordon, namely Sir Andrew Duff Gordon, Susan, Lady Glyn, Lady Clare Lindsay, the late Lady Flavia Giffard Anderson, and the late Anthony Giffard, Earl of Halsbury for their cooperation and support. Special thanks as well to Lord Mersey’s great grandson, the late Richard Bigham, Viscount Mersey, for answering questions and for reminding me of our mutual, if distant, Virginia cousin, Charles Bigham. Finally, many thanks to Gregg Jasper, Jennifer Mills and Donna Smith for their technical support, and to the Mary Evans Picture Library, Illustrated London New Picture Library, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Butterfield, Butterfield and Dunning, UKPressOnline.com and MirrorPix Ltd for supplying illustrations.