The May 1912 letter was written by fashion designer Lady Lucile Duff-Gordon, who was a first class passenger on the ill-fated Titanic with her husband Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon. In addition to being survivors, they were among a dozen people who survived in a lifeboat that could have held 40.
Tabloids dubbed it the “Money Boat” because rumour had it that Sir Cosmo bribed the crew with £5 each to row away from the sinking ship so that their boat would not be swamped. Today, that £5 would be the equivalent of a little over £500 or $US760.
As news of their survival spread, the Duff-Gordons were besieged with rumours and whispers. In the private letter to a friend that’s up for auction, Lady Duff-Gordon writes, “We didn’t seem to have done the right thing in being saved at all!!!! Isn’t it disgraceful.”
The Duff-Gordons were interviewed and later cleared by the British Wreck Commissioner’s inquiry of their actions. The couple’s account said that they turned down places in two lifeboats for women and children before coming across a captain’s emergency boat that was filled with clutter. Seven sailors and five passengers, including the Duff-Gordons and their secretary, boarded.
As for the £5, Sir Cosmo said that the crew had lost their jobs and their possessions and the money was an act of restitution.
But despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, the harm to their reputations was absolute.
Sir Cosmo, who had never liked the spotlight and ironically booked passage on the Titanic under an assumed name, retreated even further into isolation.
Lucille — who was a well-known fashion designer at the time who dressed royals, aristocrats, and socialists — did not back down as easily. When WWI forced her to close her shops in Paris and London, she moved her base to New York and Chicago.
RR Auction said that the letter could be sold for as much as $US6,000 at the auction in Boston on January 22. The lowest possible bid will be $US300.
Here’s the full text of the letter:
27 May – Harlow
Dear old friend,
How kind of you to send me a cable of sympathy from New York on our safety. According to the way we’ve been treated by England on our return we didn’t seem to have done the right thing in being saved at all!!!!
Isn’t it disgraceful.
[Illegible] come and see me and talk of old times. Ring me up.
Shall be home on Wednesday.
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