Lucy Duff Gordon Wedding Dress
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Titanic Survivor Leaves Spectators Suspicious After Recalling the Night of the Accident

Stories

| LAST UPDATE 10/19/2022

By Christiana Holland

On a chilly day in April, the RMS Titanic was sailing along the Atlantic. But moments before disaster struck, one specific passenger was awoken by the ship's trembling. Here's why her behavior that night went down in history...

Meet the Duff-Gordons

Today, many are remembered as core passengers on the Titanic. Aside from John Jacob Astor and Captain Edward John Smith, fashion designer Lady-Duff Gordon and her husband Cosmo were dominant participants.

Titanic Survivors Duff GordonsTitanic Survivors Duff Gordons
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When disaster struck on the RMS, passengers were fighting for space on the few lifeboats. However, the Duff-Gordons, who were accommodated in one of the staterooms, were soon called into question. The events that took place on April 15th, 1912, were deemed suspicious - and they had officially become the main suspects.

From Lucy to Lady

Lady Duff-Gordon was born Lucy Christiana Sutherland in June 1863 in London, England. In the early years of her childhood, her father passed away and left behind Lucy and her mother. After losing her father, her mother moved them to Ontario, Canada. Lucy believed this was the one and only setback she would experience in life.

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In 1872, when Lucy's mother decided to re-marry, Lucy and her sister Elinor saw this as a chance to return to Europe. They relocated to Jersey in the Channel Islands. Ironically, a few years later, the sisters traveled on a ship around the English Channel that sank in shallow waters. They survived, but the worst was yet to come...

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Her First Marriage

Unfortunately, Lucy's first marriage was far from happily ever after. After various affairs, she terminated her unhappy marriage with James Stuart Wallace in 1890. However, the two had a daughter together, Esme, who they needed to support. So, Lucy turned to something she could find happiness and wealth in.

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Lucy had a passion for fashion and turned this interest into a profession. She became a dressmaker, and by 1893, she had opened her first store, Maison Lucile. The store was located in the West End of London and soon caught the attention of elite names in British society.

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Sir Cosmo

In 1900, just as Lucy minded her single-mothered life, simultaneously working as a famous dressmaker, she encountered Cosmo. Cosmo Duff-Gordon was a sportsman from Scottish aristocracy and had just placed himself the title of 5th Baronet of Halkin, in line for the crown.

Cosmo Duff-Gordon TitanicCosmo Duff-Gordon Titanic
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While the two came from entirely different worlds, something that worried society, the two married anyway. It was a true love story: a royal family descendant and a humble dressmaker. Not to mention, Lucy's career and store Maison Lucile sales were soaring through eligible buyers throughout London.

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Going International

Her husband kept out of the spotlight for Lucy's benefit as they watched the styling shop excel in sales and reputation. Her business was attracting only the best of the best and was only looking up for the foreseeable future. In 1910, Lucy went international and opened a store in New York City. But this was only the beginning.

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One year after her NYC store debut, Maison Lucy lived up to its French name and launched a store in Paris. Lucy's Parisian moment was a miracle. One day, on a regular working afternoon in her French store, she received a telegram that impacted her life forever.

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Big Apple, Big Dreams

What started as a regular day, April 7th, 1912, was a moment Lucy was going to remember forever. She received a message from one of her managers in America, who insisted she return to the states. It was apparent that Lucy needed to be present at this time, hinting something might be wrong.

Lucy Duff Gordon NYCLucy Duff Gordon NYC
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So, as instructed, Lucy headed back to New York City to visit her store and see what situation was underway. She urgently made her way back, ensuring she was taking the fastest route. So, she booked a ticket on the White Star Line, which took her along the Atlantic Ocean.

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A Maiden Voyage

Although Lucy was keen to return to the states, she was uneasy at the same time, according to the 1932 memoir Discretions and Indiscretions. "To this day, I can't explain my reluctance when the clerk at the White Star offices said, 'The only berths we have are on the Titanic, which will be making her maiden voyage,'" she recalled.

Maiden Voyage Titanic Passengers Maiden Voyage Titanic Passengers
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White Star Line had created the largest cruiseliner to date. The Titanic was 880 feet long and redefined luxury. It had swimming pools, Turkish baths, lounges, and Parisian-themed cafes that served the First-class passengers quite nicely. The ship was even dubbed as "unsinkable" by newspapers due to its watertight compartments.

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All Aboard

With co-workers aiming to rush Lucy back to NYC, it would have been normal to jump at any opportunity to get home quickly and safely on what was considered the best cruise liner. Also, Lucy would not have been the only elite passenger who would join the maiden voyage - so what was stopping her?

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There were several other prestige passengers who would be joining Lucy on the cruiseliner, who would have certainly recognized her infamous last name. While she remained anxious, her husband tried to comfort her to board the best cruiseliner of their time.

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Laying Low – Well, Trying To

To ensure Lucy felt comfortable on the maiden voyage, her husband Cosmo agreed to join her across the Atlantic to return back to NYC. While the majority of the passengers bought tickets through the cruiseliner themselves, Cosmo and Lucy felt they needed to remain low due to their high profile.

Famous Titanic Passenger VictimsFamous Titanic Passenger Victims
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Cosmo and Lucy secured their tickets via a second-party buyer in the hope that the press did not publish their attendance. While they were trying to maintain a low profile, this was unfortunately not the case. It seemed the couple was under more investigation than they ever could have imagined.

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Becoming 'The Morgans'

Lucy and Cosmo eventually boarded the Titanic together as Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, incognito. For security, Lucy's friend and secretary, Laura Francatelli, a.k.a. Franks, escorted the couple onto the cruise liner. Of course, if anyone needed to be reached with regard to the fashion store, there were enough contacts.

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There were apparent rumors that spread around the elite members who were on board the White Star Line cruise liner that involved a feud regarding the accompanied guests for the couple. Nevertheless, the Duff-Gordons knew their low profile would not last and eventually would be swamped with recognition on their journey home.

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Traveling in Luxury

According to Lucy's memoir, she recalled, "Like everyone else, I was entranced with the beauty of the liner… had never dreamt of traveling in such luxury." Despite the rumors, she proceeded to commend the White Star Line while she waited patiently to arrive back in NYC to tend to her store's needs.

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"I remember being childishly pleased with finding strawberries on my breakfast table," she added. Lucy turned to her husband and was mesmerized, "Fancy strawberries in April and in mid-ocean… You would think you were at the Ritz." She was in awe of the service she received, unaware of the upcoming turn of events.

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First-Class Cabins

It wasn't just the first-class dining service Lucy cherished - even her accommodation was outstanding. She did not have one complaint, despite her initial apprehensive moments before setting sail on the maiden voyage. Her First Class stateroom was equipped with only the best luxury amenities amid her stressful journey.

First Class Staterooms TitanicFirst Class Staterooms Titanic
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Lucy had access to comforting bedding, an electric heater - which came in handy while sailing on the Atlantic Ocean - and was surrounded by pink curtains and cushions for decoration. For her own privacy, Cosmo had his own separate room across the hallway but surely was equipped with the same luxuries.

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Growing Apart

Nonetheless, it was odd that a happily married and supportive couple like the Duff-Gordons would be accommodated into separate rooms. Did they have an argument? Or did they just want their own space? No one understood - even to this day - why the two decided to stay in separate cabins, especially considering the feud rumors.

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Still, the couple spent four days on the maiden voyage as they headed back. In fact, the liner was driving at a record-breaking speed. Did Mr. Morgan have something to do with this? Nevertheless, April 14th was a peaceful day. Everything on the ship was intact, and the waters were clear. But the temperatures had dropped.

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Something in the Air Was Different

Apart from the luxury lifestyle and electric heaters, Lucy did recall telling Cosmo, "I have never felt so cold." As the temperatures plummeted, it had an effect on the Titanic passengers. As the couple walked around the cruise decks, it was becoming more apparent they were heading towards icy waters.

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Lucy continued, "there must be icebergs about." Of course, as we now know, this was a very valid statement. She struggled to deal with the cold weather, and as she returned to her cabin with Franks, she remained in her warmest clothes for dinner, despite a dress code. Alas, Cosmo did not seem too worried about any hazards ahead.

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Calm Before the Storm

Lucy, Cosmo, and their friends enjoyed a celebratory dinner in the dining saloon, followed by a small party with other passengers. They had shared an amazing time together, and all decided the night had come to an end. So, they headed back to their rooms separately.

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For those who forgot - Lucy and Cosmo were living in separate cabins, and Franks had her own cabin on the E deck, which was located further below. So, they went in all sorts of directions, apart from each other. And that's when they heard it: a sudden, startling noise piercing through the entire ship.

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Signs of Danger

Lucy, all alone, was woken up by a trembling sound that "seemed as if some giant hand had been playing bowls, rolling great balls," she explained in her autobiography. Was someone in her room? Had someone slammed a door too loudly? With a quick fight or flight response, she rushed to Cosmo's room down the hall.

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Once Lucy stepped outside her door, about to head over to her husband, passengers were already frantically pacing around the decks and halls. But despite endless concerns, responding cruise officers informed the passengers there were no issues. So, everyone grudgingly returned back to their cabins.

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Cause For Concerns

Despite the officers assuring guests that nothing was going on, they were unfortunately wrong. Passengers soon noticed there was no sound of an engine coming from the moving ship, despite sailing in the middle of the Atlantic. With Lucy already dealing with stressful matters, she urged Cosmo to find out more.

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After all, Cosmo agreed to accompany her on the journey, so her safety was his priority. Unfortunately, when he returned from his investigation, things were not looking good - and it was written all over his face. So, the Duff-Gordons raced to put on their warmest clothes and headed to the decks.

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The Iceberg

As the story goes, it is known to everyone the Titanic had drastically hit an iceberg, forward first. However, despite hundreds of years later and theories to go with it, it is still in question what happened after the incident. As passengers began rushing to any form of safety, the ship was on its way to being wrecked.

Titanic Iceberg Tragedy ExplainedTitanic Iceberg Tragedy Explained
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Once the Titanic had hit the iceberg, it created a tear in the ship's hull. Considering the liner was famous for its watertight compartments, water slowly but quickly began to flood the entire ship. While the boat could remain afloat if four of the compartments were impacted, the water was about to reach all six...

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An Unavoidable Fate

For the majority of the passengers, their fate was in the hands of the ship, which unfortunately was not looking good. People knew the ship was about to go underwater. Still, there were hundreds of fleeing families who began flocking around the deck, praying for their safety.

Titanic Captain Passenger AccountTitanic Captain Passenger Account
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When these immediate reactions occurred, it took a while for reality to hit. Though, when it did, people began to take action. Captain Smith made an emergency announcement, ordering passengers to make their way toward the lifeboats. However, despite the ship sinking, people were still hesitant to make their way down to the icy waters.

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Searching for Lifeboats

Lucy explicitly mentioned in her memoir that a vast majority of lifeboats had already been activated by the time she and Cosmo arrived at the deck. Many passengers were already being lowered into the waters, while others were flustered to find another boat. Luckily, they found another lifeboat that had not yet been dispatched.

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The Duff-Gordons, alongside their companion Franks, scurried towards the empty lifeboat. They were joined by two other passengers from America. However, while the Captain ordered that women and children should be ushered onto the boats first, the remaining boat had three male passengers and seven crew members. What would they do?

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A Deadly Mistake

Unfortunately, although the Titanic was the first cruise liner to redefine luxury travel, they were short on lifeboats. It could not accommodate all the passengers in case of an emergency. And in this case, their errors tested their luck. Additionally, the boat that was meant to carry 40 surprisingly only carried 12 passengers.

Titanic Life Boat PassengersTitanic Life Boat Passengers
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In total, the Titanic was carrying 2,240 passengers, and regrettably, only 700 managed to make it to safety, securing a spot on a lifeboat. As those horrified guests watched the Titanic sink and the remaining passengers plummet to the waters below, the tragedy became known as one of the worst to this day.

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The Carpathia

Fortunately, for the Duff-Gordons, an elite crew like themselves was looked out for specially. Once they had been sailing on the lifeboats away from the scene, a boat named The Carpathia spotted them and picked them up. They were then led back to safety, unlike many of the other helpless passengers.

The Carpathia Titanic RescueThe Carpathia Titanic Rescue
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The Carpathia was a Cunard Line Vessel and had been heading towards the Titanic, especially for the Duff-Gordons. It sailed through the night and across the Atlantic. And on April 18th, just days after the accident, the survivors reached New York, met by hoards of spectators awaiting their loved ones.

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Pointing the Finger

However, after a tragedy of such magnitude, the press was also there at the New York dock, waiting impatiently for answers. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and despite the event that had just unfolded, the media was eager to get the facts straight.

John Jacob Astor TitanicJohn Jacob Astor Titanic
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When it came to facts, considering women and children were prioritized, third and second-class passengers, unfortunately, did not survive. However, 57 men from First Class were saved, which did not end well for the public. According to the media, John Jacob Astor and Captain Smith were accused of "unchivalrous behavior."

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Male Survivors

Although it was later reported that the two men did indeed die as heroes, other male passengers were met with scrutiny. More specifically, those who made it out alive. These male passengers had somehow made it onto lifeboats before women and children. As a result, there was a shame placed upon them that still lingers today.

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Furthermore, certain behavior was under suspicion. Allegedly, crew members had accepted £5 each from Mr. Duff-Gordon. Rumors surfaced this was done as a reward for not turning around to find more passengers in need. Hence, this explains the low-capacity lifeboat.

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The "Millionaire's Boat"

While male survivors received harsh press, it seemed women did not have a lucky escape either. These women experienced firsthand 'yellow press,' defining an article with very little evidence for news. Sure enough, Lucy, a wealthy dressmaker like herself, was a victim of this type of tabloid.

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A collection of stories, categorized under 'yellow press,' entailed rumors titled "Millionaire's Boat." A terrifying report emerged that claimed wealthy passengers, predominantly those who were in First Class, had an emergency boat that was ordered to come and rescue them.

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The Bribe

It wasn't long before Lucy realized the tabloids had been calling out her very own emergency lifeboat. However, the reports did not stop there. The Duff-Gordons allegedly requested the crew not to turn around for more passengers out of fear for the boat's weight limit. Hence, the £5 bribe was offered.

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Nevertheless, the Duff-Gordons claimed these facts were exaggerated. According to both of Lucy's memoirs as well as her official testimony, she dismissed the rumors asking the crew not to save any more passengers. This was also the case with the bribe. Instead, the money was allegedly given out of goodwill for the crew.

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Final Moments Revealed

The Duff-Gordons did not seem affected by the 'yellow' scandals or care about the bad press circulating, despite their names being included. To further escalate the matter, rumors surfaced regarding the survivors' behavior as they watched the Titanic continue to disappear underwater.

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Apparently, while watching the boat sink, Lucy had said to Franks, "There is your beautiful nightdress gone." The Duff-Gordon name was under scrutiny, more so by the minute. By the time they all arrived in London and boarded the Lusitania, they came face to face with headlines slamming their controversial behavior.

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The Official Inquiry

To reclaim their image, Cosmo and Lucy publicly made an official inquiry about their involvement and defamatory comments. On May 17th, 1912, Cosmo made an appearance in front of an audience. Lucy did the same thing just three days after, pleading for their forgiveness and innocence regarding the situation.

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They both dismissed any claim that Cosmo bribed the crew with money to not turn around and save people from the sinking ship. Eventually, after a valid and persuasive speech, the court agreed. The court released the Duff-Gordons from any wrongdoing. However, Sir Duff-Cosmo never escaped the guilt of what truly happened.

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Never Looking Back

Unfortunately, the events turned out differently for Lucy and Cosmo: Lucy succeeded in escaping any bad press. Her dress-making career ended up thriving more than ever. She set up stores in Chicago and Paris and even began designing costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies. Yet, it was not the same for Cosmo.

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As for Cosmo, even after the court dismissed his alleged behavior, his name was forever blasted in the same sort of 'yellow press.' Considering the difference in reputations and other unknown marital factors, the Duff-Gordons separated just three years after the Titanic tragedy. They never came face to face again.

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The Legacy Lives On

While Cosmo was living life in guilt, Lucy's career was busy making history. Her wedding dress was even displayed in an exhibition, "Lucile–Fashion Designer, Titanic Survivor," in a box in "perfect condition." One specific bride-to-be, Linda Beatrice Morritt, insisted she wear the dress just two months after the disaster.

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Linda was due to marry aristocratic aviator William Rhodes-Moorhouse. On route on their honeymoon, their plane crash-landed along the English Channels. But no one was hurt. Is the dress design cursed, or perhaps does it allow people to escape death? The mystery continues - though the story of the Duff-Gordons will live on forever...

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