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Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon

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Sir Cosmo Edmund Duff Gordon, 5th Baronet DL (July 22nd, 1862 – April 20th, 1931), the son of the Hon. Cosmo Lewis Duff Gordon and the former Anna Maria Antrobus, was a prominent Scottish landowner and sportsman. He was particularly noted as a fencer, representing Great Britain at the 1906 Summer Olympics, winning silver in the team épée event. He was also a self-defence enthusiast who trained with champion Swiss wrestler Armand Cherpillod at the Bartitsu Club in London's Soho district.[1] Duff Gordon was the co-founder of the London Fencing League, a member of the Bath Club and the Royal Automobile Club. He was a sheriff and magistrate in his native Kincardineshire, near Aberdeen, where his ancestral country estate Maryculter was located.

Duff Gordon was the fifth baronet of Halkin, his title stemming from a royal licence conferred on his great uncle in 1813 in recognition of his aid to the Crown during the Peninsular War. In 1772 his family had founded the Duff Gordon sherry bodega in Spain, which still produces high-quality fortified wines.

In 1900, Duff Gordon married the famous London fashion designer "Madame Lucile" (née Lucy Christiana Sutherland, then Mrs. James Stuart Wallace). This was slightly risqué, as Lady Duff-Gordon was a divorcee and had a sister, Elinor Glyn, noted for writing erotica.

Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff-Gordon boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg with ticket 11755 (£39 12s) Sir Cosmo occupied cabin A-16 and Lady Duff-Gordon cabin A-20. The Duff-Gordons signed onto the ship as Mr and Mrs Morgan, maybe to stay incognito.

On the night of the sinking they approached First officer William McMaster Murdoch who was supervising the loading of the Emergency Lifeboat 1. Sir Cosmo asked if he and his wife could get in and Murdoch replied that he would be glad if they would. A few minutes later at 1:10 am Lifeboat 1 was lowered containing only 12 people of whom 7 were crew members.

After the sinking Leading Fireman Charles Hendrickson asked those in the lifeboat whether they ought to go back to help the people swimming in the water but Lady Duff-Gordon warned they might be swamped by people trying to get on board. Several of the men agreed that it would be dangerous to go back. Eventually Hendrickson was persuaded by Charles Stengel's suggestion that they should head for a light that could be seen in the distance. So the twelve survivors set off while hundreds more were left dying in the water.

As they rowed and the cries of swimmers began to die down tempers began to fray among those in the boat. They were still rowing towards a light but it got no nearer and hailing other boats brought no result. Stengel continually shouted directions until Duff-Gordon eventually told him to keep quiet.

Meanwhile, Fireman Robert Pusey complained to Duff-Gordon that they had lost all their belongings (their 'kit) 'and that, in all probability, their pay would end when the ship sank, so the wealthy passenger offered all the men five pounds on their return. This was a pledge he would honour on board the Carpathia. Later Sir Cosmo would appear before a packed British Inquiry to defend himself against the accusation that he had bribed the men to secure his escape from the Titanic and that they were thus encouraged not to return to the scene of the sinking to rescue swimmers.

In 2012, documents were found in the rooms of the law firm that represented Duff-Gordon, that give separate detailed accounts of the Titanic sinking by Duff-Gordon and his wife.[2] In the papers, written by Sir Cosmo and presented to the lawyers defending his interests, reference is made that the cheque for £5 which Sir Cosmo gave to the crewmembers on the same boat, was because they had lost everything. One crewman had stated that Sir Cosmo offered "a fiver" to each of them, to row away from the other victims.

According to his great nephew, Gordon spent the rest of his life "quite reclusive", and he died 20 April 1931 of natural causes. He is buried at Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey.[3]

Cosmo Duff Gordon was portrayed by Martin Jarvis in the 1997 Film Titanic. The actor's wife, Rosalind Ayres, played Lady Duff Gordon. In the 2012 TV mini-series Titanic the couple were portrayed by Simon Paisley Day and Sylvestra Le Touzel.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Vaucher, Abel: Cherpillod, Armand, "La vie d'un champion: Cours de culture physique et de jiu-jitsiu", Lausanne, France, éditions "civis", 1933
  2. Grise, Elizabeth (14 April 2012). "Titanic Survivors Vindicated at Last". The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/titanic-anniversary/9202821/Titanic-survivors-vindicated-at-last.html. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  3. "Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon". Necropolis Notables. The Brookwood Cemetery Society. http://www.tbcs.org.uk/duff_gordon.htm. Retrieved 23 February 2007. 

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