Titanic Life Preserver Sells & Tells A Story
In a Maritime Models & Maritime Pictures Auction held in May, Christie's
of South Kensington, England, sold a life preserver worn by Miss Mabel
Francatelli during the Titanic disaster on April 14th, 1912 for $118,643. The
life preserver was signed by ten men and two women in the lifeboat with her, and
it was accompanied with a copy of a letter written by Miss Francatelli just days
after she was rescued that detailed the horror of the sinking.
jacket was from the collection of her elderly nephew who inherited it from the
estate in 1967.
Laura Mabel Franca-telli's boat was the last to leave the
ship, and it sparked one of the greatest controversies of the Titanic disaster
when it failed to return to the wreck site, despite being less than half full.
Francatelli was secretary to Lady Duff-Gordon, who was a highly successful dress
designer and owner of one of London's leading salons, Madame Lucille in Hanover
Square. In her letter, she described how she and Lady Duff-Gordon missed the
last lifeboat because they refused to leave Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon. They were
eventually allowed to go with him on a small emergency rowboat, the last boat to
leave the stricken ship: "..we were dropped into this boat then they let it down
to the water. That sensation I cannot describe, and what was worse, it got
caught up at one side and nearly hurled us all into the water. We rowed away
from the ship, which was sinking fast so to get away from swell or sucksion
[sic]. Then all the rest is too terrible for me to write."
They were rescued
by the Carpathia the following day at 6 am:
".our little cockle-shell boat
coming up to the darling Carpathia, the water was rushing in and we had to sit
on a rope swing and they hauled me up. They treated us with the greatest
kindness and gentleness, and gave me a whole tumbler of hot brandy."
scandal surrounded Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon when it was claimed that he had paid
off the crew members of his lifeboat not to return to the wreck site to rescue
more survivors. In fact, it seemed it was an act of genuine charity. When Sir
Cosmo realized that the crewmembers of his boat would not be paid from the exact
moment the ship sank, he ordered Miss Francatelli to draw up seven draft orders
for £5 from his London bank so the crew members not miss out on their wages.
However, his apparent act of kindness inadvertently created one of the greatest
Francatelli was called to testify in the official
inquiry, and her affidavit was crucial in clearing Sir Cosmos' name. In it, she
stated that going back for survivors was never discussed, and in fact, Sir Cosmo
Duff-Gordon had actually instructed her to draw up the orders on 16 April, the
day after they were rescued by the Carpathia.
Sadly, the stigma stayed with
Sir Cosmo and ruined his reputation. He eventually had to take legal action to
clear his name.
Lavra Francatelli (middle,
woman on left), Lady Duff-Gordon (r. of her) and