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.

The life 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."

Further 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 Titanic controversies.

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 husband Cosmo.





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