Cosmo Duff-Gordon

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Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Bt
Born (1862-07-22)22 July 1862
Died 20 April 1931(1931-04-20) (aged 68)
South Kensington, London
Occupation Fencer, Landowner
Parent(s) Cosmo Lewis Duff Gordon
Anna Maria Antrobus
Olympic medal record
Men's Fencing
1906 Intercalated Games[1]
Silver medal – second place 1906 Athens Team épée

Sir Cosmo Edmund Duff Gordon, 5th Baronet DL (22 July 1862 – 20 April 1931) was a prominent Scottish landowner and sportsman, best known for the controversy surrounding his escape from the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Early life[edit]

The son of the Honourable Cosmo Lewis Duff Gordon and the former Anna Maria Antrobus, Cosmo Duff Gordon was the 5th 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, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon married the celebrated London fashion designer "Madame Lucile"(née Lucy Christiana Sutherland, then Mrs. James Stuart Wallace). This was a slightly risqué union, as Lucy was a divorcee whose sister, Elinor Glyn, was a notorious romance novelist.

As a sportsman, Sir Cosmo was most noted as a fencer, representing Great Britain at the 1906 Summer Olympics, winning silver in the team épée event.[2] King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were among distinguished spectators at one of the final bouts between Sir Cosmo and his German opponent Herr G. Casimir.[3] Duff Gordon served on the organizing committee at the 1908 Summer Olympics, appointed by Lord Desborough, chairman of the British Olympic Association.[4] He was also a self-defence enthusiast who trained with champion Swiss wrestler Armand Cherpillod at the Bartitsu Club in London's Soho district.[5] Duff Gordon was a co-founder of the London Fencing League, a member of the Bath Club and the Royal Automobile Club. He was also a sheriff and magistrate in his native Kincardineshire, near Aberdeen, where his ancestral country estate Maryculter was located.

Titanic voyage[edit]

Duff Gordon is best known for the circumstances in which he survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, along with his wife and her secretary, Laura Mabel Francatelli. The three were among only 12 people who escaped in Lifeboat #1, which had a capacity of 40.

Criticism after the disaster claimed he boarded the lifeboat in violation of the "women and children first" policy and that, once the craft was afloat, he bribed its crew not to return to rescue people struggling in the water. Duff Gordon denied the allegation that he disobeyed orders, maintaining there had been no women or children in the immediate vicinity when his boat was launched. (There is additional confirmation from other witnesses that First Officer William Murdoch allowed Duff Gordon a place in the boat so he could join his wife.[6]) Moreover, Duff Gordon denied his offer of money to the lifeboat's crew was a bribe, and the British Board of Trade's inquiry into the disaster accepted his explanation that it was a charitable contribution.

The inquiry nonetheless concluded that, if the lifeboat had returned to the wreck site, it might have been able to rescue others. Regarding the bribery allegation the report stated: The very gross charge against Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon that, having got into No. 1 boat he bribed the men in it to row away from the drowning people, is unfounded.[7]

Later life and legacy[edit]

Duff Gordon continued in his social and sporting interests in Scotland and later in London, where he lived at 5, Alfred Place, South Kensington.[8]

He was estranged from his wife from 1915 until his death, although they never divorced and remained friends.[9] He died 20 April 1931 of natural causes and is buried at Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, Surrey.[10]

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 ITV mini-series Titanic the couple were portrayed by Simon Paisley Day and Sylvestra Le Touzel.

In September, 2015, Fox News characterized an auction of a letter that he wrote as sent from the "Coward of the Titantic." At the time, he was accused of cowardice during the sinking of the Titanic. Now a letter by Scottish landowner Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon—in which he defends himself against an "unjust inquiry"—is headed for the auction block and is expected to rake in more than $6,000, the Telegraph reports.

"We do hope you have now quite recovered from the terrible experience," writes Duff-Gordon's secretary, Mabel Francatelli, to someone who survived on a separate boat; the letter is postmarked October 12, 1912, nearly six months after the disaster.

"I am afraid our nerves are still bad, as we had such trouble and anxiety added to our already awful experience by the very unjust inquiry when we arrived in London. Lady Gordon's mother is with us and she would so much like to meet you being one who shared our boat." Duff-Gordon escaped the sinking Titanic with his fashion-designer wife Lady Lucy, Francatelli, two friends, and seven other affluent passengers on the quickly arranged Lifeboat Number One, which could have held 40 people, the Express reports.

Back in England, Duff-Gordon and Lady Lucy were the only survivors questioned by Scotland Yard, and Duff-Gordon admitted that he'd promised to pay the boat crew—but said it was no bribe.

A British Board of Trade inquiry into the Titanic concluded that Duff-Gordon's offer was a charitable donation. Yet the landowner was publicly branded a coward and perhaps became a recluse because of it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cosmo Duff Gordon Olympic Results". Retrieved 24 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Bystander, 4 April 1906, p. 13; Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), Vol. 9, p. 668.
  3. ^ Bystander, 9 May 1906, p. 169.
  4. ^ History Today: 1908 London Olympics
  5. ^ Vaucher, Abel: Cherpillod, Armand, "La vie d'un champion: Cours de culture physique et de jiu-jitsiu", Lausanne, France, éditions "civis", 1933
  6. ^ Reynolds, Nigel (2 May 2007). "Letter clears 'blackguard of the Titanic'". (London: Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 5 May 2007. 
  7. ^ British Wreck Commissioner's Enquiry: Report. "Account of the Saving and Rescue of those who Survived: Conduct of Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and Mr Ismay". Accessed on 3 February 2014, at:
  8. ^ Tatler, 2 July 1930, p. 30; Walter Lord, The Night Lives On (1986), p 219.
  9. ^ Randy Bryan Bigham, Lucile - Her Life by Design (2012), pp. 74-75, 223.
  10. ^ "Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon". Necropolis Notables. The Brook wood Cemetery Society. Retrieved 23 February 2007. 

External links[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Maurice Duff-Gordon
(of Halkin)
Succeeded by
Henry William Duff-Gordon