Author reveals new facts about Canadians on Titanic
Published Monday, April 9, 2012 12:07PM EDT
Since its tragic sinking in 1912, Titanic lore has been filled with tales of rich passengers who went down with the ship such as American millionaire John Jacob Astor and industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim. Now author Hugh Brewster spotlights the wealthy Canadian passengers on board this ill-fated ship in the new book, "RMS Titanic: Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage."
Fashion designer and socialite Lady Duff Gordon topped the list of those little-known Canadian figures included in Brewster's book.
"Lady Duff Gordon was one of the most elegant women in the world. But what most people didn't know about this titled lady was that she grew up just plain Lucy Sutherland in Guelph, Ont." Brewster said in an interview that aired Monday on CTV's Canada AM.
This Titanic survivor grew up in a stone house just down the street from the home Brewster lived in as a child.
"I walked by that house every day not knowing a thing about Lucy," said Brewster.
Sutherland's leap from small-town girl to socialite began after her father, Douglas Sutherland, died in 1865. A few years later, her mother, Elinor remarried David Kennedy in 1871. The family later moved to the Isle of Jersey, where young Lucy cultivated her love of fashion by dressing her dolls.
Years later, Sutherland invented the fashion show.
"She also made it possible for nice women to wear naughty underwear," said Brewster.
Her designs for pretty, rosette-covered designs became a great success with London's flannel-clad rich girls.
Lady Gordon died in 1935 at the age of 71.
Brewster also spotlighted Canadian businessman Arthur Peuchen.
The Vice-Commodore and Rear-Commodore of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Peuchen was one of the few male passengers given permission to board a lifeboat and help with the oars.
"At 53, Peuchen was wearing heavy clothes, an overcoat and a life jacket when he swung over the side of the ship and lowered himself down a 60-foot drop to get in the lifeboat," said Brewster.
"For the rest of his life Peuchen lived under a cloud for having survived the Titanic, which was thought unmanly at the time," he said.
The snubbed businessman eventually died in 1929 at the age of 70.
Wealthy Montreal real estate magnate Hudson Allison was another little-known figure Brewster unearthed in his book.
"Hudson Allison was only 30 when he made a killing in real estate and the stock market," said Brewster.
Allison, along with his wife, Bessie, had just hired servants in England prior to boarding of the Titanic. Their job was to look after the couple's two young children, two-year-old Lorraine and one-year-old Trevor.
Ironically, the Allisons even dined with Peuchen on one evening during their crossing.
After the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, only Trevor and his nanny escaped with their lives.
Sadly, little Lorraine became the only child in first-class to die in the accident, along with her parents.
All these stories, and others in Brewster's book, capture the anguish and sorrow of this timeless tragedy.
"The Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable," said Brewster.
In fact, Brewster said the ongoing fascination with Titanic is best summed up by Walter Lord, the author of the seminal 1950s' book "A Night to Remember."
"Lord once said that the reason why we're so fascinated is that it recreated the pattern of tragedy in our own lives," said Brewster.
When disaster strikes people often react with denial, said Brewster. That was true of many passengers on board the Titanic, who refused to believe the worst had happened until it was too late.