2nd May 2007
For almost a century, he has been vilified for his "selfish" behaviour as the Titanic sank beneath the waves.
Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon escaped with his wife and her secretary in a lifeboat which could have held 28 more passengers.
He was also accused of bribing the crew not to return to the wreck site to pick up survivors crying out in the icy water.
Witness: Mabel Francatelli, centre, with the Duff Gordons
But now evidence has emerged which sheds light on the Old Etonian's actions - and paints him as a hero of the disaster.
A letter written by his wife's secretary, Mabel Francatelli, describes the harrowing events of April 14 and 15, 1912.
Miss Francatelli tells her family how she and her mistress clung to Sir Cosmo, refusing to climb into a lifeboat without him - suggesting that he was forced to take a seat to save their lives.
And, she says, there were no other women on deck to fill up the boat, so a ship's officer was happy to let Sir Cosmo join them.
A copy of the letter has been put up for sale at Christie's in London by her nephew, along with the cork-filled lifejacket she wore that evening. The lot is expected to fetch up to £80,000.
Sir Cosmo was cleared of any wrongdoing by the British Board of Trade inquiry, but his reputation was ruined, and the stigma remained until his death in 1931.
Miss Francatelli, then 30, of Streatham, South London, recorded the events in gripping detail, from a hotel in New York five days after the disaster.
"We walked to the end of the boat and they were letting down the last lifeboat on our side and calling for anymore (sic) women, and pulled at us, but we clung on to Sir Cosmo and said we would not go without him, so they lowered the boat," she wrote.
"Presently there was a little boat at the end, what they called the emergency boat, the officers standing there told some stokers to man the boat and no other women were there, so Sir Cosmo asked if we could get in, and we said we would if he could come.
"The dear officers let us, and we dropped into this boat, then they let it down to the water."
The group were later picked up by the Carpathia. Her words back up Sir Cosmo's testimony to the inquiry into the sinking.
He claimed that First Officer William Murdoch had practically invited the party to get into that particular boat.
This is not the first time Miss Francatelli has endorsed his version of events.
Sir Cosmo was accused of paying the crew of the lifeboat £5 each to row away from the ship, for fear they might be swamped by the waves or survivors.
But in her affidavit to Lord Mersey's inquiry, a copy of which is also up for sale at the auction, she said he paid the men as an act of charity, as they had lost all their kit. She also denied hearing a discussion about returning to help.
Exonerated: Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon
In the letter to her family, she describes the confusion and terror of those in the lifeboat.
"We rowed away from the ship, which was sinking fast, so to get away from swell or sucksion (sic).
"I . . . saw all the lights go out, and the very last of her, then the terrible explosion of rumbling, followed by the cries and screams of the hundreds in the water."
Her employer, Lady Duff-Gordon, was far better known in society than her privileged husband.
She was not only the sister of Elinor Glynn, the romantic novelist, but also behind the successful fashion label Lucile.
Lady Duff-Gordon's actions on the night of the sinking have also been criticised.
As the liner disappeared beneath the waves, she is said to have remarked to her secretary: "There is your beautiful nightdress gone."
But Miss Francatelli writes to her family that newspaper reports about Lady Duff-Gordon were "quite untrue, for she has not seen one reporter, her lawyer strictly forbidden it, so everything about her is a concocted tale".
The secretary later married hotelier Max Haering and died in London in 1967.
Christie's specialist Charles Miller said:
"After Bruce Ismay's shameless saving of his own life, the Duff-Gordon incident ranked second in the catalogue of Titanic controversies and Miss Francatelli was the prime witness to a scene which would be revisited again and again in the many books which have investigated the Titanic's loss during the past 95 years."