By Dave Osborne, OMAH member
It was 110 years ago this April 15 that the Titanic infamously sank. One of the survivors of that night had ties to Orillia and Simcoe County. Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen was one of the First-Class passengers on the Titanic who survived the sinking on Lifeboat 6 and was the only Canadian who testified at the U.S. Senate Inquiry.
Peuchen, his wife Margaret (the daughter of John Thomson lumber baron and founder of Longford Mills and their twochildren)
Woodlands Estate (Globe and Mail 2012)
From TITANIC – Fortune and Fate
Titanic – fortune and fate, The Mariner’s Museum, Virginia – Courtesy Don Lynch Collection
“Calf-Deep in Icy Water in Lifeboat D”
Peuchen’s ties to this area
In 1893, Peuchen of the Queen’s Own Rifles who had served as a marshalling officer at the coronation of George V, married Margaret Thomson, daughter of local lumber baron and President of the Longford Lumber Company, John Thomson.
Major Peuchen was President of the Standard Chemical Company, which ultimately purchased the Longford Lumber Company. In 1907 Peuchen purchased a stately Victorian mansion called Woodlands located on nearby Kempenfelt Bay.
Fortunately, Peuchen’s wife and two children, did not accompany him on the ship for that fatal voyage
About Arthur Peuchen and his survival
This is a brief account of how Peuchen survived the sinking of the Titanic and of his final hours aboard the ship. The narrative and the conversation of people in this article is based on the witness statements provided at the American Inquiry that took place immediately after the survivors landed in America, and to a lesser extent other sources listed in the bibliography.
Major Arthur Peuchen was an outgoing man with a small goatee. He would later state that he had concerns about the White Star Line, mainly about its selection of Captain for the maiden voyage of this most luxurious of luxury liners, of the reckless speed it traveled into the North Atlantic ice fields, and of the unpreparedness of its crew to deal with the evacuation of passengers when the great ship started to sink.
Like many men aboard the ship who lived to tell his tale, Peuchen would live with a stigma for the rest of his life. Despite being promoted to Colonel upon his return to Toronto, and later leading men into battle in World War I, he would be labeled by many as a coward, a male passenger who survived the sinking of the Titanic.
Arthur Godfrey Peuchen was born in Montreal in 1859, the son of a wealthy railway contractor. He found his own fortune in chemical engineering, the first Canadian retailer of premixed and coloured paint. Later, he produced and sold chemicals like wood alcohol and acetone.
In 1897, he co-founded the Standard Chemical, Iron and Lumber Company of Canada, and would eventually have Canadian factories in Sault Ste. Marie, Fenelon Falls, Longford Mills and in Quebec.
By the time of the maiden voyage of the Titanic on April 10, 1912, he was a millionaire, a major in the Queen’s Own Rifles, and vice-commodore of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto. He owned a substantial home at 599 Jarvis Street, Toronto and a thirty-eight-room Victorian gothic cottage on a seventy-acre estate, the “Woodlands,” on Kempenfelt Bay, Lake Simcoe.
Peuchen often had business overseas at his refineries in England, France and Germany. The voyage on the Titanic was his fortieth ocean journey.
Major Peuchen was booked into a modest first-class cabin on C deck. There were thirty Canadians on board, and he knew most of the small circle of prominent citizens. His dining companions for the trip included the wealthiest Canadian, Harry Markland Molson, a member of the famous brewing family, director of the Molson’s bank in Montreal, and a director of one of Peuchen’s companies. He had persuaded Molson in London to travel on the Titanic instead of waiting for a later sailing of the Lusitania.
Their other table companion was Hudson J.C. Allison, who had made his fortune in Montreal stocks and real estate. Allison was traveling with his young wife, Bess, their two infant children, and the four servants they had recently hired in England.
Peuchen’s other shipboard circle of friends included Winnipeg real-estate magnate Mark Fortune and his family, and Grand Trunk Railroad General Manager, Charles Hays, and his extended family.
Peuchen also regularly checked in on Hugo Ross, one of the Canadian “Three Musketeers.” Ross had been brought aboard at Southampton on a stretcher, suffering from dysentery and was keeping to his A-deck cabin.
The other two members of this trio, Thomson Beattie and Thomas McCaffry, also regularly checked in on their close companion, Hugo Ross. As a student at the University of Toronto, Ross had crewed for Peuchen aboard his yacht, Vreda, and had joined him for post-race festivities at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club on Toronto Island.
It was a calm, clear, cold Sunday evening, the fifth night of the Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. Around 9 p.m., Major Arthur Peuchen enjoyed another exceptionally good dinner with his friends, Harry Markland Molson, Hudson and Bess Allison, and for a brief time their two-year old daughter, Lorraine Allison.
Afterward, they had coffee in the sitting room and continued their conversation. Peuchen then ventured to the smoking room, where he spent the rest of the evening with his other friends, Thomson Beattie and Thomas McCaffry.
Around twenty after eleven, he bade them goodnight and retired to his modest stateroom, number 104, on C deck. Most of his coterie of prominent Canadians had also retired to their rooms on A and B deck above.
At 11:40 p.m., Peuchen was just starting to undress for bed when he felt the giant ship slightly quiver. He thought that a heavy wave must have struck it, unusual on such a calm night. He immediately put on his overcoat and went up on deck to find out what had happened.
In the grand stairway he met a casual acquaintance. When Peuchen asked what happened, they replied, “Why, we have struck an iceberg. If you will go up on the upper deck, you will see the ice on the fore part of the ship.”
Peuchen stood on the deck for a few minutes. It was bitterly cold and most people went right back inside again. He talked to other acquaintances, observing the scene. He could see along the bow that shell or soft ice had fallen four to four and a half feet inside the rail.
There was no indication the Titanic was in peril from having struck the iceberg. He made his way back inside along the grand staircase and called on his friend, Hugo Ross, in cabin A-10. Ross was in his pajamas, still feeling the effects of a bad bout of dysentery that had caused him to be room-bound since the start of the trip.
Peuchen told Ross the ship had struck an iceberg and that he should get dressed. Ross refused to believe the situation serious, and told Peuchen. “Is that all? It will take more than an iceberg to get me off this ship.” As it turned out, he was right. He never got off the ship. Presumably, he stayed in his room and drowned when the Titanic sank.
Peuchen then went to look for Harry Molson. He was not in his room, but Peuchen found him on deck about fifteen minutes later. They briefly chatted about the matter.
Thereafter, below deck again, Peuchen ran into Charles Hays, and his son-in-law, Thornton Davidson. He said, “Mr. Hays, have you seen the ice?” When Davidson replied that he had not, Peuchen said, “If you care to see it, I will take you up on the deck and show it to you.” They then went and viewed the ice on the forward deck.
In the half hour since he had initially been on the upper deck, Peuchen noticed a worrisome change. He said to Hays, “Why, she is listing. She should not do that. The water is perfectly calm, and the boat has stopped.”
Although Peuchen felt the situation was rather serious, Hay had a contrary opinion. He said, with a good deal of certainty, “Oh, I don’t know. You cannot sink this boat. No matter what we have struck, she is good for eight or ten hours.” An experienced yachtsman, Peuchen did not share his confidence.
About ten minutes later, as he waited in the grand staircase, Peuchen saw that people, now grave looking, were coming in off of the deck. He caught up to Thomson Beattie, and asked, “What is the matter?” Beattie responded, “Why the order is for lifebelts and boats.”
It all seemed unbelievable and so sudden to Peuchen. He said, “Will you tell Mr. Ross?” Beattie said he would go see Ross. Peuchen then went to his cabin and changed as quickly as he could from his evening dress to heavy clothes. He put on heavy underwear, two pairs of socks, a warm sweater, his overcoat and life preserver, and came out of his room.
In the hallway, he met many people with their lifebelts on. It seemed most of the ladies were crying. He assessed matters to be very serious and went back up to the top deck. The situation had clearly changed.
Peuchen was on the portside deck, and saw about one hundred stokers from the furnace room come up top with their personal baggage, crowding the entire deck in front of the lifeboats. He was pleased to see a powerful looking officer drive these men right off the deck, and he never saw them again.
Peuchen did not know what was taking place in other parts of the ship but was surprised that in this emergency situation the sailors were not at their stations. He had seen fire drills often on steamers, where they all stand at attention, so many men at the bow and stern of these lifeboats.
Tonight, they seemed to be short of sailors around the lifeboats. He saw that the covers had been taken off of the lifeboats, that the ropes were cleared, readying the boats to be lowered.
Second Officer Lightoller and Captain Smith were both there. In the urgency of the situation Peuchen was not sure whether it was Lightoller or Smith who said to him, “We will have to get these masts out of these boats, and also the sail (as they were not required). You might give us a hand.”
Peuchen got a knife and jumped in the first boat to assist. He cut the lashings of the mast and the sail, and helped move them out of the boat. As soon as this was done, the cry came forth, they were ready to board the women.
One by one they came forward, a large number with their husbands. The men were ordered to stand back and only the ladies were allowed in the boat. Peuchen helped them.
This situation seemed very orderly to Peuchen, and only the women who came forward were placed in the boat. However, he noted as it was lowered into the sea, Lifeboat 8 could have taken more people. It was not near capacity.
The same set of procedures occurred for the next boat. Peuchen jumped in to help remove the mast and sail, and when ready, only women were allowed to board. The exception was Quartermaster Robert Hichens, another seaman, and a disabled youth, ordered into the boat by Captain Smith.
It was about 1:10 a.m. when Lifeboat 6 was lowered. Peuchen estimated there were only twenty women on board, but no more ladies came forward when called. It too was not near its capacity for people. A couple of women chose to remain onboard, as they would not leave their husbands behind.
When Lifeboat 6 had been lowered a few decks, Hichens yelled up, “I cannot manage this boat with only one seaman.” First Officer Lightoller called for another crewman, and when none responded, Peuchen stepped forward and said, “Can I be of any assistance? I am a yachtsman, and can handle a boat with an average man.”
Lightoller responded, that if Peuchen were enough of a sailor he would climb out on the davit and lower himself into the boat. This was no simple task, especially for a fifty-two-year-old man. He would need to swing out about thirty feet on a loose rope that was hanging from a davit arm, and then lower himself sixty feet into the boat, all in darkness.
Captain Smith suggested that Peuchen go below and smash a window, and then climb from there. Peuchen did not think that feasible, and shouted to the crewman in the boat to throw him the end of the rope. He boldly completed this feat, and once aboard, Lifeboat 6 was lowered into the ocean.
When their boat reached the water, Peuchen went aft, and asked Hichens, “What do you want me to do?” He responded, “Get down and put that plug in.” Peuchen dove down for the plug, but he could not see at all. It was too dark. He felt with his hands, and then said to Hichens it would be better for him to do it and for Peuchen to do his work.
Hichens retorted, “Now, you get down and put in the plug, and I will undo the shackles!” That is, he would take the blocks off. So, Hichens dropped the blocks, then came rushing back to assist Peuchen. He said, “Hurry up. This boat is going to founder.”
At first, Peuchen thought he meant their lifeboat was going to founder, that possibly this was because he had some difficulty in finding the plug, or he had not gotten it in properly. But then he realized Hichens meant the Titanic was going to founder, and that they were to hurry up and get away from it.
They got the rudder in, and Hichens then brusquely told Peuchen to go forward and take an oar. Peuchen manned the oar on the port side of the lifeboat, with the sailor, who was Lookout Frederick Fleet, rowing on his left, the starboard side.
Nervous and shivering, Hichens stood at the tiller of the lifeboat, muttering dire predictions about their doom and the suction that would occur when the Titanic sank. He urged them to quickly row away.
Like many other lifeboats, they did eventually row away, and later, after the Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, they also ignored the screams in the frigid waters.
Some critics have questioned why Peuchen, the military officer, did not take command of the lifeboat, especially when Hichens seemed panicked and erratic, incompetent at the helm. Likely he assumed Hichens was the appointed officer-in-charge and, like a good soldier, he followed the chain of command.
Of note, the famous “Unsinkable” Molly Brown was also aboard Lifeboat 6, and she was not so patient or understanding. She spoke up against Hichens and questioned his leadership. She started to row, showing the other women how, and eventually they made progress away from the sinking Titanic, to be rescued with all the others in lifeboats, by the Carpathia.
At the U.S. Inquest, held by Senator William Alden Smith, immediately after they arrived aboard the Carpathia, in New York City, Peuchen was the only Canadian to testify. As previously noted, he was not complimentary towards the captain and the crew.
He testified, “They seemed to be short of sailors around the lifeboats. I imagine this crew is what we would call in yachting terms as scratch crew, brought from different vessels.
They might be the best, but they were not accustomed to working together.”
Once they were rescued and safely aboard the Carpathia, the resentment of the widowed women toward the male survivors might have caused Peuchen to ask Lightoller for a note stating he was ordered into the lifeboat.
Lightoller wrote, Peuchen had “proved himself a brave man,” and later gave testimony to that effect at the U.S. Inquest.
If Peuchen hoped the note would help, so people could later not claim he was a coward, it did not.
He came under attack in the Toronto papers, even before he had arrived home, about his coming forward to claim “he was a yachtsman so he get could off the Titanic, and if there had been a fire, he would have said he was a fireman.”
This and other related criticism were unfair. When duty called, Major Peuchen quickly assessed the situation and acted. There was not a slew of other passengers who jumped into the lifeboats on the deck of the Titanic to prepare them for lowering. And when, at that critical moment, Lightoller yelled for another seaman, no other crew or male passenger came forward to board Lifeboat 6.
No one else swung out thirty feet and down sixty feet on a swinging rope into the darkness below. Only Major Arthur Peuchen did. That night, it was his finest hour.
2 “This is the story of… …his fortieth ocean journey.” Encyclopedia Titanica web site – Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen. Also, Hugh Brewster, RMS Titanic, 114-116; Tony Keene, “A Tale of Two Majors,” Orillia Packet and Times, April 12, 2012; and Janis Ramsay, “Local Millionaire Survived Titanic Sinking,” Barrie Advance, April 14, 2012. To put the value of the “Woodlands” estate in current terms, it has been kept in its original Victorian state, and listed for sale in 2012 for $17 million. The house is 14,000 square feet, with 900 feet of shoreline, on fourteen treed acres. See: Bernice Whelan Realty Brokerage, Barrie, Ontario; web link: http://www.icoverthewaterfront.ca/homes/100/property_details.htm
2 “Major Peuchen was booked… recently hired in England.” Brewster, 114-116; Encyclopedia Titanica – Peuchen; and Titanic Inquiry Project, U.S. Senate Inquiry Day 4, “Testimony of Arthur G. Peuchen.”
2 “Peuchen’s other shipboard circle… … and their two children.” Brewster, 114-116; Encyclopedia Titanica – Peuchen; and Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen.” In RMS Titanic, Brewster provides an informative chronicle of the various Canadian passengers, their customs and lives leading up to this voyage. For example, Harry Markland Molson, still a bachelor at fifty-five, with a well-known reputation as a playboy, was dubbed “Merry Larkwand” by his friends. He maintained an intimate relationship with Florence Morris, the attractive wife of his cousin, and their ménage à trois was openly known to Montreal society. Molson changed his will before leaving England, and left Florence one of his houses and a substantial sum of cash, “to be unseizable and entirely for her own property.”
2 “It was a calm… …on A and B deck above.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen;” Walter Lord, A Night to Remember, 1-4; and Brewster, 114-116.
3 “At 11:40 p.m., Peuchen… …fore part of the ship.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen.”
3 “Peuchen stood on the deck… …the Titanic sunk.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen”; Lord, 11; and Encyclopedia Titanica – “John Hugo Ross.” The Encyclopedia Titanica states that, “The last person to see Ross alive was probably Major Arthur Peuchen.” However, later that night, while they were standing in the grand staircase, Peuchen asked Thomson Beattie to go tell Mr. Ross about the orders for lifejackets and lifeboats, and he said he would. Thus, Beattie was likely the last person to see Ross alive.
3 “Peuchen then went… …did not share his confidence.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen.”
4 “About ten minutes… …had clearly changed.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen;” Brewster, 169. As Peuchen stepped out the door of his room, he decided it was no time to worry about valuables. He left behind a tin box that contained some jewellery and $217,000 in stocks and bonds. He did return to his room briefly to retrieve his favourite pearl tiepin and three oranges for his pocket.
4 “Peuchen was on the portside… not near capacity.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen.”
5 “The same set… …leave their husbands.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen.”
5 “When Lifeboat 6… …lowered into the ocean.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen;” Brewster, 182.
5 “When their boat… …screams in the frigid waters.” Titanic Inquiry Project, Day 4, “Peuchen;” Brewster, 182-183.
6 “Some critics have… …by the Carpathia.” Brewster, 216-217. Brewster notes that Margaret Brown “encouraged the other women to row as well, defying the quartermaster who railed at her from the stern. But Robert Hichens had chosen the wrong women to bully. In addition to the forceful Mrs. Brown, the plucky Mrs. Candee, and the voluble Berthe Mayné, there were two English suffragettes on board, Elsie Bowerman and her mother, Edith Chibnall. Both were active members of Sylvia Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, the most militant of Britain’s vote for women organizations.” As Brewster notes, Edith had donated a banner for a Hyde Park demonstration that read, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to god.” A full-scale rebellion against one male tyrant occurred in Boat 6.
6 “At the U.S. Inquest… …to working together.” Encyclopedia Titanica – Peuchen.
6 “Once they were rescued… …finest moment.” Brewster, 244; Encyclopedia Titanica – Peuchen. Peuchen died in Toronto in 1929, almost broke, having lost much of his money through bad investments in his last decade. He is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, beside his wife, Margaret, who died in 1951. In 1987, Peuchen’s wallet was retrieved from the ocean floor. In it were business cards, a traveler’s cheque and some streetcar tickets (Brewster, 286-287; Encyclopedia Titanica – Peuchen).
Brewster, Hugh. RMS Titanic: Gilded Lives on a Fatal Voyage. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2012.
Butler, Paul. “Have Struck Iceberg.” Canada’s History, April-May 2012, pp. 50-57.
City of Toronto Assessment Rolls-1912. City of Toronto Archives. Loc: 284737-51, Reel 237, 6.
City of Toronto Directory-1912. City of Toronto Archives. Loc: 264730-60, Reel 60, 1123, 1467.
Encyclopedia Titanica – Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen. Web link: http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/arthur-godfrey-peuchen.html (accessed November 16, 2012).
Encyclopedia Titanica – John Hugo Ross. Web link: http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/john-hugo-ross.html (accessed November 18, 2012).
Keene, Tony. “A tale of two majors.” Orillia Packet and Times, April 12, 2012. Web link: http://www.orilliapacket.com/2012/04/13/a-tale-of-two-majors (accessed November 16, 2012).
Lord, Walter. A Night to Remember. New York: First Holt Paperback Edition, 2005, first published 1955 by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Maltin, Tim, editor. Titanic: First Accounts. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.
Matsen, Brad. Titanic’s Last Secrets. New York: Hachette Book Group USA, 2008.
National Post, “What You May Have Missed in History Class: Sinking of the RMS Atlantic,” October 20, 2012, p. A12.
Ramsay, Janis. “Local millionaire survived Titanic sinking.” Barrie Advance, April 14, 2012. Web link: http://news.ca.msn.com/ontario/barrie/local-millionaire-survived-titanic-sinking (accessed November 16, 2012).
Titanic Inquiry Project. Web link: http://www.titanicinquiry.org (accessed November 18, 2012).