Titanic survivor's apron

front and back of long white apron over long sleeved black dress on a mannequin

Laura Mabel Francatelli was the personal maid and secretary to the famous couturier 'Lucillle', or Lady Lucy Duff Gordon, the wife of wealthy landowner Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon.

She accompanied the Duff Gordons on a business trip in April 1912 to Paris and then to Cherbourg where they boarded Titanic on Wednesday 10 April, in order to visit Lady Duff Gordon's fashion houses in New York and Chicago.

When the disaster struck Miss Francatelli and her employers were among the 12 survivors placed in Emergency Lifeboat 1, notoriously dubbed the 'millionaires boat' by the press. Later those in the lifeboat – built to hold 40 people – were criticised for ignoring the cries of hundreds of drowning victims because they feared the lifeboat would be swamped if they tried to pull people out of the bitterly cold sea.

On board the Carpathia, it was Miss Francatelli who was responsible for writing out £5 cheques, signed by Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, as a token of thanks for the seamen in the lifeboat.

The evacuation of Laura Francatelli with her employers, the Duff Gordons, is well documented within the reports of the Titanic disaster. The autobiography of Lady Duff Gordon, 'Discretions and Indiscretions' (a copy of which is held in the Maritime Archives and Library) refers to the 'weird' assortment of clothes worn by Miss Francatelli in the lifeboat.

detail of lace-trimmed bodice of apron

Up to 1,517 people died after the White Star liner struck an iceberg and sank on 15 April 1912. The apron may be the only item of clothing worn on the night of the disaster to have survived. It is a white cotton apron with bib front, decorated with broderie anglais edging and panelling and waist tie.

A year after the disaster, in 1913, Miss Francatelli married Swiss-born hotelier Max Alfred Haering. When her aunt and close friend asked if they could swap personal items as keepsakes to remember each other by, she gave her this apron. Miss Francatelli was aware that her family had suffered great anxiety when they heard of the disaster, compounded by the fact that the Duff Gordons did not sail under their own name but as Mr and Mrs Morgan. When the initial survivor lists were published they were forced to conclude that she must have perished; the truth only became apparent in later lists.

The apron was kept in the family for two generations. It was purchased by the museum in September 2003.

Accession number MMM.2003.221