R.M.S. TITANIC: One of the most important three dimensional Titanic artifacts ever offered for auction, survivor Ella White's historic walking cane.
"We only had 22 in our boat... Then we turned and went back, and lingered around there for a long time, trying to locate the other boats, but we could not locate them except by hearing them. The only way they could locate us was by my electric lamp. The lamp on the boat was absolutely worth nothing. They tinkered with it all along, but they could not get it in shape. I had an electric cane - a cane with an electric light in it - and that was the only light we had. We sat there for a long time, and we saw the ship go down, distinctly."
These were the words of Mrs. J. Stuart (Ella) White on Day 12 of the U.S. Senate Inquiry into the Titanic disaster in response to a question from Senator Alden Smith.
A Titanic survivor, Mrs. White made her way during the chaos of the night into a lifeboat, carrying her black enamelled walking stick complete with an amber coloured Bakelite, battery-illuminated crown. Walter Lord, in his seminal book "A Night to Remember", wrote that while Mrs. White did not help row No. 8, she nevertheless appointed herself a sort of signalman. She had a cane with a built in electric light, and during most of the night she waved it fiercely about, "alternatively helping and confusing everyone."
She was born on December 18th, 1856. A New Yorker, she had been travelling through Europe and was headed back to New York by way of the Titanic's maiden voyage. During her travels, she injured her foot causing her to use a cane to support her balance. At the American Inquiry, Senator Smith asked her if she experienced any problem in getting into the lifeboat. She replied, in part:
…They handled me very carefully, because I could hardly step. They lifted me in very carefully and very nicely... As I said, my condition was such that I had to be handled rather carefully…
White boarded the ship in Cherbourg with her maid and man servant and her travelling companion, Marie Young, with whom she stayed in First-Class cabin C-32 where she remained for most of the voyage. She and Young had acquired live poultry to bring back to New York. Referring to the impact with the iceberg, White stated, "there did not seem to me that there was any very great impact at all. It was just as though we went over about a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all." When she came on deck she found other passengers casually standing about. It wasn't until she heard the order to put on life preservers that she comprehended the magnitude of the situation.
White boarded lifeboat 8 along with her maid and Miss Young. Other occupants of the lifeboat included Ellen Bird, maid to Ida Straus, the Countess of Rothes and Mary Alice Holverson, the wife of Titanic victim Alexander Oskar Holverson.
In 2017, Henry Aldridge & Son auctioned an unposted letter written by Mr. Holverson to his mother on Titanic stationery which had been retrieved from his body. It sold for a world record sum. It is fitting that we now offer the electric cane that was in the lifeboat with his wife.
According to White, her electric cane saved the day by filling in for the defective lifeboat lamps which were "absolutely worth nothing." However, not everyone that night agreed with White's characterization of her cane's usefulness. In his book, "Titanic and Other Ships", senior surviving officer Charles Lightoller had this to say about it: "…more than could be said of one very good lady who achieved fame by waiving an electric light and successfully blinding us as we worked on the boats. It puzzled me until I found she had it installed in the head of her walking stick. I am afraid she was rather disappointed on finding out that her precious light was not a bit appreciated. Arriving in safety on board the Carpathia, she tried to make out that someone had stolen her wretched stick, whereas it had been merely taken from her, in response to my request that someone would throw the damn thing overboard."
Thus, it was not in the lifeboat alone that White wielded her electric light, but on the deck of Titanic as well, "successfully blinding" the crewmen as they were attempting to lower the boats! So annoying was her cane that Lightoller had it taken from her when she arrived on Carpathia. White's self-serving testimony about the benefits of her cane may have been presumptuous at best. According to Lightoller it didn't help the crew, it blinded them. It was apparently fortunate for the crew working the boats that lifeboat 8 was the second to be lowered on the port side. Another claim to fame for lifeboat 8 is that it was the boat Isidor and Ida Straus had been invited to enter along with Ida's maid. No doubt close by, the Strauses may have likewise been blinded by White's cane.
This lot is a sight to behold. The black enamelled walking stick with rubber base is visually contrasted by its amber coloured bakelite, battery-illuminated crown containing a clear bulb. The cane is approximately 35½ins. long with a diameter of about 1¼ins." It is in beautiful condition, obviously owing to its relatively short but historically significant use until White was well enough to walk without it.
Oddly enough, for all that White had hoped to achieve with her electric cane, lifeboat 8 had ventured the farthest from the scene, in the opposite direction of Carpathia, and eventually had to make its way back from whence it came.
Henry Aldridge and Son is honoured to be able to offer this historic cane which had been in White's family for the past 107 years. Its historic significance coupled with its visual allure is unrivalled. One of only a handful of three dimensional items to have survived that was used on Titanic, a lifeboat, the Carpathia and on the dock in New York. It is recounted in various places including the U.S. Inquiry at which the Chairman of the special subcommittee, himself, inquired about it, in Walter Lord's book "A Night to Remember", Charles Lightoller's seminal autobiography "Titanic and Other Ships" and more recently in Michael Davie's book "Titanic - The Death and Life of a Legend".
Whether the cane saved the day as White believed or caused confusion as Lightoller wrote in his book, we are unaware of any other passenger artefact that directly played a role in the events of that night in such a way. An unparalleled artefact with exceptional provenance worthy of a fine museum collection.
The lot is accompanied by a copy of United States District Court Hearing "Claim of Ella Holmes White," excerpts from a copy of Michael Davie's book referenced above and the original notarized affidavit from Ella White's family outlining the history of the cane.
Provenance: The family of Ella White; Titanic Museum Attraction, the world's largest Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge (see photo below) where the cane was on display until 4th October 2019.
£80000 - 120000 Click here for details of BP and other fees payable on this lot.