Mr. Ernest Sedgwick Cowper

Ernest Cowper
Second Cabin Passenger
Saved
Ernest Cowper and Helen Smith
Ernest Cowper and Helen Smith in Queenstown.  Image:  New York Times, Sunday, 30 May 1915.
Born Ernest Sedgwick Cowper
c. 1883
Died 4 January 1939
(age 56)
Seattle, Washington, United States
Age on Lusitania 32
Traveling with Richard Rogers (employer)
Citizenship British (Canada)
Residence Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ernest Cowper, 32, was a  Toronto newspaperman who wrote for Jack Canuck. His publisher, Richard Rogers, was traveling with him (Not Percy Rogers, as previously suggested).  Cowper was on his way to Europe to be a war correspondent.  Cowper survived the Lusitania disaster and saved 6-year-old Helen Smith.  Rogers did not survive.

Even though Cowper was traveling second cabin, he ofter crossed over to saloon to interview Elbert Hubbard, the “Sage of East Aurora.”  Sitting with Hubbard and his wife, Alice, had many conversations.  Hubbard called Cowper “Jack” after the title of the publication Cowper was writing for and the two became fast friends.

Hubbard told Cowper about his plan to recreate the voyage for his magazine, The Philistine, by cabling his Lusitania Diary from London.  Ernest filled pages and pages of his notebook with quotes from the sage, including Hubbard’s thoughts on the possibilty of the Lusitania being torpedoed, of which Hubbard was sure would not happen.  When pressed why Hubbard believed so, the sage answered, “The Germans have done some darned bad things since the war started, but I don’t believe they’re all that bad.”

On Friday, 7 May, Cowper crossed into saloon to get one last interview with Hubbard.  His search was delayed by a conversation with his publisher, Richard Rogers.  They then saw a conning tower about 1000 yards off and streak of white foam heading towards the Lusitania.

During the sinking, a few women came rushing forward asking Cowper what to do.  He wasn’t sure, so he asked the first uniformed member of the crew that he saw, whom he believed to be the doctor.  The man just answered, “All I know is that we should get ready to leave — now!”

If Cowper were still on the second class deck at this time, the man that he saw could not have been the Lusitania‘s doctor, Dr. James McDermott.  At this time McDermott was in the saloon class stairway telling people to keep calm.

The ship listed so heavily that Cowper saw a man in a lifebelt slide across the deck on all fours.  Just then, a six-year-old girl ran towards him, pleading, “Please mister, will you take me with you?”

The girl, Helen Smith, had been playing on deck at the time of the torpedo impact and had been unable to find her parents.  Ernest took Helen to a corner of the second cabin promenade and told her, “Wait here, Helen.  I’ll be right back.  Then you can come with me.”

Ernest ran down two flights of stairs to his cabin to find a lifebelt for Helen, but his room was in complete darkness and had to abandon his search.  He made his way back up to the promenade deck, empty handed.  He eventually found a lifebelt and found Helen right where he had left her.  Helen was overjoyed, exclaiming, “You came back to me, just like you said you would!”

With Helen, Cowper passed Elbert and Alice Hubbard.  Elbert said, “Well, Jack, they have got us. They are a damn sight worse than I ever thought they were.”

Cowper asked, “What are you going to do?”

Elbert shook his head.  Alice just smiled and replied, “There does not seem to be anything to do.”

Cowper was then taken by surprise when he saw Elbert and Alice retreat into a room on the Boat Deck and close the door behind them.  Cowper surmised that the Hubbards planned to die together and did not want to be parted in the water.

A boat on the starboard side was ready to take Helen and Ernest even though it was hanging from the ship with a very large gap in between.  Ernest tossed Helen to Elizabeth Hampshire, explaining, “She asked me to save her.  Says she can’t find her mother and father or baby sister Bessie, but her grandparents’ll be waiting in Liverpool.”

Ernest then got in the boat himself and helped to push the boat away from the side of the Lusitania as the boatswain cut through the ropes with his knife.

In Queenstown, Ernest searched the town looking for Helen’s parents.  He and Helen were both unaware that Helen’s entire family had been lost.  Around the town, Helen chatted “gaily about submarines, declaring that she had often seen them in moving pictures.”

Cowper’s story is in an article in The New York Times, Sunday, 9 May 1915.  A year after the loss of the Lusitania, Ernest wrote a tribute to Elbert Hubbard, which is linked below.

Ernest Cowper continued to keep in touch with Helen Smith, as a newspaper clipping from the 1920s quoted Ernest Cowper in saying that they were still in contact, and that he was proud of her for having received an award for academic excellence.  Later in life, Ernest Cowper moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  He died 4 January 1939 of a heart condition while visiting Seattle, Washington, United States.  Cowper was 56 years old and had never been married.

Links of Interest


The Last Word – Ernest Cowper’s tribute to Elbert Hubbard, written to Elbert Hubbard II


Contributors:
Jim Kalafus
Michael Poirier
Judith Tavares

References:

Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981.

Hoehling, A. A. and Mary Hoehling.  The Last Voyage of the Lusitania.  Madison Books, 1956.

Kalafus, Jim and Michael Poirier (2005) Lest We Forget : Part 1 ET Research. <http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/lusitania-lest-we-forget.html>

Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

Santucci, Linda S.  “Last Words:  Elbert Hubbard on the Lusitania.”  2000 C.E. at The Four+Corners <http://sites.google.com/site/2000ceatthefourcorners/Home/table-of-contents-1/classic-texts-arcane-spiritual-traditions/last-words-elbert-hubbard-on-the-lusitania>

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