Guernsey Auction of Secret Electric Cane Sheds Light on Same-Sex Relationship

Ella Holmes White, an American born in 1856, boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg with her maid Amelia Bissette and manservant Sante Ringhini. She travelled first class sharing a cabin with Marie Young. They also brought along some exotic French-bred chickens, intending to keep them at their New York country home. White and her maid were rescued in lifeboat 8. Her manservant Sante Ringhini died. She later testified before the American Inquiry that the Titanic had broken in two before sinking. Now Ms. White’s story again prompts interest in the Guernsey Titanic Auction.  

On July 19th and 20th at Newport, Rhode Island’s renowned, non-profit International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS), Guernsey’s will be holding a massive nautically-themed auction focusing on great ocean liners, majestic sailing ships and other maritime-related treasures.

The first item to be auctioned is the famed walking stick of Ms White who made her way during the chaos of that fateful April 15, 1912 evening into a lifeboat carrying her black enameled walking stick complete with an amber-colored bakelite, battery-illuminated crown. Walter Lord, in his landmark book A Night to Remember, wrote “Mrs. J Stuart White,” as she is called in the book, emerged from her private rooms on the tragic evening of April 14, 1912 in just her night gown, high-heeled diamond-studded evening “slippers,” carrying her walking stick that had a built-in electric light. He also wrote: “Mrs. J. Stuart (Ella) White didn’t help row boat No. 8, but she 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…”

Attempting to signal rescue ships, Mrs. White was a star witness in court hearings that followed where newspapers recounted her tale of the illuminated walking stick (cane).

It may have been Ella’s cane that helped the RMS Carpathia spot the rowboats from the Titanic. Ella’s family secretly held onto the cane for years, until consigning it to Guernsey’s Auction House this year. It is a brilliant artifact that attests to the real-life powerful women like Ella White and the “unsinkable” Molly Brown who are purported to have taken charge during the tragic sinking. In fact, in the movie Titanic when the row boat captain says to Molly Brown “there will be one less on this boat if you don’t shut that hole in your face,” that was based on a story reported by Ella White (source: Encyclopedia Titanica). Many historians commonly accept that later in her life Ella White was in a committed same-sex relationship with her Titanic traveling companion and later, Plaza Hotel roommate, Marie Grice Young.

Ella White (née Holmes) died in New York City on 31 January 1942 at the age of 85. She was living at the Plaza Hotel when she died.  She is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

(Pictured above, Ella in the center, Marie on the left, and Ella’s unnamed niece on the right. Source: Encyclopedia Titanica)

Though the Titanic is clearly the most fabled of all ocean liners, this auction also features iconic objects from a wide array of other noteworthy ships including the Lusitania, the Normandie, the SS United States, and the the ill-fated Empress of Ireland and Andrea Doria. 99% of the items in the auction including the bronze quarter deck bell from the Normandie will be sold without minimum reserve.

While a number of lots in the sale will be coming directly from IYRS, several important private collections constitute the bulk of items to be sold. These include the former collection of noted maritime author Mark D. Warren, the Sam Taylor and George McMath collections, and items from the collection of the late accomplished wreck diver, Bart Malone. The categories of items in the sale will include Marine Art, rare Artifacts and Ephemera, and fine Ship Models.

Other objects include a White Star Line Bouillon Mug, as well as a ticket for the Titanic that was never redeemed. As you may know, a biscuit that was saved in the pocket of a Titanic Survivor recently sold at Auction for 23,000. We are expecting the cane, with the incredibly empowering story that accompanies it, to go for much more.

Rare posters, menus and ships’ logs constitute some of the ephemera in the event, while beautiful oil paintings by such luminaries as James Buttersworth and Antonio Jacobsen head the lineup of featured artists. Nearly one hundred hand-crafted ship models will be sold ranging from massive, cased builder’s steamship models, elegant America’s Cup sail boat models onto exquisite “extreme miniature models” (1/16” – 1’) built by the legendary late English builder Donald McNarry and American craftsman Lloyd McCaffery. Widely sought after, these latter models are coming from the IYRS collection with proceeds going to the School internationally known for keeping alive centuries’ old boat building skills.

What certainly will be one of the highlights of the auction will be the sale of the  23’ 10″’ racing sailboat Wee Winn meticulously-crated by IRYS’ advanced IYRS students to the exacting standards of a 1892 Nathaniel Herreshoff design. It was Herreshoff’s creations that led to the building of magnificent yachts that dominated America’s Cup competition from 1893-1920. His smaller crafts, considered by many as the very epitome of yacht design, are treasured family possessions, passed along from one generation to the next. A true nautical treasure, the proceeds from the sale OF Wee Winn will indeed go, in their entirety, to supporting the education of future boat builders.

Although many choose to bid at auction today via the internet (this event will be featured on both and, this Guernsey’s event will be conducted within IYRS’ classic boatbuilding facilities only yards from magnificent Newport Harbor. Indeed, in would be hard to imagine a more appropriate setting for an auction such as this. Naturally, when in Newport, one can take advantage of the many sights and activities that make Newport such a compelling summer destination. For more complete information, please visit or call the auction house (212-794-2280) with any questions or to discuss the possibility of a late consignment.


Guernsey’s to Conduct Expansive Titanic and Nautical Auction at Newport’s International Yacht Restoration School

449 Thames St, Newport, RI 02840

July 19th and 20th




Advocacy: African Human Rights Coalition
Follow me on Twitter – @MelanieNathan1
Instagram: @commissionermelnathan

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