In 1882, Hugh Allan, a Scottish immigrant to Montreal in the 1830s, died, leaving his business, the Allan Shipping Line, to his son Hugh Montagu Allan. ‘Montagu’ as he was known, grew the company into the largest privately owned shipping company in the world. In 1906 he was knighted by Edward VII, and in 1909 Sir Allan sold the Allan Shipping Line to Canadian Pacific. That same year he commissioned a tiara from Cartier for his wife Lady Marguerite. The Allan name lives on in the name of the Allan Cup for amateur ice hockey.
Sir Allan and Lady Marguerite had four children, and in 1915 their eldest daughter, 20-year-old Martha, left for England to serve with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (front line nursing). The rest of the family would follow but Sir Allan had to get paperwork in order first, so Lady Marguerite and her two other daughters, Anna 16 and Gwendolyn 15, went ahead, sailing on the Lusitania.
On 4 February 1915, Germany declared British waters a war zone and any allied ships would be at risk from attack by German U boats. On the day the Allans departed, 1 May 1915, the Imperial German Embassy of Washington reminded tourists of the European war, placing a warning next to a newspaper advert for the Lusitania’s return voyage. However, it was generally thought the Lusitania’s speed kept her safely out of reach from German U boat torpedoes.
On the final day of the Lusitania’s voyage, and within sight of the Irish coast, at 2:10 pm, the Lusitania crossed in front of a German U boat that was low on fuel and preparing to return home. A single torpedo fired at the ship struck the starboard side and as she sped on at 18 knots, water was forced into the Lusitania’s hull, sinking the huge ship in 18 minutes with a loss of 1,200 lives. Lady Marguerite survived, but suffered a broken collarbone and hip; her two daughters perished. Lady Marguerite’s two maids also survived, one of whom had saved Lady Marguerite’s tiara from going down with the ship.
Two years after the sinking, the Allans experienced more misfortune when their only son died on his first patrol with the Royal Navy Air Service in Belgium. Their surviving daughter, Martha, never married and died 15 years before Lady Marguerite herself died in 1957 at the age of 86. The tiara was left to an English cousin, and her granddaughter has now decided to sell the tiara at Sotheby’s, where it is expected to sell for around a half million dollars.
Added November 11: The tiara sold for $ 799,265.00 U.S. dollars,