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Rare portrait of early suffragette and Titanic survivor to be auctioned

A rare portrait of an early suffragette and Titanic survivor has been discovered by an auctioneer whose own ancestor shared a lifeboat with her after the liner sank.

Elsie Bowerman was a survivor of the Titanic disaster, a leading suffragette and the first woman barrister at the Old Bailey. The portrait of Ms Bowerman, in Women's Scottish Hospital uniform, was unearthed by a Dorset family having a clear-out and they had no idea who the subject of it was.

Mr Medhurst said: "This small portrait is an amazing snippet of history in which you can see a woman of survival, dedicated to equal rights.

Ms Bowerman joined Emmeline Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) two years before boarding the Titanic in 1912. After her return to the UK she continued her work with the WSPU, then in the First World War joined a Scottish women's hospital unit and witnessed the Russian Revolution at first hand. She subsequently became secretary of the Women's Guild of Empire and was the first female barrister to practise at the Old Bailey. In the Second World War she worked with the Woman's Royal Volunteer Services as well as the Ministry of Information and the BBC. In 1947 she went to the United States to help set up the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

She died in 1973 following a stroke and a blue plaque now marks the site in St Leonards, East Sussex, where she lived.

Now the portrait of Ms Bowerman that measures 3.5in by 2.8in (9cm by 7cm) is going under the hammer at Duke's auction house in Dorchester.

Auctioneer and valuer Timothy Medhurst was researching her astonishing life when he happened upon his connection with her. The expert's great-great-grandfather, Robert Hitchens, was a quartermaster on the doomed ship and was in lifeboat number six, along with Ms Bowerman and about 22 others. He was apparently overruled by the strong females on the boat who demanded they be allowed to row in order to keep warm.

"It is a wonderful thing to be able to look at the same lady who would have looked at my great- great-grandfather over 100 years ago on board a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean."

Mr Medhurst said: "We don't know who the artist was, but clearly this lot will have interest for collectors of memorabilia in the Titanic and the suffragette movement."

The portrait, which was consigned by a local man who was cleaning out his home, will be sold in March with an estimate of up to £1,000.

Dukes Auctioneers: 25th Feb 2016 00:00:14