A gold watch three wealthy widows gifted to the captain of the ship that saved them in the Titanic disaster is to be sold for £50,000.

Madeline Astor, Marian Thayer and Eleanor Widener bought the 18ct gold timepiece from Tiffany & Co after they returned safely to New York following the sinking.

Their husbands - three of the richest men in the world - all perished in the 1912 tragedy.

The grieving women presented the expensive timepiece to Arthur Rostron, the captain of rescue ship RMS Carpathia, as an expression of gratitude.

The British mariner was seen as a hero for safely navigating his ship at great speed through the same ice field which claimed the Titanic just three hours earlier.

Several rescued passengers died from exposure in the lifeboats so every second counted.

Capt Rostron, who lived in West End, Southampton, received the gift at Mrs Astor's lavish home on New York's Fifth Avenue.

The case was engraved with the words 'Presented to Captain Rostron with the heartfelt gratitude and appreciation of three survivors of the Titanic April 15th 1912. Mrs John B. Thayer, Mrs John Jacob Astor and Mrs George D. Widener.'

John Astor was the richest passenger on the doomed liner and worth the equivalent of £2.2bn today.

Despite his wealth the businessman and property magnate did not make it into a lifeboat and drowned.

Fellow businessman John Thayer was last seen 'looking pale' and heading for the stern of the ship with other terrified passengers moments before it plunged beneath the waves.

Alongside him was George Widener, who gave a dinner party in honour of the Titanic captain, Edward Smith, on the evening of the disaster.

Their wives were loaded into the same lifeboat.

Capt Rostron was showered with gifts from rich first class passengers afterwards.

He was also awarded the American Congressional Gold Medal for his courageous actions.

His watch has now been consigned for sale with auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes for a pre-sale estimate of between £35,000 to £50,000.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: "It is an exquisite watch and you would expect the widow of one of the richest men on the planet would buy.

"It is beautifully enamelled with Rostron's initials and is in great condition despite it being over 100 years old.

"It is fabulous thing. Without the connection to the Titanic it would be worth a few thousand pounds. But with it, it is between £350,000 to £50,000 but I wouldn't be surprised if it sold way past that.

"After the deaths of their husbands, the widows would have been three of the richest women in the world. They knew each other very well.

"Rostron was the hero of the hour and was lauded for his bravery.

"He had to get to the wreck site as soon as possible and put his neck on the line by navigating an ice field where the biggest ship in the world had perished just three hours before.

"A significant number of people died from exposure in the lifeboats so it was a case of every minute counting.

"He went on to be the highly decorated commodore of the entire Cunard fleet."

The Titanic sank with the loss of 1,523 lives after it struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.

A year before the disaster, John Astor, 47, caused controversy after divorcing his first wife and marrying Madeleine who was aged just 18.

The couple had enjoyed a six month honeymoon to Europe and were returning to America on Titanic.

Mr Astor paid almost $9,000 for their one-way first class cabins - about £45,000 today.

Madeleine was five months pregnant at the time. She gave birth to a son on August 14, 1912, and called him John Jacob Astor V in memory of her husband and the boy's father.

George Widener and his wife were also returning to New York from a trip to Paris where he had gone to find a chef for his new hotel - the

Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia.

The watch will be sold in Devizes on October 20.