Born in Montreal on April 18, 1859, Major Peuchen was educated in several of the city’s private schools. With an interest in forestry and chemistry, Peuchen became the first person in the British Empire to make acetone directly from wood. Acetone was an important constituent of the explosive cordite and, as such, was much sought after by the British Government. In 1897, Peuchen and William Mackenzie organised the Standard Chemical Company to manufacture acetone in large quantities. The company owned and operated lumber mills, factories and refineries throughout Ontario and Quebec with additional refineries in England, France, and Germany. With business interests on both sides of the Atlantic, Peuchen crossed the Atlantic on numerous occasions.
For his return trip from England in the early spring of 1912, Peuchen bought a first-class ticket for several thousand dollars on the maiden trip of the White Star Line’s wondrous new liner RMS Titanic where Peuchen was assigned to cabin 104 on “C” deck. When the ill-fated craft struck the iceberg late in the evening of April 14, Peuchen, who was a talented yachtsman and active member of Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht Club, was ordered into lifeboat number six to help row as there was only one other seaman aboard. Almost a dozen people in the boat, including the “unsinkable” Molly Brown, were eventually rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia. Peuchen testified before the American commission on the Titanic tragedy in which 1523 were lost out of a total passenger and crew manifest of 2228.
Following his return to Toronto, where for a short time he was regarded as a hero, Peuchen soon became the victim of a questioning public: “Why had he survived when so many women and children perished?” Unable to stand the pressures placed on him, Peuchen retired and moved to Alberta. He died in Toronto at the age of 70 on December 7, 1929.