As the Titanic sank, the band famously played on.
And more than 100 years after the tragedy, the violin owned by the band leader has been confirmed as a survivor. The instrument used by Wallace Hartley was thought by some to have been lost in the Atlantic in the 1912 disaster. But in 2006 the son of an amateur musician found it in an attic, complete with a silver plate showing its provenance. After seven years of testing, costing tens of thousands of pounds, the water-stained violin has now been proven to be the one played by Hartley.
Within minutes of the Titanic striking an iceberg on April 14, 1912, the 24-year-old was instructed to assemble the band and play music in order to maintain calm. The eight musicians gallantly performed on the deck while passengers lined up for the lifeboats. The band carried on until the bitter end, famously playing the hymn Nearer, My God, To Thee. Hartley and the other band members perished along with 1,500 passengers and crew when the vessel sank at 2.20am on April 15.
The rosewood violin is incredibly well-preserved despite its age and it being exposed to the sea. There are two long cracks on its body that are said to have been opened up by moisture damage. A corroded engraved silver plate screwed on to the base of the violin also helped provide scientists with key proof of its authenticity. While scientists spent seven years studying the violin, specialist Titanic auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son and a biographer of Wallace Hartley meticulously researched the story behind it to discover the truth. Their research found that Hartley appeared to have strapped around him his leather valise – luggage case – in which he placed his violin moments before the sinking. One theory is the bag would have aided his buoyancy in the water. The case and Hartley’s body were recovered together.
The musician’s fiancee Maria Robinson had given the violin to her sweetheart in 1910 to mark their engagement and had it engraved: ‘For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria. After the sinking it was returned to her with other personal effects. Hartley’s body was buried in his home town of Colne in Lancashire. Miss Robinson never married and died from cancer in 1939, aged 59, at her home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. The violin found its way to its current owner after it was given to a member of the Bridlington Salvation Army.
Gavin Bryars – “The sinking of the Titanic”