Most people know the story of the sinking of the Titanic…and that the band played on nobly as the ship went down. What you may not know is that the band leader – Wallace Hartley – was a former member of the Phil.
He appears to have joined the orchestra in 1895 as one of the First Violins and is recorded as having attended rehearsals during the 1896/7 season.
In the 1897/8 season he didn’t attend rehearsals – hence the note below.
Addressed to Mr Hartley at his home in Somerset Road, and dated December 1898, it reads: “Dear Sir, The committee of the Philharmonic Soc wish to know if they can rely upon your attendance at the rehearsals and concerts in future.”
He did rehearse again with the orchestra in the following season, but after that we lose track of him. Sadly, the archives don’t confirm which concerts he may have played in.
The following story appeared in the Sunday Mirror of 27 March 2011 and, complete with illustrations, is accessible on line at
Other posts on this site document the link between Wallace Hartley and Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra
Exclusive by Mike Merritt
The missing violin played by the Titanic’s band leader as the liner slowly sank could have been found … 99 years on. Wallace Hartley and his seven fellow musicians became an enduring part of the Titanic story – heroically playing on until waist-deep in water as they disappeared beneath the waves.
According to some reports, Hartley’s violin was found strapped to his chest in its case when his body was recovered from the icy Atlantic. But the precious gift from his fiancée Maria Robinson wasn’t there when the 33-year old’s body was repatriated to Britain for his funeral. And it has been missing ever since, baffling historians and tantalising Titanic treasure-hunters as to its whereabouts.
Now in a remarkable twist, the violin appears to have been found – and is undergoing tests at a specialist auction house to ensure its authenticity. But experts are so sure it is Hartley’s violin they are planning to take it on a world tour before putting it up for sale next year – the centenary of the sinking. It is likely to fetch more than £1 million.
Author Steve Turner, who has discovered pictures of the violin, said: “Other than retrieving the bow of the ship, this must be the most symbolic artefact of the Titanic sinking ever to be sold. Everyone concerned has been sworn to secrecy. Other than admitting to me the violin exists and that the photos I saw were genuine, the auctioneers won’t be giving out any more information until an announcement is made about its sale.”
All eight members of Hartley’s band played on as the ship sank 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada on April 14, 1912. Reports vary as to the last song they played, but most agree it was the poignant hymn, Nearer My God to Thee. Survivors recall the band striking up playful ragtime tunes, including Alexander’s Ragtime Band, as the liner began to go down. The story became a defining image of British calmness in the face of adversity and was immortalised in the 1997 movie Titanic.
Reports at the time said Hartley, from Colne, Lancs, was found fully dressed still clutching his violin. But the Office of the Provincial Secretary in Nova Scotia did not list it among the effects of Body 224. It was not handed to Hartley’s father, Albion, who collected his son’s body at Liverpool docks after repatriation – two years after Hartley and Maria had got engaged.
Mr. Turner found photos of a violin, leather case and sheet music during research for his book The Band That Played On. He says: “Someone with a knowledge of the Titanic was trying to authenticate the story. The most convincing things about the violin, which was in a brown leather case with the initials W. H. H. stamped on it, is the inscription on the tail-piece, ‘For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement, from Maria’. Maria was left bereft by Hartley’s death. She moved to Bridlington, East Yorks, and never married.
Mr Turner says the photos back up claims by the unnamed owner – believed to be a male relative of Maria’s – that Maria retrieved it. Among evidence is a draft letter to the Nova Scotia authorities in Maria’s 1912 diary. It says: “I would be most grateful if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiancé’s violin.”
Steve, who has written biographies of Cliff Richard and Marvin Gaye, says: “This seemed not only to explain why she wanted it back so badly and why it didn’t automatically go to Hartley’s parents, but perhaps why Hartley kept it with him.”
A spokesman for auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son said: “We are in the process of running a number of tests.”
The Band That Played On is published by Thomas Nelson.
When our President, Graham Smelt, asked the members of our Orchestra if anyone would be interested in playing at the final exhibition of the Titanic Violin – which was going to be on display for one day only at Dewsbury Town Hall – I jumped at the chance. Being self employed has its benefits and being able to get involved with this event was one of them. My Great Uncle (seen on the far left of this image and the only one looking at the camera) worked as a drafter for Harland and Wolfe, including the plans for the Titanic, so I have a personal connection to its story.
Emails and phone calls went back and forth between Kirklees council, Graham and myself and then on the weekend before the event, everything was set in place. Various groups were going to be playing during the day. These included musicians from Opera North, Quartets from the Huddersfield University and also a Quartet made up of Huddersfield Phil/Choral society. As a solo player I had a 1 hour slot between 5 and 6 and could either play solo Cello or duet with Graham, who was more than keen to keep playing on/
On Sunday evening it suddenly dawned on me that the one and only piece visitors would actually want to hear would be “Nearer my God to thee” – the piece that is long believed to be the last hymn played by Wallace Hartley and his musicians before the Titanic sank. I prayed to the God of Google and luckily found the sheet music online. It was a simple enough piece.
On the day, things didn’t quite get off to a smooth start for me. Apart from finding that my black concert skirt had vanished, forcing to wear a red one, the skies had opened and traffic was moving ridiculously slowly. I arrived at the Town Hall with 5 minutes to spare only to realise that I needed to pay for parking and I was 5p short. I fumbled about trying to pay over phone but had no joy. Standing in the rain, trying to sort out paying for parking, I was becoming more and more frustrated and anxious, all the while becoming wetter and wetter and thinking of the irony of it all. Luckily an Angel saved me, in the form of Anne from Kirklees Council, who bailed me out by paying for my parking. (Thanks Anne, I owe you 50p!)I packed up my gear and decided I would go down a little early the next day to hear the quartet play before me.
Once on stage, everything went much better. Graham and I had a great time playing through some cello duets I had found online, trying and failing to master the duets he had brought along. We had a laugh and almost forgot that there were people watching us. When Graham left, I continued on playing solo, filling the hall with the sound of the Bach Cello Suites. Dewsbury Town Hall is a beautiful venue and the acoustics were gorgeous!
There were about 25 people in the exhibition room, all taking photos of the Violin in the glass case. I sat down with my Cello and the Auctioneer – Henry – introduced me. I played through “Nearer my God to thee” twice and amazingly didn’t hit a bum note once. I can only assume that Wallace must have been guiding me. I looked around at my appreciative audience only to see tears rolling down smiling cheeks. I obviously had moved them! It would have been more fitting to have a Violinist play the piece, but I was more than honored to stand in.The famous Violin was upstairs in a glass case, so I had not yet had a chance to view it. It would have been nice to see it again, having previously seen it at the Titanic Exhibition in Belfast, but given that it was nearly closing time, I didn’t think I would have the chance. Near the end of my set however, I was approached my an official looking man who I can only assume worked in the Hall. He said to me “do you know Nearer my God to Thee”?. I thanked the God of Google and said “Yes, I have the sheet music for it”. He then asked if I would mind moving upstairs to the room where the violin was, as he would like me to play the Hymn before the Violin was taken away by the Auctioneers.
Many thanks to Graham our President and Anne at Kirklees Council for giving me this wonderful opportunity, which will forever live in my memories as one of the nicest gigs I have ever been invited to do.The most memorable part of my evening, was when the small crowd had cleared. I had asked the official looking gentleman if he wouldn’t mind taking my picture next to the Violin. “You can hold it if you like” was his reply. “…..?!?!?!?…!!!!” was mine. Bearing in mind that it was insured for £1,000,000 my heart was racing. Amazingly though, when he handed it to me, my natural instinct was to hold it as I would any violin, almost forgetting its history. In the photograph, you can see me smiling, but inside I am thinking “OMG OMG OMG OMG! don’t drop it Fionnuala!!!”.
The Violin will be in going into Auction this Saturday and I will be very interested to see where it ends up and how much it goes for.
*Update (edited March 2016) – The Violin sold in auction for £900,000