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Wallace Hartley

Wallace Henry Hartley
Hartley as he appeared in
The Illustrated London News, May 1912
Born Wallace Henry Hartley
(1878-06-02)2 June 1878
Colne, Lancashire, England
Died 15 April 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 33)
RMS Titanic, Atlantic Ocean
Occupation Violinist, Bandleader
Religion Methodist Christian[1]

Wallace Henry Hartley (2 June 1878 – 15 April 1912) was an English violinist and bandleader on the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage. He became famous for leading the eight member band as the ship sank on 15 April 1912. He died in the sinking.


  • Life and career 1
  • Sinking of the Titanic 2
  • After the sinking 3
    • Violin 3.1
  • Portrayals 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Life and career

Wallace Hartley was born and raised in Colne, Lancashire, England. Hartley's father, Albion Hartley, was the choirmaster and Sunday school superintendent at Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel, on Burnley Road where the family attended worship services.[2] Hartley himself introduced the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to the congregation. Wallace studied at Colne's Methodist day school, sang in Bethel's choir and learned violin from a fellow congregation member.[1][3]

After leaving school, Hartley started work with the Craven & Union Bank in Colne. When his family moved to Huddersfield, Hartley joined the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1903, he left home to join the municipal orchestra in Bridlington, where he stayed for six years. He later moved to Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and in 1909, he joined the Cunard Line as a musician, serving on the ocean liners RMS Lucania, RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania.[3]

Whilst serving on the Mauretania, the employment of Cunard musicians was transferred to the music agency C.W. & F.N. Black, which supplied musicians for Cunard and the White Star Line. This transfer changed Hartley's onboard status, as he was no longer counted as a member of the crew, but rather as a passenger, albeit one accommodated in second-class accommodation at the agency's expense. It later transpired that neither the shipping company nor the music agency had insured the musicians, with each claiming it was the other's responsibility.[3]

In April 1912, Hartley was assigned to be the bandmaster for the White Star Line ship RMS Titanic.[3] He was at first hesitant to again leave his fiancée, Maria Robinson, to whom he had recently proposed, but Hartley decided that working on the maiden voyage of the Titanic would give him possible contacts for future work.

Apart from his short tenure as leader of the band on the Titanic, Hartley is also known for introducing the tritone substitution to ballroom dance music.

Sinking of the Titanic

After the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, Hartley and his fellow band members started playing music to help keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats. Many of the survivors said that he and the band continued to play until the very end. None of the band members survived the sinking, and the story of them playing to the end became a popular legend. One survivor who clambered aboard 'Collapsible A' claimed to have seen Hartley and his band standing on the boat deck, near the entrance to the grand staircase, near the base of the second funnel. He went on to say that he saw three of them washed off while the other five held on to the railing on top the Grand Staircase's deckhouse, only to be dragged down with the bow, as Hartley exclaimed, "Gentlemen, I bid you farewell!" A newspaper at the time reported "the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea."

Though the final song played by the band is unknown, "Nearer, My God, to Thee" has gained popular acceptance. Former bandmates claimed that Hartley had said he would play either "Nearer, My God, to Thee" or "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" if he was ever on a sinking ship, but Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember popularised wireless officer Harold Bride's account of hearing the song "Autumn". If it was Nearer, My God, to Thee, it is not certain which version Hartley used. His father used the "Propior Deo" version, by Arthur Sullivan, at church, and his family were certain that he would have used that version,[4] It is this tune's opening notes that appear on Hartley's memorial[5] and that were played at his funeral.[4]

After the sinking

Bust of Wallace Hartley in Albert Road, Colne

Hartley's body was recovered by the Mackay–Bennett almost two weeks after the sinking. Several press reports confirmed that Wallace was found "fully dressed with his music case strapped to his body".[6]

He was transferred to the Arabic and returned to England. Hartley's father Albion met the ship at Liverpool and brought his son back to his home town of Colne, Lancashire. The funeral took place on 18 May 1912. One thousand people attended his funeral, while an estimated 30,000 - 40,000 lined the route of his funeral procession.[3]

Hartley is buried in the Keighley Road cemetery, Colne, where a 10 feet (3.0 m) high headstone, containing a carved violin at its base, was erected in his honour.

A memorial to Hartley, topped by his bust, was erected in 1915 outside what was then the town library. The memorial is inscribed: Wallace Hartley

This was later moved slightly to make way for the World War One memorial. Hartley's large Victorian terraced house in West Park Street, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, bears a blue plaque to remind passers-by that this was the bandleader's home.[3]

In 2001, Hartley's name was still being used when naming new streets and housing in the town of Colne. In 2008, the pub chain J D Wetherspoon named a newly opened pub, (the building having been the long-standing King's Head Hotel up until the mid-1990s),[7] in Colne after the bandleader.[8]


In March 2013, after two years of in-depth trace analysis by The Forensic Science Service on behalf of auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son, and seven years of evidence-gathering by the Wiltshire-based auction house, it was announced that a violin found in a British man's attic inside a leather case with the initials "W. H. H." was the instrument used by Hartley, who, according to lore played, "Nearer, My God, to Thee" during the ship's last moments.[9] The identification was helped by an engraving on the German-made[10] violin which his fiancee (Maria Robinson) had placed on the instrument in 1910 which read: 'For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria.'[11] Further tests by a silver expert from the Gemological Association of Great Britain confirmed that the plate on the base of the violin was original and that the metal engraving done on behalf of Maria Robinson was contemporary with those made in 1910.[11] A CT scan enabled experts to view 3D images of the inside of the violin. The fine detail of the scan meant experts could examine the construction, interior and the glue holding the instrument together showing signs of possible restoration. While researching the origins of the violin, the auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son and Christian Tennyson-Ekeberg, biographer of Wallace Hartley and author of "Nearer, Our God, to Thee: The Biography of the Titanic Bandmaster", discovered the transcript of a telegram sent to the Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia, Canada, dated 19 July 1912 in the diary of Hartley's grieving fiance, Ms. Robinson, in which she stated:

"I would be most grateful if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiance's violin."[11]

After Maria Robinson's death in 1939, her sister gave the violin to the Bridlington Salvation Army and told its leader, a Major Renwick, about the instrument's association with the Titanic.[9] The violin was later passed on to a violin teacher who gave it to the current owner's mother. "It's been in the same family for over 70 years," Henry Aldridge & Sons state.[9] Craig Sopin, the owner of one of the world's largest collections of Titanic memorabilia, a leading Titanic expert, and a general skeptic of Titanic claims believes the violin is "Hartley's violin and not a fraud" reports ABC News.[9]

The Hartley violin was exhibited in the Northern Ireland at Titanic Belfast. It was sold by auction house Henry Aldridge & Son in Devizes, Wiltshire, England, on 19 October 2013 for £900,000 ($1,454,400 US), as reported by BBC, NBC, and The Washington Post.[12][13][14]



  1. ^ a b Joey Butler. "Did faith drive Titanic musicians?".  
  2. ^ "Bethel, Coline - Independent Methodist". 24 April 2012. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Handley, Martin (April 2012). The Yorkshire Dalesman ( 
  4. ^ a b Bradley, Ian. Lost Chords and Christian Soldiers: The Sacred Music of Arthur Sullivan, SCM Press (2013), p. 72 ISBN 0334044219
  5. ^ Biography of Wallace Hartley, the Titanic's bandmaster
  6. ^ "Titanic band leader's violin is authentic, say experts". News Wiltshire. BBC. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "The Wallace Hartley, Colne | Our Pubs". J D Wetherspoon. Retrieved 9 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Livesey, Jon (28 October 2008). "New Colne pub to be named after Titanic hero". Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved 24 March 2008. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Titanic Violin Authenticated as Genuine". ABC News. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  10. ^ AP (19 October 2013). "Titanic violin sells for more than $1.4 million at auction".  
  11. ^ a b c Kerry O'Shea (15 March 2013). "Violin played by bandmaster as the Titanic sank in 1912 found in musician's attic".  
  12. ^ "Titanic violin fetches £900,000 record price". BBC. 19 October 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  13. ^ Kiernan, Ed. "Violin that played as Titanic sank sells for $1.4 million". World News. NBC News. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  14. ^ Karla Adam (19 October 2013). "Titanic violin fetches record price at auction". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  15. ^ Titanic (2012 TV miniseries)

External links

  • Wallace Hartley on
  • Wallace Hartley's Memorial on
  • Wallace Hartley Information on Encyclopedia Titanica
  • More on the Issue of Music Played Near the Climax of the Disaster
  • Photo of Hartley's grave
  • Wallace Hartley's Family Tree
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