With only moments to spare did Wallace Hartley have time to play a solo of Nearer, My God, To Thee? Keep in mind that at around 2:17 a.m. Harold Bride, Marconi operator, washed free of Titanic on a collapsible lifeboat. At the time he heard strains of a piece of music (that was not a hymn) from the band that was still playing. Titanic was about to sink at 2:20 a.m.
New evidence may have surfaced to help answer this question. At this time there is a violin being verified that may be the one Wallace Hartley played on the Titanic. His body was recovered with his music case attached, but mysteriously the violin had never been returned to his family. Hartley’s instrument had been an engagement gift from his fiancé, Maria Robinson, and there is evidence that she had written to authorities in Nova Scotia to have it returned directly to her.
Violin and case, possibly the instrument Hartley played on Titanic.
It is quite believable that Hartley saved his violin. It is difficult to imagine any musician taking great care to save only his empty instrument case. Hartley’s was bulky and would have impeded his ability to manoeuver and try to save himself. It only makes sense for him to have gone to such measures for the purpose of saving a violin that carried great sentimental value to him.
If the violin proves to be authentic, then one must consider how it came to be preserved in the first place. Hartley must have taken the time in his last moments to pack it away and strap the case on over his lifebelt. This evidence alone washes away any notion that the band was swept off the deck while still performing. For the purposes of our Hartley Solo Theory*, the existence of the violin casts a shadow on the idea that Hartley had the time (or took the time) to play Nearer, My God, To Thee.
It is a catch-22. Would the violin fetch a higher price if a collector believed it was the one that played Nearer, My God, To Thee on Titanic? Would the violin’s very existence make it nearly impossible for Hartley to have played the hymn? The authenticity of the violin is still under review.