Titanic’s final number: Hartley’s violin

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.

Detail from a period tribute violin, Lancashire, England

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.

Related Posts

6 thoughts on “Titanic’s final number: Hartley’s violin

  1. If it proves authentic, I'd love to hear it played! I do hope it wouldn't be shelved in a museum or kept hidden from the world in a private collection. There would need to be a plan in place to have it performed. I guarantee it would draw audiences everywhere.


  2. Rebekah,Wouldn't the violin have been partly destroyed due to the water? I'm assuming Hartley's case was not water proof, or that they even had such things back then. How exactly was it strapped to his body, do you have any idea? A cord? A metal clasp of some sort? These are small things I've always wondered about.


  3. Wolfgang, These are good questions. I believe the design of Titanic's lifebelt comes into play here. It covered the torso front and back and the upper bodies of the victims were held above the water line. They almost looked as though they were standing up in the water. Click or paste this link to view:http://goo.gl/Tmd9oThe Nova Scotia Archives has the business card of musician John F. P. Clarke and it has only one small spot of water damage. Likewise, a letter on Wallace Hartley's body was so well preserved that the ink had not run. His instrument case was \”…not a normal violin case but a thick brown leather bag that looked more like an old-fashioned family doctor bag. It had…two straps, possibly two inches wide, that could easily have been put over his shoulders….\” presumably also over the bulky lifebelt. (quote from Turner, The Band That Played On, Thomas Nelson, 2011). Hope this helps!


  4. The image I have included in this blog entry would not have been Hartley's Titanic violin, for it was constructed and dedicated to his memory after the sinking by his good friend, a violin maker, Arthur Lancaster. It is a tribute instrument.The violin Hartley played on Titanic is likely going to be auctioned off after its verification process is complete. I have not seen images of this instrument. If it is the genuine item it will attract a lot of attention. We'll have to wait and see.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.