Who was bandleader of Titanic’s trio?

Two men have been called bandleader on Titanic: Wallace Hartley and Jock Hume. The former has been accepted as such for more than a century, and has usually been placed in Titanic’s quintet as bandleader of that ensemble, and has also been attributed as overall leader of all eight musicians on board.

Jock Hume has been dismissed as bandleader, primarily because it was always believed that Titanic needed only one. The second band was thought to be a piano trio with Georges Krins on violin, Roger Bricoux on cello and either Theo Brailey or Percy Taylor on piano. With Krins, Brailey and a pianist there was no room in the trio for another violinist or bandleader. So the anecdotal evidence regarding Hume seemed confusing and out of step.

Hume has been variously called either second violin of the quintet, which discounted the claim that he was first violin, or first violin of the quintet with Wallace Hartley the bandleader somehow playing second fiddle to him. It has even been suggested that perhaps musicians were traded back and forth between quintet and trio to explain the discrepancy in evidence. It is not at all likely that a bandleader would play second fiddle or that musicians would trade back and forth. Instead, it is much more likely that Titanic had a second bandleader.

The last post explained the full role of leader and proposed that Titanic needed two – one for the quintet and one for the trio. This post will explore the evidence in favor of Jock Hume as bandleader, as well as accounts describing the trio’s performances to analyze them for the personality of the leader, whether it was Hartley or Hume.

The trio performed for Titanic’s First Class passengers who supped in the à la carte Restaurant. One survivor remembered the merry, jolly time had by all on the evening of Sunday, April 14.

May Futrelle, Seattle Daily Times, April 22-23, 1912:
“The orchestra played popular music. … There was that atmosphere of fellowship and delightful sociability which make the Sabbath dinner on board ship a delightful occasion. … I remember Jacques and Mr. Harris discussing at our table the latest plays on the American stage. Everybody was so merry. We were all filled with the joy of living. We sat over dinner late that night.”

What was it that infected the mood and made it ‘delightful,’ ‘joyful’ and ‘merry’? Could it have been the music played by the trio, led by the jocular spirit of the bandleader? If so, who could this have been?

From the following story it is clear that Hume was comfortable with the role of bandleader, of taking requests and directing other musicians. It also tells of his good humor, which was infectious not only to passengers and crew, but also to the bandsmen in the playing of practical jokes:

Louis Cross, The New York Times, April 21, 1912:
“When he was bandmaster on the Carmania [Jock] played a little joke on a woman passenger. She’d given us a lot of trouble, pretending that she knew a great deal about music. Once she asked us to play a particularly intricate classical piece. “Jock” whispered instructions, and at the close the woman came up and thanked him. But the piece we’d played was American ragtime, played slowly—and the woman didn’t know the difference.”

Jock Hume (left) with bandsmen on the Carmania, Spring 1912

Cross remembered Hume as “the life of every ship he ever played on and beloved of every one from cabin boys to captains.” People from Hume’s hometown who had known him in his youth remembered his wide smile and good nature.

One of Titanic’s First Class stewardesses, Violet Jessop, who had become friends with Hume one year earlier on Olympic’s maiden voyage, once again sailed with him on Titanic’s maiden voyage. She recalled a spirited performance by one of Titanic’s bands on Sunday, April 14, and identified Hume as the leader. Was this the same jolly performance that had been described by Futrelle?

Jock Hume, final voyage before sailing on Titanic

Violet Jessop, memoires edited by John Maxtone-Graham, pub. 1997:
“On that Sunday evening, the music was at its gayest, led by young Jock the first violin; when I ran into him during the interval, he laughingly called out to me in his rich Scotch accent, that he was about to give them a ‘real tune, a Scotch tune, to finish up with.’ Always so eager and full of life was Jock.”

Jessop was known to hang around an access stairway that connected crew quarters below and the First Class corridors, the stairs located between the reciprocating engine casing and the Nos 1 and 2 boiler casing. It was by this same staircase that the trio usually accessed the Reception Room from their accommodation on E Deck. It is almost certain it was here Jessop bumped into the band as they retreated for a short break (likely for a smoke). The fact that both Futrelle and Jessop noted the same jovial atmosphere on Sunday night suggests they were both speaking of the same performance. The merry mood itself suggests Jock Hume was the bandleader.

And yet Jessop’s words claiming Hume had ‘led’ the band as first violin have either been dismissed or misunderstood. Even Jock Hume’s own grandson completely dismisses the idea he could have been one of Titanic’s bandleaders, as is quoted in his recent book. In his opinion the idea that he was a bandleader was a lie made up by his father, Andrew Hume.

Christopher Ward, And the Band Played On, 2011:
“[At the funeral Mary Costin, Jock’s fiancé,] had been embarrassed to hear Jock described as leading the band. That was another one of his father’s lies, which the vicar had inadvertently written into his sermon. Andrew had also told the Standard that Jock was the bandleader and played only in First Class, neither of which was true. He had even lied in the death notice – that was a first:
‘Mr and Mrs Hume and family beg to tender their sincere thanks to all friends for their very kind and sympathetic notes and telegrams on the loss of John Law Hume, leader of the orchestra in the First Class cabin of the unfortunate Titanic.’”

My first thought when I read that paragraph was – goodness, why is it so impossible that Hume was a bandleader? What if Andrew Hume, a known liar in other circumstances, was actually telling the truth this time? The detail that grabbed my attention was not just that Hume was a bandleader, but that he played only in First Class.

The interesting thing is that Titanic’s trio played only in First Class, in just one exclusive location.

How could Andrew Hume have just made that up? Somehow he knew enough about his son’s band to know that they played only in First Class. Surely he had been told the information directly from Jock himself, who must have been extremely pleased to land the most exclusive position on the Atlantic Ocean that spring.

The trio’s venue was indeed the top gig on board the most luxurious ocean liner, with only the wealthiest clientele patronizing the à la carte Restaurant and Cafe Parisien. Remember there was no piano provided in this location, so their ensemble would have been a string trio, with two violins and a cello.

It has always been speculated that two of the musicians were French-speaking Georges Krins, violin, and Roger Bricoux, cello. Neither one would have had enough experience to lead the band. Bricoux had been to sea only twice before, and this was Krins’ very first voyage. (It should be added for good measure that this was Percy Taylor’s first voyage as well, just to point out that the trio with him would have had a complete lack of experience with seagoing audiences.)

Titanic’s music directors, C. W. & F. N. Black, would have chosen the bandleader of the trio very carefully, someone who had his sea legs as well as a consummate command of his instrument. Someone who would be good with people, who would attract paying customers to the restaurants, who understood how to keep the atmosphere light with the audience.

Instead of convincing me that Andrew had lied about Jock, the paragraphs from Ward’s book simply offered more evidence that Titanic indeed had two bandleaders, that Hume was one of them, and which of the two bands he led. After all, he had been working on ships for seven years, since the tender age of fourteen or fifteen.

Several years after the marine tragedy Andrew Hume was called to the stand in a trial in which his daughter, Kate, was the accused. The following questions were asked of Hume Sr. in order to paint a picture of his character. It should be noted that everyone in the courtroom believed Wallace Hartley had been the only bandleader on Titanic, and the question about Jock as leader was intended to reinforce to all that Andrew Hume was a liar.

Andrew Hume, Kate Hume’s trial, December, 28, 1915:
“About two or three years ago was there a very sad blow to the family in the death of one of the members?”
“Yes, sir, that was my son John.”
“He died well. He was one of the men who went down on the Titanic?”
“He was, sir.”
“And attention was called to the loss of your son particularly by the fact that he was the leader, I think, of the band?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And the band went down playing the hymn ‘Nearer my God to Thee’?”
“Yes.” Andrew Hume became very emotional at this point, his voice breaking up. “There were five of the family altogether, and Kate, the accused, is now seventeen. John was just over twenty-one when he was drowned.”

Until now no one has taken the idea seriously that Hume may indeed have been first violin and bandleader – of Titanic’s string trio. Without a piano, and with room for a first and second violin in this chamber ensemble, all the evidence surrounding the trio and Hume’s role on Titanic adds up and makes sense.

To return Jock Hume to his rightful position as bandleader and first violin of the trio, one can read the memories of First Class stewardess Violet Jessop and believe that she knew what she was talking about. After Titanic had struck the iceberg she bumped into the bandsmen who were going to play their last performances.

Violet Jessop, memoires edited by John Maxtone-Graham, pub. 1997:
“As I turned I ran into Jock, the bandleader and his crowd with their instruments. ‘Funny, they must be going to play,’ thought I, and at this late hour! Jock smiled in passing, looking rather pale for him, remarking, ‘Just going to give them a tune to cheer things up a bit,’ and passed on. Presently the strains of the band reached me faintly as I stood on deck….”

Of all of Titanic’s musicians it is Hume I would have liked to meet most. Perhaps his former bandsman summed it up best:

The New York Times, April 21, 1912:
“The thing I can’t realize is that Happy Jock Hume is dead,” said Louis Cross, a player of the bass viol. “The merriest, happiest young Scotchman you ever saw.”

Jock Hume’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Rebekah Maxner (me) visiting the grave of Jock Hume April 14, 2012

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Ward, C (2011). And The Band Played On. London: Hodder & Stoughton London, pp. 78, 231.

Jessop, V. (1997). Titanic Survivor, Dobbs Ferry, NY: Sheridan House, 1997. pp. 124, 129.

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