|The violin said to have been played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley on Titanic, with the valise. Credit : Bournemouth News|
The Daily Telegraph announced it to be “the violin used by Wallace Hartley as the band famously played 'Nearer my god to thee' as the Titanic sank”. Even if it's the right violin, the Telegraph was almost certainly wrong to repeat this well-known legend about the hymn.
Walter Lord deals thoroughly with the Titanic’s musicians and their music in his 1986 book The Night Lives on: Thoughts Theories and Revelations about the Titanic. In a chapter headed “The Sound of Music”, he devotes five pages to the question of what the band actually played. Piecing together evidence from crew and passengers, Lord thinks that the band played dance music, which they could play from memory, and which seemed best suited to keeping the passengers' spirits up. He quotes a passenger, Colonel Gracie: "If 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' was one of the selections, I assuredly would have noticed it and regarded it as a tactless warning of immediate death, and more likely to create a panic that our special efforts were directed towards avoiding. ..."
Lord can’t be certain; but adds that whatever the band played, they all perished, and doing so achieved immortality. “The bravery of these men, trying to bring hope and comfort to others without a thought to their own safety, captured the public's imagination all over the world. Editorials, speeches, sermons, and reams of worshipful poetry celebrated the deed, and letters of condolence poured into the homes of the bereaved.”
No words of sympathy
Shockingly Lord reveals that tucked in with the tributes received by the family of violinist Jock Hume, was a letter to his father dated just two weeks after the tragedy, containing no words of sympathy, just a short, crisp reminder of an unpaid uniform account in the sum of 5s. 4d due to C.W. & F. N. Black.
He explains the background to this. Until 1912 the various steamship lines dealt directly with their musicians, signing them up as members of the crew. The pay was union scale, which worked out at £6 10s. a month, plus a monthly uniform allowance of 10s.
Then the Liverpool talent agency C. W. and F. N. Black entered the picture, offering the steamship companies a simpler and cheaper way to get onboard music. The musicians still signed the ship's articles for a token shilling a month (putting them clearly under the captain's authority), but they were now really working for Blacks, and had to take what Blacks were willing to pay them - which turned out to be a one-third cut in pay and no uniform allowance.
Not covered by the Act
Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, the Titanic musicians' families were entitled to claim compensation from the employer, so naturally they applied first to the White Star Line. Who however denied liability on the grounds the bandsmen were Second Class passengers and not covered by the Act. The Line suggested that the families contact C. W. and F. N. Black, the real employers. You can guess the rest. Blacks claimed the musicians had been independent contractors. The insurance company said the bandsmen were not workmen as covered by the policy. When the case came to court, the judge was sympathetic, but that was all.
The musicians' union made a final appeal to White Star's sense of moral responsibility: "Three families lost their only sons - three young men ranging from 21 to 24 years of age, cut off in the prime of their life while performing an act of heroism that stirred the whole world to its depths. Surely there is something for the White Star Company to consider over and above the mere terms of an Act of Parliament." It did no good.
In the end, the musicians' families benefited from the Titanic Relief Fund, an umbrella organization set up to manage the charitable contributions that poured in from all over the world.
|Wallace Hartley's funeral, 18 May 1912, Colne, Lancashire|
Meanwhile I've seen that the curator of the Titanic museum has dismissed claims that bandmaster Wallace Hartley's violin has been found as 'preposterous'. So there may be more to this story yet.
And there is. This update is 23 May 2013. The Titanic violin's authenticity has been established "beyond a reasonable doubt" by a CT scan performed at The Ridgeway Hospital in Swindon, Wiltshire. Or at least so claimed an auctioneer to the BBC. Source: Huffington Post.