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Myths and Legends
Wallace Hartley
Wallace Hartley

© Courtesy of Colne Library
Wallace Hartley: Bandmaster of the Titanic

Early life and tragic death

Wallace Hartley was born in the Lancashire town of Colne on 2 June 1878 to Albion and Elizabeth. He was introduced to music at an early age through the local Methodist Chapel where his father was choirmaster. By the age of 15, Hartley was already accustomed to giving violin solos and a career in the music industry beckoned.

After a brief spell as a bank clerk, Hartley returned to his musical roots when he landed his first job on a transatlantic cruise liner. In 1912, Hartley was headhunted by the White Star Line to lead one of the two bands on the Titanic. The Titanic was built on an extravagant scale, White Star Line did their utmost to ensure she was the most luxurious liner of her time. Evidently Hartley’s career as a band conductor was a success, only the best would do for the Titanic and that, it seemed, was Wallace Hartley.

Memorial headstone of Wallace Hartley
Hartley's memorial
© Courtesy of Colne Library
Hartley was leader of Titanic’s quintet band which generally played after dinner concerts and Sunday Services. On the evening of April 14th 1912, few passengers onboard Titanic noticed or paid attention to the jolt as the iceberg struck the side of the ship. As the seriousness of the situation became apparent, Wallace Hartley assembled the band on deck and started playing. According to Philip Gibbs, British journalist and author of the hugely popular ‘The Deathless Story of the Titanic’ published two weeks after the tragedy, the band began by playing the “latest popular melodies”. Once the band realised the gravity of their own and the passengers’ plight, instead of trying to save themselves, legend has it that they began playing hymns. Gibbs’ account describes how they “played until they were waist high in water” and were only silenced when “the ship reared up in her death agony”.


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Your comments

1 Louise Paemen from Abingdon OXON - 13 December 2003
"My grandmother always told us that she was related to Wallace, either her cousin or her mother's.I do know that my mother's mothers' mother was Josephine Hartley and she was related to the Hartleys jam family. Thanks very much. "




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