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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Lancashire

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Myths and Legends
Wallace Hartley: Bandmaster of the Titanic

Richard Howells in the 'The Myth of the Titanic', writes that the first claim that the band played this hymn came from first-class passenger Vera Dick. Page four of the same edition of the New York Times which had Bride’s interview on the front page, carries Vera Dick’s recollection that:

“as the ship sank we could hear the band playing ‘Nearer, My Got, To Thee’. We looked back and could see the men standing on deck absolutely quiet and waiting for the end.”

Funeral procession
Hartley's funeral procession
© Courtesy of Colne Library
As Howells points out, the fact that Dick escaped onboard a lifeboat some hour and 20 minutes before the band were supposed to have played this song, casts doubts on the validity of her memory. However, her claim does demonstrate the desire of both survivors and the public to idealise Hartley’s band, having them play this grave and serious hymn made them even more noble and tragic.

As the legend developed, the claim by one person that Hartley led the band in playing ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ as Titanic sank became accepted as fact. Myths and anecdotes began to appear supporting Wallace Hartley’s legendary rendition. When Hartley’s body was recovered from the sea, it was reported that his music case was still strapped on, bearing his initials. Whilst in a commemorative edition of the Colne and Nelson Times at the time of his funeral, an article attributed to ‘An Old Colne Lad’ set in writing the myth that Hartley had once said in a conversation that he would play ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ if we ever found himself on a sinking ship.

“Wallace Hartley put into practise a resolution he had expressed to a friend, that if ever disaster overtook the ship on which he was abroad he would stick to his violin and play the hymn he loved, ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’.”

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