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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

A hero’s welcome

Procession crowd
Hartley's funeral procession
© Courtesy of Colne Library
In the two weeks that elapsed between the disaster and the recovery of Wallace Hartley’s body, the legendary rendition of ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ had become an accepted part of the Titanic story. By May 18th 1912, when his body returned to his home town of Colne to be buried, Hartley was famous across the country as the musician who bravely met his death with a fanfare. Colne played host to a phenomenal turnout for the funeral; according to the local paper, the Colne and Nelson Times, 40,000 people lined the route of the funeral cortege.

“The coffin bearing his remains passed before the eyes of a multitude, saddened but proud, stricken in heart but of manly bearing, grave, yet secretly grateful that a townsman and a friend should have died so heroically.”

People in funeral procession
Hartley's funeral procession
© Courtesy of Colne Library
This final comment reveals the ownership which Hartley’s home town took of his fame and courageous reputation. Hartley provided the town of Colne with a proud connection to the Titanic disaster, the aftershock of which was gripping the entire nation. Hartley’s grave has a carved violin and open hymn book. The notes inscribed on the hymn book are the opening bars pf ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’, setting in stone the legend that Hartley welcomed death with this poignant hymn.

Colne paid homage to their most famous townsman in a fittingly musical manner; no less than nine bands took part in the funeral procession. Music lies at the heart of the Hartley legend. Music was the reason Hartley was onboard Titanic, whilst his desire to continue playing music secured his fate. It is fitting, then, that music was the tool of manipulation, responsible for Hartley’s legend.

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Your comments

1 John Naylor from Victoria, Australia - 4 January 2004
"The heroism of the band of the Titanic was recognised in the goldfield's city of Ballarat in Victoria and the mining town of Broken Hill in New South Wales by the building of two fine and expensive rotundas, or bandstands, which were situated in the city centres."

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