Titanic’s Valiant Musicians; Wallace Hartley and the Titanic Ship’s Orchestra




Countless books and articles have been written about one of the greatest maritime disasters in world history, the sinking of the Titanic on the evening of 15 April 1912. The White Star Line ship struck an iceberg and sank on it’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York with a loss of two-thirds of the more than 2,200 people aboard, claiming aristocrats, and immigrants alike. It also claimed the lives of the eight piece Titanic orchestra including its leader Wallace Hartley.

Full studies by eminent musicologists have considered the several probabilities of the music that was played as the ship crossed the threshold into its last moments to sink forever to the bottom of the sea. The following is an effort in deductive reasoning to determine the state of mind of the shipboard musicians whom decided to stay the course and give the passengers a solemn send-off.

In gathering information, much use was made of the news reports of the day, later reconstructions in movies, first person reports, Internet studies, books and articles. Regarding the music performed on the ship it is fair to say that based on the time frame and the music published as well as the knowledge of salon repertoire, a musical blueprint will emerge.

In developing the outline for this article it was necessary to review numerous photographs of military bands to determine if any of the band members were former military musicians. This was a almost a fruitless task, but in a photograph of pianist Theodore Brailey he is seen in the dress uniform of the Royal Artillery band which had one of the finest orchestras in Britain at the time and spawned several significant musicians. Also in a photograph of the Royal Irish Rifles band dated 1909, which included the string section a striking resemblance to John Wesley Woodward, is seen.

Being a musician on a cruise ship in today’s world is not unlike the musician employed in similar work in the past. It is by nature incredibly hard work, you are on call for every conceivable shipboard event and the pay is deplorable. But in every instance the standard of musicianship is essentially star quality in comparison to the salary. The repertoire at the turn of the last century was extensive. The musicians were not employees of the White Star Line, but employees of Black Brothers in Liverpool.

The Black Brothers were artistic agents with several maritime companies. Blacks had a bevy of musicians under contract and as a result could provide the musicians at a lower price. This caused a good deal of antagonism with the Musicians Trade Union, the Amalgamated Musicians Union. On the other hand musicians needed to work and salary with free room and board appeared a good inducement. Their salaries were about $30.00 – 40 US per month with Wallace Hartley probably getting ten dollars more.

The maiden voyage of the Titanic prompted the White Star Line to seek out the best musicians available and as a result Wallace Hartley was extracted from his job with Cunard and off the Mauritania to take over the leadership of the Titanic orchestra. Prior to 1912 the musicians of the transatlantic liners were an integral part of the crew. They received monthly wages of $50.00 US and a uniform allowance of about $7.00 US. At the end of 1911 Black Brothers offered musicians at the lower pay scale and no uniform allowance and the musicians were now under contract to Black Brothers. The musicians were also assigned ticket number 250654 which covered their passage as a group in second class. The fact that they were considered passengers would later work against their families.

Music Styles 1900-1912

At the turn of the last century salon music, a genre ranging from original compositions to arrangements of orchestral works, operas or operatic extracts, was a phenomenon found all over Europe.  To know a piece of detailed information about operas, click here. A growing market, in which direct means of musical production was in it’s infancy, had to be supplied with compositions which were easy on the ear.

By the time of the sailing salon, or dinner music, was at its pinnacle. In the diary of saxophonist Albert A Knecht of the Sousa band he remarks that the 5-piece salon orchestra on the White Star Line ship Baltic was excellent during the John Philip Sousa World cruise of 1910. He said they played in every corner of the ship.

Similarly the Titanic orchestra performed nightly for the diners in or near the first class dining saloon. They also played regularly at the Veranda and Palm Court next to the First class smoking room. Dining in First Class was a formal occasion every night including the night to be remembered. The A la Carte dining room and the Parisien restaurants which were in close proximity also had musical entertainment on a daily and nightly occasion. The Grand Staircase was the focal point of the Titanic and behind the staircase was a spacious Reception room, where guests would arrive before dinner to discuss the day’s activities. The eight players usually separated into two groups. A trio played mostly in the lounge of the ala Carte reception room and the second-class dining room.

The other group members including Wallace Hartley remained in the first class lounge or in the dining saloon or the first class entrance to the boat deck. The portable string players would often venture into the midst of diners to provide music as strolling strings, where they would serenade the patrons with requests. A diverse and extensive repertoire was necessary. Mostly the orchestra kept to the ship policy of being heard but not seen, setting up behind palms and outside doorways. The policy of performing without being conspicuous was what the White Star Line referred to as their “seamless” crew and employees. The orchestra was in attendance for Sunday services, which were usually conducted by Captain Edward John Smith, and the orchestra led the congregation in the hymn sing.

Since there was limited rehearsal space the orchestra met each morning in the instrument storage room on Deck E near the laundry locker located in the adjacent passageway. This deck was also to house the cramped quarters of the musicians and was in close proximity to the stern of the ship. The musicians room is shown on a cutaway drawing of the Titanic with the notation “musicians 5”. Deck E or Upper Deck in the ship configuration.

It was 3rd class accommodation but the ship’s band all appear on the “did not survive” listing as second class passengers. Since there was not an indication of where the remaining three musicians were quartered they may have been in the printer’s cabin, which held sixteen in bunk beds and was located next to the musician’s cabin. Their accommodation has been described as very cramped, and diagrams showing the interior of crew cabins do indicate bunk beds.

Bandmaster Wallace Hartley would provide a schedule of the day’s activities, meals. Rehearsals were brief, almost certainly for starts and stops, or musical marks to be observed. Orchestra musicians were all members of the Amalgamated British Musician’s Union and had been hand picked by bandmaster Wallace Hartley through the musicians agency C.W. and F.W. Black of Liverpool Most of the musicians had vast experience on other ships of the line as well as the Cunard Ship Lines. Their professionalism is unquestionable based on their backgrounds, training and musicianship. Musician’s work to clock and the following is a frequently used method of scheduling performance routine on a daily basis.

*It has been recounted that dancing was discouraged on Titanic, and it not alluded to in the enormous volumes of material available to the author.

The popularity of small ensemble music was due for the most part to the rise of young virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler. By 1910 the Austrian prodigy enjoyed enormous success and recognition, as a performer, which was reinforced by his numerous short tuneful compositions many of which by the time of the sailing of the Titanic had made their way into the small ensemble music list. Schon Rosmarin and Liebeslied are but two pieces that had gained universal appeal.


In examination of several books and articles, which refer to the Titanic “band”, it would appear that for all intents and purposes that it was a string orchestra. Orchestra members were pre-selected by Wallace Hartley in conjunction with Black Brothers and some had experience on other White Star and Cunard ensembles. Others may have worked with on the RMS Mauritania and RMS Baltic.

The pianist Theodore Ronald Brailey was very experienced, particularly because he had to fill in instrumental holes. What that means can be explained by outlining the instrumentation of a Ragtime band orchestration by Scott Joplin. The Maple Leaf Rag written by Joplin in 1898 and it was scored for piccolo, Bb clarinet Alto sax, trumpet Trombone, Violins 1 and 2, viola, cello, Bass, Piano and drums. Theodore Ronald Brailey certainly had numerous cues to play within the music.

Fixed instruments included five grand pianos and an Aeolian electric organ were stationed at various locations throughout the ship. As well two upright pianos (for steerage class sing- a -longs) were to be found on the ship. A set of bagpipes also was sent to the ocean floor when the ship sunk. They were owned by passenger Eugene Patrick Daly, and were Uillean Pipes. Two of the numbers he was known to play were Erin’s Lament and A Nation Once Again.

Some of the items discovered by Robert Ballard in July 1986 and 1987 during the search and salvaging of the Titanic were viewed by the author in Victoria BC at the Titanic artefacts display in 2007. It was disclosed that paper products did not survive with the exception of a piano/conductor part for a turn of the century number titled “Pleasant Memories”. Also discovered was a Db piccolo and a music holder or lyre.

The instrument as shown in the display was very good quality despite the ravages of the sea, and one could determine that this was a professional type instrument. The lyre was for a clarinet as it can be distinguished from other instrumental music holders by the fact that there is a place for a screw nut on it’s underside (screw missing). The following is a chart showing the musician and instrument(s) played by the orchestra with remarks’

Percy Cornelius Taylor was listed as cellist but it is unlikely that Wallace Hartley would select three cellists for an eight-piece group. A balanced instrumental ensemble would see the scenario of Bandmaster (violin) Wallace Hartley, John Law Hume (violin), Brailey (piano), John Frederick Preston Clarke (string Bass-Viola), John Wesley Woodward (cello), in the five piece group and Georges Alexandre Krins (violin), Percy Cornelius Taylor (piano) and Roger Marie Bricoux(cello) in the trio.

The fact that within the full ensemble that groups would break up and move individually or in pairs from room to room or to the tables for tips lends more credence to there being string players whom could play in a continental style.

The White Star Line was very interested in having the presence of continental musicians near both the Parisien and A la Carte dining rooms. Both Belgian musician Georges Alexandre Krins and French Cellist Roger Marie Bricoux fitted that scenario. Violinist John Law Hume also had the ability as a busker and there is no doubt that he delighted passengers with his artistry in other locations including the veranda.

A subject that needs to be scrutinized is the issue of both the White Star Line music book and the notion that the musicians would be required to memorize all of the music contained in the book. In one account it is stated emphatically that there was a “standard 352 piece repertory”, and this was reiterated in Ian Whitcomb’s TitanicSongbook where he states that there was a 352-piece songbook, which had to be learned, by name and number.

The music played will be discussed later but generally the Titanic “book” consisted of light music, waltzes, romances, serenades, excerpts from opera, period pieces, polkas, marches, show tunes and the newest sensation, ragtime. Whitcomb also refers to 114 in the White Star Line music book as “Songe d’Automne” being played on the Boat Deck by the strings as the passengers tried to escape the frenzy of the sinking ship.

Since this chronicle relies on research and some supposition, it is hoped that a little common sense musical logic can be applied. The musicians selected for the cruise ship industry were schooled musicians with both orchestral and small ensemble experience. Thus, despite the fact that they may have had the ability to ad-lib or perform as buskers, they were professional musicians who took their craft seriously and they must have strived for musical accuracy. A posed photograph of an orchestra purported to be on the Titanic but is probably from the Olympic clearly shows music on the piano rack. In addition Walter Lord in his book “The Night Lives On” categorically states that both groups had separate libraries of music. The library meaning is music at hand.

The best example of music that needs distinctive nuance is the “Blue Danube Waltz” by Johannes Strauss (Junior 1825-1899). The melodic line for this waltz certainly is not difficult to place in the memory bank. All that one can do however is to scrutinize the accompaniment which is the rhythmic essential in all waltzes, there are bars and bars of after beats, often shifting rapidly with chord changes. This was the job of the 2nd violin, cellist and string bass to provide a solid musical background. Just imagine having 352 pieces of music, some 3 and 4 pages long, with several bars and memorizing the cello parts. This is an improbable scenario for any ensemble or musician. Most string ensembles seen by the author on present day cruise ships have 40-50 tunes memorized, which they play over and over again during a seven-day voyage.

The outpouring of sympathy by musicians all over England when they went down and the solidarity of the major London orchestras attested to Titanic band’s classical training and ability.

In the end the fact that the music was numbered in the White Star Line book is the universal method for calling out dance sets. This is certainly very strong evidence that music existed and was performed.

The Titanic Musicians

Wallace Hartley – Bandmaster – Violin. He was born in the small community of Colne, Lancashire. He was born in 1878 and studied under his father who was choirmaster of the local Bethel Methodist church. He began the study of the violin at an early age and reached a high level of proficiency by the time he was 15. He was a fleeting member of the Huddersfield Philharmonic orchestra in 1898, but he was sent a letter asking him “if they (the H.P.O.) can rely on your attendance for rehearsals and concerts”. It was a reminder that they needed his services in the orchestra.

It appears that he returned the next season as he is shown as a member in 1899. Later he was first violin of orchestras in Bridlington and Harrogate. In 1909 he decided to become a cruise musician. He was hired by the music-booking agency C.W. and FW Black out of Liverpool and assigned to various cruise ships in the White Star Line and Cunard registries. He appeared as a musician on the liners Arabic, and Baltic In 1910 he was offered the leadership of the band on the Cunard Liner Mauritania. Before leaving to take up a position of bandmaster on the Titanic. He was credited with having made 80 voyages. He joined the Titanic at age 33 and was a fully professional all-around-musician. The lure of being leader of the biggest and most decadent ship in the world helped to convince him to take the position plus the increase in pay.

He was a very skilled violinist and leader. It was said he had very nimble fingers for jigs, reels and ragtime. Wallace Hartley was selected for leadership of the orchestra, because of his reputation as a highly trained arranger, composer and player and a man with the common touch. After the band stopped playing he was not seen again and his body was recovered by the Cable Steamer Mackay Bennet. He was dressed in his uniform, which had green facings, a brown overcoat and black boots. Some of his effects included a gold fountain pen, solitaire ring, silver cigarette case, and silver matchbox marked W.H.H. As well as a nickel watch. His music case was also found strapped to his body. (see note 1)

John Frederick Preston Clarke – Bass Violin and Viola. John Clarke’s home residence was listed as Smithdown Road Liverpool and he was the string bass player with the ship’s orchestra. He was a member of the Amalgamated Musician’s Union. Prior to joining the Titanic he had been a member of the Argyle Theatre of Varieties. He was well known in the Birkenhead, which is a town on the Wirral Peninsula on the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite Liverpool. The town was famous as a seaport and as a centre for shipbuilding as it was close to the maritime activity of Liverpool. His proximity to Liverpool presented him an opportunity to obtain employment in the cruise industry with the White Star Line.

He was 35 when he perished and was wearing a grey overcoat and uniform with green facing. His effects included a diamond pin, gold watch, and a memo book. Although the contents of the memo book were never divulged it may have been used to help maintain his work schedule. The Steam Ship Mackay – Bennett, recovered his body and he was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Halifax Nova Scotia Canada. He was 30 years old at the time of his death.

W. Theodore Ronald Brailey – Piano. He was a resident of London and had previously served on the Cunard steamer Carpathia before join the White Star Line. As noted previously Brailey was part of a gifted group of pianists who could condense music score for a small group and provide numerous instrumental cues. He was a resident of London England. Prior to joining the band of the Titanic he was on the Cunard Steamer Carpathia. Brailey was an airman having been associated with the Freshfield Aerodrome. He was a member of the Southport Pier Pavilion band before taking employment in the cruise industry. His body was not recovered.

Roger Marie Bricoux – Cello. Roger Marie Bricoux was a permanent resident of 5 Place du Lion d/Or in Lille, France prior to sailing with the Cunard Line on the Carpathia. Lille is located in the historical region of Flanders, a few kilometres from border with Belgium.

He was born in France (place not known). Lille was an industrial city in the early 1900’s but there were a number of orchestra venues, particularly in the variety theatres, which were popular in France. Prior to joining the Carpathia and Titanic he was known to live in Monaco, France. His body if recovered was never identified.

John Law Hume – Violin. John Law Hume was 28 years old when the Titanic went down. He was a professional violinist from Dumfries Scotland, which is located in the south west of Scotland. Dumfries is the birthplace of Robbie Burns. The town is home to the Dumfries Academy, which has had music as part of the curriculum since 1889. It is possible that John Law Hume attended the school and began the study of violin as they produced a musical play every year beginning in the 1890’s. John Law Hume must have made application to Black Brothers and since he was a well-known talented violinist the music contractor for service on the Titanic hired him. An interesting sidelight to his membership in the orchestra was the incident of Black’s notice regarding the uniform, which John Law Hume was forced to purchase as a member of the Titanic band. The letter which post dated his drowning on the Titanic by over two weeks stated: C.W.& F.N Black

30 April 1912

We shall be obliged if you will remit us the sum of 5s. 4d, which is owing us as per the enclosed statement. We will also be obliged if you will settle the enclosed uniform account.’

The uniform account was for 14 shillings and 7 pence. It appeared that to Black Brothers nothing was sacred. John Law Hume was a very gifted busker and was adept in flushing out tips from the Titanic passengers in the first class areas of the ship. When his body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett he was dressed in his uniform, a light raincoat and a purple muffler. His effects included a cigarette case, a silver watch, and a knife with a carved pearl handle. John Law Hume was buried in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 8th 1912.

Georges Alexandre Krins – Violin. Georges Alexandre Krins was born in Paris on March 18th; 1889. He was accepted for violin study at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liege Belgium on October 30th and studied there until 1908. The College, which Georges Alexandre Krins attended, is one of the most prestigious music schools in Europe, even by today’s standards. He seemingly had a desire to seek a career as a military musician, but his parents persuaded him to remain a civilian violinist. He worked for his father and also played in La Grande Symphonie of Spa, Belgium that had become his family’s home.

In 1910 he performed as first violin at Le Trianon Lyrique in Paris. He eventually moved to London and played for two years at the Ritz Hotel which was a perfect fit as the Hotel had a Parisian flavour and “tea at the Ritz|” was the favourite pastime by London’s elite. In April 1912 he was recruited by Black Brothers of Liverpool to play on the Titanic. He was the leader of the trio which played near the A la Carte restaurant. His last known address was in Brixton. He was the most well skilled and educated musician among the professional musicians on board the ship. There is a good possibility that Georges Alexandre Krins was seeking to immigrate to the United States where good orchestral playing positions were in abundance. Georges Alexandre Krins died in the disaster. His body if recovered was never identified.

Percy Cornelius Taylor – Cello and Piano. Percy Cornelius Taylor was a resident of London and was part of the London musical community and a well-trained professional musician with the ability to play both cello and piano. After scouring numerous photographs of military bands in Britain, a photograph, which is believed to be Percy Cornelius Taylor as cellist with the Irish Rifles band in 1909, is shown in figure 4.

John Wesley Woodward – Cello. John Wesley Woodward was born in West Bromwich England on September 11th 1879. West Bromwich is in the heart of the West Midlands and is known, as “Black Country” The city is not far from the soccer Mecca of Wolverhampton. He grew up in a family of six brothers and two sisters. He later moved to Oxford where they lived in the community of Headington. It was discovered at an early age that he had musical talent and he was trained on the cello and grew up playing in a number of string quartets (2 violins, viola, and cello). He left Oxford to join the Duke of Devonshire band in Eastbourne, but he found he was not cut out to be a serviceman.

In 1909 he joined the White Star Line, initially cruising to Jamaica in the Caribbean. He made several Trans-Atlantic sailings and at least three across the Mediterranean. He was on board the Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke and he narrowly escaped injury. He had taken his prized best cello for employment on the Titanic and he was scheduled to play at the May dinner of Magdelen College, Oxford. His brother Thomas Woodward became a well-known tenor vocalist with the Magdelen choir. John Wesley Woodward perished in the disaster. His body if recovered, was never identified.

The Music the Titanic Orchestra Played

The Romantic period in music began in 1815 and ended in 1900. The 1890’s was described as a gilded age, an era of supreme elegance and it carried on until the First World War in 1914, when there was a dramatic shift to military music and songs of war. The elements of music from the 1890’s were particularly romantic in light music. There was an abundance of love songs, waltzes with romantic titles such as Love’s Dream and Somebody’s Sweetheart I want to Be. The melody and harmony of the music remained consistently traditional.

The timbre of the romantic period was of large orchestras, choirs, bands and most prominently small ensembles. In the early period of the twentieth Century a large volume of printed music was available. There was vast array of selections from shows, Fantasies, Serenades, Airs from opera, potpourri of classical nuggets, and medleys of music by popular composers and collections of songs. The music libraries of small ensembles were filled with the overtures of Jacques Offenbach, Waltzes by the Strauss family and music hall medleys.

American music had just begun to become a craze in Britain and the continent and it was led by the new and exciting Ragtime music. The compositions of the American composer Irving Berlin had made it’s way across the Atlantic and British composer Lionel Monckton’s smash hit The Acadians was making it’s first appearance on Broadway at the Liberty theatre in 1910. The following is a sampling of the music, which would have appeared in the White Star Line songbook.

The Fateful Night -April 15th 1912

“It was an event that made the world awake and rub its eyes”. Said surviving passenger Lawrence Beesley. The greatest most majestic ship in the world struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic and sank within hours. This was the biggest event of the Twentieth Century. The heaven on earth ship had given way to the dangers that lurk in the sea, an iceberg the size of a 10-story building and the watertight compartments were overwhelmed because of a huge gash in the forward bulkhead. The collision had taken place at 11:40 on the 14th and within minutes water had started to rush into the boiler rooms. Thus began the slow and painful demise of one the world’s crowning achievements. It was the beginning of the end for the Titanic, the death of a dream.

Wallace Hartley very quickly realized that he and the band must play to calm the passengers by playing up tempo ragtime and waltzes. It was probably the only time that the two groups had joined together during the short voyage. The orchestra members were roused and dressed in their green uniforms and wearing overcoats they moved with the throngs that were shuffling about, unaware that Titanic had received mortal damage.

Many of the first class passengers had made their way to the lounge and the orchestra had struck up a variety of waltzes, polkas, and ragtime tunes and as one passenger expressed “there was a feeling of gaiety”. They were able to play in this location because one of the small upright pianos was located in the lounge near the first class staircase, which entered onto the boat deck. As the passengers made their way from their cabins out to the lifeboats they continued to provide entertainment.

As the first class area of the lounge emptied they moved out on the deck near the doorway to the lounge and the grand staircase. From here they continued without the piano, and with a reduced group of 5-6 players with the remote possibility that one of the musicians added another voice on piccolo. The others stood by in hope they could at least help passengers and one passenger recalls seeing a musician helping a woman on with her life jacket and into one of the lifeboats.

The ship had begun to take on masses of water and it began to list, which caused consternation among the passengers, Wallace Hartley urged his musicians on, playing waltzes and other well known brisk tunes. Passengers who were now lowered to the sea in lifeboats were rowed by crew to some distance from the ship. They could still hear above the din, the orchestra playing lively tunes.

One has to wonder now at the character of the musicians. When all around them there was panic and trauma they kept playing. They stayed their post through all of the agony that now had filtered through to the passengers It had become common knowledge there was not enough lifeboats and many would perish. The ship was now commencing its final death clatter. It was at this time that they began to play what has been described as a hymn of sacrifice. A lasting musical memento for many of the passengers who were never to see the light of day again and for those that survived.

There is also much mystification on what was their last song. From the lifeboats, a number of different songs were heard. Among them is “Nearer, My God to Thee”. Both the American and British survivors recall hearing it. This hymn is ordinarily played to entirely different music on both sides of the Atlantic.

Survivors recall hearing three different tunes in all! I find it very unlikely they played all of them unless the trio played in a different location. Also in the running are the hymn “Autumn” and the slow waltz “Songe d’Automne”. It is important to note that there were two separate bands on the Titanic and they had two totally different playing styles. None of the band members survived.

A book which was published in 1912 by a firm in Philadelphia titled “On Board the Titanic” has a illustrated page showing the hymn as played by the Titanic band called Autumn. This is the hymn that was suggested in a statement by Harold Sydney Bride the surviving wireless operator when he said, “From Aft came the tunes of the band. it was a ragtime tune , I don’t know what . Then there was Autumn” He may have been referring to the slow waltz Songe d’Automne, which had become very popular.

Following the catastrophe music was published to commemorate the sinking and Nearer to My God to Thee became a hit sensation along with tunes called Be British, The Ship will Never Sink and The Wreck of the Titanic.

With the end being very close, Wallace Hartley called to his comrades that they may try and save themselves. None chose to do so and they remained together on the boat deck until the slope of the ship did not enable them to continue playing. Inevitably they stopped playing, as it was impossible to remain upright. Surviving passenger Colonel Archibald Gracie mentioned in a speech he made in November 1912 that he remembers the band stopped playing and laid down their instruments about a half hour before the ship sunk. Gracie had been aboard almost to the end and recalls that he was there when they ceased performing. A member of the orchestra was seen by a surviving passenger dragging his cello with the spike still intact, to some other location.

The final moments come at 2:18 am as all of the lifeboats have gone; no ship has been able to reach the Titanic in time. The crowd of people including orchestra members are on the stern and there is no hope of rescue. As the bow sinks further and further the stern is lifted out of the water and a huge roar is heard as the ship breaks in two and within moments the lights go out. The stern will raise completely upright, then slide out of sight into the icy water of the Atlantic.

Aftermath and Memorial

The heroism of the musicians was immortalized in the words of second class passenger Lawrence Beesley when he said” Much of the acts of courage achieved themselves this night, but none equalized the notch of those men who continued to play minute after minute while the ship was inserted more and more towards the place where they played – the music which they performed serving as a requiem.” and he went on to by saying “they had the right to be engraved forever on the shelves of eternal glory.”

Later it was learned through the secretary of the Trade Union of Musicians of Britain that the band had received an order to play in order to avoid panic. It was also disclosed that none of them were wearing life jackets. First class passenger Pierre Marechal wrote later that he was convinced that in they’re both receiving the orders and responding, that they had sacrificed their lives in order to avoid disorder on board.

Katherine Gold another survivor said that when she left the ship, she saw men on the boat deck smoking cigarettes and tapping their feet to the sound of the lively and cheerful music of the orchestra. She said “I was particularly struck by seeing a violinist playing with a large life jacket in front of him. At that moment, the music was ragtime”.

As the word filtered out that the great liner Titanic had hit an iceberg and sunk with the loss of several lives, the tales of survivors became front-page news in world newspapers. Headlines in Britain’s Daily Sketch screamed Orchestra Played On, and in New York the Times said Band Played Solemn Hymn As Great Ship Sunk. Eventually the name of the bandmaster Wallace Hartley surfaced as the central figure on the ship when it went down. The ensemble had achieved immortality. The bravery of the leader and band members in their effort to convey hope and comfort to others without any consideration of their own safety created a outpouring of sympathy around the world.

Wallace Hartley was laid to rest in a ceremony befitting a monarch. The newspaper account describes the solemn occasion as “pageantry beyond Belief”. Over forty thousand people attended the funeral on May 18th 1912. Seven bands led the possession. Bass Violinist John Clarke was buried in Halifax Nova Scotia and the funeral was held on May 3rd 1912. Violinist John Law Hume was interred in Fairview Cemetery on May 8th 1912. The Royal Canadian Regiment band under Captain Michael Ryan played these funerals and those of other passengers whose bodies were recovered.

In 1915 a statue of Wallace Hartley was erected in Colne to commemorate his heroism. In November 1912 a plaque was placed at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, The hall was destroyed by fire in 1933 and also sustained damage during the war, but the plaque survived. The All Saints church in Headington near Oxford, England has an unadorned Brass Plaque in dedication to cellist John Wesley Woodward. A memorial was unveiled in Southampton in 1913, but was destroyed during the war. A replica was unveiled in 1990. Violinist Georges Krins was finally remembered in 2002 with a plaque, which was placed on the Hotel Cardinal in Spa Belgium. His parents had lived at this location in 1910 and 1911.

Royal Albert Hall was the setting for an remarkable concert On May 24, 1912 in the city of London. Several orchestras combined to number more than 500 performers for a once-in-a-lifetime performance for The Titanic Band Memorial Concert conducted by Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Henry Wood, Percy Pitt, Landon Ronald Thomas Beecham and the Dutch conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Willem Mengelberg. The orchestra played several commemorative pieces including Arthur Sullivan’s In Memoriam Overture, and Chopin’s Funeral March. Henry Wood also provided an orchestration of the Hymn Nearer my God to Thee. The solemnity of the occasion was heightened by the voices of many of the audience. A rare photograph of the concert survives and the massed orchestras clearly reflect the respect and admiration the British musicians had for Wallace Hartley and the Titanic band.

The decision by the White Star line to carry the musicians as 2nd passengers in order to avoid paying them the shilling that was paid to personnel to make them official members of the crew would come back to haunt the families of the orchestra members. They were unable to claim for financial benefits under the Workman’s Compensation Act. White Star Line insisted that they were second class passengers and not covered by the act. As well Black Brothers in Liverpool completely abdicated their responsibility to the musicians and declared that the families should seek redress from the insurer. But the insurer claimed they were passengers working as independent contractors and were using Blacks as there booking company.

The families finally went to court and the decision rendered was they were passengers working as independent contractors not employees. Even when the Musicians Union made an appeal to the White Star Line saying the men had performed an act of heroism, the Shipping Line did not relent. In the end the Titanic Relief Fund saved the families, which was an umbrella organization for worldwide charities. The White Star Line had demonstrated an appalling lack of gratitude to the musicians.


The military refrain “Ours is not to question why, ours is to but to do or die” echoes throughout the disaster of the Titanic and the response made by Wallace Hartley and the orchestra. Conventional wisdom would tell us it was plain suicide to stand on the boat deck playing while others sought to save themselves. In discussing what took place at the turn of the last century it is a far cry from today‘s world. Gallantry was not always the domain of the soldier. The official gallantry award system for acts of heroism at sea has evolved since 1854. Noble acts of heroism at sea often took place and were rewarded with a civilian Gallantry medal. The orchestra members were performing in an atmosphere of chaos, well above the call of duty.

The idea of playing music to calm fears and for people to move in an orderly fashion in the face of danger was recognized long before the Titanic disaster. John Philip Sousa the American bandmaster was called upon at various times with his band to quiet down unruly crowds during his outdoor concerts by playing one of his dazzling marches. Bands and orchestras playing for dancing would often break up drunken brawls by breaking into national anthems. The idea that the passengers on the Titanic were lulled into a false sense of security by the band playing ragtime and that more of them might have been rescued as has been recently presented may have some merit. We must however, draw our own conclusions from the turmoil that took place during the last terrible moments of the demise of the Titanic. The legend of the Titanic band continues to this day. Their devotion to duty has made them immortal.

No one will ever know what was in Wallace Hartley’s mind or that of his musicians. Earlier in his career he told a friend what he might play if a ship he was on was sinking but he never alluded to the fact that he would remain until the bitter end. The course he took cannot be measured in words; it is the deed that really counts, purely and simply an act of valour. A newspaper at the time of the catastrophe reported “the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moment will rank among the noblest in the annuls of heroism at sea.”


There are several works from which information was reviewed; this list is by no means the complete list.


Titanic and Illustrated History – Don Lynch

Unsinkable – Daniel Allen Butler

A Night to Remember – Walter Lord

The Night Lives On – Walter Lord

Titanic Halifax: A Guide to Sites – Alan Jeffers and Rob Gordon

The Titanic Song Book – Mel Bay Presents – Collection by Ian Whitcomb 1997

The Sinking of the Titanic Eyewitness Accounts – Jay Henry Mowbray

Titanic – Simon Adams

Building the Titanic – Rod Green

The Birth of the Titanic – Michael McCaugan – 1998

Story of the Titanic – Dr Dr Eric Kentley

Titanic Conspiracy – Robin Gardiner

The Story of the Titanic As Told By Its Survivors – Jack Winocour

On Board the Titanic – Logan Marshall

The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa – Paul Bierley


The Titanic Videos 1 and 2 A and E Television Network 1994

Newspaper Accounts:

The London Sketch

The New York Times

The London Daily Mail

Toronto Globe


Encyclopaedia Titanica

2 The Titanic orchestra instrumentation of the eight pieces according to the London daily Sketch April 1912 was Piano (Brailey), Wallace Hartley (Violin and bandmaster) First violin (John Law Hume) Violin (Georges Alexandre Krins), Clarke (viola) Cellos (Bricoux, Percy Cornelius Taylor and Woodard) String Bass . Taylor also played piano.

4 Gravesite viewed by the author in July 1994.