Wallace Henry Hartley
June 2, 1878
April 15, 1912 (age 33)
Perished on Titanic
New York, U.S.A.
Perished on the Titanic
Wallace Henry Hartley (2 June 1878 – 15 April 1912) was an English violinist and the bandleader on the RMS Titanic. He led the eight-member band as the ship sank on 15 April 1912. Hartley perished in the sinking.
Life and career[edit | edit source]
Hartley was born and raised in Colne, Lancashire. His father was the choirmaster at Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel. It was his father who introduced "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to the congregation, and it became one of Wallace's favourite hymns.
RMS Titanic[edit | edit source]
Wallace and his orchestra were responsible for creating an agreeable ambience in the first-class section of the ship, especially in the dining area during mealtimes.
Sinking[edit | edit source]
After the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, Hartley and his fellow band members were again playing in the dining hall to entertain the passengers while they waited around in their life vests for further instructions. As the night went on they were tasked with allaying panic out on the deck instead. They initially broke into a rendition of a wedding dance tune.
The atmosphere became increasingly hectic, and their music ineffective, and they were jostled by the crowd. A fellow violinist suggested they give up as no-one was paying attention. Hartley pointed out the passengers paid no more attention to them while they played during dinner, and it was the best way they had of keeping warm. At Hartley's direction they then started playing Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld", better known as the Can-Can.
With all lifeboats launched the band decided their work was done, and wished each other well as they parted company. Hartley began a melancholy solo rendition of "Nearer, My God, to Thee". Hearing this, the bandmembers returned to his side to accompany him. After concluding this, Hartley told his fellow bandmembers it had been a privilege playing with them in such conditions.
In Rose's Titanic Heaven, Hartley was seen in the variation of the Titanic clapping for her as she reunited with Jack.
Behind the scenes[edit | edit source]
He was portrayed by Jonathan Evans-Jones.
In reality, the final song played by the band is unknown, though "Nearer, My God, to Thee" has gained popular acceptance. If it were "Nearer, My God, to Thee", Hartley would almost certainly have played Arthur Sullivan's "Propior Deo" version, used by his father, not the "Bethany" version used in the film. This tune's opening notes appear on Hartley's memorial and were played at his funeral. Ironically "Propior Deo" is the only version of the hymn not to have been used in any Titanic motion picture. See here for a more historically plausible rendering of the scene.
Hartley's body was recovered almost two weeks after the sinking, and sent to England. Hartley's funeral took place in Colne on 18 May 1912. Hartley is buried there, and a 10-foot headstone, containing a carved violin at its base, was erected in his honour.
Hartley's violin had been given to him by his fiancée as an engagement present. The violin was also recovered along with his body. It was returned to his fiancée but vanished until it was rediscovered in an attic in 2006. After it was authenticated and restored, it was sold in 2013 for $1.7M, making it the most expensive Titanic artefact ever sold.
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