HIS last actions on board the sinking Titanic have gone down in history.
Former Huddersfield Philharmonic violinist Wallace Hartley is remembered as leading the band which played as the ship sank into the freezing Atlantic Ocean.
But now, exactly 98 years after the Titanic sank, a new book released to mark its anniversary casts doubt over Hartley’s effortless playing until the very end.
In fact, there is evidence which claims that Hartley and his fellow musicians put down their instruments half an hour before the Titanic sank.
Titanic collided with an iceberg at 11.40pm on April 14 1912 and sank at 2.20am on April 15 1912, with the loss of 1,500 lives.
In the 98 years since the disaster, many myths have developed about the final hours on board Titanic.
Legend has it that Hartley and his seven bandsmen played the hymn Nearer My God To Thee as the ship sank.
Doubt is raised about that in the book 101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic... But Didn’t! written by author Tim Maltin.
It says First Class Titanic survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie observed: “If Nearer, My God to Thee was one of the selections, I assuredly would have noticed it and regarded it as a tactless warning of immediate death, and more likely to create a panic that our special efforts were directed towards avoiding…”
The book adds: “We also know from a talk given by Archibald Gracie to the Washington University Club in November 1912, shortly before he died from the exposure he suffered the night the Titanic sank, that the band stopped playing about half an hour before the ship sank. He added that he himself saw the musicians lay down their instruments.”
However, the author Tim Maltin himself is wary of relying on their comments, saying: “There is evidence that Hartley once said if he was on a sinking ship he would play Nearer, My God to Thee.
“It could have been that they put their instruments down to get their life jackets because they knew they were doomed, then returned to playing hymns – it’s a strong possibility.”
However, the band’s music left a deep impression on many survivors.
The Countess of Rothes told how, when dining out about a year after the sinking, she experienced the feeling of cold and intense horror she associated with the Titanic. She realised that it was because the orchestra was playing selections from the Tales of Hoffman – played by the Titanic’s band after dinner on the evening of April 14.
A plaque in honour of Hartley remains on the house in West Park Street, Dewsbury, where he lived as an adult. His family moved there from Colne, where he was born.
The book 101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic... But Didn’t! by Tim Maltin is published by Beautiful Books.