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Serious doubts emerge about Titanic violin. Would a modern case have saved it?

The Titanic in Lancashire Museum has poured a bucket of iced water on widespread claims that Wallace Hartley’s violin was saved from the Titanic, an assertion made by British auctioneers and repeated by much of the world’s press.

Nigel Hampson, curator of the Colne museum, says: ‘The historical record does not show that Wallace was recovered with his violin strapped to his body – it actually proves the opposite. The inventory of items recovered on Wallace’s body makes no mention whatsoever of a violin or music case or anything similar being found with him.’



Similar dismissals are heard from Titanic experts in the US. Karen B. Kamuda, vice president of the Titanic Historical Society, said she does not believe Hartley’s violin was ever recovered at sea. Detailed records were made of all of the personal effects found on each body brought to Halifax, she said. ‘Every February or March as the anniversary nears, there will be an article in the Daily Mail or Telegraph and it gets picked up the wires like this – a supposed Titanic artifact is found and its provenance can be interpreted very loosely,’ Kamuda said.

My own doubts are more practical. Could a leather violin case in 1912 have afforded enough protection in raging waves to preserve a violin intact? Would a modern case do so? Anyone care to try it out?


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  1. Before modern times, violin cases were wooden, weren’t they?

  2. Maybe, maybe not, but better inquests (there were two) would have determined who was responsible for its damage or loss. Some have suggested the Titanic was really the Olympic an almost identical sister ship that was a flawed vessel sunk for the insurance money, and where the rescue plan went tragically wrong. WIth financiers like J. Pierpont Morgan involved and his financial clout in the U.S. and Britain, it is not inconceivable that the judicial system could have been influenced if not fully compromised. Apparently, he and a number of other high profile individuals had booked passage and suddenly cancelled at the last minute. He died a year after the inquests. If he was one of the perps may he RIP…not. Another conspiracy theory to muse about, otherwise wallow in the movie (like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, and Pearl Harbor and the one they’ll make about 9/11- the Lee Hamilton version.)

  3. Norman, what is your verdict then re: the violin and the opinion of the auction house, Henry Aldridge and Son?
    (See: ) Interesting that the violin will go on display in Belfast, the city where the Titanic and Olympic were built.

  4. Bob from Huntington, NY says:

    According to the reports of the night when Titanic sank there were no raging waves in the Atlantic. Supposedly the calm waters made the icebergs harder to see which partially led to the Titanic strinking one.

  5. It should be noted that the violin, if it was indeed strapped to Hartley’s back, would have sat in below freezing salt water for over two weeks. Hartley’s body was recovered May 4th, 1912. One can only guess the weather or wave conditions during those two weeks before the body was retrieved.

  6. I tend to find this 10-14 day timeframe when the body was supposedly floating in the water to be somewhat questionable. It seems to me reports at the time indicated that there was a major difference in the way the bodies were handled depending on what sort of clothing was found. In other words first class passengers received preferential treatment regarding how fast they were processed, shipped home and in what sort of a container, etc. Third class passengers and White Star staff were treated with a much more shall we say “casual” attitude. So I wonder if May 4 in this case was the actual recovery date. It’s possible the body was on ice for some of that time.
    Having to suddenly manage and coordinate the care for all those bodies back then in the middle of the ocean was a strain on resources.

    Also I wouldn’t necessarily make the assumption that the satchel was strapped to the back. An item is more protected when placed on the chest. Since he was a slim man it could have fit under the life jacket. Or since lifejackets were not as big and bulky back then the violin could have been on top. But any of these possibilities could have made the instrument less exposed to the elements.

  7. Strapped on? Has anybody considered the physics of the situation? Strapped to his back it would have stood a good chance of hold Hartley’s face down in the water — leading to the ironic situation of death-by-violin — at least until the case (and violin) were swamped and flooded. And violins, when soaked with water, tend to fall apart, since the glue holding them together is water soluble. Furthermore I think it unlikely that an improvised strapping system made from materials available in 1912 would have held firm in the North Atlantic for a day or two, let alone two weeks.


    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      Death by violin is hardly ironic. As a matter of fact, for some people it’s poetic justice.

  8. So much hubbub about the violin. Have a look at some of the facts about the musicians that actually add more poignancy to the violin than what the movies and myth portray:

    1. Musicians were listed as second class passengers so that White Star Lines could avoid paying union rate. They were actually given rooms next to the potato peeler/washer.

    2. Some deceased musicians’ families were billed for the uniforms lost at sea.

    3. Upon trying to collect death benefits, the grieving families were told by the hiring talent agency that since they were listed as 2nd class, White Star was to pay benefits. White Star said, no way, they were employees of the C.W. and F.M. Black talent agency, they ought to pay the death benefits.

    The violin has become a symbol of a heroic moment; a group of musicians trying to calm panicking people facing death. Their heroic act was also noted by a few survivors as a bad idea and they criticized the musicians for creating a false sense of security, robbing time from people who didn’t digest the gravity of the situation until it was too late.

    I did extensive research on this a number of years ago and wrote this:

  9. Am I alone in thinking the silver plate looks out of place on the ebony tail-piece? Wouldn’t a piece of metal in that location effect the tone of the instrument? The tarnish looks to be faked- as if it were done with acid.
    The steel screws holding the silver plate also are suspicious in my mind. The hall marks could be fake too.
    Good old greed is at work here IMHO.

    See below.

    “Biggest silver forger in decades brought to justice”

    “Auctioneers on alert as vendor tries to pass off fake silver”

    See photos of fake hall mark stamps here-

    From 1899- “Spurious Marks on English Silver”

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      I’ve just looked at the plate and it really is a bit odd. It reminds me of a bit of research I did once into the historical production of strings, during which I came across an article purporting to be an analysis of a set of strings which once belonged to Paganini. Of course, the story of the provenance of the strings was lost in the fascinating details of their gauge and tension: they had been found in an envelope (where is not important), and of course, we all knew them to be Paganini’s strings because the envelope was marked “Paganini’s Strings”!

      Here is a photograph which the Ahmedabad Mirror claims is of Wallace Hartley. The quality isn’t great, but I can’t seem to find the same plate on this man’s instrument.‘found’.html?pageno=2

  10. Walter Fiddle says:

    The letter in the diary is a fake. See my face book page for the evidence

    Judge for yourself


    Walter Fiddle

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