Bands were expected to play in times of peril aboard the ship to calm the passengers, using upbeat classics to make them forget the tribulations facing them
The sinking of the Titanic is arguably one of the most well-known and iconic disasters in history. When the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean on April 14, 1912, it sank within three hours and killed more than 1,400 people on board.
Since it sunk, the story of the RMS Titanic has been re-told on screen, in books or memoirs adding to the story, again and again, It's like people cannot get enough of this tragedy.
Each adaptation has featured several constants, one being the famed story of Wallace Henry Hartley, the Colne-born band leader who refused to abandon the ship but stayed with his band who used their music to attempt to soothe passengers, reports Lancs Live.
Wallace was born on June 2, 1878 in a small town called Colne of Lancashire, England. His family worked in textile industry for generations, a very common profession for Lancashire citizens considering their booming thread industry.
From a very young age, Wallace appeared to have a great love for music, he sang in Bethel's choir and learned to play the violin from a fellow congregation member before leaving school, later he worked at local companies as a musician.
When Wallace was at the age of 17, his father decided to try his luck in the insurance business and decided to move to Yorkshire. It was then Wallace convinced his father to let him begin his career as a fully fledged musician.
Journey through the Titanic
In 1903, Hartley he left home to join the municipal orchestra in Bridlington, where he stayed for six years.
Wallace later moved to Dewsbury and in 1909 and joined the Cunard Line, a British American cruise line still active today at the age of 29. Cunlard were in direct competition with White Star who would later commission the construction of the Titanic.
He finally joined the RMS Mauretania as bandmaster and whilst aboard all Cunard musicians were transferred to the agency C.W. & F.N. Black, which supplied musicians for Cunard and the White Star Line.
White Star were in the middle of constructing three Olympic-class ocean liners, the biggest and most luxurious passenger ships ever envisioned. One of them was the giant RMS Titanic which weigh over 800 feet in length, had a breadth of 92 feet and measured 104 feet in height, she weighed more than 52,000 tons and could hold some 2,000 passengers plus crew.
Wallace was asked to transfer to the Titanic to be the bandmaster aboard the ship just the day before the Titanic was set to launch, April 10, 1912.
But the 33-year-old was reluctant to leave as he recently proposed his longtime girlfriend to marry him. But then opted put for this opportunity as it could open lots of connections for future endeavors.
The Titanic left Southampton the next day. Wallace would have boarded, possibly kissing his fiancé goodbye at the port, and waved to her as thousands of onlookers hailed the exiting vessel.
What happened at the Titanic
Captain Smith, the captain of the Titanic had spent 40 years at sea, 27 as a captain but had never experienced a crisis, fully aware that the Titanic had just 20 usable lifeboats and some 2,500 people on board. He was fully aware of the fact that many hundreds were going to die at sea.
As passengers crowded the stern to confess and receive absolution from a Catholic priest, Wallace's band played outside the gymnasium before moving out onto the deck.
Bands were expected to play in times of peril aboard the ship to calm the passengers, using upbeat classics to make them forget the tribulations facing them.
George Orrell, the bandmaster of the rescue ship, Carpathia, which would have rescued many of the Titanic's passengers, spoke with survivors and said:"After Titanic struck the iceberg the band began to play bright music, dance music, comic songs – anything that would prevent the passengers from becoming panic-stricken."
"Various awe-stricken passengers began to think of the death that faced them and asked the bandmaster to play hymns. The one which appealed to all was Nearer My God to Thee." he added.
Information is discorded about which songs the band played in those dire last hours Some say the band played the hymn Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, whilst others, like passenger Archibald Gracie who wrote an account of the sinking within months of it happening, say it didn't.
Former bandmates claimed that Hartley had said he would play either "Nearer, My God, to Thee" or "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past" if he were ever on a sinking ship, so either could have been played, or maybe both.
Some say the band played until the very last minutes when it sunk, others say they abandoned the practice half-an-hour before.
A witness aboard lifeboat Collapsible D says he saw Hartley say: "Gentlemen, I bid you farewell" as he was swept away.
It might always stay unknown what truly happened that night but there is no doubt that Hartley and his band put an outstanding portrayal of humanity in that once in a lifetime phenomenal tragedy of world history.
In 1912 a newspaper reported: "The part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea."
Hartley's body was recovered by a rescue ship two weeks after the Titanic sank. He was found fully dressed with his music case strapped to him.
Hartley's father met the returning ship in Liverpool and took his son's body, not to Yorkshire but to his home town of Colne, Lancashire.
The funeral took place on 18 May, 1912, a thousand people attended whilst another 30,000 - 40,000 lined the route of his funeral procession.
The musician was buried in the Keighley Road cemetery, Colne, where a 10 foot high headstone, containing a carved violin at its base, was erected in his honour.