A violin, said to be owned and played by Wallace Hartley aboard the titanic as she sunk from beneath his feet, has been sold for an astounding $1.4 million USD at auction in Wiltshire England. The winning bidder is believed to be British. According to those rescued from Titanic, the heroic group of musicians, led by Hartley, were playing the hymn Nearer My God To Thee right up until the time the ship sank. The auction house said it received bids from all over the world. In the 3 months it was on display in the United States, more than 315,000 people viewed the instrument.
In 2006, Henry Aldridge and Son, Titanic artifacts specialists, were approached by the violin’s owner who wanted to sell it, but it required authenticating. All that was really known about the violin is that Hartley’s fiancée Maria Robinson, in a diary entry, said it was saved from the water in 1912 and returned to her. Following Ms. Robinson’s death in 1939, the violin was given to her local Salvation Army citadel and was later passed onto the current owner’s mother in the early 1940s. According to reports, Mr Hartley’s body was recovered from the water approximately 10 days after the sinking, but the violin was not listed among the inventory of items found with him. It’s claimed however, that the “violin survived in a leather case, strapped to Mr Hartley’s body, which floated upright in his cork and linen life jacket.” According to Mr Adridge, “The violin was in a heavy-duty leather Gladstone type bag, so the violin would have come into contact with water, but it would have been protected by the leather.” It took several years to authenticate the instrument, which can no longer be played. In the examination of the violin, it was found to contain saltwater in its bodywork. It was authenticated following a CT scan in March.
While a Titanic enthusiast from the time I first heard the story as a young child in grammar school, and would like to believe this romantic, heroic tale, the following question begs to be answered. If Mr Hartley and the other musicians did indeed play up until the time the ship sank, precisely when would Mr Hartley have had the time to place the instrument in to a “leather Gladstone bag” and strap it to his body? Why we he have had the violin case on him or near him, as he certainly didn’t know the ship was going to strike an iceberg and sink. And at least one maritime historian has questioned its authenticity. Daniel Allen Butler said in April that the violin could not possibly have been recovered from the Titanic’s wreckage. The genuine article “would have fallen apart after exposure to the waters of the North Atlantic” he said, and “the wood would soon have lost its shine and shape.”