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date: 04 October 2023

Hartley, Wallace Henryfree


Hartley, Wallace Henryfree

  • Philip Carter

Wallace Henry Hartley (1878–1912)

by unknown photographer, 1912 [the band of RMS Titanic: John Frederick Preston Clarke, Percy Cornelius Taylor; Georges Alexandre Krins, Wallace Hartley, William Theodore Ronald Brailey; Jock Hume, John Wesley Woodward]

© Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans

Hartley, Wallace Henry (1878–1912), musician and bandleader on the RMS Titanic, was born on 2 June 1878 at 136 Greenfield Hill, Colne, Lancashire, the second of the six children (four surviving) of Albion Hartley (1850–1934), mill manager, and his wife, Elizabeth, née Foulds (1851–1927), worsted weaver. Following the destruction of Greenford Mill by fire in 1885 Albion Hartley found new employment as an agent of the Refuge Assurance Company. The family moved to 1 Burnley Road, Colne, and Wallace attended the George Street Wesleyan school. There he took up the violin and later joined the local orchestral society; he also sang in Colne's Bethel chapel where his father was the choirmaster. On leaving school Hartley was employed as a clerk at the local Craven and Union Bank, and in 1893 he moved with his family to 35 Somerset Road, Almondbury, Huddersfield, following his father's appointment as a superintendent for the Refuge. Hartley had continued to play the violin and now joined the town's philharmonic orchestra, becoming a professional performer by 1901 and leaving Huddersfield for the Bridlington Municipal Orchestra two years later. After a couple of seasons he returned to live with his family, who had since moved to Leeds, and took a position with a café orchestra in the city. About this time he met Maria Robinson (1880–1939), the daughter of a Leeds manufacturer, then resident in Boston Spa, to whom he was later engaged. In 1908, when his family moved once more—this time to Surrey Side, West Park Street, Dewsbury—Hartley left the family home and joined first the Carl Rosa and then the Moody-Manners opera companies.

Within the year Hartley had taken up a musician's post with the Cunard shipping line and was briefly on board the Lucania before moving as second violin to the Lusitania in July 1909. In October 1910 he was appointed bandmaster of the Lusitania's sister ship, the Mauretania, then the fastest liner on the North Atlantic route, on which he performed until March 1912, amassing a total of eighty transatlantic crossings. On 9 April, having returned to Liverpool on the Mauretania, Hartley was asked by the musical agents C. W. and R. N. Black to become bandmaster of the White Star Line's RMS Titanic which was soon to make its maiden voyage to New York. Although he accepted the offer, Hartley was initially reluctant to take this prestigious position on the world's largest and most luxurious vessel. He had evidently developed a strong attachment to the Mauretania, and the Titanic's imminent departure from Southampton meant that he would be unable to see his fiancée (whom he planned to marry in the summer) before the ship sailed.

Hartley joined the Titanic on the day of its departure, 10 April, and there met his seven fellow musicians: the pianists Percy Cornelius Taylor (1880–1912), of 9 Fentiman Road, Clapham, London, and William Theodore Ronald Brailey (1888–1912), born in Walthamstow, London, the son of William and Amy Brailey, and then of 71 Lancaster Road, London; the cellists Roger Marie Bricoux (1891–1912), born on 1 June 1891 at Cosne-sur-Loire, France, who had served with Brailey on Cunard's Carpathia, and John Wesley Woodward (1879–1912), born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, on 11 September 1879, who had joined the White Star Line after a brief career with the duke of Devonshire's band; the violinists John Law (Jock) Hume (1890–1912), born in Dumfries on 9 August 1890, the son of Andrew and Grace Hume, and then resident at 42 George Street, Dumfries, and the Paris-born Georges Alexandre Krins (1889–1912), a former student at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique, Liège, who had performed in London at the Ritz Hotel until March 1912 and lived at 10 Villa Road, Brixton. The seventh and final musician was the double bass player, John Frederick Preston Clarke (1883–1912), originally from Chorlton, Manchester, and then of 22 Tunstall Street, Liverpool. He performed regularly at the city's Kardomah café but had not previously worked as a ship's musician.

During the voyage the eight band members played in two separate arrangements, a quintet (Hartley, Hume, Woodward, Clarke, and Taylor) and a trio (Bricoux, Krins, and Brailey), with Hartley leading the larger group. The quintet gave formal concerts, performed at mealtimes (in a discreet, palm-court style), and at the Sunday service. The trio entertained first-class passengers outside the ship's restaurant and the Café Parisien with operettas, waltzes, and ragtime numbers taken from the official White Star Line music book. Dinner on Sunday 14 April, the fifth day of the voyage, was followed by a performance by the quintet that included works by Puccini and Dvořák, and concluded at 11 p.m. after the Tales of Hoffmann.

Forty minutes later, with the sea calm and under a clear moonless sky, the Titanic struck an iceberg with a glancing blow. The collision buckled the inch-thick plates along 300 feet of the ship's hull, exposing five compartments to sea water. It was a degree of damage that the Titanic could not sustain. As the water rose over the bulkheads, more compartments were flooded and the ship began to sink by the bows. The order to uncover the lifeboats and to muster the passengers was given at 12.05 a.m. At 12.15 a.m. the eight musicians, dressed in their dark blue uniforms, gathered to play in the first-class lounge where one of the pianos was situated. This, in the words of one survivor, was thought 'a wise precaution tending to allay excitement' (Gracie, 20). As the evacuation continued the musicians moved up, first to the foyer of the boat deck where the first-class passengers were being assembled and then to a position beside lifeboat number 6 on the port side. It is thought that neither of the pianists was able to accompany the string players by this point. Survivors later spoke of renditions of what Second Officer Charles Lightoller described as 'cheery music', including Irving Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band. Reports from passengers who left the ship at 2.05 a.m. stated that the musicians played continuously during the two-hour evacuation, an observation later confirmed by witnesses to the British inquiry, chaired by Lord Mersey. At 2.20 a.m. on 15 April the Titanic sank with the loss of just over 1500 lives, among them Hartley and his seven bandsmen.

Early accounts of the disaster reported that the musicians had been playing in the minutes prior to the ship's disappearance, and that their final performance was of the hymn tune, 'Nearer, my God, to thee'. The first reference to the band's actions and to the hymn appears to be a statement, published in the New York Times (18 April), by Mrs Vera Dick, a Canadian passenger who described the music she had heard from her lifeboat as she watched the Titanic sink. However, Dick's lifeboat—number 3—had been one of the first to be lowered and was then about a quarter of a mile from the ship. Other witnesses who were on board at the very end, among them Archibald Gracie and the wireless operator Henry Bride, either denied that hymn tunes were played or reported that the band's last performance was of another tune, 'Autumn'. Bride's reference is thought to refer either to the music for an episcopalian hymn, 'God of mercy and compassion', or more likely to the then popular waltz 'Song d'automne', which was listed in the White Star's musical selection for the voyage. Whatever the true sequence of events, the moving tableau of the Titanic's musicians playing 'Nearer, my God, to thee' was widely promoted in reports, memorials, and commemorative songs, poems, and sheet music. It also made heroes of the band members, with Hartley gaining particular attention. Philip Gibbs's 'The deathless story of the Titanic' (Lloyd's Weekly News, April 1912) was typical in stating that the band 'played until they were waist high in water' and in marking out its leader as one who 'will be remembered always as one of the greatest heroes of the Titanic' (Howells, 121).

Reports of the recovery of Wallace Hartley's body, to which his violin case was strapped, were carried in the American press on 28 April. It was taken ashore at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the following day and was returned to Liverpool on board the Arabic. Hartley was buried at Colne cemetery on 18 May 1912 after a service and procession attended by an estimated 30,000 people. The funeral was widely and extensively reported in the British press, including the Daily Sketch, which described the bandmaster as a 'central figure of one of the most touching incidents in the history of the sea'. The Bethel chapel choir sang 'Nearer, my God, to thee' as the coffin was lowered and the incipit was inscribed on Hartley's memorial stone. The hymn tune, conducted by Sir Henry Wood, was also played during a concert in memory of all eight musicians held on Empire day (24 May) at the Royal Albert Hall, at which Sir Edward Elgar and Thomas Beecham also performed. The bodies of Jock Hume and John Clarke were recovered and buried in Halifax at the Fairview and Mount Olivet Roman Catholic cemeteries respectively.

As victims who acted courageously and benevolently, and who were in no way responsible for the Titanic's loss, the ship's musicians became emblematic of the dignity and heroism shown by many during the disaster. A late twentieth-century study has identified thirteen memorials to the band world-wide (compared to six for Captain Edward Smith), including a stone pillar and bandstand in Australia, a monument in Southampton (unveiled in 1913 and rebuilt in 1990), and a plaque at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall. Personal memorials to Hartley include a bronze bust unveiled in the grounds of the former Carnegie Library, Colne, in 1915; a mural in the town (2000); a plaque at the Hartleys' home in Dewsbury, and the gift of a violin to the leader of the Burnley Youth Orchestra. Memorial plaques to John Woodward and Georges Krins were also unveiled in All Saints' Church, Headington, Oxford, and the Hotel Cardinal, Spa, Belgium. Fictional depictions of the Titanic's musicians have routinely recreated what has long been one of the most celebrated episodes associated with the disaster. Thus, despite Walter Lord's scepticism as to whether the band did indeed perform 'Nearer, my God, to thee', the film version of Lord's classic book, also entitled A Night to Remember (1958), depicts Hartley and his fellow musicians playing the hymn in the ship's final minutes. A similar scene accompanies events in James Cameron's Hollywood epic Titanic (1997) and Beryl Bainbridge's 1996 historical novel Every Man for Himself.


  • Y. Carroll, A hymn for eternity: the story of Wallace Hartley, Titanic bandmaster (2002)
  • S. Barczewski, Titanic: a night remembered (2004)
  • W. Lord, A night to remember (1956)
  • W. Lord, The night lives on (1986)
  • A. Gracie, Titanic (1913)
  • S. Gregson, ‘Titanic “down under”: ideology, myth and memorialization’, Social History, 33/3 (2008), 268–83
  • R. Howells, The myth of the Titanic (1999)
  • ‘The musician heroes of the Titanic’, Daily Chronicle (20 April 1912)
  • The Times (April–May 1912)
  • census returns, 1881, 1891, 1901
  • b. cert.
  • B. J. Ticehurst, Titanic's memorials, worldwide (1996)
  • Formal investigation into the loss of the S.S. ‘Titanic’: evidence, appendices and index (1912)


  • group portrait, 1912 (the band of RMS Titanic: John Frederick Preston Clarke, Percy Cornelius Taylor; Georges Alexandre Krins, Wallace Hartley, William Theodore Ronald Brailey; Jock Hume, John Wesley Woodward), Mary Evans Picture Library, London; repro. in ILN (27 April 1912) [see illus.]
  • portrait, 1912, Mary Evans Picture Library, London; repro. in ILN
  • bronze bust, Albert Road, Colne, Lancashire
  • photographs, Colne Public Library, Colne, Lancashire; repro. in Barczewski, Titanic
  • photographs, repro. in Carroll, Hymn
  • photographs, repro. in Barczewski, Titanic

Wealth at Death

£656 17s. 4d.: administration, 21 May 1912, CGPLA Eng. & Wales