Wallace Hartley
Wallace Hartley.gif
Wallace Hartley, bandmaster and violinist on board the Titanic
Born Wallace Henry Hartley
2 June 1878(1878-06-02)
Colne, Lancashire, England
Died 15 April 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 33)
RMS Titanic, Atlantic Ocean
Occupation Violinist, Bandleader
Religion Methodist Christian[1]

Wallace Henry Hartley (2 June 1878 – 15 April 1912) was an English violinist and bandleader on the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage. He became famous for leading the eight member band as the ship sank on 15 April 1912. He died in the sinking.

Life and careerEdit

Wallace Hartley was born and raised in Colne, Lancashire, England. Hartley's father, Albion Hartley, was the choirmaster and Sunday school superintendent at Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel, where the family attended worship services. Hartley himself introduced the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee” to the congregation. Wallace studied at Colne’s Methodist day school, sang in Bethel’s choir and learned violin from a fellow congregation member.[1][2]

After leaving school, Hartley started work with the Craven & Union Bank in Colne. When his family moved to Huddersfield, Hartley joined the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1903, he left home to join the municipal orchestra in Bridlington, where he stayed for six years. He later moved to Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and in 1909, he joined the Cunard Line as a musician, serving on the ocean liners RMS Lucania, RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania.[2]

Whilst serving on the Mauretania, the employment of Cunard musicians was transferred to the music agency C.W. & F.N. Black, which supplied musicians for Cunard and the White Star Line. This transfer changed Hartley's onboard status, as he was no longer counted as a member of the crew, but rather as a passenger, albeit one accommodated in second-class accommodation at the agency's expense. It later transpired that neither the shipping company nor the music agency had insured the musicians, with each claiming it was the other's responsibility.[2]

In April 1912, Hartley was assigned to be the bandmaster for the White Star Line ship RMS Titanic.[2] He was at first hesitant to again leave his fiancée, Maria Robinson, to whom he had recently proposed, but Hartley decided that working on the maiden voyage of the Titanic would give him possible contacts for future work.

Apart from his notable and tragically short tenure as leader of the band on the Titanic, Hartley is also known for introducing the tritone substitution to ballroom dance music.

Sinking of the TitanicEdit

After the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, Hartley and his fellow band members started playing music to help keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats. Many of the survivors said that he and the band continued to play until the very end. None of the band members survived the sinking and the story of them playing to the end became a popular legend. One survivor who clambered aboard 'Collapsible A' claimed to have seen Hartley and his band standing just behind the first funnel, by the Grand Staircase. He went on to say that he saw three of them washed off while the other five held on to the railing on top the Grand Staircase's deckhouse, only to be dragged down with the bow, just before Hartley exclaimed, "Gentlemen, I bid you farewell!" A newspaper at the time 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."

Though the final song played by the band is unknown, "Nearer, My God, to Thee" has gained popular acceptance. Former bandmates claimed that Hartley had said he would play either "Nearer, My God, to Thee" or "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" if he was ever on a sinking ship, but Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember popularised wireless officer Harold Bride's account of hearing the song "Autumn".

After the sinkingEdit

Bust of Wallace Hartley - - 1547029

Bust of Wallace Hartley in Albert Road, Colne

Hartley's body was recovered by the Mackay–Bennett almost two weeks after the sinking. He was transferred to the Arabic and sent to England. Hartley's funeral took place in Colne on 18 May 1912. One thousand people attended his funeral, while 40,000 lined the route of his funeral procession.[2]

Hartley is buried in Colne, where a 10-foot headstone, containing a carved violin at its base, was erected in his honour.

A memorial to Hartley, topped by his bust, was erected in 1915 outside the Albert Street Methodist Church in Colne where Hartley began his musical career. Hartley's large Victorian terraced house in West Park Street, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, bears a blue plaque to remind passers-by that this was the bandleader's home.[2]

As of 2001, Hartley's name was still being used when naming new streets and housing in the town of Colne. In 2008, the pub chain J D Wetherspoon named a newly acquired hotel in Colne after the bandleader.[3]




  1. 1.0 1.1 Joey Butler. "Did faith drive Titanic musicians?". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 2 December 2010. "Wallace Hartley was raised in Colne, England. His father, Albion Hartley, was choirmaster and Sunday school superintendent at Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel. Perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come, it was choirmaster Hartley who introduced the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee” to the congregation. Colne had deep ties to Methodism, although its introduction to the movement wasn’t the best first impression. Several times John Wesley visited the mill town, which had a tough reputation, and was always met with opposition and, in some cases, violence. During one visit, he was met by an angry mob, and one of his helpers was thrown to his death off a bridge. However, Methodism was eventually embraced in Colne, and almost 10 Methodist chapels sprang up there. Born in 1878, young Wallace studied at Colne’s Methodist day school, sang in Bethel’s choir and learned violin from a congregation member." 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Handley, Martin (April 2012). The Yorkshire Dalesman (Skipton: Country Publications Ltd): pp. 38–40. 
  3. Livesey, Jon (28 October 2008). "New Colne pub to be named after Titanic hero". Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved 24 March 2008. 


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