Violin that played on the Titanic finally returns home

Don't expect it to play "Nearer My God to thee" anytime soon. Image Source: Rossparry.

Don’t expect it to play “Nearer My God to thee” anytime soon.
Image Source: Rossparry.

If you’ve ever seen James Cameron’s Titanic, you may remember the scene where, as the ship is sinking and the survivors are getting into the last  lifeboats, the band on the Titanic decides to forego survival, and play “Nearer, My God, to thee,” cutting back and forth between the band and the people trapped on the sinking ship. It may very well be one of the most moving scenes in the film, even if, in real life, the band wouldn’t have been familiar with the particular melody used in the film, seeing as the tune (Bethany) was almost unknown in Britain at the time (as opposed to the more likely Horbury or Proprior Deo tunes.) In fact, some survivors have said that the last song played by the band was Archibald Joyce’s “Songe d’Automne.” But I digress. The point is, whatever the last song was, the violin that played it has been unearthed and returned to his owner’s family.

The instrument belonged to bandleader Wallace Hartley of Dewsbury, a second-class passenger who went down with the ship, along with the other seven members of the two ensembles (a string quintet and piano trio) collectively known as the Titanic band. When he couldn’t play any more, he placed his instrument in its case, strapped it to his life jacket, and, 94 years after the sinking, it was found. It was remarkably intact: while I have only photos to go on, it looks like only the bridge and two of the strings  have gone. In a period of time where a good portion of the ship has been eaten away, the violin is mostly intact, but likely will never be in a playable condition again.

It was on display at several Titanic exhibitions, but was finally sold on October 19, after seven years of attempts to authenticate the violin. It sold for £900,000, and the only thing known about the buyer was that he was Irish.

However, there’s another, less famous musical Titanic artifact in the news recently. Edith Rosenbaum boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, having covered the Easter fashions in Paris, bringing with her, among other things, a pig-shaped music box she considered a good-luck charm. When the ship finally sank, she grabbed her pig and headed for the lifeboats, managing to get on board Lifeboat 11. She had second thoughts and climbed out, and a sailor threw the pig back in the lifeboat, saying: “You don’t want to be saved, well I’ll save your baby”. She dutifully followed her pig, saying” “When they threw that pig, I knew it was my mother calling me.” In the hours after that, she played the pig to comfort children in the lifeboat and block out the sounds of the dying.  She would later be a consultant on the film A Night to Remember, and the pig even made an appearance. She gave it to the makers of the film, and they donated it to he National Maritime Museum in 2003.

Recently, they decided to try and repair the pig, and, after an X-Ray scanning, they managed to fix it, by removing and replacing the curly tail that turned the device. They played it only three times, but a recording led to a hunt to find what the tune even was. For years, people assumed that it was some Latin American song, in the Maxixe style. However, readers from the Telegraph confirmed that it was “La Sorella”, by Charles Borel-Clerc and Louis Gallini, written in 1905, and also called “La Matchiche.”

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