THE violin played by the bandmaster on the Titanic as the doomed ship went down has been discovered, it has been claimed.
An auctioneer has hired experts to try to verify claims by the owner of the century old instrument that it belonged to Wallace Hartley, the leader of the vessel’s eight-man musical ensemble.
If proved, it could become the most valuable Titanic artefact ever to be considered for auction. But the claim is being treated with caution as a result.
Hartley and his fellow musicians earned legendary status for their decision to play on as the ship sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912.
They are said to have played the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee” after the vessel hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
Press reports at the time said that when Hartley’s body was recovered from the water his violin was strapped to his chest.
The violin and its case were said at the time to be being sent to the White Star line for forwarding to England.
But mystery has surrounded its fate thereafter.
Now the auctioneer Henry Aldridge & Son of Devizes, Wilts, which has a worldwide reputation for handling Titanic artefacts, has disclosed that he has been shown what he believes could prove to be Wallace’s violin.
The owner, who is not related to Hartley, says that the violin was sent to Hartley’s fiancée Maria Robertson.
There is said to be a diary containing a draft of a letter from Miss Robertson thanking the authorities for returning the violin.
The case carries his initials, WHH, and the instrument itself is said to carry the inscription “For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement, Maria.”
It could explain why Hartley kept the instrument strapped to his chest.
Mr Aldridge has already spent thousands of pounds on research to try to verify the owner’s claims including scientific tests to determine whether it was in the water a century ago.
He said: “The owner has not made up their mind if they would want to sell it but I think it is more likely it will go on exhibition if it is proved to be genuine.
"We hope to have a definite answer some time this year. We cannot rush the scientists."