The story of the band aboard the Titanic is one of the most mysterious and legendary tales that comes from the ill-fated ocean liner.
After RMS Titanic catastrophically hit an iceberg 375 nautical miles south of Newfoundland, Canada and began to sink on 15th April 1912, the band reportedly played on, in an attempt to calm the passengers.
Sadly every musician perished in the tragedy, however, they are remembered today for their bravery and heroism.
The Members of the Band
The band aboard the Titanic was made up of eight musician, led by band leader Wallace Hartley.
Until the night of the sinking, the players performed as two separate groups. A quintet led by violinist and official bandleader Wallace Hartley, that played at teatime, after-dinner concerts, and Sunday services, among other occasions. Plus the violin, cello, and piano trio of Georges Krins, Roger Bricoux, and Theodore Brailey, that played at the À La Carte Restaurant and the Café Parisien.
The infamous band were employed by Messr C. W. & F. N Black of Liverpool, which had it’s headquarters on 14 Castle Street in the heart of the city.
The Titanic band boarded at Southampton as second-class passengers.
The full band included: Wallace Hartley, Roger Marie Bricoux, Theodore Ronald Brailey, John Wesley Woodward, John Frederick Preston Clarke, John Law Hume, Percy Cornelius Taylor and Georges Alexandre Krins.
They were expected to learn the entirety of The White Star Line’s songbook by heart, which contained 352 different songs and were payed one shilling a month.
To first-class passengers, music aboard the ship was elegant background entertainment. The band aboard the Titanic would complement their nights of conversation and card games as they made requests. The songbook’s request list is said to have been divided into a variety of musical categories, with opera at the start.
Wallace Henry Hartley
Wallace Henry Hartley, an English violinist, was born on 2 June 1878 and was the son of Albion and Elizabeth Hartley of Colne, Lancashire.
He had led orchestras in Harrogate and Bridlington and was a member of the Savage Club in Leeds.
Hartley worked on the Cunard Liner Mauretania before leaving to become bandmaster on the Titanic. He had a fiancé in Boston Spa, near Wetherby in Yorkshire and spent time with her in that village the week before boarding the Titanic.
After the collision Hartley led the orchestra in playing ragtime tunes up until the ship sunk.
Sadly Hartley, along with the rest of the band aboard the Titanic died in the disaster. His body was recovered on 4th May 1912 by the CS Mackay-Bennett, a cable repair ship owned by the Commercial Cable Company, registered in London.
Theodore Ronald Brailey
Theodore Ronald Brailey, born on 25 October 1887 in Walthamstow in Greater London.
The son of William “Ronald” Brailey, a well-known figure of Spiritualism at the time, Brailey studied piano at school, and one of his first jobs was playing piano in a local hotel.
In 1902, he joined the Royal Lancashire Fusiliers regiment signing for 12 years service as a musician and was stationed in Barbados, but he resigned his commission prematurely in 1907 and returned to England.
In 1911, he enlisted aboard ship, playing first on the RMS Saxonia, prior to joining the Cunard steamer RMS Carpathia in 1912, where he met the French cellist Roger Marie Bricoux. Both men then joined the White Star Line and were recruited by Liverpool music agency C.W. and F.N. Black to serve on the RMS Titanic.
Brailey boarded the Titanic on Wednesday 10 April 1912 in Southampton, UK. His ticket number was 250654, the ticket for all the members of the band aboard the Titanic.
Brailey was 24 years old when he died aboard the Titanic, his body was never recovered.
Roger Marie Bricoux
Roger Bricoux was born on 1 June 1891 in rue de Donzy, Cosne-sur-Loire, France.
He was the son of a musician and educated in various Catholic institutions in Italy. It was during his studies that he joined his first orchestra and won first prize at the Conservatory of Bologna for musical ability.
After studying at the Paris Conservatory, he moved to England in 1910 to join the orchestra in the Grand Central Hotel in Leeds.
Before joining the Titanic, Bricoux and pianist Theodore Ronald Brailey had served together on the Cunard steamer RMS Carpathia before joining the White Star Line.
Bricoux was 20 years old when he died, his body was never recovered.
In 1913, after his apparent disappearance, he was declared a “deserter” by the French army. It was not until 2000 that he was eventually officially registered as dead in France, mainly due to the efforts of the Association Française du Titanic.
On 2 November 2000, the same association unveiled a memorial plaque to Bricoux in Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire.
John Law Hume
John Law Hume, known as ‘Jock’, was born on 9 August 1890 in Dumfries.
He played on over five ships before he was recruited for the band aboard the Titanic and chosen for the maiden voyage because of his reputation as a musician.
Hume was 21 years old when he died, unaware that his fiancée, Mary Costin, was pregnant with his child. His body was recovered by the CS Mackay-Bennett, a cable repair ship owned by the Commercial Cable Company, registered in London.
He was buried in grave 193 at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on Wednesday 8 May 1912. A memorial was erected for John Law Hume in Dock Park, Dumfries.
On 30 April 1912, Jock Hume’s father, Andrew, controversially received a note from the agency which employed Hume asking for to pay a sum of money which was owed to them.
The letter caused huge uproar at the time when it was reprinted in the Amalgamated Musicians Union’s monthly newsletter, Andrew Law Hume never settled the bill.
Georges Alexandre Krins
Born in Paris, Georges Alexandre Krins’ family was from Belgium, and soon after his birth they moved back there to the town of Spa.
He first studied at Academie de Musique de Spa, then moved to the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liège, Belgium, where he studied from 30 October 1902 until 1908, when he won first prize for violin, with the highest distinction.
In 1910, he moved to Paris to be first violin at Le Trianon Lyrique, he subsequently moved to London and played for two years at the Ritz Hotel until March 1912.
He became bandmaster for the Trio String Orchestra, which led to him being recruited by CW & FN Black, Liverpool to play in the band aboard the Titanic.
John Wesley Woodward
Mr John Wesley Woodward was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, on 11 September 1879.
He was the youngest child of Joseph Woodward and Martha Barnett, both from Staffordshire; his father was an iron moulder and a manager at the holloware foundry in West Bromwich.
A gifted cellist and licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music, Woodward’s services were much sought after as part of an ensemble, soloist and teacher. He first came to prominence when he moved to Dorset and became a member of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra before joining the Von Leer Orchestra at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne and latterly the Duke of Devonshire’s Eastbourne Orchestra.
When the Duke of Devonshire’s Eastbourne Orchestra folded around 1909 he sought employment with the White Star Line.
Woodward spent the winter months of 1911 serving aboard Caronia on the Liverpool to New York run before commencing a series of Mediterranean voyages to Alexandria. Despite enjoying his time working at sea and all the new acquaintances he met he intended to make the next journey his last and as such was seeking an appointment with the Devonshire Park Orchestra.
Woodward had taken his best cello with him for the first time for the Titanic’s maiden voyage and on his return was due to perform at the May dinner of Magdalen College, Oxford where his brother was a tenor in the choir.
John Frederick Preston Clarke
Born in Chorlton, Manchester, on 28 July 1883, John Frederick Preston Clarke was the eldest of three children.
In 1911 he became a musician and was a member of the orchestra of the Argyle Theatre of Varieties and had also played with the Liverpool Philharmonic Band.
John, a bass violinist, sadly died in the disaster. His body was recovered and buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Halifax on 8 May 1912.
His mother and sisters benefited from the Titanic Relief Fund and in May 1912 a special benefit performance by the Philharmonic Society was held at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool.
Percy Cornelius Taylor
Mr Percy Cornelius Taylor was born in Hackney, London, England on 20 March 1872.
His father, a printer and compositor, hailed from Yorkshire and was married to London-born Emily Wheeler in 1866.
Percy was married in Christ Church, Lambeth on 20 May 1906 to a widow named Clara Alice Davis, née Talbot.
He was enlisted to play his cello on the Titanic, sadly his body was never recovered.
His estate, valued at £164, 4s, was administered to his widow Clara on 29 June 1912. Clara was remarried on 24 August 1918 to Albert Grafton Pearce (1869-1946), also a musician and concert artiste, and moved to Weston-super-Mare, Somerset where she died in 1957.
The Last Song Played
After the Titanic fatally hit the iceberg, the brave band played their instruments as terrified passengers made their way to the lifeboats, up until the very last moments that the ship was afloat.
Many of the survivors said that Hartley and the band continued to play until the very end.
The final song played by the band aboard the Titanic has been largely debated. First Class passenger Mrs Vera Dick recalled that the final hymn was “Nearer My God to Thee”, while Harold Bride’s account on the other hand, suggests that the final hymn may have been “Autumn” or “Song d’Automne”. The hymns “Bethany” and “Horbury” are also considered high on the list of possibilities.
While it’s likely that we’ll never know for certain, Hartley once told a friend that “Nearer My God to Thee” would be one of his final song choices, if he were on a sinking ship.
The Brave Band Aboard the Titanic
The music played on Titanic remains one of the most fascinating sections of the ocean liner’s history. And during the 1912 voyage, Titanic’s passengers were just as enthralled by its musical entertainment as we are, from the orchestra to its travelling musicians.
Many brave things were done that night, but none were more brave than those done by men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea.
Music was at the heart of RMS Ttitanic’s voyage right until the end, and the bravery of its band certainly won’t be forgotten.