Survivors of the Titanic have said they remember the band, led by Wallace Hartley, playing on deck even as passengers boarded lifeboats after the ship hit an iceberg.
Hartley’s violin was believed lost in the 1912 disaster, but auctioneers Henry Aldridge and& Son say an instrument found in 2006 in an attic in North Yorkshire, has undergone rigorous testing and is proven to be Hartley’s.
“It’s been a long haul,” said auctioneer Andrew Aldridge, explaining the find had initially seemed “too good to be true”.
The auction house spent the past seven years and thousands of pounds determining the water- stained violin’s origins, consulting several experts including government forensic scientists and Oxford University.
The auction house said the rose wood instrument has two long cracks on its body, but is “incredibly well-preserved” despite its age and exposure to the sea. It estimated the violin is worth six figures.
Hartley was one of the 1,517 people who perished when the Titanic struck an iceberg 350 miles south of Newfoundland on Apr 15, 1912.
Some reports at the time suggested Hartley’s corpse was found fully dressed with his violin strapped to his body, though there was also speculation that the instrument floated off and was lost at sea.
Henry Aldridge and Son said it researched the instrument’s story with a Hartley biographer as the violin underwent forensic testing, uncovering documents that showed Hartley was found with a large leather valise strapped to him and the violin inside.
The violin apparently was returned to Hartley’s grieving fiancée, said the auction house, and later ended up in the hands of the Salvation Army before being given to a violin teacher and ultimately Henry Aldridge and &Son.
Testing by the British Forensic Science Service showed corrosion deposits on the instrument were considered “compatible with immersion in sea water”, while a silver expert studied a plate on the violin’s neck to determine if it fit the time profile.