English violinist (1878–1912) best remembered as the courageous bandleader who, along with his seven other band members, played on as the Titanic sank. Virtually non-existant ALS signed “Wallace,” two pages on adjoining sheets of White Star Line watermarked stationery (the most desirable of the known on-board watermarks), 10 x 8, dated in Hartley’s hand, “Wednesday” on R. M. S. ‘Titanic’ letterhead, featuring a red embossed flag. On Wednesday, April 10, 1912, the hopeful bandleader writes his parents during his first day on the ill-fated ship that would sink just days later. In full: “Just a line to say we have got away all right. It’s been a bit of a rush but I am just getting a little settled. This is a fine ship & there ought to be plenty of money on her. I’ve missed coming home very much & it would have been nice to have seen you all if only for an hour or two, but I couldn’t manage it. We have a fine band & the boys seem very nice. I have had to buy some linen & I sent my washing home today by post. I shall probably arrive home on the Sunday morning. We are due here on the Saturday. I’m glad mother’s foot is better.” Light creasing, uniform toning, a few areas of light soiling (slightly heavier along two horizontal folds), and some scattered trivial foxing, otherwise fine condition.
There are few accounts of selflessness in history more moving than that of Wallace Hartley and his Titanic bandmates. While the great liner slowly slipped beneath the waves in the dark hours of April 15, 1912, Hartley led his fellow musicians in what would become the last melodies many of the 1,517 casualties would hear and in so doing became one of the most famous heroes of that terrible tragedy. None of the men were strangers to playing aboard these leviathan ships: Jock Hume and Wes Woodward had spent time aboard the sister ships Carmania and Caronia, and had played together on the Olympic during her maiden voyage; French Cellist Roger Bricoux and pianist Theo Brailey had played on the Carpathia; Hartley had performed on the Mauretania; and the three remaining men, Fred Clarke, George Crins, and Percy Taylor were newcomers to the liner industry. All were ready and eager to win the approval and financial rewards of playing to such a prestigious array of travelers, as Hartley here observes, “This is a fine ship & there ought to be plenty of money on her.”
Just four days after penning this letter, Hartley and his crew would become heroes in their own right as “the band played on,” serenading the passengers as they assembled in the First Class Lounge, waiting to board lifeboats, and relocating when the passengers were ushered to the Boat Deck, assembling near the Grand Staircase. The men continued their orchestral vigil until the Titanic succumbed to the overwhelming force of the Atlantic, watching and playing as over 700 men, women, and children passed by them to safety. Witnesses in lifeboats reported seeing Hartley and his bandmates swept into the ocean and his last words to his band are reputed to have been "Gentlemen, I bid you farewell." A contemporary newspaper described "the part played by the orchestra…in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest of heroism at sea."
Hartley's body was recovered several weeks later and more than 1,000 people attended his funeral with a further 40,000 lining the cortege route. He is remembered with a statue in his home town and has been featured prominently in all of the film and television adaptations of the Titanic story, most recently portrayed by Jonathan Evans-Jones in James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster movie. Last offered at Sotheby's, July 20, 1981, this letter is a truly magnificent piece of Titanic history, and is the only known letter sent by Hartley with a direct mention of his band. RRAuction COA.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.