The violin that was played as the Titanic infamously sank on its maiden voyage in 1912 has been proven by researchers to be authentic after years of studies.
The Belfast Telegraph reports on the discovery of the fabled violin, and how it got handed down over the decades since the Titanic’s sinking.
In 2006, the violin was discovered in an attic before being presented to Titanic historians, researchers and auctioneers.
Initially, the discovery was thought to be too good to be true, but after seven years of testing at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, researchers are able to definitively say that the relic was indeed played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley aboard the sinking Titanic.
Said to now be worth somewhere around six figures, the violin is set to go on public display at Belfast City Hall, near to where the Titanic was built in Northern Ireland, at the end of March.
Described by Titanic experts as the most important artifact to come from the disaster, negotiations are also in process to bring the violin to exhibitions around the world including the US. However, it is likely to be auctioned off in the future.
Almost all modern accounts in either film or book of the sinking of the Titanic include the story of Wallace Hartley and his band who were summoned within moments of the ship’s collision with an iceberg to play music on deck to keep passengers calm.
Hartley and his band played until the very final moments of the ship’s sinking, famously closing out with the hymn ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee.’ Hartley and the seven members of his band perished in the tragedy along with another 1500 passengers aboard the Titanic.
As tests were conducted on the violin discovered in 2006, specialist Titanic auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son, and a biographer on Wallace Hartley, meticulously researched the story behind it to discover the actual history of the violin.
The research came to discover that Hartley had actually strapped around him his large leather valise - luggage case - in which he placed his violin moments before the sinking. It’s presumed that Hartley did so in order to help keep him afloat.
Further aiding in their research, the transcript of a telegram sent to the Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia dated July 19, 1912 was found in the diary of Hartley’s grieving fiance, Maria Robinson.
It read, "I would be most grateful if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiance's violin."
Robinson had given Hartley the violin as a marker for their engagement in 1910 and had it inscribed, 'For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria,’ which would later serve as an integral piece in the research of the history of the violin.
Robinson had requested the return of the violin because of its emotional value. Some other of Hartley’s recovered possessions - including his silver cigarette case and a gold signet ring - were returned to his his father, Albion Hartley, who later gave them to Robinson.
Robinson, who never went on to marry, kept the jewelry and violin in the leather case as a shrine to her late fiance. In 1939, she died from stomach cancer aged 59 at her home in Bridlington, East Yorks.
After Maria Robinson’s death, her sister Margaret, in dealing with the estate left behind, discovered Hartley's leather valise that had his initials of 'WHH' on the violin inside.
She turned the Titanic relics over to the Bridlington Salvation Army and told its leader, Major Renwick, about the instrument's association with Titanic. Research shows Major Renwick gave the valise to one of his members, a local music and violin teacher.
The current owner, who remains unnamed, was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force stationed at Bridlington in the early 1940s.
She received it from the music teacher along with a cover letter reading, "Major Renwick thought I would be best placed to make use of the violin but I found it virtually unplayable, doubtless due to its eventful life."
Years later, she contacted Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes, Wilts about the items.
They took the violin to the Government's Forensic Science Service in Chepstow which concluded the 'corrosion deposits' on it were 'considered compatible with immersion in seawater.'
Further helping prove its own history, the plate on the base of the violin was studied by an eminent silver expert on the council for the Gemological Association of Great Britain. The expert was able to confirm that the plate was an original fixture and the engraving was contemporary with those made in 1910.
Andrew Aldridge, of Henry Aldridge and Son, said: "When we first saw the violin we had to keep a lid on our excitement because it was almost as if it was too good to be true.”
"The silver fish plate on the violin along with the other items it was with, such as the leather case with Hartley's initials on, his jewellery and covering letter to the owner's late mother, suggested it was either authentic or an extremely elaborate hoax up there with the Hitler Diaries.”
"We knew we would have to look into it and it couldn't be rushed. Everything needed to be researched properly and the correct experts had to be commissioned.
"We have spent the last seven years gathering the evidence together and have now reached the stage where we can say that beyond reasonable doubt this was Wallace Hartley's violin on the Titanic.
"It is the most important artefact relating to the Titanic to ever emerge and probably the most valuable.
"In all the books and films made about the Titanic, Wallace Hartley is always featured as playing this violin until the end. We now know that minutes before the end he placed his beloved violin in this hard-wearing travelling case.
"The bag rested on top of his lifejacket and would have largely been kept out of the water. A letter from his mother was found in his breast pocket and that suffered hardly any water damage."
Craig Sopin, a lawyer in Philadelphia, is owner of one of the world’s largest collections of Titanic memorabilia, and he already has his eyes set on the Hartley violin.
"The research has shown that this is something that I would like to have in my collection, which means I believe it to be 100 percent genuine.
"As far as Titanic memorabilia is concerned it is the most important piece that has ever come up and that includes artefacts recovered from the seabed such as the crow's nest bell."
Some items of Hartley's jewelry, including the cigarette case, will be sold at auction in Devizes next month while the violin will be exhibited.