Authors: Steve Turner
The Extraordinary Story of the 8 MusiciansWho Went Down with theTitanic
© 2011 by Steve Turner
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Scripture quotations are taken from theKING JAMES VERSION.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Turner, Steve, 1949–
The band that played on : the extraordinary story of the 8 musicians who went down with the Titanic / by Steve Turner.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Titanic (Steamship) 2. Musicians—Biography. 3. Musicians—History—20th century. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
11 12 13 14 15 QGF 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my mother, Ivy Frances Turner,who first gave me a love of history.
1. “That glorious band.”
2. “The world’s greatest liner.”
3. “A man with the highest sense of duty.”
4. “I will write to you on board theTitanic.”
5. “An exceptionally good performer on the piano.”
6. “A thorough and conscientious musician.”
7. “The life of every ship he ever played on.”
8. “An intellectual turn of mind.”
9. “TheTitanicis now about complete.”
10. “We have a fine band.”
11. “A solemnity too deep for words.”
12. “It is with great sadness that I have to give you the painful news.”
13. “If you think you have a legal claim.”
14. “A natural fruit of the evil of the age.”
15. “The sweets of notoriety.”
16. “I should cling to my old violin.”
About the Author
First mention of sinking in Lloyd’s Weekly Shipping Index, April 18, 1912.
In the old music-business joke, a songwriter is asked, “What comes first— the words or the music?” and the writer answers, “The phone call.” When I am asked, “What made you write a book on theTitanic?” the honest answer is, “The e-mail.” It came from Joel Miller, VP of nonfiction at Thomas Nelson Publishers, and after mentioning the launch of theTitanicin May 1911 and the maiden voyage in April 1912, he said: “I’d like to do a one hundredth anniversary popular history, and think I have a unique angle for it, one that ties into two of your areas of expertise, biography and music. Are you free to discuss?”
I’d never read a book about theTitanicand had only seen the James Cameron film after being dragged along by my wife and daughter. Biography. Music.Titanic. It didn’t take many seconds to work out that he was probably going to ask me to write about the celebrated band on the ship that went down playing. Despite having seen bothTitanicandA Night to Remember, I still had a mental image of the band on the stage of a ballroom carrying on with their music as the dancers made for the exits and the water lapped against their music stands. In other words, I didn’t know very much.
But after spending a couple of days researching on the Internet, I quickly discovered that not only was this an absorbing story—one that had once transfixed the world—but it was also a story that had never been the subject of a book, despite the floods ofTitanicbooks since the 1980s. Everything that was known about the members of the band, with the exception of Wallace Hartley, could be fitted on half a dozen sheets of A4 paper. This seemed odd, given the multiple angles that had been employed over the years to open up theTitanicstory in fresh ways. I was sure there was a book to be written about them and that the key to it would be tracking down living relatives who may have inherited photographs, documents, and anecdotes. In 2009, when I accepted Joel Miller’s offer to write the book, I didn’t know what I would find, but I knew it would give me the sort of challenge that I thrived on.
The Band That Played Onis the result of my research. It’s a portrait of eight men who were thrown together on a maiden voyage, never having played together as a band, and whose names will be forever linked because of an extraordinary act of courage in the face of death. It’s also a portrait of the age in which they lived, a time when everything seemed to be going right and human ingenuity was about to surmount all the old obstacles and bring about a world that was faster, wealthier, more luxurious, and more peaceful.
I’ve not attempted to write another history of theTitanic, as such, but to focus on a group of men who were on that ship and whose biographies have necessarily been defined by what would otherwise have been another few days of routine work. I’ve included essential information about the ship only inasmuch as it helps the story of the musicians along. I don’t attempt to determine whether the craft sank because the rivets were too short or the steel plates were too thin and neither do I spend pages speculating as to whether it broke up and sank or sank and then broke up. My assumption is that if readers want that type of detailed information they can be well supplied elsewhere.
I began the research knowing very little about the band and have finished the writing feeling that I know just about everything that can be known about them without the discovery of a hitherto unknown cache of letters, diaries, and journals. I met the descendants of their brothers and sisters and the son of the only known child of any of the bandsmen. I traveled up to Oxford, Liverpool, Dumfries, and Colne, across to Walthamstow and Notting Hill and down to Eastbourne and Southampton. I saw the homes they lived in, the schools they studied in, the rooms they played in, and the offices some of them worked in. There were times when information was so elusive I felt I was banging my head against a wall and other times when stories fell into my lap without really trying.
Why does the story of theTitaniccontinue to fascinate? There have been bigger and more costly disasters. There have been more obvious examples of human error and natural calamity. I think it’s because there are not many stories where people who are neither ill nor caught up in a conflict have a few hours to contemplate their imminent deaths. We automatically ask ourselves how we would react in the same situation because we know that our choices reveal our deepest values and beliefs. Would we do absolutely anything to get a place in a lifeboat or would we gladly put someone else first? Would we stick to husband or wife, or could we live with the possibility of being parted? Would we carry on playing music, or pack up our instrument and leap overboard?
The musicians faced this ultimate challenge. I hope that I have done their actions justice. I hope that some deserving stories will have been drawn back into the light. I’d like to think that if Wallace, Georges, Roger, Theo, Percy, Fred, Jock, and Wes were to read this book they’d think I was spot on.
STEVETURNERLondon, September 2010
On the night of April 18, 1912, a dimly lit low-slung steamer with a single black funnel graciously eased its way up the lower reaches of the Hudson River headed toward Cunard’s Pier 54. Never before had the arrival of one ship been the focus of so much anticipation and speculation. New York’s traffic was gridlocked, police barriers had been erected around the west end of 12th Street, and the eyes of the world were focused on a gangway that would soon connect lower Manhattan with the British steamerCarpathia.
More than fifty tugboats manned by journalists had been nipping at the vessel as she made her approach, hoping to be rewarded with shouted-out answers to questions or handwritten scraps of information that would put them one step ahead of their competitors in the scramble for headlines. Reporters with megaphones made offers of $50 or $100 for firsthand reports, while photographers lit up the side of the ship with their flashes of magnesium powder. Some of them even tried to invade it when a rope ladder was let down for the river pilot to climb on, and they had to be forced back by Second Officer James Bisset.
The object of all the attention was not the ship’s prebooked passengers who’d set out for the Mediterranean exactly a week before, but the more than 706 survivors of the world’s worst shipwreck who’d been hauled on board from the freezing Atlantic.1TheTitanichad gone down almost four days previously, and the story of its loss had dominated the front pages of newspapers around the world. But beyond knowing that it had collided with an iceberg, and that the majority of the crew and passengers had died, very few hard facts had reached the shore. An early report had suggested that all were safe, and a wrongly attributed wireless message gave the impression that the damagedTitanicwas being towed slowly back to port.
Speculation had developed that a cover-up was being mounted, that the meager output from theCarpathia’s wireless room—a provisional list of survivors—and the refusal to answer press inquiries was a stalling tactic to give the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, himself aTitanicsurvivor, time to concoct an official explanation that would absolve him and his company of negligence charges. An intercepted wireless message from theCarpathiaindicated that Ismay wanted theCarpathiato let its passengers off farther downriver to avoid the press.
The public naturally wanted to know how this apparently invincible liner had come to grief on what should have been a routine Atlantic crossing, but for most of the curious the explanation would have little or no immediate impact on their lives. For the friends and families ofTitanicpassengers, the need to know was vital to their peace of mind. Many of them gathered in the shed at the entrance to Pier 54 uncertain as to whether they would see their loved ones emerge. For newspapers, getting an accurate record of this event was a professional duty and an unparalleled editorial challenge.
TheCarpathia’s arrival hadn’t been expected until the early hours of April 19, so when it was spotted at 6:10 p.m. on the eighteenth, off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, the news spread quickly through the city and the streets began to fill with traffic. Limousines and touring cars sped so quickly down the newly asphalted Seventh Avenue that many of them slipped on its rainy surface and found themselves running into the curbs. Police were brought in to ensure that no one was allowed on the pier itself but the two thousand already issued passes.
Although the city was frenzied as it readied itself to receive the survivors, the atmosphere in Cunard’s shed was muted. There was only a hush occasionally punctuated by sobbing. Pass holders were organized in groups behind placards bearing the initial of their loved one’s surname. This was to make it easy for survivors to connect with their waiting parties. In addition to friends and relatives, there were professional caregivers: officers from the Salvation Army offering hospitality to those with no local contacts, doctors in white jackets and nurses in uniform to attend the sick and injured, representatives from the White Star Line to answer questions and handle problems. Against the walls of the shed was a row of stretchers for those too emotionally traumatized or physically damaged to make the walk.
Half a mile above Battery Park, theCarpathiareleased thirteen now emptyTitaniclifeboats in order to deny newspapers the opportunity to photograph them. Three of the original sixteen they had picked up were too damaged to haul back, and they were left at the wreck site. The thirteen were all that remained of the proud steamer that had left Southampton on April 10 for its maiden voyage. Everything else was spread out over the ocean bed 550 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.
TheCarpathiaturned toward the Cunard Pier, where at 9:30 it tied up. The first person to emerge was a sailor dressed in a yellow oilskin. Then out came the first survivor, a fragile and unsteady woman who needed the support of a ship’s officer. She was collected by her husband, who wept tears of joy and relief on her shoulder. This scene, and ones very like it, was played over and over again through the night. In many cases the longed-for face didn’t appear, and there were tears of bitterness and loss.
For waiting journalists the challenge was to work out how best to use their limited time in researching and writing the most dynamic and informative copy for the next morning’s papers. This was clearly a story that would win or lose the reputations of newspapers, editors, and reporters. Everything from advanced planning and breadth of coverage to shorthand skills and speedy copyediting would be put to the test. This truly was journalism as the first draft of history.
TheNew York Timeshad led the way in the accuracy and scope of its reportage. Its newsroom received the first Associated Press report that theTitanicwas in trouble at 1:20 on April 15, based on a message picked up by a Marconi station at Cape Race, Newfoundland. It stated that an iceberg had been hit, lifeboats were in the water, and a distress signal had been sent. Half an hour after this initial contact, wireless communication from the stricken liner ended. Working late that night was the paper’s inspirational managing editor, Carr Van Anda, who cast his eye over the facts and intuitively felt that something far worse than a damaging collision had taken place.
After telling correspondents in Montreal and Halifax to pursue the story, he trawled the cuttings library and found that there was a history of shipping collisions with icebergs in this vicinity. TheCarmania, which had arrived in New York only the day before, had reported a field of ice. A year before the Anchor line shipColumbiahad smashed her stern in the same area. Two years before that theVolturnehad found itself “pinched” by moving ice, some of which ground along its side.
Other ships had reported an ice pack during the past week. TheNiagarahad been badly dented, theLord Cromerand theKurahad both been damaged below the waterline, and theArmeniareported an ice field at least seventy miles long. Captain Dow of theCarmaniahad been quoted as saying: “I never saw so much ice and so little whisky and lime juice in all my life. Had the ingredients been handy there would have been a highball for every man in the world!”
Although Van Anda knew that he couldn’t go into print announcing the loss of theTitanic—as yet there was no conclusive evidence—he used his hunch to give the story of an Atlantic collision the prominence worthy of a disaster. He spread the news over four columns, and around the core information about the distress call and subsequent radio silence, he packed stories of the other ships that had encountered ice, listed important passengers, and used images of the captain and his ship. He employed the wordsinkingin the early editions, and there are claims that he usedsunkin later editions, although, if he did, no copy of this edition is known to exist.
The arrival of theCarpathiawith its hundreds of eyewitnesses presented a logistical problem for all newspapers. Who were the best passengers or crew members to interview? How should the rapacious appetite for facts and truth be balanced against the need of survivors for peace and consolation? What was the most effective yet honest way of getting an exclusive on a story that would spread as quickly as a virus once the survivors were home?
Van Anda hatched a plan. He booked an entire floor of the Strand Hotel at 502 West 14th Street, close to Pier 54, to use as theNew York Timesbase while it covered the arrival. Telephones on this floor would be linked directly to a desk at theTimeswhere quotes and descriptions filed by reporters could be instantly hammered into stories by skilled rewrite boys. The journalists could then be reassigned to other interviews. TheTimes, in common with all other papers, was only granted four pier passes, but Van Anda ordered an additional twelve reporters to head down to the area to mingle with arriving survivors and their kin.
The most vital source, Van Anda knew, was Harold Bride, theTitanic’s twenty-two-year-old junior Marconi operator, who had not only survived the sinking but had worked the wireless of theCarpathiaas it sailed back to America. With the captain and most of the senior officers dead, he was the only person alive who would have been present at the heart of the drama. He had been in direct contact with Captain Edward Smith, had communicated with nearby ships, had witnessed the rescue, and would have been one of the last men to leave the ship. He also had the advantage of being able to explain what he saw in nautical terms.
But how could theNew York Timesgain access to theCarpathiawhen both Cunard and the docks authority were fiercely guarding it? Van Anda came up with a solution. He would involve the Marconi organization. Cunard might turn back a reporter, but not Guglielmo Marconi, the celebrated inventor, entrepreneur, and Nobel Prize winner, whose name was synonymous with wireless communications. It was his recently developed equipment that was revolutionizing sea travel. It was unlikely that anyTitanicpassengers would have been saved if not for the Marconi wireless transmitter.
If Bride gave an exclusive interview, it would enhance the name of Marconi as much as that of theNew York Times. Bride wouldn’t lose out either. The fee for his story would equal three years’ wages as a wireless operator. The Marconi office had already sent three messages to its own wireless room advising the operators to hold their stories until approached by theNew York Times. The last of these, addressed to “Marconi Officer, theCarpathiaand theTitanic” and signed by American Marconi’s chief engineer Frederick Sammis, simply said: “Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures. Mr. Marconi agreeing. Will meet you at dock.” This was later assumed to be another reason for theCarpathia’s media blackout. Even President Taft couldn’t get in touch to find out whether his trusted military aide Major Archibald Butt had survived. (He had not.)
On the night of April 18, presumably unaware that theCarpathiawas ahead of schedule, Marconi was at a party. Van Anda sent a messenger to fetch him down to Pier 54 to board the ship with Sammis andNew York Timesreporter Jim Speers. It was now around 11:30 and almost all the passengers had already disembarked. The copy would have to be ready for the printer within an hour if it was to make the first edition on April 19.
When they got to the pier, police stopped them. The reporter, Speers, protested: “Sir, we are Mr. Marconi, his manager, and aNew York Timesreporter.” The officer pushed the Marconi engineer Sammis back, believing him to be the journalist in question, saying, “Mr. Marconi and his manager may pass through. The reporter can’t.” Speers and Marconi boarded, while Sammis had to remain behind the police line. The two men made their way to the wireless room where they found Bride still tapping out messages left for him by passengers. “That’s hardly worth sending now, boy,” said Marconi. Bride, his frostbitten feet still bandaged, looked up slowly and then recognized his distinguished employer.
Bride’s story, which he poured out to Speers in a rambling monologue, was everything Van Anda had hoped it would be. He’d got out of bed on the night of April 14 to relieve the senior operator, Jack Phillips, only to find that theTitanichad been in a collision. He watched as Phillips calmly made contact with theCarpathiaand theOlympicand saw Captain Smith’s dawning realization that the ship was beyond salvation.
In a sensational comment, he revealed that a stoker (one of the men who stoked the ship’s furnaces with coal) had come into theTitanic’s wireless room to steal Phillips’s life jacket. Bride attacked him. “I did my duty,” he said. “I hope I finished him. I don’t know. We left him on the cabin floor of the wireless room and he was not moving.” It was never clear from this or subsequent interviews whether Bride was claiming to have killed him or merely to have knocked him unconscious and left him to drown.
Phillips died of exposure while in the water. Bride found the last remaining collapsible boat, but when it was pushed overboard, it landed upside down with him underneath it. Bride managed to swim away as sparks poured from one of theTitanic’s funnels, and the ship finally disappeared from view. After some time in the water, he was given space on his original boat, which had since been righted.
Bride gave a detailed account of how the ship’s band had carried on playing throughout the sinking. The matter-of-fact way he told the story gave it added poignancy: “From aft came the tunes of the band,” he said. “It was a ragtime tune, I don’t know what. Then there was ‘Autumn.’ Phillips ran aft and that was the last I ever saw of him alive.”
His description of the ship’s final moments suggested that the musicians didn’t even attempt to escape in a lifeboat. “The ship was gradually turning on her nose—just like a duck does that goes down for a dive. I had only one thing on my mind—to get away from the suction. The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down. They were playing ‘Autumn’ then. I swam with all my might. I suppose I was 150 feet away when theTitanic, on her nose, with her after quarter sticking straight up into the air, began to settle—slowly.”
Bride ended by saying that two things about the sinking stood out in his mind above all others. One was that Jack Phillips had continued to send messages even after Captain Smith told him he was free to leave his position and look after his own life. The other was the band that played on. “The way the band kept playing was a noble thing . . . How they ever did it I cannot imagine.”
The twenty-five-hundred-word first-person account appeared in the next day’sNew York Timesalong with fifty-two other stories about the ship. The headline was “Thrilling story byTitanic’swireless man.” The subheadings were “Bride tells how he and Phillips worked and how he finished a stoker who tried to steal Phillips’s life belt—Ship sank to tune of ‘Autumn.’ ” The image of the lighted ship sliding under the waves (“She was a beautiful sight then”), while the band carried on regardless, captured the public’s imagination.
Getting to talk to Bride was a journalistic scoop and one that would be associated with Van Anda for the rest of his life. But there was another journalist who’d been one step ahead. Unbeknown to theNew York Times, Carlos F. Hurd, a thirty-six-year-old reporter from theSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, owned by Ralph Pulitzer, had been with his wife, Katherine, on theCarpathiaas a paying passenger headed for the Mediterranean when it had diverted to pick up theTitanicsurvivors.
Hurd found himself in the sad but privileged position of being a writer surrounded by eyewitnesses of one of the biggest peacetime tragedies in living memory and having plenty of time to amass an oral record. He began to speak to those who’d been rescued and found that there was no need to coax information from them. Happy to have been saved, they “found a certain relief in speech.” He took notes and employed Katherine as his assistant. TheCarpathia’s crew members, who’d been instructed by Captain Rostron to keep him away from theTitanicpassengers, impeded his job. The crew refused him supplies of paper, banned him from contacting America by wireless, and had his cabin routinely searched for notes and transcripts. He was forced to write on anything available, including toilet paper, and to keep his material with him at all times.
Messages sent to him care of the ship’s wireless room were not passed on, so he was out of contact with his editors. Despite that, he knew the New York staff would find a way to get to theCarpathiaso that he could pass on to them this huge story. One of the telegrams that didn’t reach him was sent on April 18 by Ralph Pulitzer: “Chapin is on tug Dazelline. Will meet Carpathia between New York and Fire Island Thursday. Been [sic] on lookout and deliver to Chapman [sic] tug your full report of wreck with all interviews obtainable.” Charles Chapin was the editor of the Pulitzer-ownedNew York Evening Worldand Hurd had already anticipated what Chapin would want and had packaged his manuscript in a white waterproof bag, attached it to a cigar box, and added champagne corks on lengths of string, ready to toss it overboard. It was an unusual way of delivering copy, but these were unusual times.
Captain Rostron of theCarpathiatried to deceive the flotilla of tugboats that he knew was awaiting his arrival in New York waters by radioing false positions, but theDazelline, which could equal theCarpathia’s speed of fourteen knots, didn’t fall for the trick. It managed to locate the ship and draw up close to it while a reporter bellowed Hurd’s name through a megaphone. Spotting Pulitzer’s flag, Hurd tossed the package toward the tug but, unfortunately, one of his corked strings tangled with a rope from aTitaniclifeboat, which had not yet been released and was still in the spot it had been hoisted to during the rescue. “A sailor reached out, took the bundle, and hesitated,” Hurd later wrote. “‘Throw it!’ cried a dozen persons. The sailor tossed the bundle to Chapin. With an acknowledging toot of the tug’s whistle, the little craft churned off.”
The drama didn’t end there. The tugboat ploughed its way toward an empty dock at the end of 12th Street, but after disembarking, theWorldemployees found their exit blocked by a boarded-up warehouse with no electric lighting. They had to smash their way into the darkened building and out on the other side to make it to the street. An elevated train took them to the stop closest to theNew York Worldbuilding at 53–63 Park Row. During the journey Chapin hurriedly marked up Hurd’s lengthy handwritten copy and added instructions to the typesetters. A reporter named “Gen” Whytock met him at the station and sprinted the half mile to the office with the script. By the time theCarpathiadocked, an Extra edition of theEvening Worldwas already on the street with a condensed version of the five-thousand-word story on the front page beneath the headline “TitanicBoilers Blew Up, Breaking Her in Two after Striking Berg.” TheSt. Louis Post-Dispatchalso managed to run this story in an Extra that night, putting the full story on the cover the next day.
Headline from the April 18th evening edition of theNew York World.
Thus it was Hurd’s story that first informed the world about the band playing on. In theEvening Worldhe wrote: “The ship’s string band gathered in the saloon, near the end, and played ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee.’” The fuller version published in the next day’s papers, and later syndicated by the Associated Press, read: “As the screams in the water multiplied, another sound was heard, strong and clear at first, then fainter in the distance. It was the melody of the hymn ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee,’ played by the string orchestra in the dining saloon. Some of those on the water started to sing the words, but grew silent as they realized that for the men who played, the music was a sacrament soon to be consummated by death. The serene strains of the hymn and the frantic cries of the dying blended in a symphony of sorrow.”
TheLeeds Mercury, which would have been read by bandleader Wallace Hartley’s bereaved fiancée, Maria Robinson, contained a quote from Carlos Hurd in its April 20 edition. “To relate that as the last boats moved away the ship’s string band gathered in the saloon and played ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ sounds like an attempt to give added colour to a scene which was in itself the climax of solemnity, but various passengers and survivors of the crew agree in declaring they heard this music.”
Other accounts that confirmed Hurd’s report swiftly followed. Caroline Bonnell from Youngstown, Ohio, who’d been traveling with two aunts, an uncle, and a cousin, told a reporter from the United Press Agency that those closest to the ship when it sank heard the men singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” This story appeared in theChristian Science Monitoron April 19 and was picked up by other newspapers.
By the twentieth of April, the story was widely accepted and was viewed as one of the most heartening acts of bravery in the whole tragedy. Southampton resident Ada Clarke was pushed onto a lifeboat by her husband, who chose to remain behind. “I shouldn’t have done it otherwise,” she told theCleveland Plain Dealer. “Oh, they were brave and splendid, all the men. They died like brave men. At the last, all the men were kneeling and there floated out across the water the strains of ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee.’ I could hear it and saw the band men kneeling too.” Mrs. Caroline Brown of Belmont, Massachusetts, told theWorcester Evening Gazette: “The band played marching from deck to deck, and as the ship went under I could still hear the music. The musicians were up to their knees in water the last I saw them.”
Under a headline of “Band Goes Down Playing,” London’sDaily Mirrorreported: “In the whole history of the sea, there is little equal to the wonderful behaviour of these humble players. In the last moments of the great ship’s doom, when all was plainly lost, when braver and hardier men might almost have been excused for doing practically anything to save themselves, they stood responsive to their conductor’s baton and played a recessional tune.” In one edition the front page was given over entirely to the words and music of the hymn.
London’sDaily Mirrorfront page featuring the words of the hymn, April 20, 1912.
On April 21 theNew York Timesdevoted a story to the musicians that favored the tune “Autumn” that Bride had mentioned in his interview as the band’s swan song. They had taken him to mean a tune of that name used by Anglicans in England and Episcopalians in America, not taking into account the fact that a young wireless operator would be more likely to identify hymns by their first lines than by the name of their tunes. According to a correspondent to theNew York Timeson May 12, “Autumn” was not wedded to a particular hymn and listed seven hymns regularly set to “Autumn” in America: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” “Saviour Breathe an Evening Blessing,” “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” “Hail, Thou Once-Despised Jesus,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” and “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” In addition, the tune “Autumn” was also known in some hymnals as “Madrid” and in others as “Jaynes or Janes.”
Carlos Hurd himself later became less certain that the musicians had taken their last breaths playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” He didn’t question that the band had carried on playing and that they had played a hymn or hymns, but he couldn’t be 100 percent sure that his sources could be trusted to accurately identify a tune, given their distance from the ship, the extraneous noises, and the dreamlike way that events seemed to unfold.
Twenty years after the sinking he wrote:
The endeavour to fit such a story together showed how fragmentary was the knowledge of individuals. One would mention an incident which could be confirmed or completed only by another. In the search for the other, new suggestions and new complications would arise. The job would have taxed the energy and resources of a dozen reporters.
An instance of this difficulty was the incident, still remembered, of the playing of the hymn music by the English musicians in the sinking ship’s orchestra. Several persons told of having heard this music from their boats, but, because of distracting noises, they could not be sure what the melody was. Two women, who professed familiarity with sacred music, said it was “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” This statement appeared in my report and gained general currency.The New York Timeslater obtained a book of music said to be a duplicate of the one which theTitanic’s orchestra had. It did not contain the tuneBethany, to which the hymn already named is sung, but it did contain the hymn tuneAutumn, which, though in a different meter, is much likeBethany. TheTimesconcluded thatAutumnwas the number played.
Although minor details differed in the accounts of survivors—the band marched or knelt, played “Autumn” or “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” carried on to the bitter end or calmly packed their instruments away before the final plunge—there was an overwhelming consistency. The musicians had played on the deck as the ship went down. They had forfeited their lives for the sake of others. They had played the tunes of hymns to induce a spirit of peace and calm. They were heroic. Admiral Lord Fisher of England referred to them as “that glorious band,” and the phrase caught on.
The story of their gallantry came to epitomize a spirit of courage, duty, and self-sacrifice. It was held up as proof that manhood wasn’t withering away through self-indulgence, frivolity, and lack of religion. Although the disaster itself was widely regarded as a comeuppance for the powerful and wealthy who had become fixated on speed, luxury, and the domination of nature, the behavior of the musicians showed that worthy “old-fashioned” values of chivalry, fortitude, and love of neighbor still persisted.
The names of the musicians began to appear in newspapers and magazines, although little was known about them. TheDaily Mirrorcontacted Charles Black, the Liverpool agent who had booked the band for theTitanic, to find out more. He explained that there were, in fact, two bands—a “saloon orchestra” of five men, and a “deck band” of three. “Probably they all massed together under their leader, Mr. Wallace Hartley, as the ship sank,” he suggested. “Five of the eight, Mr. Hartley, P. C. Taylor, J. W. Woodward, F. Clark and W. T. Brailey were Englishmen. One, J. Hume, was a Scotsman and the remaining two, Bricoux and Krins, were French and German respectively.”
Neither the quintet nor the trio had played together before boarding theTitanic, three of the musicians had never before been to sea, and, not surprisingly, there was no group photograph to illustrate the stories describing their heroism. Their names were often misspelled or wrongly reported. In theNew York Timesthe cellist John Wesley Woodward became George Woodward, the pianist Percy Cornelius Taylor became Herbert Taylor, violinist Georges Krins became George Krius, bandleader Wallace Hartley became Wallace Hattry, and cellist Roger Bricoux became Roger Brelcoux. (On one memorial he was permanently inscribed as Roger Bricouk.) Even agent Charles Black was confused about the nationality of Georges Krins. He thought Krins was German, not Belgian.
Almost two weeks after the sinking, theIllustrated London Newsproduced a full-page memorial poster with oval portraits of all the musicians except Bricoux, whose family hadn’t been able to supply a picture in time. A series of six postcards by Holmfirth, Bamforth & Co., featuring images of theTitanic, grieving women, and the words of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” was published. In France fifty thousand copies of the sheet music to “Plus Pres de Toi Mon Dieu” were sold in a matter of weeks. In America musician Harold Jones and lyricist Mark Beam wrote a song titled “The Band Played ‘Nearer, My God, Thee’ as the Ship Went Down.”
There the brave men stood,
Las true heroes should,
With their hearts in faith sublime,
And their names shall be fond memory
Until the end of Time.
And the band was bravely playing
The song of cross and crown
—“Nearer, My God, to Thee”
As the ship went down.
On May 18 bandleader Wallace Hartley’s body was brought back to his Lancashire birthplace of Colne to be buried in the family vault alongside his two brothers who had died in infancy. The funeral was an event of epic proportions with crowds of thirty to forty thousand thronging the streets; photographs of the procession and burial were published around the world. Just as the band had given the victims of the sinking a human face, so Hartley gave a face to the band. He was the only one of the eight whose remains would return home.
His parents were inundated with letters from members of the public who claimed to share their grief. A typical letter read: “I desire to congratulate you sincerely on being the mother of a hero and a gentleman whose name—many years after yours and mine are forgotten—will bring a thrill of pride wherever Englishmen are gathered. The knowledge that your dear son died at his post giving comfort and consolation to hundreds of others must ever be a comforting and consoling memory to you.” Others wanted souvenirs of a man they had never met—photographs, samples of his handwriting, copies of music he had touched, something he had owned.
Six days later the Orchestral Association mounted a memorial concert for the musicians at London’s Royal Albert Hall. It featured a five-hundred-strong orchestra composed of members of London’s seven main orchestras—the Philharmonic, the Queen’s Hall, the London Symphony, the New Symphony, the Beecham Symphony, the Royal Opera, and the London Opera House. Conductors included Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood, and composer Edward Elgar. Ada Crossley, an Australian soprano, sang a solo.
A century later theTitanicmusicians’ story is still known, not through newspaper accounts or even history books but through the moviesTitanic(1953),A Night to Remember(1958), andTitanic(1997).Titanicsocieties keep their names alive as do excellent Web sites such aswww.encyclopedia-Titanica.organdwww.Titanic-Titanic.com. In 1997 musician Ian Whitcomb recorded an album of tunes the band would have played and was nominated for a Grammy for his comprehensive sleeve notes. His musicians for the project were named the White Star Orchestra.
Yet despite widespread recognition of the event, we appear to know as much about the musicians as was known in 1912. A book published that year had asked: “What about the bandsmen? Who were they? This question was asked again and again by all who read the story of theTitanic’s sinking and of how the brave musicians played to the last, keeping up the courage of those who were obliged to go down with the ship. Many efforts were made to find out who the men were, but little was made public.” Although because of the Internet it’s now much easier to retrieve contemporary accounts of the band’s actions, the members still remain a ghostly presence. The same photographs are used repetitively, the same rumors are circulated, and other than Wallace Hartley, who entered theOxford Dictionary of British Biographyin 2010, the band members remain anonymous early-twentieth-century figures.
It’s not hard to determine why this is so. These were not famous performers who had given interviews, filled in questionnaires, and been profiled during their lifetimes. None of them had written songs providing insights into their concerns or even, as far as we know, made recordings. For the most part, whatever diaries and letters they may have left behind have been lost over the years. They were famous for their deaths, not their lives. As a result, we know a lot about how they spent their last moments on theTitanic, but almost nothing about how they came to be there.
TheTitanicsailed out of Southampton but was registered in Liverpool. It was from an office in Liverpool that they were hired, at a Liverpool outfitter that they had their bandsmen’s uniforms adapted for the White Star Line, and from Liverpool stations that most of them left for what promised to be the journey of a lifetime. And so it is to Liverpool that we have to return to start the search for the band that played on.
It was from their third-floor office at 14 Castle Street, Liverpool, that two Manchester-born brothers, Charles William and Frederick Nixon Black, planned theTitanic’s music. We’ll never discover what guided their choices or how they approached each instrumentalist, but we know that they had hundreds of players on their books, that they had both played for professional orchestras, and that their task was to put together two impressive groups of musicians appropriate for a first-class passenger list drawn from the top echelon of European and American society.
Gore’s Liverpool Directory showing C. W. & F. N. Black at 14 Castle Street.
No one could have known that they would be sending the eight musicians to their deaths by booking them. After all, theTitanicwas the newest, safest, and most prestigious ship on the seas. Evidence suggests that the musicians may have been enticed by an above-average fee, and the tips alone would have made the trip worth taking. They were contracted only for the maiden voyage. These men from comparatively modest homes would be mingling with some of the world’s richest and most powerful people in an ambience of unparalleled luxury on a voyage that would make history.
The Blacks were to emerge as villains of the piece. The tragedy exposed their unfair business practices and lack of consideration for their employees’ welfare. The ire of the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union had already been aroused when the Blacks became sole agents for all the major shipping lines, and the fate of theTitanicplayers simply gave the union more ammunition. They also revealed themselves as either heartless, thoughtless, or both, by asking one father to pay up for his son’s outstanding tailoring bill. The garment that had been altered was the uniform he died in.
Although the Blacks argued for their innocence in the press, they couldn’t shed the reputation of callousness. Three of the bereaved fathers took them to court, and the AMU continued to campaign against them, eventually advising musicians either to stay with the AMU and not work for the Blacks or to work for the Blacks and relinquish union membership. The brothers, in turn, tried to make amends by raising money for the dependents of theTitanic’s band and making a show of their good deeds.
Whether it was because of their notoriety, or simply because agents weren’t part of polite society, the Black brothers lived and died almost without a trace. ToTitanichistorians they have simply been C. W. & F. N. Black, the name under which they traded. No one has ever fleshed them out or discovered a photograph of them. When they died within a year of each other in the 1940s, their passing wasn’t even noted in their local newspaper. Their archives, which would have been of such value to researchers, must have been destroyed when the company ceased trading during World War II. They were never interviewed about their crucial role in theTitanicstory.
Castle Street had always been close to Liverpool’s center of power. In medieval times it was the street that connected the castle with the market and the river with the Pool, an area where several waterways converged into a docking area for ships. In the late eighteenth century the present town hall was built at one end. In the first decade of the twentieth century, when the Blacks began renting their offices, it was within walking distance of the headquarters of two of the greatest shipping lines of the era: Cunard on Water Street and White Star on James Street. It was also close to the newly completed landmark Royal Liver Building at the Pierhead. All of the buildings in the area announced confidence, wealth, and dominion. On the ground floor of number 14 was the Bank of British West Africa and the vice consular office for Salvador.
Albion House, also known as the White Star Building, Liverpool.
Nineteenth-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once described Liverpool as the Empire’s second city. Internationally it was beaten only by London in terms of the value of its sea trade. New York was third. In 1908 almost 26,000 vessels used the 418 acres of docks that spread along the Mersey. A significant proportion of its population— from the owners of boardinghouses and makers of rope to dockworkers, bar stewards, boatbuilders, and travel agents—were dependent on sea traffic. In 1906 the port listed 1,305 steamships and 914 sailing ships in its register.
Castle Street, Liverpool, looking toward Town Hall. The Blacks’ former office was in the building on the left.
While the port of London handled more cargo, Liverpool dealt with more passengers. Since 1825 almost 56 percent of all people leaving Britain had embarked at Liverpool, and a surge in numbers after 1905 pushed its share to over 60 percent. The bonanza came from a wave of emigration that was only halted by the outbreak of World War I.
Most of these passengers were traveling to either America or Canada with a minority going to Australia, New Zealand, or the Caribbean. Liverpool had long established routes to New York, Boston, Baltimore, Galveston, New Orleans, Quebec, and Montreal, and it attracted passengers from mainland Europe who would travel by ferry to ports such as Hull on the east coast and then overland by train. Some of them had return tickets but the majority were emigrants. The Atlantic crossing was their bid for a better life and Liverpool was their last glimpse of England.
Charles and Frederick Black were born into a working-class Manchester family—their father William was a carpenter and joiner—and they and their sister Elizabeth learned music as children. Musical ability eased their entry into the newly emerging middle class. Frederick, whose main instrument was the oboe, studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music from January 1899 until July 1900. Between 1900 and 1904 he ran F. N. Black & Co., Musical Instrument Manufacturers and Importers, from the family home at 6 Stanley Street in the Fairview area of Liverpool. He started off selling strings, became sole agent for Becker’s violin and cello pegs, and then began selling reasonably priced violins.
Charles, the older brother by ten years, was a professor of music by the age of eighteen and five years later joined the Halle Orchestra as a second violinist. In 1899 he was joined by Frederick, who became one of the orchestra’s four oboists, obviously able to do this job while operating his business from home. Elizabeth became a music teacher. Charles also doubled up as second violinist for the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Halle, Britain’s first fully professional orchestra, was founded in 1857 by German-born pianist and conductor Charles Halle. Based at the Free Trade Hall on Manchester’s Peter Street in Manchester, it consisted of more than one hundred musicians, and a separate Halle choir had almost four hundred voices. Each year the orchestra would do a season of twenty concerts in Manchester and tour throughout Britain.
Another reason for the paucity of information on the Blacks is that they left no heirs. Neither of them married, and nor did their sisters. Florence died in 1905 at the age of thirty-four after a bout of influenza. Elizabeth lived until 1955 and left her estate to her solicitor. The closest living relatives are the granddaughters of a cousin, one of whom owns a faded and damaged photograph of a previously unidentified Black brother. The young man with a dark fitted coat and bow tie is holding a violin, proving him to be Charles, the older and more dominant brother.
Charles Black posing with his violin.
The studio portrait contains few clues about the man who created theTitanic’s band. Charles stares at the camera without a hint of expression. Because of fading it’s hard to tell whether he’s clean-shaven or has a very light, downy mustache. His hair is parted left of center, and his nose has a beaked tip. The bow tie and formal jacket suggest that this was taken when he was playing for the Liverpool Philharmonic and Halle orchestras. Twenty-five years ago, elderly musicians in Liverpool who had worked for him remembered him as Charlie Black, a small dapper man with a neat mustache, smart gray suits, and spectacles, who looked more like a bank manager than a music agent.1
There are no known photos of Frederick Black. The only description of him comes from an army medical record six years after theTitanicvoyage: five feet ten inches tall (taller than the national male average by three inches), 145 pounds, light-brown hair, gray eyes, and a fresh complexion. By then, although still a relatively young man, he had a perforated eardrum that impaired his hearing.
Charles finished with both the Halle and the Liverpool Philharmonic in 1907 and between then and 1909 established the agency, describing himself as a “musical director” rather than a mere “music agent.” This suggests a more creative role involving assembling bands, choosing repertoire, and supplying music. A musician friend, Enos Green, became the Blacks’ London representative, working out of his home on Fordwych Road in West Hampstead.
C. W. & F. N. Black became the sole agents for the Grand Central Hotel in Leeds; the Kardomah Café in Castle Street, Liverpool; and the Constant Spring Hotel in Jamaica. They claimed to be able to supply groups of between five and fifty musicians. The most lucrative side of their business was to come from the shipping lines, which all used professional bands on their major passenger routes. By 1912 they were booking musicians for American, Anchor, Booth, Cunard, Royal Mail, and White Star—lines that owned more than eighty vessels between them. Players in the employ of the Blacks were known in Liverpool as “Charlie’s navy.”
Although the musicians on ships played stringed instruments and were often referred to as an orchestra, they were officially bandsmen under the direction of a bandmaster. In a rare interview from the period, John Carr, a musician on the White Star linerCeltic, explained: “It’s a mistake from the technical point of view to call a steamer’s orchestra a band. The term is a survival of the days when they really had a brass band on board. On all the big steamships now the music is given by men who are thorough masters of their instruments.”
Initially music on ships was provided by musically competent passengers, later by crew members. Stewards in second class were routinely tested for musical skills. When bands were eventually recruited from outside, they made their income from tips, but by 1907 the first salaried professional orchestras appeared on ships such as theAragonandAdriatic. A 1909 White Star Line brochure for the “big four”—theAdriatic,Baltic,Cedric, andCeltic—used music as a selling point: “The cheery surroundings of the lounge make it an ideal spot for casual conversation or for the leisurely after-dinner demitasse, and, with the ship’s own orchestra of professional musicians discoursing catchy airs in the main foyer of the steamer, just outside the lounge doors, a pleasant sense of camaraderie is certain to be developed between the passengers even though they hail from many corners of the globe.”
Crew lists reveal the names of these often uncelebrated musicians who played their way around the world: people like Ernest Drakeford of Rotherham, Ellwand Moody of Bramley, Frederick Stent and Albert Felgate of Egremont on the Wirral. Some of the older musicians were in their late fifties. Some of the younger ones were barely out of their teens. Many would stay with a ship for months or even years, but others would flit from ship to ship and from line to line. On Mediterranean cruises two English musicians might, for example, leave the ship in Italy to be replaced by two Italians. It was the ideal job for travelers, adventurers, and those escaping domestic problems.
The work was long and arduous. A band could be expected to play at lunchtime, during teatime, and then again in the restaurant at night, as well as rehearsing every day. They might also perform at church services, evening balls, and at special celebratory events, such as when a ship broke the speed record. A sixteen-page White Star Line music booklet of the period lists 341 numbered pieces ranging from overtures, waltzes, ragtime, and marches to sacred music, classical music, and operatic selections. It was an extensive repertoire and new hit songs would be added as the list was constantly updated. Passengers—each given a copy of the booklet—could call out the number of any tune, and the band would be expected to play it.
The rewards of the job were the regularity of employment and the chance to travel. Musicians on regular transatlantic sailings would inevitably spend as much time in Boston and New York as they did in Liverpool and Southampton. They made friends in these cities, especially among fellow musicians, and were able to experience the music, theater, and art of America. As a result they became experienced and confident players able to turn their hands to anything from a Rossini opera to the latest music hall hit.
The standard wage for a ship’s musician was £6 10s. 0d. a month (£6.50 in decimal currency)—slightly higher than that of a police constable but lower than that of a miner. Food and lodging were free, however, and there were tips and a monthly uniform allowance. As crew members, musicians were under the command of the captain and in the case of injury or death were covered by the Workmen’s Compensation Bill of 1906. If they handled their money well, it was possible to accumulate decent savings after a few years at sea.
The Blacks were definitely servicing ships by 1909 and first appear inGore’s Liverpool Directoryfor 1910.2In August 1909, an Austrian bandsman on theLusitania, Paul Schumann, gave the Black’s office address in Castle Street as his contact address. Yet at that time not every ship’s musician was a client of C. W. & F. N. Black. Musicians were free to deal directly with the lines or with individual bandleaders. This changed in the early part of 1912 when the brothers negotiated with the major shipping companies to become their exclusive music agents. A White Star representative said the deal was “a contract to furnish an orchestra of five musicians for a fixed sum for each ship.” All future business would go through C. W. & F. N. Black.
The Amalgamated Musicians’ Union in Britain reacted angrily on behalf of its members. Not only were the Blacks harming long-established relationships between musicians and ships, but they also used their power to cut wages by almost 40 percent and abolish the uniform allowance. Their contracts confusingly prohibited players from accepting tips while simultaneously stipulating that gratuities should be pooled and then distributed equally to each musician, except for the bandleader, who was to get a double portion. The Blacks must have known that the wage reduction made tips essential for the players.
Black Bros. salary statement for musician Roger Bricoux.
In March 1912 an AMU delegation traveled to Southampton, where theOlympicwas in dock, to confront the White Star Line’s chairman, J. Bruce Ismay. Their case was as follows:
While we admit that anyone who finds the musicians and the music for someone else is entitled to some recompense, we cannot for one moment agree that Messrs. Black or anyone else are entitled to anything like 50 per cent of the fee allowed them for each bandsman . . . The bandsmen should sign the ship’s articles, be paid their wages direct by the company and not through any agent, and sign off at the termination of any engagement.
The ship’s articles were terms and conditions that gave the bandsmen all the privileges of a crew member. It cost one shilling a month to sign on. Ismay’s response to the AMU appeared spiteful. Instead of restoring the previous arrangements, he cut all direct employment ties between White Star and the musicians by removing them from the ship’s articles and requiring the Black agency to pay for their tickets as second-class passengers. They were now employees of C. W. & F. N. Black. Like any other White Star passenger, they would go through immigration controls at Ellis Island and be required to produce $50 to prove they were not destitute. Ismay appeared to be saying, “Look. It’s nothing to do with me. If you have problems with the wages, go and talk to the agency. We don’t set the pay thresholds.”
Ships’ musicians were now not only poorer but also lower in status. “A musician on board a ship is still but a queer creature,” complained the Orchestral Association in its journal. “He is a square peg in a round hole. There is really no place for him on board unless he does a bit of waiting at table. He is not a seaman, fireman, steward, or any article mentioned in the regulations of the mercantile marine. Not even a chattel!” TheNew York Timesran a story on March 24, 1912, headlined “Bandsmen Now Passengers” that ended with the observation “This method takes them out of the jurisdiction of the Captain, as they are not members of the crew.” The archives of the White Star Line are incomplete, making it impossible to know the exact terms of the contract with C. W. & F. N. Black.
There’s no extant correspondence to reveal how the brothers managed their coup. They may have known J. Bruce Ismay through Liverpool business connections or through social circles on the Wirral peninsula. They lived in a seven-room house on Heron Road. Ismay’s inherited family mansion, Dawpool (designed by Richard Norman Shaw, architect of New Scotland Yard, the Savoy Theatre, Bedford Park, and the Piccadilly Hotel among other London buildings and Albion House in Liverpool), was only six miles away, overlooking the River Dee at Thurstaston.
The Blacks would have followed the progress of the building of theTitanicand the battle between Cunard and White Star for supremacy on the transatlantic route. The two shipping lines had a lot in common. Thomas Henry Ismay, the founder of White Star, was born in 1837, Samuel Cunard in 1839. Ismay’s Oceanic Steamship Company was formed in 1869, the Cunard Steamship Company in 1879. Both lines were built out of the remnants of previous companies.
The formative years of Cunard and White Star witnessed the transition from sail to steam and from wood to iron. It also saw a rapid increase in emigration from Europe to America. The question both lines faced was how to best capitalize on the lucrative North Atlantic route. Cunard opted to sell speed. It reasoned that most of the passengers were one-way ticket holders who weren’t sailing in order to pamper themselves but to get to their destinations in the shortest time. White Star instead chose to highlight luxury, reasoning that it was possible to transform the journey from an ordeal into a memorable experience by the addition of comfort, splendor, and style.
The innovations on White Star liners were impressive. First-class accommodation was shifted from the back of the ship to the middle where there was less noise from the engines. Spacious promenade decks, more portholes, and grand dining saloons were introduced. The capacity for third-class passengers was doubled and they were given their own dining room with linen napkins, silverware, and printed menus.
Thomas Ismay died in 1899 and J. Bruce Ismay, his son, inherited his company and his position. In 1902 the line was acquired by John Pierpont Morgan (J. P. Morgan), whose International Mercantile Marine Company was slowly swallowing up British shipping. Along with White Star, it would acquire Dominion, Red Star, Leyton, and Atlantic Transport. To avoid high U.S. port taxes and potential violation of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, however, Morgan ensured that the ships remained registered in Britain and had British captains, crews—and orchestras.
The British government saw White Star’s access to American money as a threat to the supremacy of its country’s shipping, and so it bolstered Cunard with a £150,000 annual subsidy plus a low-interest loan of £2.5 million. As a direct result, Cunard began an ambitious building program for two of the fastest liners ever constructed—theLusitaniaand theMauretania. TheLusitaniamade its maiden voyage in September 1907 and the next month made history by slashing more than eleven hours from the existing record for a westbound crossing and ending German dominance of the Blue Riband, an unofficial accolade given to the ship with the fastest transatlantic crossing.3It was the first time a ship had made the crossing in less than five days.
For years White Star had worked exclusively with the Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff. Thomas Ismay had met a Liverpool merchant, Gustavus Schwabe, who offered financing if Ismay had his ships built by his nephew Gustav Wolff, who was in partnership with Edward Harland. Ismay accepted the deal. Harland died in 1895, but the arrangement continued under his successor, William James Pirrie, later Lord Pirrie.
The legend is that theTitanicwas conceived in the spring of 1907 during an after-dinner conversation between Pirrie and Ismay at Downshire House, Pirrie’s London home in Belgrave Square (now the Spanish Embassy). Sometimes the tale is rounded off with Ismay making provisional sketches of the great ship on his table napkin. Several aspects of the story don’t ring true. The most obvious is that theLusitaniahad already been launched by then, and so it was a bit late for a White Star response. Also, Ismay was a ship owner, not a ship designer. What details could he have communicated in a crude sketch that he couldn’t explain in words?
SwissTitanicscholar Gunter Babler has picked up on several other inconsistencies in this story based on the preparations made at Harland & Wolff for the construction of a bigger class of ship. The earliest of these was the building of the large Thomson dock in 1904. Babler believes that theOlympic-class liners were decided on in 1903, although the specifics were kept under wraps for obvious reasons. The earlier date makes sense in light of the purchase of White Star by J. P. Morgan in 1902, which made the larger ships possible, and the response to this by Cunard.
Babler traced the dinner story back to a single source: the 1961 bookThe Ismay Lineby William J. Oldham. No previous account had mentioned it. As Oldham had access to Ismay’s widow before she died in 1937, it’s likely that she told him the story. It may be that the dinner happened but in another year or that the talk of theTitanicat a 1907 meal was merely the culmination of a four-year planning process. Possibly Mrs. Ismay didn’t know the year of the dinner, and Oldham guessed based on the fact that the orders for ships 400 and 401, as theOlympicand theTitanicwere initially known, were registered in Harland & Wolff ’s books on April 30, 1907.
The plan was for three ships: first theOlympic, then theTitanic, and finally theGigantic.4Responsibility for their design was given to Thomas Andrews, Pirrie’s nephew and newly promoted head of Harland and Wolff ’s design department. Ismay and the other White Star directors approved his drawings in July 1908. TheTitanicwould accommodate up to 2,599 passengers and 903 officers and crew. It would have twenty-eight first-class suites, four electric elevators (three of them in first class), a heated swimming pool, a squash court, a fully equipped gymnasium, two libraries, four restaurants, a medical bay, and an operating theater. In first class it would have all the luxuries of an English country house, a gentleman’s club in London, or a town house in New York, and rich passengers would pay as much as one hundred times more than those in steerage for the privilege.
All the latest advances in marine construction would accompany these embellishments. There would be sixteen watertight compartments with electronically operated doors and sensors to detect water levels. This was believed to virtually guarantee that the ship could deal with any puncture. It had three propellers, twenty-four double-ended boilers, and five single-ended boilers. Although the advance publicity did not specifically boast that the ship was unsinkable, it did state that it was “designed to be unsinkable,” andShipbuildermagazine in 1911 declared it to be “practically unsinkable.”
Because the proposed liners were so much bigger than anything built before—50 percent larger than theLusitaniaorMauretania—the Belfast shipyards of Harland & Wolff had to be reconfigured to make room for them. Two new slipways were created from three old ones, and new gantries over 200 feet tall with electric lifts had to be built above the hulls. It would take an unprecedented three thousand men to work on theTitanic, and everyone concerned was aware that this was the largest man-made transportable structure ever built.
Charlie and Frederick Black would have known of theTitanic’s advancement not only through their connections in Liverpool but also because there was national interest in this feat of British engineering and example of twentieth-century progress. Ships were an indication of a nation’s wealth, power, and technological advancement. They were the most powerful form of transport then known, and the shrinking of the distance between Britain and America gained the sort of attention that the Space Race would get in the 1950s and 1960s.
News coverage of the ship’s building expressed awe and wonder. It was an age of record breaking, invention, and mankind’s seemingly limitless ability to master nature. Reports were full of dizzying statistics about the weight of iron plates, the numbers of rivets, and the measurements of decks. It was hard to know what to do with such facts as “the stern frame weighs 70 tons,” or “it would take 20 horses to haul one rudder.” The accumulative effect was to impress the average reader with the ingenuity of designers and the capacity of humans to construct on such a large scale.
White Star booklet featuring theOlympicandTitanic.
The first report on the ships in theTimescame on September 1, 1908, in a page-ten story headlined “The New White Star Liners.” It mentioned that all the preliminaries had been settled and that construction had been started.
They will be longer, broader, and deeper than theLusitaniaand theMauretania. The exact dimensions are not yet obtainable but the gross tonnage will be about 8000 tons more than that of the two Cunarders. It is reckoned that the vessels will take three years to build. One is to be called theOlympic; the name of the other is not yet decided upon, but it will probably be theTitanic. The question of speed, which will not be high in a record-breaking sense, is being left in abeyance, doubtless pending the result of an experiment which is now being made by Messrs. Harland & Wolff with a combination of reciprocating and turbine engines, in which exhaust steam from the first engine is utilized in the second.
In November 1909 the paper reported that Trafalgar Dock in Southampton would have to be rebuilt to take these huge ships. (Ismay had decided to switch his transatlantic operation to Southampton rather than compete directly with Cunard from Liverpool.) The new dock would be 1700 feet long and 400 feet wide, and would require four new cargo sheds to be built.
In April 1910 there was news that the channel leading to Southampton docks would need to be deepened. It had already been dredged to 30 feet for the American Line and then to 32 feet for theAdriaticandOceanic. Now the bed beneath the shipping lanes would need to be lowered an additional 3 feet. The International Mercantile Marine Company then had to petition the federal government in America to allow the city of New York to lengthen its piers by 100 feet. The New York Dock Commission was happy to do it, but the government was concerned that the additional length would constrict the river.
News interest turned to insurance in January 1911. This was no small matter because sea travel still had a high element of risk. In its Mail and Shipping Intelligence column, theTimeshad a regular list of the latest wrecks and casualties, and in the January 6 edition that carried news of theTitanicandOlympicinsurance, it mentioned fourteen calamities during the past two days, mostly involving collisions resulting in damage. The report claimed that theTitanicandOlympichad been insured for between £700,000 and £800,000 although the actual cost of each ship was £1,500,000.
TheTitanicwas launched on May 31, 1911, “in brilliant weather, and in the presence of thousands of spectators,” according to theTimes, the same day that theOlympic, which had been launched in October, left Belfast for England to commence her maiden voyage. For the first and only time the ships that had grown up alongside each other were briefly seen together on the water. Despite theTitanic’s size it apparently slid with ease down an incline greased with twenty-four tons of tallow, soap, and oil, once the shores had been removed. With an eye on detail, theTimesrecorded that it took sixty-two seconds to move from land to river, that her maximum speed as she did so was twelve knots, and that “the wave produced as her stem dropped into the water was much smaller than might have been expected considering the mass of the structure.”
Although thousands of paying spectators and many dignitaries— including Lord Pirrie, J. Bruce Ismay, and J. P. Morgan—were present, there was no traditional naming ceremony, and tugs quickly towed her to a berth where she would spend the next eight months being fitted out. Flags hung on the side of the ship spelled out the wordsuccess. On February 3, 1912, she left the wharf and was taken to her dry dock for the final preparations.
The Black brothers knew that they were to supply the musicians for this much-talked-about ship. They would also have known that besides the traditional five-piece band for the main first-class restaurant, there was to be a trio for the ship’s nearby Café Parisien which, as the name suggested, would have a Continental flavor and would appeal to those who looked to Paris as the arbiter of taste in food, fashion, and art. It was a knowing touch of sophistication that allowed passengers to move from Pall Mall to Montmartre in a few easy steps.
Everything on theTitanichad to be the best that money could buy, and the onus on the Blacks was to look through the lists of musicians they knew or had worked with and find the best quintet and trio it was possible to come up with. The men needed to be experienced, versatile, smart, and able to converse easily with the wealthy and powerful.
Key to building a successful band was an inspirational bandleader. The ideal person would be someone who commanded respect among musicians, had an outstanding moral character, and was used to playing for a well-traveled, sophisticated, and international clientele. It also helped if this leader could recommend players, because a good band worked when the musicians gelled both personally and musically. They found their man in Wallace Hartley, a thirty-three-year old Lancastrian who was currently bandmaster on theMauretania, the ship that had taken the Blue Riband from theLusitania.
3“A MAN WITH THEHIGHESTSENSE OFDUTY.”
Wallace Hartley was an obvious choice as bandleader. Five feet ten inches tall with dark hair, blue eyes, and a winning smile, he’d had extensive experience as a musician both on land and on sea and had worked with many of the best players in the business. He was also a man of fine moral standing. Raised as a Methodist, he exhibited the diligence, honesty, and sobriety characteristic of a Christian denomination that had transformed working-class life in Britain. His first employers at a local bank found him “steady, attentive and capable.” John Carr, a cellist on the White Star linerCeltic, said that he was “a man with the highest sense of duty.” Another fellow musician spoke of his “commanding stature.” A Colne friend called him “one of the nicest and most gentlemanly lads I ever knew.”
Other than the few photographs that we have of Hartley, the best physical description of him comes from an interview given to theDewsbury District Newsby his friend John Wood. “I seem to see him now in a characteristic attitude when seated—half reclining in an easy fashion in the armchair. Two long, white fingers of his left hand held along his chin, and two supporting his head—a long, lean face, dark-brown eyes, long hair, blackish, with a rich brown lustre—not overlong, but I never saw it short.”
By the time Charlie Black invited him to lead the band on theTitanic,he had been at sea for almost three years working his way up from second violin on theLucaniato bandmaster of theMauretania. Each Atlantic crossing at this time took between five and six days. There would then be four days at the port for refueling, maintenance, replenishment of essential goods, and the taking on of cargo and passengers. It was during these times that Hartley came to know and love New York with its vibrancy, optimism, and range of new entertainment.
When Katherine Hurd arrived there with her husband, Carlos, in April 1912 to board theCarpathia, these were her initial impressions as conveyed in a letter to her mother: “New York is tremendous—something like I expected it to be only a thousand times more so. And with all its size it is so beautifully clean.” Although New York was large and bustling, it was still far from the densely packed city bristling with skyscrapers that we bring to mind today.
Often described as a Yorkshireman because his last address was in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, Hartley was born and spent his formative years in Colne, Lancashire, five and a half miles north of Burnley. It was close to the Yorkshire border but the historic rivalry between the two counties, which had started on battlefields and continued on cricket pitches, meant that you belonged to one county or the other regardless of geographical proximity.
Hartley’s roots on both sides of the family were deep in the Lancashire soil. His father, Albion Hartley, was born in Colne, as were Albion’s parents, Henry and Mary. Albion married Elizabeth Foulds, also from Colne, whose parents had grown up in the area. All of them worked with cotton, the town’s primary industry. Henry Hartley had been a cotton weaver and Mary a dressmaker. Elizabeth was a worsted weaver (a person who worked with worsted wool), and Albion started as a cotton-sizer (a worker who applied a gluelike substance to prepared cotton to make it easier to work with) and eventually became a mill manager.
Cotton and the industrial revolution had turned Colne from a small hilltop village into a typical mill town of industrial buildings and back-to-back workers’ houses. An 1872 gazetteer summed the town up in numbers: three churches, five dissenting chapels, a mechanic’s institute, two endowed schools, a post office, a bank, and two inns. There were 1,357 houses and a population of 6,315. Twenty years later the population had tripled.
John Wesley, the great British preacher, visited Colne several times in the latter half of the eighteenth century and knew of its tough and violent reputation. Although still a minister of the Church of England, Wesley believed in evangelizing in the open air and he relentlessly traveled across Britain on horseback, preaching the gospel to those who would never enter a place of worship. His approach outraged traditional churchmen who believed it degraded preaching and removed the mystery and splendor from religion. George White, the vicar of Colne, was a vociferous opponent of Wesley and would organize drunken mobs to attack him when he visited the area. One of Wesley’s helpers was even thrown to his death off a bridge.
Wesley never left the Church of England, but his followers did. The breakaway denomination became known as Methodism and had a particular appeal to ordinary working people who found the established church out of touch with their needs—too much a church for the well-off and powerful. When Methodism gripped a community it had observable social effects because Wesley taught that followers of Christ should be thrifty, charitable, sober, honest, and concerned with developing their minds and bodies as well as their souls. The result was an increase in schools, music groups, orchestras, and benevolent societies, and a decrease in wasteful drunkenness, violence, poverty, and ignorance. Methodists believed not only in personal salvation but also in holiness, self-improvement, and charity. Communities became more law abiding and better educated. Husbands became more responsible. Workers became more eager to learn.
In this way the Colne that had once spurned Wesley became a beneficiary of his ministry. The first Methodist chapel was built in 1722 and by the time Wallace was born in 1878, there were eight chapels catering to different areas of the town and different stripes of Methodism (Free, Primitive, Independent, and Wesleyan). All of the buildings were funded by donations from benefactors (as Methodists improved their lives some became leaders in industry) and public subscriptions. Then the chapels built schools in the same way and the schools used their premises to found Reading Associations and Friendly Sick Societies, (groups who helped financially when someone was out of work due to ill health). Methodism affected Colne life at every level and produced many citizens who were the first in their families to make the transition from laboring to clerical work and eventually to management.
The remains of Bethel Chapel. The main building was on the right.
Albion Hartley was a prominent member of the Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel on Burnley Road. Since it was built in 1871 he had been its choirmaster and was also the superintendent of the Sunday school. When Wallace Hartley was born on Sunday, June 2, 1878, at the family home, 92 Greenfield Hill, the visiting doctor joked with Albion that he’d give him five shillings for the collection plate if the chapel choir would sing “Unto Us a Child Is Given” at the Sunday school anniversary later that day. Unbeknown to the doctor, the song was already in the repertoire and Albion replied: “Let me have your five shillings. We have been rehearsing it and will sing it today!” That day the collection reached £100 for the first time.
Birthplace of Wallace Hartley at 92 Greenfield Road, Colne.
Wallace was the second Hartley child but the first son. His older sister, Mary, had been born the year before and Elizabeth and Hilda would soon expand the family to five, but two more sons born to Elizabeth wouldn’t make it to their second birthdays. Hartley was seven when Ughtred Harold Hartley died and nine when Conrad Robert Hartley suffered the same fate. Both children were buried in Colne Cemetery.
In 1885 the mill where Albion worked burned down and many of the workers lost their jobs. Albion took the opportunity not just to get a new job but also to move and start a new career. At the age of thirty-four he left the cotton industry, became an insurance agent in the nearby town of Nelson, and moved the family from Greenfield Hill, which was an isolated row of cottages on the outskirts of the town, to a larger property at 1 Burnley Road, close to Bethel Chapel and not far from Wallace’s school.
Hartley had begun his education at George Street Wesleyan School. The building had been built as a Methodist Sunday school in 1869 but eighteen months later had become a day school capable of accommodating more than six hundred children. Emphasis was put on teaching the children to read, write, and do basic math.
The former George Street Wesleyan School, Colne, where Hartley was educated.
Musically Hartley learned from his father, who had him join the choir at the Bethel Chapel, and from one of the congregation, Pickles Riley, who taught him violin. One of his school friends, Thomas Hyde, recalled music lessons at school around 1890. “We all started learning music and the violin together in the bottom classroom at George Street,” he remembered. “There would be about 20 of us and we were all about eleven or twelve years old. I don’t remember that Wallace was any different from any of us in his violin playing but he seemed to come on remarkably afterwards.” Writing to theHuddersfield Examinerin 1958, the old headmaster’s son, J. M. Baldwin, had a slightly different recollection of Hartley’s reputation from the same period. “He was one of my heroes,” he said, “for I knew from the talk of my elders that he was already a musician of repute, but more definitely because he possessed a bicycle, one of the earliest ‘safeties’ to be seen in Colne.”
Just as his schooling came to an end, his father was promoted to assistant superintendent at the Refuge Assurance Company in Colne. Possibly because of the increased wage, he moved to 90 Albert Road, a terraced house close to the railway station and on Colne’s main street. Albion wasn’t keen for his Wallace to become a professional musician. He wanted him to pursue something more secure. An obedient son, Wallace took his first job as a clerk at the Craven Bank that stood on a corner five minutes up the road from the Hartley home.
Wallace Hartley at eighteen, with his music teacher Pickles Riley, after receiving an award at a Methodist music festival.
90 Albert Road, Colne. Hartley’s early teenage home.
Hartley didn’t like office work. He said he found it “irksome.” His joy in life was to be playing music and he sought every opportunity to do so. He accompanied his sister Mary on the violin when she sang at local concerts. And when the manager of the bank, James Lascelles Wildman, who was a Methodist circuit preacher and the son of a Sunday school superintendent, formed the Colne Orchestral Society, he joined.
It’s not easy to build up a picture of Hartley’s character at this time because all the comments made by those who knew him were collected after he’d become a national hero. Albion thought he was “an ideal son” who “never caused his father or mother a single moment’s trouble.” A Methodist preacher, Thomas Worthington, confirmed that he was a “strong Christian”; Thomas Hyde found him “smart looking,” “fun,” and a “very nice lad”; an anonymous friend described him as “a noble manly fellow, incapable of anything mean.” The only note of discord came when Hyde added that he was “a bit what you might call ‘roughish,’ ” a description that seems at odds with all the talk of delicate fingers, artistic sensitivity, and filial obedience.
Plaque on the Albert Road house in Colne.
The former bank building where Hartley worked in Colne.
Hartley left Colne with his family in 1895 when he was seventeen. Albion’s career was still progressing and he would soon become a superintendent. They moved over the border to Yorkshire and a home at 35 Somerset Street in Huddersfield. It’s unclear where Hartley worked during his early years in the new county, but we know that he played with the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra and that in the 1901 census he was able to describe his occupation as “professional musician.” Two years later he was first violinist with the Municipal Orchestra of Bridlington, a resort on the Yorkshire coast.
It was in vogue at this time in Britain to employ Austrian and German conductors because of their connection to the lands that produced Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. The Bridlington Orchestra was no different. It had engaged the services of Sigmund Winternitz, a thirty-three-year-old musician from Vienna with a waxed mustache, whose influence on the orchestra was such that it became known as the Royal Viennese Band. The members were kitted out in dark trousers, military-style jackets, and stiff felt hats and were expected to give two daily performances at the bandstand during the week and a concert of sacred music on Sundays. In 1904 they moved indoors to the Floral Pavilion, which could hold seventeen hundred.
In 1905 Hartley’s parents moved to 48 Hillcrest Avenue in Leeds. This is likely to have been when he joined the Municipal Orchestra in Harrogate, which performed at the newly built Kursaal at least twice a day, excluding Sundays, alternating performances with a military band. Leeds became his new base. He apparently joined a local bohemian arts group called the Savage Club that met in an artist’s workshop, and certainly led the orchestra at Collinson’s Café in King Edward Street in the heart of a newly developed shopping area.
Wallace Hartley with the Bridlington Municipal Orchestra aka Royal Viennese Band (front row fourth from left). Orchestra director Sigmund Winternitz stands next to him.
The recording industry was in its infancy in the early 1900s and music was still synonymous with live performance. Children learned to play instruments not with the hope of becoming a “star” but because playing and singing were regarded as social assets. (James McCartney, born in Lancashire in 1902, told future Beatle Paul: “Learn to play the piano, son, and you’ll always get invited to parties.”) It was the age of sheet music and the pianoforte, when families would gather in living rooms to sing the latest popular songs. Collieries, mills, and factories, particularly in the north of England, formed bands and the Victorian emphasis on temperance and clean living resulted in parks, “recreation grounds,” and “pleasure gardens” furnished with often-ornate bandstands.
Teahouses and coffeehouses began as genteel rest spots where people could take light refreshments in a nonalcoholic environment. They were safe alternatives to public houses, and women, in particular, were drawn to them. During the first decade of the century, they began to offer afternoon “tea dances” and fashionable restaurants introduced dance floors. Prestigious hotels such as the Ritz and Savoy in London already had their own orchestras that would play during afternoon tea and evening drinks.
Collinson’s Café, Leeds, now a Jigsaw fashion store but with many origianl features retained.
Roof at the site of Collinson’s Café, Leeds, where Hartley played in the orchestra.
Collinson’s Café was a stylish property that opened in 1903 and would become a Leeds institution. A long narrow entrance area opened up into a large semicircle where the orchestra would have played. Above them was a balcony and above the balcony a tall glass dome. Staircases swept upward from the ground-floor level and all the windows were leaded with stained glass designs. The streaming light, colored glass, and music combined to produce an atmosphere of elegance and beauty.
Towns and cities considered their musical calendars to be indicators of sophistication, and seaside resorts used music to pull in visitors. Visitors might choose Eastbourne over Bournemouth or Southport over Blackpool simply because of the quality of music available in the hotels, bandstands, pavilions, and concert halls. Local councils would subsidize orchestras because of the value they added to their towns.
This all helped make music a viable profession. There was an increasing demand for players, teachers, conductors, and directors. A good versatile musician could move from opera house to tearoom and from concert hall to bandstand. Many of the great classical composers—including Mahler, Delius, Elgar, Ravel, Holst, and Debussy—were still writing, their latest works being premiered around the country and appreciated by the same people who liked Gilbert and Sullivan or the latest hits from the music hall.
It must have been while working at Collinson’s that Hartley met Maria Robinson, a tall dark-haired girl who lived with her family twelve miles away in Boston Spa. She was the eldest of four children, her father, Benjamin, being a woollen manufacturer in the Leeds suburb of Wortley. He’d become prosperous enough to buy St. Ives, a huge detached villa in Boston Spa that had once been an inn. Hartley became a regular visitor and he and Maria, along with her sister Margaret and Margaret’s boyfriend John Wood, would go for long walks in the surrounding countryside or take a rowing boat out on the River Wharfe.
By the time of his thirtieth birthday in 1908, Hartley didn’t yet feel ready to settle down with his twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend. There was a world to see, more money to save, and more musical avenues to explore. His parents moved to Dewsbury, where the Refuge Assurance Company had relocated Albion, and the traveling distance between Wallace and Maria doubled. He was also now touring with opera companies, first with the Carla Rosa Opera Company and then the Moody-Manners Company. Although Dewsbury was now home, he was rarely ever there.
It’s not known why, but in 1909 Hartley decided to go to sea. Charles Black, who had just started booking for Cunard, could have spotted him, or maybe a musician he met in the opera companies had suggested it. It’s not hard to see the appeal. He not only would have consistent and varied work, but also would get to see places that few of his British contemporaries could ever hope to see.
This was an age of emigration to America and yet there were few young people who traveled there with a return ticket other than the wealthy or employees of shipping lines. Many of his contemporaries in Colne, Dewsbury, or Leeds wouldn’t have traveled more than a few miles from their birthplaces. America was a country they only read about in newspapers and books and most of them would have never met an American.
Hartley’s first ship was the 12,950-tonLucania, a Cunard liner that had once held the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. He boarded her in Liverpool bound for New York on June 6, 1909, and arrived back on July 3. It was to be a short-lived association because on returning theLucania, which had been in service since 1893, was taken into dry dock for repair and there it caught fire. It was then sold for scrap. Hartley was transferred to another Cunard liner, the greatLusitania.
Life on board theLusitaniawas unlike anything he had experienced before. When he boarded her on July 16, 1909, for a nineteen-day round trip to New York, she was, along with theMauretania, the last word in luxury travel. It was said that the second-class accommodation was equivalent to first class in any other ship and that first class was comparable to the glory of King Solomon’s palace.
The first-class dining saloon, where Hartley played, was spread over two stories, the centerpiece of which was an open circular well capped with an elaborate dome that must have reminded him of the glass roof of Collinson’s Café. The style was sixteenth-century French. One of Cunard’s innovations was to have the band playing on the balcony while passengers were eating, as well as on the saloon floor later in the evening when tables and chairs were removed to allow passengers to dance. TheNew York Timesfound the idea of music at mealtimes so amusing that it published a cartoon portraying the musicians trying to play during a storm while plates, glasses, cutlery, and bottles of wine flew off the nearby tables.
When Hartley joined theLusitania, the Blue Riband for the fastest westbound crossing of the Atlantic was held by its sister ship theMauretania, but on its fifty-ninth westbound crossing, theLusitaniabeat this record by arriving in New York four days, eleven hours, and forty-two minutes after leaving Liverpool. The passengers were drawn into the spirit of competition, counting the miles covered each day and calculating the ship’s chances of entering the history books. During a concert mounted on the last evening at sea, a resolution was announced congratulating the captain, the chief engineer, and the ship’s crew for the speed of the journey and the privilege of crossing “in the steamship when it breaks the transatlantic record between Europe and the United States.”
It must have been a heady time for Hartley and the band, knowing that they’d been a part of a record-breaking trip, but the victory was to be short-lived. Only a week later theMauretaniawon the Riband back after clipping just seven minutes off theLusitania’s time. TheLusitaniawould never regain it. This meant that theMauretaniawas regarded as the supreme ocean liner. In October 1910 the Black brothers approached Hartley with an offer to work on theMauretania, not just as a member of the band, but as its leader. On October 28 Hartley signed the deal and the next day was on board sailing for New York yet again.
He brought with him three members of theLusitaniaband—Pat O’Day, Henry Taylor, and Albert Felgate—and sailed to New York the next day. It was to be the first of twenty-six round trips he would make on theMauretaniabetween England and America. With the addition of Fred Stent, the five-piece band would remain unchanged until May 1911 when Clarence Kershaw replaced O’Day and Ellwand Moody of Leeds replaced Taylor. Then, in November 1911, Ernest Drakeford took over from Kershaw.
Moody later described the band on theMauretaniaas a very happy group. So why did Hartley leave? Some contemporary newspaper accounts suggested that Charlie Black approached him with the offer to become bandleader on theTitanicwhen he arrived back in Liverpool on theMauretaniaon April 8, 1912, with theTitanicabout to leave from Southampton on April 10. Hartley’s letter of that day to his parents (“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 . . .”) implies a hurried change of plan, but it’s implausible that the Blacks would leave such an important appointment to the last minute.
By 1912 he had become engaged to Maria and a wedding was planned for the summer. Since going to sea their meetings had been snatched between trips. Sometimes she would visit him in Liverpool and at other times they would meet at the Hartley family home in Dewsbury and go to a Sunday service at St. Mark’s Church in Halifax Road. His intention was to give up the sea and return to concert work.
The evidence is that Hartley had been offered theTitanicjob long before April 1912. Ellwand Moody later told theLeeds Mercurythat he spoke about it while on theMauretaniaand tried to persuade Moody to join him. Moody’s twelve-month contract expired on April 9, 1912, but he was determined to stay on land. “I should not have gone on any other boat in any case,” he said, “but I didn’t fancy theTitanicat all. TheMauretaniawas plenty big enough for me.”
Moody was one of a handful of musicians who later claimed to have turned down theTitanic’s maiden voyage. Another was Seth Lancaster, a cellist from Colne, who said that he’d been approached as far back as December 1911. It wasn’t until early April 1912 that he was told he wasn’t needed. If this story is true, the Black brothers had been planning and sounding people out for at least four months. The trip that Lancaster was given in its place was on theMauretania, in the band that Ellwand Moody and Hartley had just left. The ship sailed from Liverpool on April 13, three days behind theTitanic.
Violinist Ernest Drakeford rejected theTitanicoffer because he’d recently settled in Liverpool and didn’t want to move to Southampton. He was married and his wife, Priscilla, was expecting their first child. Ironically he went on to join the band of theLusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat in May 1915. He was only saved after clinging to a wooden barrel for two hours.
For Hartley’s final journey on theMauretaniahe had taken on two extra musicians while in New York—Frenchman Roger Bricoux and Londoner William Theodore Brailey. They’d arrived together in America after a two-month Mediterranean cruise on theCarpathia. The Blacks had definitely chosen them by mid-March because on March 17 Bricoux wrote to his parents to say: “As for sending letters, I can no longer do this because we are going to New York where I will board theMauretania, the biggest ship in the world at 32,000 tonnes, and once we have arrived in Liverpool I leave for Southampton where I will board theTitanicwhich will be launched on April 10th and will be the biggest ship in the world at 50,000 tonnes.”
Bricoux was a very conscientious correspondent and therefore it’s reasonable to assume that the transfer news from C. W. & F. N. Black was recent. The Blacks clearly wanted him and Brailey badly enough to get them back to England as soon as they’d arrived in New York. A scribbled note in the margin of the ship’s register indicated the speed of the transfer. Against the names of Brailey and Bricoux is the remark: “Owing to being transferred toMauretaniaon the point of sailing, this seaman was unable to appear before consul.”
Had Hartley requested them or were they chosen by the Blacks? There’s no evidence that Hartley had ever played with them. Roger Bricoux had been part of the orchestra at the Grand Central Hotel in Leeds from the spring of 1910 to early June 1911, but this was at a time when Hartley was regularly crossing the Atlantic. He wouldn’t have had time to play with the orchestra, but Charlie Black, who was the hotel’s music agent, could have recommended that he check him out. It’s less likely that he had met Theo Brailey. By the end of the month the names of these three musicians returning on theMauretaniawould be inextricably tied together.
4“I WILLWRITE TOYOUONBOARD THETITANIC.”
At twenty years of age, Roger Bricoux was the youngest of theTitanic’s musicians, yet he’d also had the most thorough formal training. The son of a talented horn player, he had studied music in conservatories in Italy and France (1906– 1910) before joining an English orchestra as a cellist. TheLeeds Mercuryremembered him as “a very handsome young fellow, although his gait was somewhat marred by a limp, the result of an injury due to a motor bicycle accident. When he first came to Leeds he could speak scarcely a word of English, but he quickly picked up the language.”
He was chosen for theTitanicvoyage to be part of the trio in the Café Parisien, adding an authenticity to the Continental ambience. It would be his third voyage on a ship and it was something he was looking forward to. When he was on board theCarpathia, he told a steward named Robert Vaughan: “Soon I’ll be on a real steamer—with real food!” To his parents he wrote excitedly about the prospect of Turkish baths, bicycles that could be used on deck, a gymnasium, and a one-hundred-meter swimming pool.
Bricoux was born Roger Marie Leon Joseph Bricoux on June 1, 1891, 168 miles south of Paris in the Burgundy (Bourgogne) town of Cosne-sur-Loire. This was the home region of his mother, Marie-Rose, and the place where she had met his father, Leon, during his service in the army with the 85th Infantry Regiment, but it wasn’t where the couple were currently living. The house on la rue de Donzy most likely belonged to Marie-Rose’s parents, because after marrying in 1883, Leon had taken a job playing first horn in the resident band at the famed Casino de Monte Carlo and Monaco had become their principal home.
In the 1850s Monaco’s ruling Grimaldi family was on the verge of bankruptcy, but the arrival of the first casino and the development of the seafront transformed the fortunes of both the Grimaldis and Monaco. It rapidly became the stylish place to go, attracting the affluent, foreign royalty, writers, artists, actors, dancers, and musicians. The landmark Casino with its commanding pinnacles and cupola in the Beaux Arts style was designed by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera, and opened in January 1879 with a performance by the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who read a poem and waved a palm branch.
Because Monte Carlo attracted some of the most urbane people in the world, it found itself in the advance of many new developments. Car races were organized between Marseilles and Monte Carlo; movie competitions were held starting in 1897; the Palais des Beaux Arts presented lectures on exciting new scientific discoveries, such as the X-ray; renowned architects and designers such as Gabriel Ferrier and Gustave Eiffel worked on new hotels; and the streets of the principality were the first to be covered in tar.
It was in this vibrant place that the first two sons of Leon and Marie-Rose had been born, but both died in infancy. Marius, the eldest, was a victim of diphtheria and then, six months before Roger’s birth, her second-born son, Marcel, died unexpectedly. These tragedies could have been what sent Marie-Rose back to her mother for comfort and help. With Leon at work in the Casino she would have had a lot of free time and yet would have been apprehensive about the possibility of losing a third child. Two years later there was another son who lived, Gaston Leon Carolus Bricoux, nicknamed Lolo by the family.
Roger Bricoux (left) with mother Marie-Rose, father Leon, and brother Gaston.
It seems to have been from his father, Leon, that Roger inherited his love of the arts. Leon had grown up in Paris during the 1860s and 1870s when bohemianism was flourishing and the world was looking to the city as a capital of culture. It was the era of authors Flaubert and Hugo; of artists Gauguin, Renoir, Courbet, and Manet; of the poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud; of the first exhibition of impressionism and the founding of the Folies Bergere; of Haussmann’s creation of modern-day Paris with its wide boulevards, radiating circuses, and public parks. Leon’s father was a painter and his brother, Charles, a teacher of drawing. He was given music lessons from an early age.
In Monaco Leon earned enough money to buy a grand home at 37 rue Grimaldi and also to finance regular visits back to Cosne where they would stay in a house they owned in Bannay. The fact that Leon knew the royal family of Monaco and drove his own car impressed the locals. With his neatly trimmed hair, flourishing mustache, and air of dignified success, Leon Bricoux cut a dash in rural France.
Roger was given a Catholic education in Monaco, first under the Christian Brothers at College St-Charles and then under the Jesuits at the College de la Visitation. When Prince Albert I separated church and state, Leon decided that Roger would continue his Catholic education over the border in Italy at the French speaking College St-Charles in the village of Bordighera, and later la Coeur Immacule de Marie in Taggia. He was confirmed at l’Eglise Sainte-Devote in Monaco in 1903, the same church where he and Lolo would later take first communion.
On graduation Roger was accepted by the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna, Italy, Mozart’s alma mater, which had a great reputation for teaching cello. He studied there for three years, winning first prize for his cello playing, and then moved to France, where he spent an additional year studying at the Conservatoire de Paris. While in the city he was able to work to pay his tuition fees. One short-term contract was with the orchestra of the spa town of Uriageles-Bains. After this he returned to Monaco.
Roger Bricoux with cello.
In 1910, at the same time that Wallace Hartley was on theLusitania, Bricoux accepted a twelve-month contract with the Grand Central Hotel orchestra in Leeds. Somehow he must have come to the attention of the Black brothers. The Grand Central Hotel, which had opened in 1903, was on Briggate, not far from the Grand Theatre (1878), which presented serious drama and opera, and the Grande Arcade (1897), and around the corner from Collinson’s Café (1903). Bricoux traveled to England by train and ferry and took lodgings on Melbourne Street, a ten-to fifteen-minute walk away from the hotel.
It was a stirring prospect for a twenty-year-old boy, especially for one who barely spoke English. Leeds had only recently become a city (1893) and its center was being modernized with a series of elegant shopping arcades with high glass roofs and ornate moldings. Its university had opened in 1903 and its first cinema in 1905. The prosperous local engineering and tailoring businesses had produced a wealthy class of people who wanted cultural attractions.
We don’t know much about Bricoux’s time in the city except that he apparently “possessed many friends among the musicians of Leeds” according to theLeeds Mercuryand was known for his “joviality and friendliness.” As with most hotel musicians he would have had to work for at least two sessions each day and be available for concerts, dances, and special events.
It’s very likely that he would have made use of the time to travel in England, make new friends, and learn about British culture. In April 1911, as his contract drew to a close, he wrote to his brother who was planning a trip to London, possibly as an eighteenth birthday present:
Father wrote to tell me that you’re coming to London. I’d like to take the opportunity to tell you that if you want to come to see me that would give me such pleasure that I will put you up, feed you and pay for your journey to London and back so it would cost you nothing apart from the effort but I think you know you’ll have some fun too.
It would take you two or three days with an excursion ticket from Cook’s agency. That means you get your ticket from Monaco direct to Leeds and the return from here to London I will get for you. But secure your ticket from Cooks’ otherwise you get taken on a more round about journey and it will also be more expensive. Give my love to father and mother and love to you too.
Bring my contract with you. I’m counting on you to come.
The letter, and others like it, reveals Bricoux as a sensitive boy from a close family. He wrote home regularly, was always concerned for the health and happiness of his parents, and was unafraid to discuss his emotions. His father understood the precariousness of the freelance life and Bricoux seemed keen to show that he was becoming self-sufficient. His greatest pride was making a living from music without having to give lessons. Yet it was tough. Work hours were inevitably late and interfered with normal socializing. Wages weren’t huge, so accommodation had to be cheap and was often cramped. He dreamed of a time when he could afford a wife and start his own family
When his contract with the Grand Central Hotel expired, he left Leeds for Lille where he found lodging with a Monsieur and Madame Caron-Guidez at 5 place du Lion d’Or, the address published in the wake of theTitanicdisaster. When settled in, he played at various Lille establishments, including le Cecil Bar and le Kursaal on rue du Vieux Marche aux Poulets. The Cecil consciously imitated the bars of New York and Chicago, but its music was European and bohemian. In an advertisement it described itself as “an American bar, the most luxurious in Lille, with a gypsy orchestra of the first order, authentic American drinks, warm suppers and diverse attractions.”
The revival of interest in “gypsy music” was part of a movement that prized intuition over formal study, passion over reason. It was a reaction to the dominance of science, engineering, and the doctrine of progress. What was thought of as gypsy music varied from country to country, but there was a shared emphasis on stringed instruments, Oriental ornamentation, and harmonic transitions.
He may also have played at the Café Jean because it was on its headed notepaper that he wrote to his parents on December 30, 1911, when his time in Lille was drawing to a close.
My Dear Parents,
As it is New Year I am writing to you as I have done in previous years to wish you a good and happy year, good health and as few cares as possible because I know you have some but believe me when I say that I do not have any. You would be right to say, “You’ll see when you earn your living” and I do see and it’s hard. But it seems to me that I am unburdening myself of a huge weight because I love you very much. I have many faults perhaps but don’t think that I do not think about you often. I also believe that you are in good health and that consoles me for all the worry I’ve put you through, which I wholeheartedly regret. If the cello from the Sun Palace is no good, tell Morlais to send it to Eldorado in Nice as that’s where I had to go and it’s Morlais who has the business.
All my love,Roger
The business of the cello and Morlais is unclear and unexplained. He may have been contemplating work in Monaco or Nice but in the end decided to return to England. Madame Caron-Guidez later spoke toL’Echo du Nordabout the day of his departure from his lodgings in Lille: “All he had was a little trunk and it was my husband who took him to the station when he went. He left us with a wonderful memory.” If this description is accurate, he must have sent his cello ahead of him.
His departure appears to have been sudden and uncharacteristically he didn’t keep his parents informed of his arrangements. He’d been back in touch with the Black brothers who’d offered to give him work as a ship’s musician for a trial period. It was only when already at sea that he let his parents know his plans:
At last I can write to you. After receiving my letters you must have been surprised to discover that I was making such a strange and unexpected journey. This is what happened: after finishing at Lille I left for England and got this contract. I think that I’m going to take up my position there as I had such a good time that I haven’t been able to prevent myself from returning and am getting ready to go. It is a trial voyage I am making. That is to say, they are trying me out for two months (paid, of course) to see if I’m up to scratch and afterward I would have a good position. I hope that despite my negligence you are not angry.
I am very well and I hope you are too. Write to me on board theCarpathia—in Trieste (Italy) or Naples if you reply later. Naples would be best. The voyage is marvelous. We left Liverpool on February 10th and passed through Gibraltar, Tangier, Algeria, Malta, Alexandria and Constantinople, then (we will call at) Trieste, Fiume, Naples and finally New York. I assure you that it is splendid. We had a storm but I wasn’t at all sea sick. I was amazed. I have very little time as the post is about to leave. I send you all my love.
I will write at greater length at Trieste.
TheCarpathia, soon to play such a great role in theTitanicstory, had been launched in 1902 and regularly cruised from New York to the Mediterranean. In tonnage it was less than a third of the size of theTitanicand only carried one hundred passengers in first class. The two-month cruises would call in at up to fifteen ports and typically the outward journeys were populated with wealthy Americans while poorer emigrants were picked up in Naples, Fiume, and Liverpool on the way back. The bandmaster in 1912 was twenty-two-year-old Edgar Heap and on piano was William Theodore Brailey, the London musician who would transfer with Bricoux to theTitanic.
TheCarpathiaarrived in Trieste, where Bricoux would post his letter on March 4, and docked there for two nights, setting sail for Fiume (now Rijeka in Croatia) on the sixth. Bricoux omitted to mention the next ports of call—Messina and Palermo in Italy. There was an overnight stay in Naples on March 14, but he used the opportunity to take a one-day excursion (perhaps to Pompeii) leaving no time to write the promised letter to his parents.
On March 5, in Hanley, Staffordshire, an eighteen-year-old domestic servant named Adelaide Kelsall gave birth to a daughter whom she named Laura. Adelaide told her family that the father was a cellist about to join theTitanic. The father’s name was left off the birth certificate and the only clues as to any possible connection with Bricoux are this story passed down in the family and the fact that when Laura Kelsall was a young girl she bore a strong resemblance to him.1
The likely daughter of Roger Bricoux, Laura Kelsall, in the 1920s.
Is there a possibility that he stayed on in England after his stint at the Grand in Leeds and had a dalliance with Adelaide, who lived with her two brothers and her widowed mother? He did make some oblique comments about his bad behavior and how much strain he put on his parents, but nothing in the letters that have survived makes any mention of getting a girl pregnant. It may be significant that although the birth took place in early March, it was not registered until April 11, the day after theTitanicsailed. Did Adelaide take the child to Liverpool or even to Southampton to meet the child’s father before getting the official documentation?
Bricoux’s final chance to communicate with his family before arriving in New York came on March 18 as the ship approached Gibraltar for the second time on the trip. His parents didn’t yet know about theTitanicjob and he excitedly explained the size and luxury of the much-talked-about vessel. He concluded:
I love this life but I would happily be with you. As for getting married, I will never marry unless it’s to a girl with money because with my tastes . . . I only want “love in silk”2or at least “a comfortable home,” not living in attics with the fear of not eating the next day. Ambition? Perhaps. And why not? Something tells me that it is necessary if one is to succeed. Finally, I send all my love. Roger. Write to me on board theCarpathia, New York (America).
TheCarpathiaarrived back in New York on Friday, March 29. Bricoux was able to enjoy a weekend in the city before boarding theMauretaniaon Tuesday April 2 with Theo Brailey and meeting Wallace Hartley for the first time. While sailing to Liverpool he wrote what would be his final letter to his father.
You may find that my letter is delayed but that won’t be my fault because I have been on board the Mauretania for ten days [sic] and haven’t had a chance to post it. At last I come to the point which is to wish you a happy anniversary [April 9 was their wedding anniversary] and good health. Nissotti wrote and told me that you were suffering a bit but I hope it’s nothing serious and that my letter will find you well. If not, let it bring you health. The boat’s vibration is so annoying that I can’t write. Just think, we are doing 400 nautical miles in 24 hours, a world record! [A mile is 1,837 meters.] Five days from New York to Liverpool. I will write more on board the Titanic. Love to Maman and you. Best wishes, Roger, on board theTitanic, Southampton, England. I am counting on a letter from you in New York.
Family legend says that William “Theo” Brailey had been told by his father, Ronald Brailey, not to sail on theTitanic, but he was determined to go anyway. Like Wallace Hartley, Theo was recently engaged and planning to give up the sea, but until then he wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to travel. He would have known that shipwreck was always a danger, but theTitanicwas supposed to be the last word in safety.
Normally such parental warnings could be dismissed as signs of over-protectiveness but Mr. Brailey wasn’t like that. He’d let his son join the army at fifteen and Theo had hardly been back home since. His fears were probably connected with his profession because he was an established clairvoyant who was well known in spiritualist circles and had even been featured in the national press.
Spiritualism had grown in popularity during the late nineteenth century, just as traditional religion was being questioned by modern science. Spiritualists believed in an afterlife not merely as an article of faith, but through experiences with what they believed to be the spirits of the dead. Thus spiritualism appeared to satisfy the demand of modern science for proof and the requirement of religion for comfort. Spiritualists offered reassurance of reunions with departed loved ones, while at the same time claiming that their encounters could be verified by impartial observers.
The Christian church opposed spiritualism, pointing out Bible verses that forbade contact with the spirits of the dead.1Spiritualists were therefore keen to demonstrate the compatibility of Christianity and spiritualism. It was possible, they argued, to be a faithful church member yet to attend séances. Spiritualism, they said, was not an alternative to religion but a companion. Their best-loved example of this harmony was the newspaper editor, social campaigner, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee W. T. Stead, who was a spiritualist but also a faithful member of his local Congregational church. Ironically, he would be a passenger on theTitanic.
Spiritualism naturally attracted charlatans and fraudsters. The hunger to witness the miraculous frequently clouded the judgments of people anxious to hear good news from “the other side.” In 1906 a supposed psychic named Charles Eldred, who claimed to be able to conjure up visible spirits and produced photographs of himself with various emanations, was exposed as a fraud who used theatrical props concealed in his specially made chair. The person brought in to reveal his chicanery was not a skeptic, however, but Ronald Brailey. Inside the arm of Eldred’s chair, he found a head made of marl (a claylike substance), a flesh-colored mask, six fragments of silk, three beards, two wigs, and a metal frame. An account of the exposé was run in theDaily Mirror.
The same year theDaily Expressengaged Ronald after a girl’s skeleton was found during an archaeological dig at Avebury near Marlborough. The paper figured that his fabled gifts could be used to tell who the girl was and how she died. Ronald gripped onto a bone and claimed that images of her past life appeared to him. He could see tented structures near Stonehenge and five or six white-bearded druids surrounding the girl. Then one of them lifted a dagger and plunged it into her body in a ritual sacrifice. TheDaily Expressthought it had got its money’s worth out of the “Bayswater seer” and the story was run on the front page.
Two years later Ronald Brailey appeared in theDaily Mailafter a skeptical reporter watched him in performance at the sixth annual Spiritualists’ Convention held in Finsbury, North London. “Mr Ronald Brailey gave a touch of novelty to his clairvoyance. With a blackboard and a piece of chalk he produced portraits of the spirits he said he saw,” the journalist wrote. He explained further:
As works of art Mr Brailey’s drawings had the superlative merit of leaving much to the imagination. They were outline drawings, dimly but distinctly suggestive of the human profile. They were frequently recognised as indeed seaside silhouettes are by the expectant eye that knows beforehand whom to look for. But to the general view they conveyed less a suggestion of portraiture than an idea that spiritualism has receded into kindergarten stage.
The headline was “Is Spiritualism Declining?”
Within the world of psychics, however, Ronald Brailey enjoyed good standing. In March 1909 he was, for instance, invited to the Dublin home of the writer James Cousins and his pioneering feminist wife, Margaret, who, like their poet friend William Butler Yeats, were curious about psychic phenomena.2They wanted to test the clairvoyant’s powers, especially his automatic writing that he claimed to act as a conduit for the messages of the dead. James Cousins remembered:
Brailey sat quietly in a chair looking over Dublin Bay from the windows of our drawing room. When the writing ceased, the clairvoyant said he had not the slightest impression of what was behind it, probably because his attention had been caught by what appeared to be a special event taking place over the hill [Howth] across the water. A procession in archaic costumes circled in the air just above the hill. It was not a joyous procession, but sorrowful. We could throw no light on the phenomenon. Next day’s newspaper announced the death of the aged Earl of Howth, the last of an ancient line of Irish nobility.3
18 Clarendon Road, Walthamstow, birthplace of William Theodore Brailey.
Theo (back row, center) celebrating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897.
William Theodore Brailey was born at 18 Clarendon Road in Walthamstow, Essex, on October 25, 1887. He was the first child for William Richard Brailey (who only started calling himself Ronald in 1902) and his wife, Amy. There was a piano in the home and Theo, as the family called him, and his sisters, Mabel and Lily, were encouraged to play. When they were of school age they were sent to Miriam Geary, a lady who ran a private school with her daughter Elizabeth at their large rambling home on the corner of Clarendon Road and Copeland Road.
Brailey family with Ronald standing second from left and Theo seated (center).
Miriam Geary was a teacher with a special interest in music. She had married a man almost thirty years older. When he died, she turned her house into a school especially for children who’d shown musical ability. A boot repairer named Clifford Buttle, who knew the Brailey family at this time, spoke about Theo’s talent in a 1955 interview. “From the commencement of his education the boy displayed a marked talent for music,” he said. “So much so that he soon outpaced his teacher and as there was no further advancement to be made in Walthamstow, Mr. and Mrs. Brailey, with their family of three, moved to Lancaster Road, Ladbroke Grove, West London.”
Buttle may have been accurate about the musical aptitude, but he was wrong about the reasons for the move to Ladbroke Grove. The Brailey family was living at 36 Merton Road, Walthamstow, in 1902 when Theo left home. They didn’t leave there until 1903, going first to Charlotte Street in London’s West End and then, four months later, to Elgin Crescent in Notting Hill. The move to Lancaster Road wasn’t until 1906, first to 142 and then, in 1910, to a larger three-story house at 71.
Theo Brailey’s family home when he left on the Titanic. 71 Lancaster Road, London.
Did the moves have anything to do with Brailey’s musical progress? Following school he’d become an office clerk, but by 1902 he was part of the orchestra at the Kensington Palace Hotel in West London under newly arrived Dutch conductor Simon Von Lier who would go on to work at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne. Von Lier was impressed with Brailey’s musicianship, later describing him as “a highly efficient pianist.” His work in London may have prompted Ronald to consider leaving Essex where there were fewer opportunities for musicians.
Leaving Walthamstow might also have had something to do with Ronald’s aspirations as a clairvoyant. His employment record indicates a knack for reinvention. In 1887, at the time of Theo’s birth, he was a commission agent. By 1891 he was working in insurance but somehow managed to combine that job with being a Baptist minister. Ten years later he was a traveling salesman selling watches. Then, in 1902, he began advertising himself as a “trance clairvoyant, medical and general psychometrist” able to give private readings at his Walthamstow home. Psychometrics was the ability to make predictions from handling something that the subject had worn, touched, or owned.
This latter change coincided with Theo’s departure from the Kensington Palace Hotel orchestra to join the army, signing up as a boy soldier with the Royal Lancashire Fusiliers (mottoOmnia Audax—“Daring in all things”), whose regimental headquarters was in Bury, Lancashire. It seems unusual that a boy who’d grown up in Essex and was currently living in London would join a regiment based two hundred miles away with no obvious emotional ties. A possible motivation is that in February 1901 soldiers from the Lancashire Fusiliers lined Piccadilly for the funeral procession of Queen Victoria and then on August 3, 1902, a composite battalion was sent to do the same job for the coronation of King Edward VII. While in London they camped in Kensington Gardens, just across the road from the Kensington Palace Hotel, which was in De Vere Gardens.
Theo in the uniform of the Royal Lancashire Fusiliers.
It’s easy to imagine the teenage Brailey seeing these soldiers and being impressed by their red tunics with white facing and black trousers with red side stripes. Possibly he heard the regimental band practicing in the park or soldiers came to see Van Lier’s orchestra play and spoke to him enthusiastically about military life. Coincidentally, the Lancashire Fusiliers originated as the East Devonshire Regiment of Foot and Brailey was a Devonshire name. Ronald Brailey had been born near Exeter and his father, William Brailey, was in the Royal Marines based near Plymouth in the mid-nineteenth century.
He signed up on October 9, 1902, at the age of fourteen years and eleven months at the regimental headquarters in Bury. He was five feet four and a half inches tall, weighed 106 pounds, and had a thirty-inch chest. He contracted to serve for twelve years. After just six weeks of basic training, he was dispatched to Barbados in the Caribbean. To modern ears it sounds an exotic posting, but in the early years of the twentieth century, Barbados was an impoverished West Indian island that had recently suffered riots and assassinations and needed a massive bailout from Britain to avoid total economic collapse.
Brailey left England on RMSTaguson November 26 with ninety-nine other privates, one sergeant, and two corporals from the 4th Battalion. When they arrived in Barbados on December 9 they were absorbed into the 3rd Battalion, bringing its strength up to 1,003. The battalion diary shows that other than quelling riots in Trinidad in March 1903, they had no incidents to deal with during their tour, which allowed for a lot of practice (marches, maneuvers, field training, shooting, bayonet drills), sports (athletics, polo, football, horse racing), and entertainment (meals, concerts, dances).
Music threaded its way through many of the activities: a string band at a moonlight picnic in honor of the birthday of the lieutenant-colonel’s wife, “minstrel” entertainment to raise money for a memorial fund, the Trooping of the Colour on August 1, smoking concerts, playing off senior personnel who were returning to Britain.
It was never Brailey’s intention to be an ordinary private. The British army was one of the biggest employers of musicians and he had his eyes set on being part of the regimental band. On October 26, 1903, just over a year after signing up, he was appointed as a bandsman. He would then have taken part in the torchlight tattoo on November 5, a dance later that night in the officer’s mess, and a ball on December 14 at Government House.
On December 4 a telegram was received from the War Office ordering the 3rd Battalion to South Africa via St. Helena. When Brailey boarded HMTDuneraon December 17, it already contained three companies of Lancashire Fusiliers from Jamaica and would later pick up two more companies from Trinidad. Two companies disembarked on January 4, 1904, at St. Helena to take over from the 3rd Manchester Regiment, then theDuneraproceeded to South Africa, arriving in Cape Town on January 13.
Brailey and the rest of the bandsmen took a train the same day from Cape Town to Naauwpoort along with the drummers, six boys, and the staff needed to set up their HQ. It was a three-day journey at the hottest time of the year that involved traveling almost nine hundred miles in a north-westerly direction toward Johannesburg and Pretoria. A writer, who had made the same journey four years previously with troops from New Zealand, commented: “The place [Naauwpoort] is nothing but a huge desert. In fact, ever since we left Cape Town, we have seen nothing but sand and rocks, except at the townships, where little patches are irrigated.”
Naauwpoort was a strategic railway junction and had become a garrison town subject to frequent attacks during both Boer wars. Now that the fighting was over, there wasn’t a lot to do other than to ensure there were no additional uprisings. The men of the Lancashire Fusiliers were housed in tin huts and their main activities were reconnaissance and mapmaking. When they had time off they played football.
Brailey didn’t stay long because to progress as a bandsman he had to study for two years at the Royal Military School of Music back in England. The school then, as now, was at Kneller Hall in Twickenham, on the outskirts of London, and his accommodation was on site. Although the 1912 annual for the Lancashire Fusiliers praised him as “a talented musician, and an exceptionally good performer on the piano,” his chosen instruments when he enrolled on March 12, 1904, were cello and flute. He would have been taught performance, harmony, and instrumentation, with the rest of the time being taken up with individual and band practice, general education, and some sport. In January 1906 he was awarded two certificates—one to say that he had attained a “good degree of proficiency” on the cello and the other that he had attained a “very good degree of proficiency” on the flute.
He was promoted to lance corporal on leaving Kneller Hall on January 1906, and posted to the 4th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers at their headquarters in Tipperary, Ireland. In April and May his band competed with other military bands based in Ireland and was awarded third place. When reporting the achievement, the regimental annual commented on the youthfulness of the band. Brailey, still only eighteen, was clearly a typical member. “It may be truthfully stated that it would be impossible to collect sufficient hairs from the faces of the reed players to make up one respectable moustache.”
On November 15, 1906, the 4th Battalion was disbanded and Brailey was transferred to the 2nd Battalion stationed in Fermoy, forty-six miles northwest of Cork. The move may have been a catalyst because three months later he left the army. The full term he had signed up for committed him until October 1914, so he took the only option available and bought himself out. On February 22, 1907, he left the Royal Lancashire Fusiliers, the entry on his army record noting: “At his own request, on payment of £18.”
His family was now living at 142 Lancaster Road in Ladbroke Grove, close to Notting Hill, where Ronald the psychometrist offered private consultations, advice by mail for five shillings, and five séances a week. Brailey came home for a while but soon found work with the Pier Pavilion orchestra in Southport, Lancashire, on the coast south of Blackpool. This seaside resort was among the most prestigious and popular of the era and had the latest in entertainment technology. Close to the seafront there were two large artificial lakes and, at the southern end, the Pleasureland Amusement Park with its Toboggan Railway, Flying Machine, Aerial Glide, and Helter Skelter Lighthouse. It was the ideal place for factory workers from such nearby northern towns as Liverpool, Bolton, Blackburn, Manchester, and Preston to let off steam.
The Pier Pavilion, at the entrance to the renowned pier, was a twelve-hundred-seat theater that put on variety shows. The orchestra’s job was to welcome the audience, support the performers, and play the national anthem. In January 1909 the nightly show featured ventriloquists, jugglers, wire walkers, dancers, vocal comedians, roller skaters, acrobats, equilibrists, a tambourine player, and someone who could whistle (a siffleur). Then there was Miss Vera Gaine, “the champion ball puncher”; Mr. Paul Lemaire, “the whimsical wizard” and a singing group known as the Nonentities.
During his time off he met a local girl, Teresa Steinhilber, who lived on a street close to the seafront. Known as Terry to her friends, she was two years younger than Brailey and working as a milliner. They began dating and Brailey was a welcome guest at the family home where she lived with her Irish mother, Kate; her German father, August; three brothers; and a sister. August, who’d arrived in Britain in the 1870s, was a watchmaker with two shops in Southport.
By 1910 Brailey and Teresa were sufficiently recognized as a couple for her to be invited to the London wedding of Brailey’s oldest sister, Mabel. In the wedding photographs, taken in the garden of the new Brailey home at 71 Lancaster Road, she stands at Theo’s right side, directly behind Mabel, wearing a wide-brimmed black hat and a light light-colored suit. It was a photo of Brailey taken at this wedding on September 10, 1910, with a carnation in the left lapel of his dress jacket, that would be circulated around the world in the immediate aftermath of theTitanic’s sinking.
Wedding of Mabel Brailey to Percy Hanson, Sept. 10, 1910. Teresa Steinhilber is in the black hat behind the bride. Theo stands to her left.
His main interest outside of music and his relationship with Teresa was aviation. Like many boys of his age, he was captivated by the exploits of the first generation of pilots and the great advances being made in aircraft technology. Yet his interest went beyond merely reading about the latest records to be broken. According to theLiverpool Echo, “Mr. Brailey was at one time associated with Mr. Compton Paterson at the Freshfield aerodrome and Mr. J. Gaunt at the Southport hanger.”Associatedis a strangely imprecise word to have used. Was he merely a friend or was he involved in some way with their flights? Or did he have a financial stake in their experiments?
Ronald and Theo Brailey standing. Amy Brailey, Percy Hanson, Mabel (Brailey) Hanson, Lily Brailey seated.
Freshfield was eight miles south of Southport, close to the town of Formby, and the “aerodrome” at the time was no more than an expanse of heather-and sedge-covered dunes where aviators could fly and land their planes without fear of crashing into houses. The hangar in Southport was built by the Southport Corporation in 1910 and then rented out to John Gaunt who designed, built, and successfully flew a plane from there in 1911.
If Brailey’s connection with these two men was notable enough to warrant a mention in theLiverpool Echo, he may well have flown with them because they often took paying passengers for a spin. Paterson once took two schoolboys who’d won the opportunity through a local lottery. These people would be among the first in the world to experience flight, although the altitudes were ridiculously low and the length of the journeys quite short.
Orville Wright had made the first “manned, powered, sustained and controlled flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft” in 1903—duration, twelve seconds. He and his brother, Wilbur, regularly broke records. In 1907 the first “aerodrome” with hangars was built in France and in July 1909 French aviator Louis Blériot became the first person to fly across the English Channel. Transport and warfare would never be the same again. The U.S. Army quickly signed up the Wright brothers and commissioned them to develop a biplane for use in combat.
The 1911 census records Cecil Compton Paterson as a twenty-six-year-old “aviator” living in Freshfield. John Gaunt, from Southport, was a thirty-five-old “aero plane builder.” During Brailey’s time at the Pier Pavilion they were both at elementary stages in getting their homemade contraptions off the ground. It was a time when a one-hundred-yard advance at ten feet off the ground was still considered a successful flight and would duly be reported in newspapers and magazines.
Brailey spent two years in Southport, apparently building up a wide circle of friends. Then, according to theSouthport Guardian, he left the town “to go to a musical college to complete his education,” although there are no records of him attending any of the major colleges of the day. By 1911 he was composing instrumental music and two manuscripts of his work survive—“Ballet of the Roses” (February 1911) and “A Little Scherzo” (November 1911).
He must already have gone to sea by this time. His first ship was theSaxonia, a 14,281-ton Cunard vessel built in 1900 that boasted one distinct 106-foot-tall black funnel. Originally it sailed constantly between Liverpool and Boston but in 1911 began the New York to Mediterranean route, and then Liverpool to New York calling in at Queenstown, Ireland. One of these trips got him back to Liverpool late in January 1912 and on February 10 he joined theCarpathia.
On theCarpathia, playing alongside Roger Bricoux, he heard of theTitanicwork for the first time. It was a spectacular offer for someone so young. His only apprehension at first was that he’d recently become engaged to Teresa and had promised to bring his seagoing days to an end. Then, when he got back to England, there was the warning of his clairvoyant father who felt that theTitanicwould come to no good . . .
6“A THOROUGH ANDCONSCIENTIOUSMUSICIAN.”
On May 1, 1911, theOruba, a 5,850-ton steamship, arrived back in Southampton after a twenty-four-day trip from the British colony of Jamaica via Trinidad, Barbados, the Azores, and Cherbourg. On board, traveling as class passengers, alongside some members of the MCC cricket team who’d recently played thirteen matches on the island, were a group of five musicians who had just spent the past three and a half months as the orchestra of the Constant Spring Hotel at the foot of the Blue Mountains, six miles outside the capital of Kingston. This establishment had a checkered past. Built as a luxury hotel for the 1891 Jamaica International Exhibition, it had never made money for its owners. Despite its desirable location, 165 acres of grounds, one hundred rooms, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a croquet lawn, and a nine-hole golf course, it had suffered from bad management and incompetent staff. Guests repeatedly complained about everything from the irregularly manned reception desk to the length of time the kitchen took to boil an egg.
Things became so bad that the government took it over. Then in 1908, Sir Alfred Jones, of the British shipping line Elder, Dempster & Co, bought it and attempted to turn around its fortunes by marketing Jamaica as a holiday destination for wealthy Britons.1He died the following year and Elder Dempster was taken over by Sir Owen Phillips, later Lord Kylsant, who was described by theNew York Timesas “the Napoleon of British shipping.” Phillips was based in Liverpool and one of the lines he owned was the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, a client of C. W. & F. N. Black. TheOrubawas a Royal Mail ship.
Through this connection the Black brothers became musical agents for the hotel, responsible for providing a top-notch orchestra the equal of anything to be found in Paris, London, or New York. By December 1910 the hotel that called itself “the finest in the West Indies” was able to advertise in the local newspaper that it was offering “two music concerts a day and a Saturday Cinderella Ball” for the winter season ending April 1911. “A first class orchestra consisting of five professionals has been engaged in England who will play at all our dances. Select concerts will be given daily from 1–3 pm and every evening from 7:30 to 11 o clock. The orchestra is bringing a full programme of classical and all the latest dance music.” In theTimesof London, Elder Dempster had a series of advertisements promoting Jamaica as “The New Riviera” and offering an inclusive deal that included transport to Kingston on one of their ships and six days at the Constant Spring.
A correspondent for theTimescaptured the experience of staying at the Constant Spring Hotel in a story titled “An Impression of Jamaica,” which opened:
A large proportion of tourists get their first view of the West Indies from Kingston Harbour in the early morning, and there are not many things in the world to be seen more beautiful than the sunrise on the Blue Mountains. But most vividly is likely to live in the memory the delight of waking on the following morning at, for choice, the Constant Spring Hotel, when, having but a few days before left behind a land grey and locked in ice, one wakes to brilliant sunshine with the air full of the music of the “Jamaican Nightingale” or mockingbird; and one goes out on the balcony to look down on a sea of bougainvillea, where great butterflies flutter, with, beyond, a tangle of tropical shrubbery in which humming-birds hang poised at the white trumpets of the Beaumontia.
Whites were in a minority in Jamaica—only around 15,000 out of a population of 830,000—but they were the governing elite who owned and ran the valuable sugar plantations that provided the island with its most valuable export. They lived in the best houses, didn’t mix socially with the descendants of slaves, and, as in India and Africa, created a parallel society where British customs, values, and prejudices prevailed. The world that theDaily Gleanerof Kingston reported on at this time could have been in Tunbridge Wells or Brighton, as could the goods the paper advertised. It was for these people that the orchestra from England played.
Portrait of John Wesley Woodward.
Edgar Heap was one of the musicians returning to England that May. He was soon to be bandmaster on theCarpathiawith Roger Bricoux and Theo Brailey under his direction, and immediately after that voyage, part of theMauretaniaband with Wallace Hartley. Although it’s not on record that Heap was ever approached for a job on theTitanic, he’s the one person who unites all fiveTitanicmusicians with previous experience of playing on ships, because in the Constant Spring orchestra were violinist John Law Hume and cellist John Wesley Woodward. It’s possible that he could have recommended the two players to Hartley when sailing back to Liverpool on theMauretania.
Like Wallace Hartley, “Wes” Woodward, as he was known, had been raised in a Methodist family and his father, Joseph, had been as conscientious as Albion Hartley, working his way up from a maker of molds for holloware (pots, pitchers, bowls, teapots, trays, pans, scoops) at Hill Top Iron Works, West Bromwich, to become manager. Wes, the youngest son of Joseph and his wife, Martha, was born on September 11, 1879, at 24 Hawkes Lane in Hill Top, just over five miles northwest of Birmingham. When Hill Top Methodist Chapel was demolished in 1962, four large sealed jars were discovered in the foundations with newspapers from 1874 and the names of the chapel’s officers. Prominent among them was Joseph Woodward, who was also a trustee of the Methodist school.
West Bromwich lay in what was known as the “Black Country”—one of the most heavily industrialized areas of Britain during the late nineteenth century. The locally mined coal was used to fire the furnaces of the foundries that produced pistols, guns, locks, screws, nails, springs, and kitchen utensils. They also produced the soot and fog that gave the region its bleak nickname. Queen Victoria is said to have pulled down the shutters of her train carriage window when she passed through the region.
Woodward had six brothers and two sisters, but by the time he reached his midteens he had lost two of his brothers as well as his father. Martha was left to raise the large family on her own with the older boys having to leave school early and work in the foundry to bring in an income. An opportunity for a better life came in 1894 when Thomas, the oldest son, who had left home the year before to become a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral, auditioned to become a tenor lay clerk in the Chapel Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. According to the college records, he was one of sixty applicants but the only one to be offered a job.
The choir was made up of what they termed “academical clerks” (undergraduates at the college who sang until they graduated) and “lay clerks” (professional musicians who might have other work to top up their income). Because of the post the whole Woodward family left West Bromwich and moved to a house in Cowley Road, Oxford. After the industrial midlands, life in the university town offered a literal breath of fresh air along with inspiring architecture and a fascinating sense of history.
It’s likely that Woodward left school at around the time of the move and may have done some casual work, but, like his brother Tom, he wanted to make music his career. The Woodwards were a musical family. Relatives on his father’s side had been church organists, choirmasters, and players in professional orchestras. In 1900 Woodward took exams set by the Royal College of Music in London that would qualify him to teach music. With a pass mark set at 75 percent, he passed and was awarded a licentiate as a performer of the cello. In the next year’s census he described himself as “a musician,” meaning that at the age of twenty-one this was how he earned his living.
His years in Oxford are not documented beyond a passing comment by theOxford Timesthat “he appeared in several solos and string quartets, notably with the Misses Price and Mr H. M. Dowson.” The Misses Price, who were violinists, have been lost to history, but Henry Martin Dowson is remembered because he was married to Rosina Filippi, one of the best-known stage actresses of the time. He lived in Iffley, a village outside of Oxford, played the viola, and was a brewer.
Rosina Filippi came from Venice, where her father, Filippo Filippi, was a celebrated writer and music critic. Her mother, Vaneri Filippi, was a French singer and professor of singing at the Milan Conservatoire. Rosina had wanted to be an opera singer, but her voice didn’t develop sufficiently and she turned to acting. She became a popular figure in the London theater, involved herself in tutoring younger actors, and was an author. One of her greatest achievements was adapting Jane Austen for the stage for the first time. Her bookDuologues and Scenes from the Novels of Jane Austen Arranged and Adapted for Drawing-Room Performancewas published in 1895, and in March 1901 her productionThe Bennets(“A Play without a Plot adopted from Jane Austen’s Novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’”) was premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre. The critic from theTimeswasn’t impressed: “Is there not something of a profanation in throwing the glare of the footlights upon the art of Miss Austen, so dainty, so demure, so private and confidential?” he asked. “Is there not something of callousness in abandoning to the noisy traffic of the stage those exquisitely discreet duologues which are properly to be enjoyed at leisure, word by word, in little sips?”
Dowson certainly performed around Oxford and was known by the musicians who belonged to the Oxford University Music Club (later to become the Oxford University Music Society). Woodward was becoming familiar with a more cultured world than he would have been exposed to if he had stayed in West Bromwich. Rosina Filippi was a well-connected woman who played opposite many of the giants of British theater and by playing with her husband Woodward would have been introduced to that layer of society.
In photographs John Wesley Woodward looks neat, solid, and dependable. He’s broad shouldered and well groomed with a carefully waxed mustache. His spectacles are wire rimmed and in some photos he instead wears a monocle in his right eye. His friends and acquaintances remembered him as being easygoing and having a positive attitude. He was “amiable,” “good natured,” and “modest,” and had “an easy, equable temper.” Outside of music he had an interest in photography and building primitive internal combustion engines, a technology still in its infancy.
His career accelerated in 1907 when he was invited to join the newly formed Duke of Devonshire’s Band, sometimes known as the Duke of Devonshire’s Private Orchestra, based on the south coast of England at Eastbourne.2The 8th Duke of Devonshire, Spencer Compton Cavendish, was an aristocrat and statesman who had entered parliament in 1857 and had at one time been leader of the Liberal Party. His family was one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Britain, its ancestral base being Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, one of Britain’s most impressive stately homes.
Duke of Devonshire’s Orchestra (Woodward is to the immediate lower right of the conductor).
No one is sure why the Cavendish family took the title Devonshire. Some suggest it was a misreading of Derbyshire made back in the sixteenth century. They went on to acquire land in other parts of the country, most notably in Eastbourne, where the Cavendishes and another family carved up the territory between them. The railway arrived in 1849 and ten years later the 7th Duke of Devonshire planned a new-look town that would be “built by gentlemen for gentlemen.” By 1891 the town’s population had gone from four thousand to thirty-five thousand and it had become a resort with a promenade, hotels, and a one-thousand-foot-long pier crowned with a four-hundred-seater pavilion.
Eastbourne attracted a distinguished and prosperous clientele who were able to spend much of their time in leisure pursuits. It was imperative for them to let everyone know that they were “in residence” and theEastbourne and Sussex Society and Fashionable Visitor’s Listannounced their comings and goings. Typical of the paper’s entries was the news that “the Duchess of Norfolk has been in very delicate health” and that “Lord Wimbourne’s condition has undergone no appreciable change.” The following advice was given for those contemplating driving in a newfangled motor car: “To make winter driving really enjoyable great care must be bestowed upon the choice of proper garment, for if one gets cold whilst driving, especially in ones hands or feet, all enjoyment is gone at once.”
The Duke of Devonshire took a particular pride in Eastbourne and was careful that no other British resort would outclass it. He was alarmed that nearby Bournemouth, which had its own symphony orchestra, might outstrip it. For this reason the 8th Duke created his own orchestra. With forty-two musicians (fifty-four in the summer) and an average wage bill of £150 a week, it was an expensive project but one that produced the necessary effect. TheEastbourne Chroniclewrote in April 1907 that the Duke’s Orchestra was “an orchestra of such commanding size and proficiency as will serve the double object of making a powerful addition to the list of high class attractions and of assisting to advertise the town.”
The Duke hired Dutch conductor Pieter Tas at the end of January 1907, so we can assume that the hiring of musicians took place in February and March. The conditions were that they could be required to play in any property owned by the Devonshire Parks & Baths Company, giving up to a maximum of twelve performances per week. They had to provide their own evening dress for the later performances but could have to “wear such uniform or costume as the company shall at its own expense provide.” Woodward was paid £2 15s. 0d. per week and lodged at “Leathorpe” on Upper Avenue with George Stevens, a fifty-five-year-old retired builder, and his wife, Mary.
Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, as it looks today.
Winter Garden, Eastbourne, venue of many concerts by the Duke of Devonshire’s Orchestra.
Most of the orchestra’s concerts were given at the Winter Garden on the edge of Devonshire Park. In April 1908, for example, it gave a symphony concert on a Thursday afternoon, orchestral concerts on Tuesday afternoon and Thursday evening, a grand chamber concert on Friday afternoon, a Sullivan Night on Friday, a popular concert featuring a vocalist on Saturday night, a Grand Concert on Sunday at 8:00 p.m. (for which the audience chose the program), and a concert of songs by Madame Liza Lehmann on Tuesday evening.
Devonshire Park Theatre, another Eastbourne venue well known to Wes Woodward.
The music it played was varied. In a symphony concert in March 1909, it played Dvorak’sNew World Symphonyand Liszt’s Second Rhapsody, and worked with a visiting composer, Dr. J. W. G. Hathaway. The Sunday evening program, which featured vocalist Edith Clegg, includedMarche Solennelleby Alexandre Luigini; the overture fromFingal’s Caveby Mendelssohn; Ernest Guiraud’s violin and orchestra piece “Caprice”; extracts from André Messager’s balletLes Deux Pigeons, Wagner’s operaLohengrin, and Charles Gounod’s operaFaust; and “The Bees Wedding” by Mendelssohn.
They also did concerts of what were called Popular music, which were light orchestral numbers: Julius Fucik’s “Entry of the Gladiators,” Jules Massenet’s “Scenes Napolitaines,” Schubert’s “Marche Militaire,” and a selection from Arthur Sullivan. The local paper commented: “Nobody nowadays associates the term popularity in music with anything that is cheap or tawdry, least of all may they do so in connections with Mr Tas’ programmes which are culled from the most fascinating works, and are so well compiled as to echo the last note of variety.”
The audiences had high expectations for the music, as did the critics on the local papers. If it fell below the expected standard, they would make their objections known. In February 1908, Tas briefly handed his baton over to Dan Godfrey from Bournemouth and apparently the standard slipped. “A world of difference is interposed between the Duke’s Orchestra at their best and at their ordinary level,” wrote a critic from theEastbourne & Sussex Society. “It was regrettable that under the direction of so eminent a conductor, they should have fallen somewhat beyond the high water mark on Friday last. Their achievements could not, for instance, in any way be compared to those chronicled at the Edward German concert of a fortnight ago, and their want of enthusiasm naturally spread to the audience, who received some of the works tamely.”
Very occasionally Woodward would perform a solo. On February 15, 1908, for example, he played “Cavatina” by Joachim Raff (originally written for piano and violin but often adapted for cello) and “Danse Rustique” by British composer William Henry Squire. On January 9, 1909, he again played the piece by Raff along with “Mazurka” by David Popper. A local novelist and music lover, Emeric Hulme Beaman,3said of Wes:
On several occasions he exhibited brilliant qualities as a solo executant but he excelled rather as an orchestral player than a soloist. His orchestral playing was uniformly sound, steady and reliable; while these same invaluable qualities, conjoined with much natural taste and a cultured style, enabled him to appear to utmost advantage in chamber music. He was a thorough and conscientious musician, whose playing, whether in solos or concerted work, was always interesting and always enjoyable.
Many of the orchestra’s musicians did extra work, such as playing at the roller rink in Devonshire Park, but, according to the Duke’s wages books, Woodward restricted himself to the main orchestra work. This may have been because he wanted to play music with other ensembles in his free time. In 1908Stradmagazine reviewed him in concert at the Town Hall in a fund-raising event for St. Peter’s Church. Apparently “his violoncello solos formed quite a feature.” TheBrighton Advertiserreported that he also performed with the orchestra in the Lounge Hall of the Grand Hotel under Simon Von Lier, the conductor who had been with the Kensington Palace Hotel Orchestra when Theo Brailey played there.4
The hiring of Von Lier in 1903 was indicative of the importance that orchestral music played in the marketing of middle-class resorts and hotels at the turn of the twentieth century. It was the sign of culture and sophistication. The chairman at the time wrote:
I believe you will agree with us that music (especially that of a high class) is now considered almost an essential requirement for hotels of the character of the Grand. If so, I am sure you will approve of the engagement of this orchestra which plays daily in the Hall, afternoon and evening. It is admitted by all who have heard it to be one of great merit and considerable note and has, so far, proved an attraction and has given great pleasure to the visitors, as is evidenced by the applause with which their music is greeted.
The composer Claude Debussy came to stay at the Grand in 1905 with his pregnant mistress, Emma Bardac, and while there completed his best-known composition,La Mer.
The Hall in the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, where the orchestra would have played.
The Hall at the Grand was reputed to have extraordinary acoustics and for this reason would later become a key venue for live radio broadcasts of orchestral music. A guest named George Bagshaw, who spent time at the hotel while Woodward was in Eastbourne, said it truly was a “grand” hotel in that era. “In the evening the hotel porters were dressed in livery with white wigs, knee breeches and silk stockings. The Palm Court had a famous quartet orchestra conducted by a German [sic] Von Leer who played the violin and other players on piano, double bass and cello.”
If Woodward did play at the Grand, it’s not certain whether he fitted it in with his work with the Duke’s orchestra or whether he did a short stint there in 1910 when the orchestra was winding down. The 8th Duke of Devonshire died at the Hotel Metropole in Cannes in March 1908 and was immediately succeeded by his nephew, Victor Cavendish, who became the 9th Duke. The new Duke continued the sponsorship of the orchestra but by 1910 had second thoughts because the box office revenue fell below expectations. The total wage bill between January 1908 and January 1910 was £17,000. He decided that the town itself would need to at least offer partial finance if the orchestra was to continue, and so it was that it played its final symphony concert on October 27 and disbanded four days later.
It could have been during November that Woodward filled in at the Grand before setting sail on the Elder-Dempster-owned RMSPort Royalfrom Bristol to Kingston on December 10, 1910, to work at the Constant Spring Hotel. The ship didn’t arrive until early on Christmas morning because it was dogged by storms all the way. There was a strong southerly wind as soon as it left port and then for the next four days it had to contend with a westerly gale before being lashed by a variety of bad weather for the rest of the crossing.
He told friends in Eastbourne that the Caribbean sojourn had greatly improved his health. The main Jamaican daily newspaper, theDaily Gleaner, would say that he made many friends during the visit and had time to give lessons at the hotel. The orchestra, the paper added, was “the best of its kind that has ever visited Jamaica.” TheBrighton Advertiserwrote of his Jamaica trip that he had “won much appreciation as a soloist. Like other artists who visit the island, he experienced great hospitality and kindness his sunny disposition rendering him a favourite wherever he went.”
His connection with C. W. & F. N. Black and his newly awakened appetite for travel attracted him to the life of a ship’s musician. Back in Southampton on May 1, 1911, he and John Law Hume signed on for the maiden voyage of theTitanic’s sister ship theOlympic, which was to leave Southampton on June 14 bound for New York. It was the largest and most luxurious ship ever to sail and its maiden voyage completely sold out.
The best of White Star’s crew were selected for the trip. As with theTitanic’smaiden voyage ten months later, the captain was the white-bearded Edward Smith, a favorite with wealthy customers, and White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay and Harland & Wolff designer Thomas Andrew were VIP passengers. The eight musicians were mostly from the bands of theMajesticand theArabic, the oldest of them only thirty years old. Violet Jessop, a first-class steward on both theOlympicand theTitanic, later remembered the excitement among the crew: “The great day came when theOlympicfinally became a fact, the ‘largest and finest’ to fly the British flag. A crew, handpicked from every ship in the line, was assembled for muster on sailing day, feeling proud of the honour of being chosen but trying to hide it under the nonchalance that was only too obvious.”
The ship sailed first to Cherbourg in France, then to Queenstown in Ireland, before heading across the Atlantic to New York. A writer for theNew York Timeswas on board and could hardly conceal his excitement at the opulence, size, and range of activities available. He heard the band play. “The dining room lounge, an experiment on the part of the builders, the great success of which was hardly anticipated, proved to be the most popular resting place on the ship. Here a very good orchestra plays before and after meals, and tables and chairs were always at a premium for the demitasse.”
The unnamed writer also speculated on the safety of the ship in an unusually prescient way. He suggested that part of the adventure of sailing was the outside chance that something could go wrong.
To begin with, there is always to the imaginative person the joy of speculation, the mystery of untried things, perhaps the lingering uncertainty as to actual accomplishment. You know, for instance, that the ship-building and navigation are scientifically accomplished, that the least possible element of chance enters in, that the departure and arrival of the ocean steamers is almost as definitely fixed, under normal conditions, as the rising or the setting of the sun. And yet in the case of an untried vessel there is always that feeling of an added element of chance. What if this man or that has erred in his estimate, what if the unexpected should happen for just once, what if a dozen different ifs should develop to upset the calculations and bring you face to face with the hitherto unencountered?
TheOlympic’s arrival in America on June 21 was hotly anticipated and Violet Jessop described it as a mass welcome that seemed to involve the whole city. Large and small boats were snapping at its heels as soon as it entered the Hudson and the edge of the river was thronged with cheering crowds. “Not a window, however small, but had a little flag or handkerchief waving from it, as we slowly passed on to the accompaniment of shrill tooting of greetings from everything afloat that had a whistle to blow.”
Woodward had a week to spend in New York because theOlympicwasn’t due to depart until June 28. He threw himself into discovering the best music he could find and told friends back in England that he learned a lot from his exposure to music in America. “He thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities he had of visiting New York where he made many friends,” reported theBrighton Advertiser. “He had a very high opinion of the Americans as lovers of music.”
He made three more trips to America on theOlympic, with a band reduced to five from the eight on the maiden voyage. Then, on September 20, 1911, just as he was about to leave on his fifthOlympiccrossing, the unexpected happened. Shortly before 1:00 p.m., as the ship headed down the dredged channel in the Solent, the Royal Navy cruiser HMSHawkeappeared on its starboard side making toward the same narrow exit between shoals marked on the navigational maps. According to the “Rules of the Road” theOlympicshould have slowed down and given way, but it didn’t. TheHawkevainly tried to turn at the last moment but its helm jammed and the seven-ton warship ploughed straight into the side of the Cunard steamer.
Telgram from Ismay to the Admiralty regarding theOlympic/Hawkeincident.
Notification from Portsmouth’s Commander-in-chief.
Woodward was playing checkers in a cabin with members of the band during a break from a lunchtime performance when the collision took place, the main point of contact with the bow of theHawkebeing only feet away. The impact on the big ship was felt so slightly by the players, however, that they carried on with their game. This was to be an eerie portent of the initial response to theTitanic’s encounter with an iceberg. It was only on closer inspection that it was realized that theOlympichad been badly damaged: Three blades of the starboard propeller ended up looking as though they’d been chewed by rats, a large triangular hole about twelve feet in length had been torn in the side just above the waterline, cabin bulkheads and fittings had been broken, and the dynamo room had been flooded. It wasn’t until divers looked under the ship that they realized there was another pear-shaped hole in the plating below the waterline.
Damage to the side of theOlympic.
Damaged propeller ofOlympic.
This was to say nothing of the damage caused to theHawke, whose bow was so twisted and bent that it looked like a boxer with a crumpled nose. It was clear within a short time that theOlympicwould not be going to New York. It would, first of all, have to remain anchored in the Solent, and then it would return to Southampton before heading back to Harland & Wolff ’s dockyards in Belfast for emergency repairs. It was not only a disappointment for almost twenty-five hundred passengers, but also a humiliation for the White Star Line. Its greatest ship, so far, was out of action after only three months of active service. There was the obvious loss of revenue and prestige along with the additional prospect of having to pay damages to the Royal Navy if found guilty of negligence.
HMSHawke’s broken bow after her collision with theOlympic.
The collision with theHawkeaffected theTitanic. Not only was a diversion of effort required, but the only speedy way of repairing the damaged propeller was to replace it with one destined for theTitanic. It forced White Star to shift the date of theTitanic’s maiden voyage—as announced in September 1911—from March 20, 1912, to April 10, 1912. If theHawkeand theOlympichad never met, then neither would the iceberg and theTitanic.
One of the findings of the court of inquiry into the incident was the likelihood that the displacement of water caused by a ship as huge as theOlympicset up a suction that dragged the smaller ship into its wake once it was so close. However, this did not excuse theOlympic. If it had adhered to Article 19 of the Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea it would have given way. “TheOlympic, though perhaps not the overtaking ship according to the definition laid down, had excess of speed over theHawkeand could have reduced speed to keep astern of her in the narrow channel, seeing that she was obliged by the Rule of the Road to keep out of the way. Instead of which she attempted to pass theHawke.” The summary was: “We are of the opinion that from the evidence heard that theOlympicalone is to blame.”
Woodward was transferred to the band of the much smaller Cunard steamerCaronia, which was doing regular summer crossings from Liverpool to New York, calling in at Queenstown on the outward journey. He left Liverpool on November 4, arriving in New York on November 12, where he spent almost a week before theCaroniaembarked on the first of its winter cruises for the 1911/1912 season, going directly to Gibraltar on the way out and returning via Liverpool.
TheCaroniaarrived back in New York on Christmas Eve and sailed again on January 6, 1912, for a similar Mediterranean cruise. On February 20 it left New York for Alexandria, Egypt, calling in at Madeira, Monaco, and Naples. Visiting so many countries in such a short time, Woodward put his camera to good use, taking photographs of scenes that seemed exotic to British eyes. “When he was at one of the Mediterranean ports he snapped an Arab in the act of shaving a boy’s head outside a mosque,” reported theBrighton Advertiser. “The Mussulman manifested the indignation prompted by the well-known scruples of his co-religionists.”
He told his friends that he enjoyed the “change and variety” that came with life at sea. Along with his friend Jock Hume, however, he planned to leave ship life at the end of the summer of 1912. He had his eye on a position with the Devonshire Park Orchestra in Eastbourne. “He was full of hope and life and spirits,” summarized Emeric Holmes Beaman. “He was looking forward confidently to the future, and yet quite content with the present.”
John Law Hume, known to his fellow musicians as Jock and to school friends as Johnny, had separated from Wes Woodward after theOlympic’s collision with theHawke, but their paths remained remarkably similar. Hume was assigned to theCaronia’s sister ship, theCarmania, and like Woodward sailed to New York and cruised the Mediterranean. He arrived back in Liverpool three days later than Woodward on April 2, 1912.
Born in Dumfries, Scotland, on August 9, 1890, Jock Hume appears to have been the liveliest, cheekiest member of the band. Few people could speak of him without mentioning his huge grin, his appetite for life, his professional ambition, and his love of practical jokes. A tall, slim boy with fair curling hair, he left home at sixteen and despite his age had been on more ships than any of the other musicians on theTitanic. This was not unusual for the time. Boys growing up in towns with limited opportunities to work in industry joined the merchant navy straight from school for the security of employment as well as the promise of adventure.
John Law Hume.
The photograph of him released after the sinking didn’t do his personality justice. It was of a smartly dressed, tight-lipped young man in a high collar trying to give an impression of respectability. In contrast, a photo given to fund-raisers in New York and published in theNew York Timesrevealed his true character. Dressed in high waist trousers, a white shirt, white shoes, and a kipper tie, he had an insouciant look on his face. The thumb of his left hand was tucked into his belt and his right elbow rested on a post. He looked a snappy dresser, and proud of it. In an age characterized by formality, particularly when being photographed, Hume was casual. In the middistance, to his right, a young woman reclined on a lawn looking toward the camera. She wasn’t identified but seemed to be an admirer. One friend said of Jock Hume, “A cooler young fellow I never knew.”
He was from a musical family, although not as musical as he would sometimes suggest. His father, Andrew, was a music teacher and accomplished violin and bow maker who had studied under Prosper Sainton, a French violinist and professor at London’s Royal Academy of Music. By 1894 Andrew was sufficiently well thought of to be given a small entry in David Baptie’s encyclopedic workMusical Scotland. In 1915 he told a reporter fromStradmagazine that he’d started making violins thirty years ago and that he’d learned the craft by visiting the workshops of Erlbach, Schönbach, and Markneukirtchen in the Saxony region of Germany, visits that he was still making each year.
Andrew liked to tell the story that his great-grandfather was a well-known composer and poet—the author of “The Scottish Emigrant’s Farewell” and the Popular music to Robert Burns’s poem “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.” Jock Hume must have believed this story because Louis Cross, a musician who had worked with him on theCeltic, told a journalist in 1912 that Hume “came of a musical family” and that “his father and his grandfather before him had been violinists and makers of musical instruments. The name is well known in Scotland because of it.” Another version reported that Cross said Hume told him that his ancestors “were minstrels in the olden days.”
“The Scottish Emigrant’s Farewell” was written by a Mr. Hume— Alexander Hume (1811–1859)—but this Hume was not directly related to Andrew or Jock. He was from Edinburgh and only had one son, William Hume, who was born in 1831. Andrew’s father, John, was born the following year to a laborer named Robert Hume and also spent his early life laboring before becoming an attendant in a lunatic asylum in his late thirties. He could also have played the violin, of course, but he wasn’t a household name or a minstrel. The Humes of Dumfries were of more modest stock and, as we shall see, given at times to fantasizing and conveniently forgetting the particulars of stories.
Dumfries is a small town in southwest Scotland close to the border with England, nearer to Carlisle than Glasgow or Edinburgh. Bordered on three sides by mountains and straddling the smooth flowing River Nith, which empties into the Solway Firth, it feels relatively isolated from both countries. In the early years of the twentieth century, it had a population of around fourteen thousand and was best known as the place where Robbie Burns, Scotland’s greatest and best-loved poet, was living when he died at the age of thirty-seven in 1796.
7 & 9 Nith Place, Dumfries, where Jock Hume spent part of his childhood.
Jock Hume was a first son, born on August 9, 1890. He was later joined by three sisters—Nellie, Grace, and Catherine (Kate)—and one brother, Andrew. He started school in 1895 at St. Michael Street School, a few minutes away from the family home, which was over a shop on Nith Place. The head teacher, John Hendrie, encouraged the teaching of music. He arranged for the purchase of a school piano in 1894, hired a teacher named Miss Nellie Lockerbie “to undertake to provide musical training for the children” in 1896, and later established his own violin classes in the school hall. Hendrie would remember the schoolboy Hume as “a merry, bright, laughing boy.”
St. Michael Street School, Dumfries, where Jock Hume enrolled in 1895.
His religious education came from the Congregational Chapel at Waterloo Place where he became a member of the Sabbath School and later signed up with the temperance group the Band of Hope. Every meeting began with a group recital of “The Pledge” that they would eventually sign up to:
I promise hereby grace divine
To drink no spirits, ale, or wine,
Nor will I buy or sell or give
Strong drink to others while I live.
For my own good this pledge I take
But also for my neighbour’s sake
And this my strong resolve shall be
No drink, no drink, no drink for me.
Andrew Hume also tutored Jock on the violin and in his early teens Jock was competent enough to play both at church and at the Theatre Royal on Shakespeare Street, Scotland’s oldest playhouse. He also liked playing football. An anonymous school friend later tried to capture his dynamism: “No one was a greater favourite at school than ‘Johnny,’ as he was always called.” He remembered him as “the happy-faced lad” who was in love with his violin. “In the old days we have heard him, in the old Shakespeare Street Theatre, playing till the curtain should rise on many a mimic tragedy. We thought he would fiddle himself into fame . . .”
The Theatre Royal, Shakespeare Street, Dumfries, where Hume would play at as a teenager.
When school finished, probably in the summer of 1905, he worked as a clerk for James Geddes, a local solicitor, at 8 English Street in the heart of Dumfries. The job didn’t suit his artistic temperament or his wanderlust, just as banking hadn’t suited Wallace Hartley. Like Hartley, he was a conscientious worker but couldn’t stand the incarceration he felt in a small office space. He wanted to be out and about, with his violin if at all possible.
“He was an intelligent, assiduous and courteous lad and was reliable and painstaking in all of his work,” Geddes remembered. “He was of a character that would enable him to carve out a career for himself in any walk of life he was likely to follow. Like many great men, he found that his bent was not for being confined within the four walls of an office, and it was a good thing for him that his father decided that he should devote his talents to music.”
His home life had been unsettled for some time and this may have provided an additional spur for his musical career. His mother, Grace Law Hume, had suffered from depression since the birth of her daughter Kate in 1897, and had become a virtual invalid. In 1906 she died of cancer of the esophagus and Andrew quickly married Alice Mary Alston who found it hard to slip overnight into the motherly role. When speaking about Hume in 1912, his minister Rev. James Strachan implied that he left both the church and home in his midteens.
Unfortunately crew lists from this period are incomplete and those that have survived are split between some British repositories and the Maritime History Archive in Canada. We know the ships on which Hume played, from comments made by colleagues and family after his death, but have to make an educated guess at the order in which he served on them.
It’s likely that his first ship was the Anchor Line shipColumbiabecause it sailed to New York from Glasgow, which was only eighty miles from Dumfries. The Anchor Line had three ships continuously on the transatlantic run—theCaledonia,California, andColumbia—to ensure an outward and an inward sailing every Saturday. The outgoing ships called in at Moville in County Donegal on the northern tip of Ireland to pick up passengers and mail. The brochure advertised “all the accommodations to appeal to people of refinement” and promised “plenty of space for promenading.” The special music saloon, with its molded ceilings, cylindrical wooden pillars, and comfortable armchairs, looked like the smoking room in a gentlemen’s club.
Once familiar with the life of a ship’s bandsman, he moved to the larger ships sailing out of Liverpool. The first of these was most likely the White Star Line’sCeltic, which crossed to New York. More than twice as big as theColumbia, it had been the first passenger ship to exceed twenty thousand tons. Two of theCeltic’s musicians, viola player Louis Cross and cellist John Carr, later spoke about Hume. Cross, who referred to him as “Happy Jock Hume,” remembered him as “the life of every ship he ever played on and beloved of every one from cabin boys to captains.” Cross considered Hume’s musical ability to be “exceptional” and added: “He studied a great deal, although he could pick up without trouble difficult compositions that would have taken others long to learn.”
Hume loved to combine the folk elements of Scottish music with American and European tunes, moving from table to table in a saloon, playing his favorite reels and jigs. He also showed a good sense of humor. Cross remembered him playing a joke on a woman passenger: “She’d given us a lot of trouble, pretending that she knew a great deal about music. Once she asked us to play a particularly intricate classical piece. Jock whispered instructions, and at the close the woman came up and thanked him. But the piece we’d played was American ragtime played slowly—and the woman didn’t know the difference!”
Cross mentioned that Hume played on theMajestic, a White Star liner that sailed from Liverpool to New York until 1907, when J. Bruce Ismay moved the White Star operations to Southampton. He also was part of the orchestra on theMeganticand as that made its first voyage on June 17, 1909, he could only have been on it for its earliest sailings, possibly on the maiden voyage. TheMegantic, also owned by White Star, sailed to Montreal, Canada.
When Hume signed up for theOlympic’s maiden voyage in June 1911, he said that his last ship had been theCalifornia, an Anchor Line vessel working the Glasgow to New York route. This wasn’t strictly true, because the last ship he’d played on was thePort Royalsailing out of Bristol for Kingston on December 10, 1910, with Wes Woodward, headed for the Constant Spring Hotel. The orchestra appears to have gone out as a ship’s band but returned as passengers. His work on theCaliforniamust have taken place before this.
Although from time to time he returned to smaller ships, his overall progression was toward the larger, more prestigious steamers. When he was at the Constant Spring Hotel he met Americans who promised to look after him when Stateside, and this must have been an added incentive to keep returning to New York. When theHawkecollided with theOlympic, he thought nothing of it, but allegedly it worried his stepmother, who thought he should call a halt to his seagoing. According to friends, “he just laughed at her fears and took the chance” and signed up for more transatlantic crossings on theCarmania, where he was made bandmaster.
For some time he’d had a steady girlfriend in Dumfries who was two years younger than him. Mary Costin lived with her widowed mother, Susan, and two brothers over a solicitor’s office in Buccleuch Street, less than two hundred yards from the Humes’ new home in George Street. Just as Hume had lost his mother, she’d already lost her father and a sister and would soon lose her oldest brother, William, who died at the age of twenty-four in 1911.
Former Costin home on Buccleuch Street, Dumfries.
It’s very likely that the teenage Mary Costin was the girl in the background of theNew York Timesphotograph. They’d become inseparable and were planning to marry once Jock had saved up enough money from his work on the ships. His plan was to then concentrate on concert work in Scotland.
During the second week of January 1912, Hume came back to Dumfries while theCarmaniawas docked at Liverpool and he and Mary spent a lot of time together. In March theCarmaniasailed from New York to the Mediterranean, a monthlong trip that would take him to Gibraltar, Villefranche, Algiers, Monaco, Naples, and Alexandria. This was the first time he’d been beyond North America and the Caribbean, and his longest sea journey.
He must have been in New York preparing for the Mediterranean trip when Mary discovered that she was pregnant. Presumably she would have sent him a telegram with the news, knowing she wouldn’t see him again until early April. Later, when things became difficult for Andrew Hume, he would deny that his son was responsible for the pregnancy and even refused to confirm they were engaged. Yet Hume had clearly told his friends of his intentions. In April 1912 Louis Cross told theNew York Timesthat he knew of a “sweet young girl” who had been anxiously awaiting Hume’s return on theTitanic. “Jock, “ he said, “ was to have been married the next time he made the trip across the ocean.”
Three of the musicians on theTitanichad never played on ships before. Violinist Georges Krins was in the orchestra at the Ritz Hotel in London’s Piccadilly and there’s a chance that Percy Cornelius Taylor may have played there too. They could have been spotted by Black on a London visit or by his southern agent, Enos Green. Bass player John Frederick Preston Clarke, who was from Liverpool, had an uncle who had played alongside Charlie Black in the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He also apparently played at the Kardomah Café at 37 Castle Street, which was across the road from the Blacks’ office and was a venue they used for auditions.
Percy Cornelius Taylor is the least known of the musicians, as well as the oldest and the only one who was married. There were no obituaries or personal appreciations in Britain’s newspapers for him when he died, and although his name is included on all band memorials, he was never individually honored. This may simply be because he was from London rather than a small, close-knit community where his loss would have been felt more personally or it may be that he didn’t become a professional musician until late in his life and therefore had no longstanding reputation.
When Louis Cross described him in 1912, he even got his name wrong. “Herbert Taylor, the pianist, was considered a master of his instrument,” he was quoted as saying. “He was a man of an intellectual turn of mind, with a thin studious face.” As Taylor hadn’t sailed before, it’s difficult to believe that Cross knew anything about him. The observation could have been something the journalist discovered from another source and then attributed to Cross. Or maybe the journalist made a guess based on his photograph, although it’s difficult to tell from the head shot released after his death whether he was studious, imperious, or just an ordinary Edwardian trying to look appropriately respectable.
He was born at 144 Queens Road in Hackney, East London, on March 20, 1872, the third son of Martin Taylor, a printer’s compositor and bookbinder, and his wife, Emily. The Taylors shared their house with Emily’s widowed mother, Caroline Wheeler. Martin’s father, William, had run a business in Yorkshire employing five people and Emily’s father, Cornelius (the source of Percy’s middle name), was an auctioneer in the city of London. Cornelius Wheeler became a representative of the ward of Aldgate, which meant wielding some political power in the administration of the city. In 1837 he and Caroline were invited by the Lord Mayor to a banquet at the Guildhall “on the occasion of Her Majesty Queen Victoria honouring the Corporation with her presence.” They were seated on a table next to that of the royal household and Caroline would never tire of telling how she sat so close to the teenage Queen Victoria. Sixty years later, in November 1897, Victoria had an anniversary banquet to which Caroline was invited as one of only three of the original invitees still living. This resulted in a flurry of publicity where the elderly Caroline was interviewed and photographed. Taylor, then twenty-five, must have felt proud of his grandmother and her connection with the great queen who ruled over the most populous empire the world had ever known.
Although Taylor is usually associated with his birthplace of Hackney, East London, or his final residence of Clapham, South West London, the largest part of his life was spent in Peckham, South East London. In 1876, when Taylor was four, he lived with his family in a three-bedroom terraced house on Lausanne Road and the next year moved around the corner to Selsdon Road. He started school at Hollydale Road Infants School, a ten-minute walk away.
In February 1880 he graduated to the school for older boys, Hollydale Road School, by which time the family was living in an end of terrace house close to the railway line in Brabourn Grove. He left the school in 1886, the year his only sister, Emily, was born, and four years later his father, Martin, died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of fifty-two. According to the census of 1891, the remaining family had moved to a bigger house on the corner of Brabourn Grove and Hollydale Road where part of the ground floor was used as a grocery store run by Emily. At nineteen Taylor was working as a clerk.
His life becomes difficult to track from this point. Somehow he evaded the 1901 census and so the next official record comes from 1906 when he married at the age of thirty-four. On his wedding certificate he described himself as an accountant. The only clue to any musical prowess was the fact that he was a choir member of St. Antholin, a Peckham church where his brother Frederick was the organist. Another brother, George, apparently played in local dance bands.
By the time Taylor got married, he had left Peckham and was living in a second-floor flat at the recently completed Glenshaw Mansions on Brixton Road in Brixton. He lived at flat 13, two doors away from Sydney Chaplin and his soon-to-be-famous brother, Charlie, who were then performing in local venues such as the Canterbury Music Hall and the South London Palace of Varieties. At flat 37 was music hall entertainer Jock Lorimer, whose son Maxwell, born there in March 1908, would become the great British comedian Max Wall. Percy’s bride, Clara Alice Davis, the daughter of a gas superintendent from Dulwich, had her own stage aspirations.
Taylor could have met Clara through his brother George who married her sister, Minnie, in September 1901. Clara was still single then, but two years later married an auctioneer from Somerset named Ralph Davis. He was only twenty-one and she was thirty-one, although when it came to filling in the wedding certificate she knocked four years off her age.
Poor Ralph didn’t last long. In 1905 he died while being operated on. The cause of death was given as “cardiac failure when under the influence of chloroform for operation and suffering from fatty disease of the heart.” The verdict at the inquest was “misadventure.” He and Clara had been married for less than two years, leaving her a widow at thirty-three.
It was fourteen months later, on May 25, 1906, that Percy Taylor and the newly widowed Clara made their vows at Christ Church, North Brixton, in the presence of his brother Frederick, his sister Emily, and Clara’s parents. On August 10 he composed his will, bequeathing all his possessions including loose cash, credit in the London and County Bank, and two insurance policies to his “dear wife Clara Alice Taylor.”
Clara had made no entry in the “profession” box on either of her wedding certificates so far, suggesting that her father supported her before marriage and her husbands afterward. The story passed down the family is that it was an unhappy marriage and Taylor took theTitanicjob in the hopes of picking up work in New York and leaving his past behind.
If this were true, it would make sense of the only facts available. Taylor doesn’t appear in the 1911 census, even at the address in Vauxhall (9 Fentiman Road) that he gave to the White Star Line. Neither was Clara at this address. She was back at home in Dulwich living with her parents. In the box for “profession” she put “actress.” An album of family photographs left behind by Taylor’s mother, Emily, when she died in 1927, has photos of Percy and even of Clara’s sister Minnie but none of Clara or Clara and Percy together. TheDaily Telegraph, which played a leading role in raising money for the dependents of those who died on theTitanic, later made the cryptic comment: “It may take the public by surprise to know that there was only one actual bandsman’s widow, a lady who, no doubt, has benefited beyond her expectations.” This was possibly written in the knowledge that they were living apart at the time of his death.
John Frederick Preston Clarke, bass player on theTitanic, was born at 2 Churchill Terrace in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy on July 28, 1883, the son of a seventeen-year-old solicitor’s clerk named John Robert Clarke and his twenty-two-year-old wife, Ellen Preston. The story is told in the ages and dates. Their wedding date—January 21, 1883—must have been set when Ellen knew she was pregnant. During the next four years they had two daughters, Ellen and Emily, and then between Emily’s birth in 1887 and the census of 1891, John Robert apparently had deserted the family. Emily told her daughter Freda that he fled to America with his brother Edward, where they both started new lives.
John Frederick, known to everyone as Fred, was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Croydon while Ellen Clarke and her girls settled with her spinster sister Mary in the Toxteth Park area of Liverpool. In the census of 1891, she described her marital state as “married” and her occupation as “dressmaker.” Robert Clarke, the grandfather with whom Fred went to live, was a solicitor’s clerk and his wife, Mary Ann, a schoolmistress. By 1901 Robert was on his own in Eastbourne and Clarke had returned to his mother at 174 Tunstall Street and was working as an insurance clerk. Aunt Mary, a music teacher, was still with the family.
The Liverpool street, about to be demolished, where Fred Clarke lived with his family.
In 1884, the year after Clarke was born, another of his mother’s sisters, Elizabeth, married an up-and-coming violinist from Bradford named Vasco Akeroyd. By the turn of the century, Vasco was in Liverpool playing violin for the Liverpool Philharmonic and giving lessons from his home at 35 Falkner Square. Clarke became one of his pupils and during the coming years Vasco would use his influence to get him work.
In 1909 the Vasco Akeroyd Symphony Orchestra was founded and Clarke became one of its six bass players. The orchestra would play eight concerts each season at the Philharmonic Hall, almost always to rapturous reviews from the Liverpool press who admired Vasco’s choice of music, the quality of his leadership, and the high standards of the musicians. Early in the second season, theLiverpool Postcommented that the local public had been “quick to appreciate the excellencies of the orchestral and other fare that Mr Akeroyd is seeking to provide,” and in January 1911 theLiverpool Evening Expresssaid: “Excellent as these concerts invariably are, their promoters surpassed all previous efforts with the programme submitted last night. It is doubtful if a more attractive and interesting concert has been given in Liverpool for some time past, and a packed and warmly appreciative audience testified their approbation in unmistakable fashion.”
As part of this orchestra, Clarke performed everything from Bach concertos and Tchaikovsky symphonies to contemporary works by Szigeti, Saint-Saens, and Dvorak. There were guest vocalists, guest conductors, and the occasional child prodigy visiting from America. One of the most popular concerts in each series featured a program chosen entirely by the audience.
At the same time Clarke was in the orchestra at the Argyle Theatre of Varieties in Birkenhead, which was over the Mersey on the Wirral Peninsula, where the Black brothers had their home. The theater, built as a music hall in 1868 and able to seat an audience of eight hundred, was one of Britain’s best-known entertainment venues. Artists of the era who appeared there include, Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy), W. C. Fields, Dan Leno, and Harry Lauder.
Clarke would have worked in the orchestra pit providing backing to vocalists and incidental music for sketches. There were two shows a night for six days of the week and a matinee at 2:30 p.m. every Thursday. During the same period he also appeared with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Port Sunlight and at the Kardomah Café. Port Sunlight was a model village built by William Lever for employees of his soap factory on the Wirral. It had almost thirty societies ranging from an Anti-Cigarette League to a Scientific and Literary Society. On June 22, 1911, Clarke played with the orchestra to celebrate the coronation of King George V.
Clarke’s connection with Charlie Black could have come through his Uncle Vasco, who for several years played violin alongside him in the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. According to family legend originating with Emily Clarke, Clarke’s reason for taking work on theTitanicwas to make it to New York because he had heard that his father, John Robert Clarke, had lately been killed there in a house fire. He wanted to work his passage to America and, once there, sort out his father’s estate.
John Robert appears to have eluded the record books after he left his family. He doesn’t show up in British censuses after 1881 and there is no record in the UK of his death. His common name makes him hard to track in American records. The rumor about his brother leaving his family in Croydon and moving to New York, however, is confirmed by living relatives in Canada. Edward Fulcher Clarke went to America ahead of his wife and four children ostensibly to settle in before they joined him, but instead had affairs with several other women. When his wife eventually showed up, he was caught and they separated.
Georges Alexandre Krins was born in Paris on March 18, 1889, but moved with his family to the town of Spa in Belgium in 1895, where his parents opened a haberdashery store. His father, Auguste, was part Russian, part Belgian. His mother, Louise, was French. He had two sisters, Madeleine and Anne, and a brother, Marcel.
Spa was a very musical city with a number of orchestras, including la Grande Symphonie of seventy musicians. He developed an early love for the violin but there were no music schools in Spa, so at the age of thirteen he enrolled at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liege where he would study for the next six years. Early on he was recognized as a brilliant and hardworking student. In the academic year 1904–1905, he won second prize in musical theory and also in violin. The next year he won first prize for violin and in 1906–1907 he again won second prize. His professor considered him a “model pupil” who exhibited a solid grasp of technique. “Georges Krins has made enormous progress in one year.” The Spa newspaperSaison de Spamarked his achievement in its issue of July 24, 1907: “We note with pleasure that Mr Georges Krins, who has played in the Grande Symphonie, won the second prize for violin at the Conservatoire Royal de Liege. We give him our congratulations.”
Georges Krins with two friends in London, 1911.
He left the Conservatoire in 1908 after again winning first prize in violin and returned to Spa where he joined La Grande Symphonie for the 1908 and 1909 seasons. Then, early in 1910, he was engaged as first violin at the Trianon Lyrique in Paris, a theater at the foot of Montmartre that at the time was specializing in comic opera. It was from Paris that he left for London to join the orchestra at the recently opened (1906) Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly. Here he played in the elegant Palm Court where the celebrated “tea at the Ritz” was served.
Georges Krins with his father and sister at the Promenade des Artistes, Spa, Belgium.
While in London, Krins took a flat at 10 Villa Road, a short walk from Percy Taylor’s home in Fentiman Road. For a while he contemplated joining the army, mainly because he had a deep fascination with the Napoleonic Wars, but his father managed to talk him out of it by telling him how dangerous it was. He should stick to music. It was far safer.
It would have been with a sense of excitement and relief that cellist Wes Woodward sailed into Liverpool on theCaroniaon March 30, 1912— relief that such a long journey was finally over and excitement at seeing his family and being able to share his adventures with them. We know that he was in Headington before leaving to meet theTitanic, so we can assume that he took a train down to Oxford, possibly after visiting Charlie Black in Castle Street to sort out his contract.
It could be that Woodward was a last-minute replacement for Seth Lancaster, the musician who was first offered the job. Lancaster apparently at this point still thought he was set to sail with theTitanic. Maybe Hume or Edgar Heap had pushed Woodward’s name. He was certainly older than Lancaster and had a more impressive track record.
Woodward’s mother was living at the Firs, Windmill Road, with his unmarried brother, Herbert, who was working as a gardener. He would probably have visited his brother Thomas, who was still singing at Magdalen College, and it was maybe through this meeting that the plan was hatched for him to come and play at the college’s May Ball on the night of April 30, when he arrived back on theTitanic. He may also have gone down to Eastbourne to meet up with old friends, such as the newspaper advertising executive Syd Wardingly and local musicians Bill Read and Edward Peilgen.
The house (center) in Headington from which Wes Woodward left to join theTitanic.
The Britain he came back to was enduring a miners’ strike that was threatening to disrupt everything from train services to shipping, so dependent was the country on coal. TheDaily Mirrorwas mounting a self-congratulatory campaign to provide milk for children whose fathers had lost employment because of the strike. “Child victim of the coal strike fed with milk by generous readers of theDaily Mirror” ran one of its headlines on the day that Woodward got back.
Suffragettes (or “suffragists” as theMirrorreferred to them), who were upset by the progress of the Women’s Bill, were planning to exert their economic power to show that they were a force to be reckoned with. “The time has now arrived,” said a Mrs. Despard of the Women’s Freedom League, “for us to take deeper and more general militant action. I do not believe in injuring private property, but the commerce of this country depends a great deal for its success on the women of the country. I want all of our women to become a hatless brigade and boycott the male makers of hats. In fact, not to buy anything that is not absolutely necessary. That would more seriously affect tradesmen than the breaking of their windows.”
In Hertfordshire hundreds of women were taking part in mock military maneuvers in readiness for the possibility that a European nation might try to invade. They were marching, camping, digging trenches, and performing rescue operations on “wounded” comrades. A photo of them wearing long dresses and tin helmets appeared in the newspapers along with the observation that women troops were far more cost-effective because they ate less than men.
If there was a fear that women were challenging male domination, there was an equal concern that men were becoming too feminine. The annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race taking place that day would be distinguished by the fact that “for the first time in the annals of the historic contest a long-haired crew will appear on the Thames.” The Oxford crew had apparently gone all tousled and had become the subject of mockery. TheMirrorcaught the mood: “In the dim past, when the boat race was young and innocent, be-whiskered and bearded young gentlemen may have rowed for their respective Varsities, but never, never did they appear with their locks blowing blithely in the breeze.”
But there were still real men around. Men like Captain Robert Falcon Scott who had set off in June 1910 to be the first person to reach the South Pole only to find, when he arrived on January 17, 1912, that he had been beaten by the Norwegian explorer Captain Roald Amundsen, who had arrived a month earlier using a different route. It was a harrowing journey of exploration in the most inhumane of climates without any of the benefits of modern communications. Messages back to civilization took months. One such message appeared in the British newspapers on April 1, 1912. When the British Antarctic Expedition ship arrived in New Zealand, there was an expectation that Scott would be on board, but instead all the commander had was a note from the explorer that read: “I am remaining in the Antarctic for another winter in order to continue and complete my work.”
This stoicism and determination to finish the job in hand turned Scott into a hero. He was a man willing to put his country and the progress of science ahead of his own personal comfort and well-being. His story was also an illustration of humanity’s increasing ability to use nature rather than be used by it. Few places on earth now seemed to be out of bounds and the earth itself was giving up its secrets to determined scientists. “Motor-Cars and telephones at work on Antarctic Ice,” crowed aMirrorheadline. “Astounding narrative of Man’s triumph over nature.”
What the world didn’t know at the time was that Scott and his comrades were already dead. They had perished through exhaustion, hunger, and extreme cold. Scott made his last diary entry on March 29, the day he is presumed to have died, and left calmly composed letters to his family, the families of his fellow explorers, and a nation he hoped would understand his sacrifice. “Had we lived,” he wrote, “I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.” Their bodies weren’t found for another eight months.
At 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday April 2, theTitanicbegan moving slowly down the Belfast Lough, pulled by the tugsHercules,Huskisson,Herculaneum,Hornby, andHerald. Despite the early hour the banks of the river were lined with cheering crowds. This was a big day for the city, especially if you were one of the people who had directly or indirectly helped to bring the great ship into being. As the largest man-made movable object slid down toward the sea, there was the sure knowledge that history was being made.
Two miles off Carrickfergus the tugs withdrew their support and the giant liner had to turn its propeller in the sea for the first time. On board was a skeleton crew of seventy-eight needed to feed the boilers, stoke them, and keep all the wheels greased. There were also forty-one officers, cooks, and storekeepers. Chief radio engineer Jack Phillips was fine-tuning the new Marconi equipment, assisted by Harold Bride. Thomas Andrews, the designer from Harland & Wolff, monitored every movement of the ship he had nurtured all the way from the drawing board to launch and fitting. Most importantly there was Mr. Carruthers, the surveyor from the Board of Trade, whose job it was to decide whether the vessel was seaworthy and could be given an Agreement on Account of Voyage and Crew, which would be valid for the next twelve months.
Olympic(left) andTitanicin the Thompson Graving Dock, Belfast, 1911.
Once theTitanicbegan churning up the sea and it was taken up to a speed of twenty knots, it was time to test its ability to stop, to turn using only the rudder, to turn using only propellers, and then to alter its direction. At 2:00 p.m. it took a straight course out into the Irish Sea for its first uninterrupted journey; at 4:00 p.m. it made its way back to Belfast, where it let off anyone not staying for the transatlantic voyage and checked its anchors; and at 8:00 p.m. it began the six-hundred-mile journey to Southampton, where it would arrive on the morning of April 3 ready to stock up with fuel and provisions.
Jock Hume had arrived back in Liverpool on theCarmaniathe same day that theTitanicwas undergoing its sea trials. Although he must have been desperate to get back to Dumfries to see his family and his expectant girlfriend, Mary, we know he stayed around in Liverpool for at least two days, because on Thursday, April 4, he paid a visit to the naval outfitter J. J. Rayner at their shop on Lord Street to collect his bandsman’s uniform. Actually, according to the receipt, it wasn’t so much a new uniform as whatever he had been wearing but cleaned up, mended, pressed, and with White Star buttons and a new collar sewn on. The uniforms recovered after the sinking were described as having “green facing,” which most likely referred to the collar, and Hume’s receipt refers to his “tunic” having a “new collar” (cost: two shillings and sixpence). He was also charged two shillings for a small lyre, the White Star emblem, to be worn on the lapel. It’s likely that he had handed in his uniform for alteration the day before, which would explain why he hadn’t been able to proceed to Dumfries immediately.
Fred Clarke played his last concert with the Vasco Akeroyd Symphony Orchestra at the Philharmonic Hall on February 27. On the night of April 6, knowing that he was about to leave Liverpool, he took the ferry over to Birkenhead to meet up with some of his old colleagues still working at the Argyle Theatre. He struck his friends as being a little “morose.” They couldn’t tell whether he was feeling ill or whether he was just apprehensive about his first sea voyage. Rather than about the excitement of the journey, his talk was more about his hopes of making good tips from what would be a very rich collection of travelers. Maybe inspired by being back at the Argyle, he spoke of his desire to get back into the theater. “You know, it would be just my luck to go down with the ship,” he apparently said to his drinking companions. “I’ve kept away from it so long it might finish me on this trip.”
He went to the second performance of that Saturday night, which was a typical variety show of the period headlined by magician Gus Fowler (“the latest London novelty”) and comic singer Cissie Curlette and included some moving film images by Brooke and Brown’s Royal Bioscope. Fowler’s act was based around watches and clocks, which he could seemingly make appear and disappear at will, ending with the sound of thirty bells coming from his hat. Cissie Curlette, a British singer who’d made her American debut in 1910, was, according to theNew York Dramatic Mirror, “a talented and quite good-looking English singer [with] songs which relied for their success solely upon the double entendre of their lyrics and theme, rather than any tunefulness or brightness of lines.” Among her songs were “Toodle-I-Oddle-I-Oo,” “Yea Verily Yea,” “I’d Rather Lather Father,” and “What You’ve Never Had You Never Miss.”
He probably stayed at Birkenhead overnight because the newspaper reports claimed that he left for Southampton on the Sunday morning train from Birkenhead’s Woodside station, next to the ferry terminal, “in company with other of the vessel’s staff.” There were only three other Birkenhead residents working on theTitanic—stewardess Sarah Stap, engineer J. C. Evans, and assistant storekeeper Charles Morgan. There were twenty-five crew members from Liverpool, but there would be no reason for them to travel from Birkenhead when they could go via Birmingham from Liverpool’s Lime Street station.
The trains from Woodside station could have taken him directly to London Paddington, from where he could have made his way south to Waterloo station and the boat train (a boat designed to take passengers from land to a boat) to Southampton. Or he could have changed trains in Birmingham in order to avoid coming through London.
With the miners’ strike at an end by April 6, it was reckoned that the coal mines would be working as normal by Wednesday but there would still be a three-week wait for coal. This would affect theTitanicin two ways. First, it meant that crew would be easy to pick up because the strike had left more than seventeen thousand men unemployed in Southampton. Second, it meant that coal for theTitanichad to be taken from other ships, including theOceanicand theMajestic, to make sure it had enough on board. This, in turn, caused delays and cancelations, which resulted in passengers from those ships being transferred to theTitanic.
The next day, April 8, theMauretaniaarrived in Liverpool, bringing with it Wallace Hartley, Theo Brailey, and Roger Bricoux. The front page of theDaily Mirrorwas dominated by the image of a Norwegian ship that had run aground on some rocks on the coast of Cornwall during heavy fog. The paper noted that it was “the twentieth vessel to be wrecked off the Cornish coast this winter.” In the sea near Eastbourne, divers were still exploring the submerged wreck of the P & O linerOceana, where they had already salvaged eight boxes of gold and fifteen ingots of silver after locating the keys to the strong room in the left-hand drawer of the captain’s desk.
As theMauretaniadidn’t dock until late in the day, the three musicians may well have stayed on board the ship for the night and then made their way into the city the next morning. They would each have needed to sort out their uniforms and make a visit to the offices of Charlie and Frederick Black. We know from a letter found on Hartley’s body that he’d planned to rendezvous with a musician friend named Bill, near a violin maker’s workshop at 14 Brook’s Alley run by George Byrom, where he had presumably gone to get a fresh supply of strings for his violin.
Letter to Hartley from his friend Bill.
They missed each other and, as Hartley had Bill’s reply dated April 9 on him when he boarded theTitanic, we can only assume that Bill must have handed the letter to Charlie Black to ensure Hartley got it before leaving for Southampton. “My Dear Wallace,” Bill wrote, “Am very sorry that I missed you. I waited at the end of Brook’s Alley and got to Byrom’s just after you had left. Jolly good luck, old chap. Would give more than a trifle to be with you. Don’t forget to drop me a line at 61, Lea Road.” The address was in Egremont on the Wirral and was the home of a musical instrument maker named John McLeod; his wife, Eleanor; and their children. It could be that John was known as “Bill” and had done work for Hartley, but it is more likely that Bill was one of the many ship musicians working out of Liverpool (hence “Would give more than a trifle to be with you”) and one who would rendezvous with the McLeod family when on leave.
None of the three musicians had time to achieve all they wanted to before the sailing of theTitanic. Theo Brailey would probably have gone to see his fiancée, Teresa, in Southport, because it was not too far away but there wouldn’t have been time to call on his parents in London as well. Roger Bricoux checked into a guesthouse on Globe Street and may have had a rendezvous with Adelaide Kelsall. Hartley had no time to see either his parents or his girlfriend, Maria Robinson. He had to content himself with sending a parcel of washing home to his mother and sending letters of apology to those he felt he should have seen. Maybe one of the musicians read the “Thought for the Day” in theDaily Mirrorwith a wry smile: “It is good to hope for the best. It is good also to prepare for the worst. Both happiness and ill fortune shall be the reward of the man who considers each step before he takes it.”
Finally Hartley, maybe in the company of Bricoux and Brailey, made his way by rail from Liverpool to Birmingham and then from Birmingham directly to Southampton via the Midlands towns of Coventry, Leamington, and Banbury. Seated in a carriage with the smoke of the engine billowing past the window, he wrote a letter to his parents that he was able to pop into a post box on the platform at Reading before the train set off for Basingstoke and Winchester. In London, Georges Krins and Percy Taylor must have made plans to catch the boat train from Waterloo to Southampton Docks, a train that would arrive at 9:30 a.m. on the day of departure. Wes Woodward left from Oxford with his “best cello” and possibly caught the same train that Hartley was already on. Jock Hume, with two expensive rented violins that he planned to try out, took the train down to London from Dumfries.
TheTitaniccontinued to fill its holds. Its eventual load would total almost 560 tons of cargo (including 11,524 individual pieces) and 5,800 tons of coal, 4,427 tons of which had to be taken from other ships. By Monday it was time to load the more perishable goods, such as 75,000 pounds of meat, 11,000 pounds of fish, and 7,000 heads of lettuce. Another Board of Trade surveyor, Captain Clark, inspected the ship, as did the captain appointed for the job, Edward Smith, who was photographed on the bridge for the one and only time. Thomas Andrews wrote home to his wife: “TheTitanicis now about complete and will, I think, do the old Firm credit tomorrow when we sail.”
Whether or not they had traveled down to Southampton on the boat train that arrived early in the morning of April 10, the musicians would have joined the crowd of second-and third-class passengers streaming toward berths 43/44 of the White Star’s dock, where the majesticTitaniclay with its bow pointed at the Solent. They would have boarded by the second-class entrance on C Deck, toward the back of the ship, and taken the elevator or staircase two flights down to E Deck, where there was a designated musicians’ room on the starboard side with three sets of bunk beds, drawers, a wardrobe, a basin, and a separate cabin in which to store their instruments. A second room, again for 5 musicians was on the port side, squeezed between a room for washing potatoes, and accomodation for its workers. It’s likely that the ‘saloon orchestra’ took the better cabin.1
While the attention of the world was on the glamour and high living of the top decks, the musicians, along with stewards, nurses, clerks, cooks, waiters, and other second-and third-class passengers were down below, not far from the casings of the ship’s engines, in what the crew jokingly referred to as “the glory hole.” They would have perhaps been on board by 10:00 or 10:30 a.m., preparing for the arrival of the first-class passengers who were traditionally played on to the ship and offered a glass of champagne from a silver tray.
For Jock Hume and Wes Woodward it would have been a reunion after not having seen each other since theHawkehad rammed theOlympicsix months previously. There was time to share their experiences of the Mediterranean—they were in Alexandria, Egypt, within days of each other—and discuss the highs and lows of life on the sister ships theCarmaniaandCaronia. They must have both felt a certain sense ofdéjà vuon entering theTitanicat Southampton, having gone through exactly the same process on theOlympicon her maiden voyage. Even though they’d only yet taken a short walk on this ship, they must have started making comparisons. Stewardess Violet Jessop, who’d also served on theOlympic, thought the crew accommodation was a vast improvement and was pleased that architect Thomas Andrews, who had canvassed her and her colleagues about how things could be made better, had implemented many of their suggestions. She thought theTitanicwas “decidedly grander and improved in every way.”
For Wallace Hartley, Roger Bricoux, and Theo Brailey, there were only a few days of catching up to do. There would have been light conversation about how they’d spent their time and perhaps about their regrets at not being able to see their families and girlfriends during their time off. Hartley, Brailey, and Hume were all planning weddings by the year’s end and Woodward was said to have a girlfriend in London.
If Hartley hadn’t already met Woodward and Hume, now was the time to introduce himself as bandleader. He’d no doubt heard good things about them from their mutual friend Edgar Heap and it was Hartley’s job now to exert his authority and explain what was expected. Perhaps Hartley had been given an advance passenger list in order to impress on his musicians the gravity of their task on this voyage. There was John Jacob Astor, one of the richest men in America; the steel tycoon Benjamin Guggenheim; historian Archibald Gracie; French aviator Pierre Maréchal; the American president’s chief military advisor, Archibald Butt; English fashion designer Lady Lucille Duff-Gordon; British journalist and author W. T. Stead; young film actress Dorothy Gibson; novelist Jacques Futrelle; Broadway producer Henry B. Harris; and the painter Francis Davis Millet. Then there was J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, and Harland & Wolff designer Thomas Andrews.
Theo Brailey would certainly have known who W. T. Stead was and may even have met him through his father because he was the best-known and most respected advocate of spiritualism in Britain. He was certainly the highest-profile Briton on the ship. He was on his way to New York to address a peace conference at Carnegie Hall for the Great Men and Religions Congress where he would share a stage with the black political leader Booker T. Washington, the great orator and politician William Jennings Bryan, and the president of the United States, William Howard Taft.
Fred Clarke, Georges Krins, and Percy Taylor must have felt like outsiders at this early stage. They knew how to play their instruments, but they had no experience working on a liner. They may have wondered how the rolling of the ship might affect their ability to play. The names and places that the others spoke about so knowingly wouldn’t have meant anything to them. There’s a chance that Taylor and Krins were already acquainted through musical circles in London. If they weren’t already familiar with each other, they would have found common ground in their knowledge of Vauxhall and Brixton. Of course, Krins and Bricoux would have been able to talk to each other in their native French tongue. Clarke may have still been feeling a little unwell or a little apprehensive, not knowing what life would be like on the ship plus wondering what he would discover when he arrived in New York to settle his father’s estate.
But the fellowship of music would soon have overridden the initial atmosphere of caution. Once they got their instruments out of their cases, the only thing that mattered was how well they played and how sensitive they were to each other’s moves. They would have already been given copies of the White Star Line’s current music book—actually a small booklet produced by the Black agency—that listed the titles of the 352 tunes the musicians needed to know. Each first-class passenger would have a copy and could call out the number of the tune, knowing the band could play it.
White Star music book listing 352 tunes.
Hartley would then have talked them through their duties. Three of the musicians would mainly be on B Deck playing in the reception room immediately outside the first-class à la carte restaurant or at the Café Parisien, which was on the starboard side of the ship. Their job was to create an ambience of the city that theDaily Mirrorthought had become the contemporary equivalent of Athens—the city of philosophy, poetry, art, gastronomy, cabaret, dancing girls, pavement cafés, and love. They would have their own library of tunes that would differ from the library of the quintet.
The Prince of Wales was in Paris on a royal visit and theDaily Mirrorhad compared the delight of a Briton visiting Paris with that of a Roman youth making his way to Athens in a bygone age. Paris, it observed, was where the daughters of the rich went for a year to improve themselves. “It is a wise choice, and an example bound to be followed by innumerable youths of humbler birth in England. The Americans, more generally than ourselves, have realized how much Paris can contribute to education.” Paris was a “civilising city” and a “studious city” that made London seem crude and frivolous by comparison.
The Parisien was an innovation introduced on theTitanic—a French café with wicker chairs and large picture windows that could be rolled up when the weather was good, that served coffee and pastries. The à la carte restaurant differed from the main saloon in providing a choice of as many as ten courses and allowing passengers to eat at a time of their choice. The cost of meals here was not included in the fare. All bills had to be settled at the tables by cash or check. It had the effect of creating a class division even among first-class passengers—the division between the rich and the really rich.
The other five musicians would play in a variety of places, mainly in the first-class lounge during afternoon tea and the dining saloon on D Deck for luncheon and dinner. Passengers reported hearing them in the second-class reading room, the first-class reception area, the companionway, and the Palm Room. In addition they could be asked to play at the Anglican church service conducted by the captain on Sunday morning in the dining saloon, and on special occasions such as galas, concerts, and receptions.
By 11:30 a number of the musicians were assembled in the first-class reception area playing music to welcome the ship’s most wealthy and glamorous passengers on board. That job done, they would have had to hurry back downstairs to be in place as a quintet and a trio in the dining saloon and outside the à la carte restaurant, respectively, for the first luncheons to be served on the ship.
The Southampton dock from which theTitanicsailed as it looks today.
TheTitanicleft its moorings at midday pulled by its tugs and was still in Southampton Water when it narrowly avoided a collision with the American steamerNew York. The suction caused by the displacement of theTitanic’s bulk was so strong that it snapped theNew York’s mooring ropes, causing the ship to swing toward her. Only quick action by theVulcan, one of theTitanic’s tugs, prevented a minor disaster. Passengers and crew were aware of what was happening, as it delayed the exit from Southampton by an hour.
Without doubt Brailey and Woodward would have had flashbacks of their previous experience of being rammed by another vessel in the same waters. Passenger Lawrence Beesley wrote:
As we steamed down the river, the scene we had just witnessed was the topic of every conversation. The comparison with theOlympic-Hawkecollision was drawn in every little group of passengers, and it seemed to be generally agreed that this would confirm the suction theory which was so successfully advanced by the cruiserHawkein the law courts, but which many people scoffed at when the British Admiralty first suggested it as the explanation of the cruiser ramming theOlympic.
This was not a minor near miss that we only know about now because it could seem to be an omen; it was reported and commented on at the time. TheDaily Telegraphof April 11 headlined the story “An Alarming Incident”:
A sensational incident attended the sailing of theTitanicyesterday, from Southampton, on her maiden voyage. Having to pass at the Test Quay the linersOceanicandNew York, the latter seems to have been so seriously affected by the suction of theTitanic’s screws that her stern ropes, seven in number, parted, and her stern swung into midstream. TheTitanic’s engines were stopped and theNew Yorkwas towed to another berth.
TheTitanic’s first stop was in Cherbourg, France, which it reached at 5:30, anchoring outside the port and taking on passengers and mail from two tenders. The musicians were already playing for diners taking tea or for the early evening meal, delayed because of the late start. The placid mood was captured in a recently discovered letter written by perfumer Adolph Saalfeld to his wife in the late hours of that first day:
Daily Telegraphreport onTitanic’s near collision on leaving Southampton.
The weather is calm and fine, the sky overcast . . . I have quite an appetite for luncheon. Soup, fillet of plaice, a loin chop with cauliflower and fried potatoes, Apple Manhattan and Roquefort cheese, washed down with a large Spaten beer iced, so you can see I am not faring badly. I had a long promenade and a doze for an hour up to 5 ‘o’ clock. The band played in the afternoon for tea but I savour a coffee in the Veranda café with bread and butter and quite thought I should have to pay but everything in the eating line isgratis.
By 11:30 the musicians would have completed their duties and have been making their way back down to E Deck. Either then or early the next morning, Wallace Hartley wrote what would be his last letter home, a letter to be taken ashore by tender at Queenstown when theTitanicput down anchor and took on its final passengers. “Just a line to say we have got away all right. It has been a bit of a rush but I am just getting a little settled,” he wrote. “This is a fine ship and there ought to be plenty of money around. We have a fine band and the boys seem very nice. I missed coming home very much and it would have been nice to have seen you all, if only for an hour or two, but I could not manage it. Shall probably arrive home on the Sunday morning. All love, Wallace.”
It’s hard to imagine that he didn’t also write to Maria Robinson, expressing the same regret at not meeting and the desire to see her as soon as possible after his intended arrival back in Southampton on Saturday, April 27. His sight of the Irish coastline as it slipped by the starboard side of theTitanicwas the last he’d ever see of dry land. The observation made by almost everyone who survived is the contrast between the smoothness and uneventfulness of the ship’s progress across the Atlantic and the enormity of the tragedy they were about to take part in.
Shipwreck was an ever-present possibility in 1912. Radio communication was in its infancy, radar had not been invented, and safety measures were not highly evolved. Ships sinking in storms, or through collisions with rocks or other vessels, were commonplace events. That yearChambers’ Journalreported that 1,453 ships had been lost since 1841 and on the transatlantic route 24 steamers had been lost without trace. The fact that such attention was focused on theTitanic’s safety features—such as the watertight compartments sealed off by double-cylinder doors—was an indication that White Star saw value in allaying fears of vulnerability. As theNew York Timesreporter said of his experience on theOlympic, the thought that disaster could strike is something that heightens the senses. Everyone was conscious that transporting the luxuries of the French court or the English country home to the middle of the icy Atlantic was cheating nature and that nature could try to reclaim its supremacy.
Our knowledge of the band’s movements during the next four days can be assumed by what is known of the normal routine on transatlantic liners and supplemented by the few firsthand observations of passengers who survived. Although the musicians were to become eight of the most celebrated men to sail on theTitanic, they maintained a low profile. They were to be listened to, not watched, and were as anonymous to those they entertained as waiters were to those they served. If they played badly, it would be noted, but if they played well, it would be accepted as something that first-class passengers deserved.
The musicians were playing to a sophisticated audience, men and women who were used to buying the best of everything. There were, after all, a leading novelist, painter, journalist, actress, and Broadway producer on board. These socialites consumed culture in the same way they consumed champagne and caviar. Jean Hippach of Chicago, after noting that the band played three “programmes” each day—before luncheon, in the afternoon, and after dinner—went on to say: “They were all real musicians and were appreciated by the people on board who were the finest lot of people I ever crossed with—people of leisure and good breeding, all of them.” Jean Hippach was only sixteen at the time.
The quintet also played in the second-class saloon and may have played some lighter fare there. Mme Juliette Laroche wrote to her father after leaving Cherbourg: “I am writing you from the reading room [‘salon de lecture’] and there is a concert next to me: a violin, two cellos [and] a piano.” This is not only interesting in that it places the musicians in second class for a session, but also mentions them as a quartet. Since she was looking at the musicians as she wrote, it’s unlikely she was mistaken.
Another second-class passenger who recorded seeing the band was Kate Buss, a thirty-six-year-old English woman from Sittingbourne, Kent, on her way to meet her American fiancé in San Diego, California. She kept a journal in which she referred to some of the people she encountered by her own invented names. Dr. Ernest Moraweck, of Frankfort, Kentucky, became “Doctor Man”; an unidentified passenger became “Mr Sad Man”; and Wes Woodward became “Cello Man.”
On April 11, as the ship sailed away from Ireland, she had written: “We have three promenade decks, one above the other. Each one has a sort of hall lounge, and on the one above my cabin the band plays every afternoon and evening. The Cello Man is a favourite of mine. Every time he finishes a piece he looks at me and we smile.”
On April 12, she was again listening to the orchestra: “Saw Doctor just after dinner and reminded him of his promise to ask our Cello Man to play a solo. Says he would if I’d go to Kentucky. He waited for us and we took our seats on the stairs. Too late to arrange, so going to ask for it tomorrow. Cello Man quite nice. Very superior bandsman, and he always smiles his parting to us.”
The next day she persisted, arranging to meet the doctor and go together to listen to the orchestra. “I couldn’t get near to ask our Cello Man for a solo. Went up and had a walk with Doctor; then down on deck . . . After luncheon we went with a French lady to hear her sing. We had previously met the Cello Man and asked if he would play a solo. He is quite gentlemanly. He agreed and we chatted, amongst other things, about theOlympic. He was on her when the accident happened.”
Violet Jessop, the first-class stewardess who knew Woodward and Hume from theOlympic, claimed to have recalled the group’s final performance on the fateful night. “On that Sunday evening,” she wrote, “the music was at its gayest, led by young Jock, the first violin. When I ran into him during the interval he laughingly called out to me in his rich Scotch accent that he was about to give them ‘a real tune, a Scotch tune to finish up with.’ Always so eager and full of life was Jock.”
Some have questioned the accuracy of this memory and think she may have confused it with another night because of the mention of an interval and the implication that Hume was the bandleader. Could he have led the four-piece band in the second-class saloon that Juliette Laroche noticed? Could the interval have been some downtime between two performances in different areas of the ship? Her description of Hume’s personality seems spot on, as does her memory of his keenness to slip some Scottish music into the repertoire, but as the final piece of music on the night of April 14, it contradicts the memory of the Countess of Rothes that they played something by Offenbach.
Kate Buss didn’t identify the final tune but claimed in her diary that her friend “Mr N” (twenty-eight-year-old Robert Douglas Norman from Glasgow) had told her that it had been played at his request and that they had also played “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” “That night,” she wrote, “the pianist had asked me if I would mind taking round the subscription [collecting tips] as I had appreciated the music. At supper I talked Mr N and Doctor P into promising to do it for me and as a joke the former rehearsed a possible speech, and then said: ‘Meet me on the upper deck at six in the morning. I will talk it over.’ I saw the pianist as I was going to bed, and promised. That was the last I saw of them.”
Colonel Archibald Gracie mentioned the musicians in passing when describing his after-dinner socializing on the night of April 14 with “playboy” James Clinch Smith and architect Edward Kent. “According to usual custom we adjourned to the Palm Room, with many others, for the usual coffee at individual tables where we listened to the always delightful music of theTitanic’s band. On these occasions, full dress was alwaysen règle; and it was a subject both of observation and admiration, that there were so many beautiful women—then especially in evidence—aboard the ship.”
Earlier that day Gracie had been at the church service in the dining room. Although he didn’t mention the band, it would have been one of their duties to provide music for the hymns. He particularly remembered singing “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” both because of the poignancy of the words in retrospect and the fact that the next time he sang it was at a memorial service for his friend, Clinch, for whom the hymn was a favorite.
O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.
One of Gracie’s ship companions was Helen Churchill Candee, a spirited American who was to become a role model for later generations of feminists. Divorced from an abusive husband, she’d developed her own career as a novelist, journalist, and interior designer, going on to become a traveler and explorer as well. In 1900 she had written an influential bookHow Women May Earn a Livingand had served as a consultant when the West Wing of President Roosevelt’s White House was remodeled in 1906. She had been traveling in Europe to researchThe Tapestry Bookwhen she was given the news that her son had been badly injured in a car crash in America. For her theTitanicwas the fastest and most convenient way of getting to his bedside.
Her impressions of life on theTitanicwere published on May 4, 1912, inCollier’s Weeklyand were among the most evocative descriptions of life in first class with its indiscretions, love of luxury, and mild flirtations. She described the same dinner and after-dinner drinks referred to by Gracie, but with a designer’s eye for detail, a novelist’s sense of atmosphere, and a journalist’s ear for conversation. She also took more note of the band than most.
“At dinner, two hours later, the scene might have been in London, or New York, with the men in evening jackets, the women shining in pale satins and clinging gauze,” she wrote.
The prettiest girl even wore a glittering frock of dancing length, with silver fringe around her dainty satin feet. And after dinner there was coffee served to all at little tables around the great general lounging place, for here the orchestra played.
Some said it was poor on its Wagner work, others said the violin was weak. But that was for conversation’s sake, for nothing on board was more popular than the orchestra. You could see that by the way everyone refused to leave it. And everyone asked of it some favourite hit. The prettiest girl asked for dance music, and clocked her satin heels and swayed her adolescent arms to the rhythm. He of the Two who had walked the deck [her reference to the British businessman Hugh Woolner] asked for Dvorak, while she asked for Puccini, and both got their liking, for the orchestra was adroit and willing.
The Puccini was probably fromMadame Butterfly, the Dvorak could have been “Humoresque,” a piece in the White Star music book. Mahala Douglas specifically remembered Puccini and Tchaikovsky being played. Lucy Noel Martha, Countess of Rothes, remembered that the last piece they had played that night was from Jacques Offenbach’s 1881 operaThe Tales of Hoffman. This was possibly “The Barcarolle.” When she heard it being played in a restaurant in the spring of 1913, she felt “a cold and intense horror” but didn’t immediately know why. Then she remembered the last time she’d heard it.
Although we know the type of music the band played and what may have been in the White Star music book, there are very few tunes that we can be absolutely certain the band played. Chief Steward Edward Wheeler said the pieces were “selections from the opera and the latest popular melodies from England and America.” Amelie Icard recalled Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” based on a melody by J. S. Bach, and something from Lehár’s operettaLa Veuve Joyeusebeing played after lunch. Others mentioned ragtime, waltzes, fox-trots, show songs, and, as already mentioned, classical. There has been speculation that they played “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” and “Pleasant Memories,” but these claims aren’t sourced.
Although recordings were available in 1912, they hadn’t become the primary vehicle for making a hit song. Sheet music still ruled and power resided with songwriters and their publishers. The new wonder child of songwriting was twenty-two-year-old Irving Berlin, whose breakthrough song in 1911 was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” By the end of that year he’d had more than a dozen hits including, “Everybody’s Doing It Now,” “I Want to Be in Dixie,” “You’ve Got Me Hypnotized,” and “When You Kiss an Italian Girl.”
Ragtime, popularized by Scott Joplin more than a decade before, would go on to start a dance craze that would make some observers think America was having a collective breakdown. Berlin’s songs, with their simple catchy melodies and straightforward conversational lyrics, were indications of a new, more relaxed era. Said Berlin: “My ambition is to reach the heart of the average American, not the highbrow nor the lowbrow, but that vast intermediate crew which is the real soul of the country. The highbrow is likely to be superficial, over trained, and supersensitive. The lowbrow is warped, subnormal. My public is the real people.”
In 1912 ragtime was as controversial as rock and roll would become in 1957. The syncopated beat was initially disturbing and commentators were divided as to whether it was merely a reflection of the increased pace of life or whether the music itself made people behave more frenetically. “A man playing ragtime can’t keep still,” said the conductor of New York’s Trocadero Orchestra. “The music grips player and audience alike and sets everybody on the jump.” An English music publisher explained: “We live in an age of rush. Ragtime music suits the period. The old song or smoking concert, with its slow, gentle boys’ chorus, is finished. Life is too short for it . . . The whole busy world is now humming to the new music which rushes just as fast as modern, hustling life.” TheMusic Trade Reviewthought ragtime might simply be a protest against monotony. Something different yet crude is often preferable to something familiar yet perfect. “This rage for change is a law of life, and is illustrated in architecture and literature as well as in music. It is illustrated even in the fashions governing dress.”
Whatever the band played, it agreed with Helen Churchill Candee. It was music to relax to, music to oil the flow of conversation. One of her group told stories, one of them told jokes, and the normally restrained ones began to lose their inhibitions. “The lady felt divinely flattered to be in such company,” she remarked of herself. The music stopped at eleven. “Folk drifted off to their big cabins, with happy ‘see-you-in-the-mornings,’ until a group formed itself alone, and the only sounds the musicians made were those of instruments being shut in their velvet beds.”
11“A SOLEMNITYTOODEEP FORWORDS.”
It was 11:45 at night according to ship’s time when theTitanicgrazed along the iceberg that would send it to the ocean bed. The musicians would have been in their cabins probably having a smoke before retiring. They would have felt the collision more sharply than those higher up because E Deck on the starboard side was close to the point of impact. Lawrence Beesley, above on D Deck, only sensed an increased vibration: “Nothing more than that. No sound of a crash or anything else. No sense of shock, no jar that felt like one heavy body meeting another.” Lady Duff-Gordon’s maid, Laura Francatelli, who was on E Deck, felt a distinct shudder and when she left her cabin twenty minutes later noticed that the corridors were flooding. E Deck was already below the waterline.
Ice fields were an ever-present threat to transatlantic ships at this time of year and after only two days at sea theTitanichad begun to receive warnings from eastbound ships. On April 14 alone, it had heard from theCaronia,Noordam,Baltic,Amerika,Californian, andMesaba. One message wasn’t passed to the bridge, one was passed on but ended up in J. Bruce Ismay’s pocket, and yet another was ignored as theTitanic’s wireless operators struggled with the volume of messages needing to be sent on behalf of passengers. When the iceberg that would do the damage was first spotted, it was only around five hundred yards away. The engines were consequently cut and the ship turned toward port by the helmsman, but there wasn’t enough time to sufficiently navigate so large a vessel and therefore, although the bow avoided the ice, the starboard side rubbed along it in what at the time seemed like a glancing blow.