“Gentlemen, I bid you farewell…”
- Wallace Henry Hartley
Wallace Henry Hartley (1878-1912) was an English violinist and the bandleader on the RMS Titanic when it sank on its maiden voyage. He died in the sinking.
The Titanic hit the iceberg at about 11.40pm on 14 April, 1912. Although the collision with the iceberg lasted only 10 seconds, scraping the ship’s starboard side, it buckled the hull, popped rivets below the waterline over a distance of 90m and opened 6 of the forward compartments. The Titanic was designed to remain afloat with only 4 of the forward compartments flooded.
Around midnight as the Titanic was beginning to list, Hartley took his 8 piece band to the First Class Lounge and began to play to try to calm frantic passengers. As things became more desperate, Hartley and his fellow band members reassembled on the deck nd again began playing to try to keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats.
Many of the survivors said that he and the band continued to play until the very end. They also recalled that the band played waltzes, ragtime and popular tunes of the day.
None of the band members survived the sinking.
One survivor on board 'Collapsible A' said afterwards that he had seen Hartley and his band standing just behind the first funnel, by the Grand Staircase. He went on to say that he saw three of them washed off while the other five held on to the railing on top of the Grand Staircase's deckhouse.
As Hartley and the remaining band members were dragged down with the hull, Hartley was heard to say to his fellow colleagues “Gentlemen, I bid you farewell!"
Hartley’s body was found two weeks after the sinking, still in his performance uniform, still clutching the box holding his sheet music, a gold fountain pen bearing his initials in his pocket.
Though the final song played by the band is unknown, :Nearer my Go to Thee” has gained popular acceptance. Former bandmates claimed that Hartley said he would either play "Nearer, My God, to Thee" or "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" if he was ever on a sinking ship.
One thousand people attended his funeral, while 40,000 lined the route of his funeral procession.
He is buried in Colne where a 10-foot monument, containing a carved violin at its base, was erected in his honour.
A newspaper at the time reported "the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea."