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