The violin is believed to have been owned by Wallace Hartley, who, according to The Daily Mail, was among the band that continued to play as the Titanic sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. When the “unsinkable” vessel went down in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, 1,502 people died.
Hartley and his fellow musicians have become legends in the century since the Titanic sank because they kept playing until they were waist-deep in the frothy waves, at which point they started to slip underwater. Their last song was the hymn, “Nearer, My God, To Thee.”
Media reports indicated that the violin was in a sealed bag strapped to Hartley’s chest, but when his family received his remains it was absent. The frozen bodies of Hartley and two other band members were recovered by lifeboats in the area.
His forlorn lover, a woman named Maria Robinson, whom Hartley was engaged to in 1910, died alone in 1939. It was then that the current owner claims he was given the violin, although that person remains anonymous.
Robinson apparently received the violin from Nova Scotia authorities later in 1912, as one of her diary entries from that year reads: “I would be most grateful to you if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiancé’s violin. May I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to you personally for your gracious intervention on my behalf.”
The violin has survived seven years of authenticity testing, perhaps escalating the excitement level past the auction held on April 11, 2012.
“Other than retrieving the bow of the ship, this must be the most symbolic artifact of the Titanic sinking ever likely to be sold,” author Steve Turner, who discovered pictures of the violin, told The Mirror.
“Everyone concerned has been sworn to secrecy. Other than admitting to me the violin exists and that the photos I saw were genuine, the auctioneers won’t be giving out more information until an announcement is made about the sale.”
Below, a clip from the 1997 movie "Titanic" of the band playing as the ship went down: