Historians and collectors have gone to war over claims that the violin of the Titanic's band leader Wallace Hartley has been found more than a century after the ship sank.
The auctioneer Henry Aldridge and Sons says Hartley had the violin with him when he perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. But this has been disputed by the Titanic Historical Society in the US, and by the curator of a small museum in Hartley's home town of Colne in Lancashire.
They insist the Titanic's band leader was never found with his violin. But the auctioneer says it has proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the instrument was strapped to his chest in a leather case when his body was plucked from the sea.
Researchers have spent the past six years examining the battered violin and reconstructing events to show how it survived. There is little doubt that the violin belonged to Hartley, who gathered with his band on the deck of the Titanic playing music to calm those on board as chaos engulfed the ship.
A silver plate on the instrument contained an engraved message from his fiancée Maria Robinson. The argument instead centres on whether the violin is the same one played by Hartley as the Belfast-built ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.
Nigel Hampson, curator of the Titanic in Lancashire Museum in Colne, said: “The inventory of items recovered on Hartley's body makes no mention whatsoever of a violin or music case.”
But Alan Aldridge from the auction house insists its research shows otherwise. As well as chemical tests suggesting the instrument had been immersed in sea water, researchers found a telegram sent from Robinson to officials in Nova Scotia where Hartley's body was taken thanking them for sending her his violin.
The violin, thought to be worth a six-figure sum, is the property of an unidentified individual in Lancashire.
It is due to go on display at Belfast City Hall next month.
Wallace Hartley was the leader of the band which played on as Titanic sank in the Atlantic on its maiden voyage in 1912. The Englishman (34) was part of the ship’s quintet. Hartley assembled the band on deck and started playing melodies. Some reported the band played on “until they were waist-high in water”.