The pre-eminent shipping lines of the early twentieth century, including Britain's White Star Line and Cunard Line, competed against one another to introduce newer, better liners to attract potential passengers on their express service between Britain and America. It was fashionable at the time for first-class passenger accommodation to mirror styles from European history: the William and Mary and Louis Quinze periods and English neo-classical country house architecture. Facilities on-board ship included libraries, reading-rooms, gymnasia and plunge pools, and a ship's band proved a popular addition to entertain passengers on a sea voyage.

The musicians aboard the Titanic were recruited through a Liverpool-based agency, formed by the Black brothers to provide artistic talent for shipping companies. The Titanic's musicians had accommodation in second-class and all boarded the liner at Southampton. A number of the musicians had previously served aboard ships of the Cunard Line and White Star Line. These eight men were split into two groups, a five-piece ensemble led by Wallace Hartley, and a trio strings section. Throughout the voyage they played popular songs from the period.

During the sinking the musicians congregated and started playing together, initially in the first-class lounge, before moving out onto the Boat Deck. As the lifeboats were loaded with passengers and lowered the sounds of the musicians playing popular ragtime tunes filled the air. As the situation became more serious, and the angle of the deck became more perilous the musicians changed to playing hymns, continuing to do so without apparent regard for their own safety. All eight musicians died in the sinking; only the bodies of bandmaster Wallace Hartley, violinist John Law Hume and bassist John Frederick Clarke were recovered. The musicians are commemorated by many memorials, including that in St Mary's Church in Southampton.

St Mary's Church in Southampton lies half a mile north of Southampton Docks, from where the Titanic sailed on her maiden voyage. The memorial is in the form of a rectangular brass plaque. The sides of the plaque are bordered by slender pilasters with a recessed centre panel and dentil moulded foot. The top edge of the plaque is surmounted by an entablature formed of a projecting architrave and castellated cornice. The centre of the plaque is recessed and surmounted by a pointed arch, and bears the following inscription:

Erected to the memory of that heroic band of musicians of the S.S. Titanic who, in their last hour of this mortal life by their self-sacrificing devotion, sought to inspire and sustain in others the assurance of life eternal. April 15th 1912.

W. Hartley. R. Bricoux. F. C. Clarke. J. W. Woodward. G. Krins. P. C. Taylor. J. Hume. W. T. Brailey.

The bottom of the plaque and its pilasters are formed by friezes with recessed panels, surmounted by dentil mouldings, with foot-moulding beneath. Within the central panel the plaque carries the following inscription:

"And the sea gave up the dead which were in it."

More information

  • Eaton, J. P. & Haas, C. A. (1994) Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy (2nd edition) Yeovil: Patrick Stephens Ltd.
  • New-York Tribune, The (1912) Waltzed Facing Death - Titanic Survivor in Hospital Says Music Prevented Panic New York: The New York Tribune, Monday, 22 April 1912