Town hosts instrument that played the last notes on board Titanic

Sean Madden with the Titanic Violin. INLM38-103gc
Sean Madden with the Titanic Violin. INLM38-103gc
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A violin, believed to have been played as the Titanic sank, was being ‘nursed’ by a Lurgan conservator earlier this week.

Restoration expert Sean Madden, who works from his Lurgan home, has become the ‘go-to guy’ when it comes to Titanic relics, but the latest item to come into his care is of extra special significance.

Sean told the ‘MAIL’: “As the nameplate on it details, this violin was given to Wallace Hartley by his fiancée Maria Robinson on the occasion of their anniversary.”

Wallace Hartley along with his orchestra famously played on as the ship sank in 1912 and were among the 1,500 who died.

While there’s no debating that Wallace Hartley died after the Titanic sank, there’s suggestions that he may not have had this particular violin with him.

“He was just a humble musician, not the sort who would have had two violins,” reasoned Sean.

“Certainly if he’d had two this would have been his best and as it meant so much to him coming from his fiancée it stands to reason this is the one that he’d bring on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

“I can’t see any reason why he’d have left it behind,” said Sean.

Asides from logic, Sean said there was scientific evidence to back up the claims that this violin was on board the Titanic.

“The violin turned up somewhere in England about seven or eight years ago. Research has been done into it for the last five or six years.

“It arrived with me at the weekend with researchers confident it was the violin played by Wallace Hartley on board the Titanic.

“It’s a fairly battered item when you inspect it closely.

“I’ve looked at it under UV light and it confirmed that somebody has restored it. The varnish layer on it is not the original.

“Traces of sea salt were also found in it in previous tests.

“There’s a bit missing from the inside that could only have come out if it had been taken apart or had fallen apart.”

Sean continued: “Accounts are that he strapped the case to his front when he went into the water. The way the life jacket worked it put you up on your back. His position in the water would be consistent with the water damage to the case and the violin being partially immersed and frozen.

“As a person who’s handled a lot of restored items like myself there’s a lot of evidence it has been restored.”

Much as he’d have loved to claim he’d restored the violin to former glories ace conservator Sean couldn’t take the credit for this particular restoration.

He said: “I’ve conserved all the important items that have gone into exhibition.

“In this case I haven’t been employed to do any further restoration. I’m employed to be its nurse until it goes on exhibition.

“I do a conservation report when it arrives, unpack it, check it, take photos of it, document it, then produce a mount for it.

“Now my job is to install it on Tuesday so it’s ready for the exhibition on Wednesday.”

“It will go up for auction in October.

“This is a unique opportunity to see it. It could end up in a private collection and never be seen again for another 100 years.

“It’s recognised as one of the most important artefacts to be recovered.

“It tells a story within the story of the Titanic. It tells a love story of William Hartley and his fiancée and it tells the story of the band who played on as the ship sank.

“The violin would have been in a bad state when it was returned to her, but she must have had it restored as a relic to their love.

“It’s very likely the last time this violin was played was on board the Titanic as it was going down.

“It’s hard not to get sucked into the story of the Titanic with so many items having come through my workshop.”