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Nearer my God to Thee – The heroic musicians of the Titanic

This weekend marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic with a huge range of television programmes, newspaper articles, new books, events (and cruises) commemorating the disaster. Our small contribution to these commemorations is to reproduce the memorial poster of the ‘Heroic Musicians of the Titanic’ produced by the Amalgamated Musicians Union in 1912, part of the Musicians Union Archive.

Heroic musicians of the Titanic poster

Heroic musicians of the Titanic poster

The poster depicts the eight professional musicians who were employed to provide on board musical entertainment for the ships passengers (playing requests for up to 12 hours a day from a song book containing over 350 titles). As the ship sank it was reported that they continued to play, their final tune the hymn ‘Nearer my God to Thee.’ Selling over 80,000 copies in the months following the disaster the poster was one example of the extraordinary public response to the sinking of the Titanic, another musical response being a huge benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 24 May 1912 which featured seven full orchestras.

The pages of the union’s journal in the months following the disaster provide detailed reports about the heroic actions of the musicians and the efforts made by the union and others to provide compensation for their families, compensation which was not forthcoming from the ship’s owners the White Star Line. The musicians were employed by an agency called Black Brothers, who supplied musicians to ocean liners, and were not technically ship’s employees. As well as being denied compensation from the White Star Line the family of the violinist John Law Hume also received a letter from Black Brothers demanding they pay the balance of the money he owed for his uniform. While reporting on the insults suffered by the families of the deceased the journal also records the huge sums of money raised by its members for its special Titanic fund, along with the various tributes made and memorials unveiled across the country to their fellow musicians.