A team of radiographers at a Swindon hospital have been helping to unlock the mystery surrounding a violin that sank with the RMS Titanic 101 years ago in the North Atlantic Ocean. The violin is believed to be the instrument played by band leader Wallace Hartley during the fated cruise liner’s maiden and only voyage.
The violin has been at the centre of an authenticity debate. Wallace Hartley's body was recovered from the water about 10 days after the ship sank, but the violin was not listed among the inventory of items found with him. However a diary entry by Wallace Hartley’s fiancé says it was saved from the water in 1912 and returned to her. Following Ms Robinson’s death in 1939, the violin was given to her local Salvation Army citadel and was later passed onto the current owner’s mother in the early 1940s.
BMI The Ridgeway Hospital’s Imaging team (LtoR) Sophie Weaver - Imaging Healthcare Assistant, Astrid Little - Imaging Manager, Petrina Kingsley - Receptionist, Karen Hornby - Imaging Receptionist and Ann McAteer - Imaging Office Coordinator
This is where the team at BMI Ridgway Hospital and specialist diagnostics providers, InHealth come into the story. In 2006, Wiltshire based Titanic specialist auction house Henry Aldridge and Son were approached by the violin's owner who wanted to sell it, but it needed authenticating. After extensive research by the auctioneers, the violin is now believed to be the violin, however one last check was needed; a CT scan.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge with Wallace Hartley’s violin
The auctioneers approached the team at BMI Ridgeway Hospital to help out. Astrid Little, Imaging Manager at the Wroughton hospital explains why a CT scan helped in the authentication process: “A 3D image of the violin was created from the CT scan, meaning the violin could be examined from the inside. The scan revealed that the original wood was cracked and showed signs of possible restoration. The fine detail of the scan meant the auctioneers could examine the construction, interior and the glue holding the instrument together. The scan also assisted in validating the instrument’s authenticity.”
Henry Aldridge and Son is known worldwide for its expertise and trade in Titanic artefacts. Most recently plans of the ship and a first class menu went on display in Belfast, where Titanic was built, after being passed on by the Wiltshire auctioneer.
Over the last seven years hosts of experts helped authenticate the violin, including newspaper archivists, jewellery experts and the forensic science service who found the bodywork still had deposits of salt water.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge says: “The violin was in a heavy duty leather Gladstone type bag, so the violin would have come into contact with water, but it would have been protected by the leather. The instrument is also held together with animal glue, which melts when it is hot, not when it is cold.”
The violin just before going into the scanner
A scan of the violin
He added: “The silver fish plate on the violin along with some other items that was with it points to it being authentic - or an extremely elaborate hoax - so we needed to carry out thorough research and commission the correct experts. We’ve spent the last seven years gathering evidence and we’re confident that ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ this is Wallace Hartley's violin."
Mr Aldridge went on: “We are delighted with the results from the CT scan and with how the team at BMI Ridgeway Hospital and InHealth delicately looked after the violin. The service was extremely thorough and professional. The scan revealed cracks which are relevant to its age and condition, it has also given us the image - internally and externally - we wanted before it goes on show in the USA this month.”
BMI The Ridgeway Hospital Imaging Manager Astrid Little said: “We are very proud to have played our part in the violin’s authentication and the team were very excited to have the violin in the hospital. It was a great honour to have such a rare collector’s item in the department and the team and I were lucky enough to be able to hold the violin and pose for the photos.”
She added: “I think the violin is our most unusual patient at BMI Ridgeway Hospital so far!”
The violin - complete with its certificate of authenticity, is due to go on display in America this month and will eventually go to auction where it is expected to break all records for any Titanic artefact.