RMS Titanic: and the young Scottish violinist played on…

As you will no doubt know, it’s the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on Sunday 15th April.  1514 people lost their lives and 710 were rescued.  I was appalled to read that the lifeboats could only have taken a third of the ship’s passenger and crew capacity of 3547 people.   The law at the time stated that the number of lifeboats required should be calculated on the gross register tonnage of a ship, not her passenger capacity, which beggars belief.

I was particularly interested in the story of the 21 year old Scottish violinist, John “Jock” Law Hume, who bravely played on with his orchestra as the ship sank, and I decided to see what I could find out about him.  The orchestra were hired by C W and F N Black, a firm in Liverpool who provided musicians to the steamer companies.  The musicians were paid £6 10s a month plus a 10s monthly uniform allowance.

John Hume (first on the left) on Carmania - last photo taken of him, by kind permission of Yvonne Hume

John Hume (first on the left) on Carmania - last photo taken of him, by kind permission of Yvonne Hume

John was born on 9 August 1890 at 5 Nith Place, Dumfries.  His birth certificate notes his father as Andrew Hume, musician, and his mother as Grace Hume, maiden surname Law.  It also notes that John’s parents were married in July 1887 in Glasgow.  Andrew registered his son’s birth in Dumfries on 22 August 1890.

Andrew is listed in various Census returns as a musician, music teacher and violin maker.

During further research I discovered that John was engaged to Mary Catherine Costin, a glove factory worker, before he left on his final voyage.

John’s body was recovered by the Cable Ship, the Mackay Bennett, and along with many of the others who lost their lives, he was buried at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 8 May 1912.  Yvonne Hume, John’s great niece told me that he was buried, unidentified, and given the grave number 193.  It was on 16th July that John’s body was identified from photographs sent to ‘White Star’ by Yvonne’s great grandfather Andrew, his name was then added to the grave.  This was the one and only reason that John’s body was not brought back to Scotland.

Six months after the sinking, Mary gave birth to a daughter, Johnann Hume Costin, on 18 October 1912 in Dumfries.  Being a single parent with no means of support, she applied to the Titanic Relief Fund for financial assistance, but was told that she had to first prove that John was Johnann’s father.   She managed to provide evidence which satisfied the board and was issued with £67 and a small weekly allowance.  I wonder if John ever knew that Mary was expecting his child.

Andrew must have been suffering greatly, having lost his wife, Grace, in 1906, then  John’s untimely tragic death, after which he received this staggering note from John’s employers on 30 April 1912:

“Dear Sir:
We shall be obliged if you will remit us the sum of 5s. 4d., which is owing to us as per enclosed statement. We shall also be obliged if you will settle the enclosed uniform account.
Yours faithfully,
C.W. & F.N. Black”

Needless to say he declined to pay, and astonishingly, it also appears that John’s wages were docked as he did not complete the journey.  How mind-numbingly insensitive to a grieving family.

Andrew moved from Scotland to England in 1915 and set up a violin shop and workshop in London, where he died in 1934.

While researching for this post, I made contact with Yvonne Hume, who is John’s great niece.  She has carried out extensive research on John, both here in Scotland and in Nova Scotia, and has written a book “R M S Titanic The First Violin” about John and his family.    Yvonne kindly provided the photograph of John and his fellow band members aboard “The Carmania” – the last picture taken of him.

National Records of Scotland are holding an exhibition showing documents relating to some of the Scots who lost their lives, including John.  The free display runs from 16 April to late May in the Dome at New Register House in Edinburgh.

I found some interesting facts about the Titanic, such as they needed 75,000lbs of fresh meat and 40,000 eggs on their provision list.  You can find a lot of information at Encylopedia Titanica, including stories of the passengers and crew.


PS:  I haven’t seen the film – after I found out that they had taken “artistic licence” and shown William Murdoch having committed suicide, which he didn’t, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.  It then became a work of fiction, as far as I was concerned.

About Jo Graham

Scottish genealogist - this blog is for my own family history and photos
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22 Responses to RMS Titanic: and the young Scottish violinist played on…

  1. Joan says:

    I really enjoyed your post — a different kind of story. Also, appalled at the company’s request of remittance for uniforms, and the docking of John’s pay. I also wondered whether there was contact between Mary(& Johnann) and John’s family after the tragedy. Thanks for a great story.

    • Jo says:

      I was horrified at the way that John was dealt with too – it certainly wouldn’t happen nowadays. Thanks for your kind words. I hope someone will be remembering a lost soul on Sunday

  2. Adrian says:

    Thanks Jo. This, in my opinion, is everything a good blog post should be. Enlightening, interesting, original material and leaves me wanting to hear more. Yes, I know I am biased but this really is very good. Well done x

  3. Hello Jo,
    A really interesting post. I too find the behaviour of John Hume’s employers reprehensible; as you say, mind numbingly insensitive. John Hume’s grave in Fairview Lawn is one of the many Titanic graves which I have photographed in Nova Scotia. Since you have been in touch with John Hume’s great niece Yvonne, please let her know that I would be very happy to send her a photograph of his grave, if she does not already have one.

    • Jo says:

      Hi Jennifer, Yvonne has been out to Nova Scotia and done a lot of research there, so she will probably have a photo of his grave, but if not, I will let her know of your kind offer. I’m still stunned by the insensitivity of his employers – and can’t wait to see the exhibition in Edinburgh. I’ll post pics if they grant me permission to take them 🙂

  4. Nancy says:

    This was a really interesting and well-written post, Jo. We read about the “big picture” of tragedies in the newspapers but these smaller, personal stories (which are NOT small at all to the family members who survived) don’t seem to reach the public eye. Thanks for sharing this one.

    • Jo says:

      Thank you, Nancy – I wanted to highlight the “smaller” story by concentrating on one Scottish person, and John was a perfect candidate 🙂

  5. Dolores Thomas says:

    I enjoyed every word, and the photo, thank you for what you do !

    • Jo says:

      I’m very pleased to hear it, Dolores, and thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment – bloggers LOVE comments!

  6. Barb says:

    Jo, I’ve enjoyed so many of your past posts, but this has to be the tops. Why not submit it to a newspaper or magazine so a wider audience could see it. The movie, I’m sorry to say, is among my favorites, and I just saw it in 3D. And, to think you contacted the great niece, that makes it so more real. The story is sad, but your telling of it is great.

    • Jo says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Barb, and I enjoy your posts too. I don’t know what it is about this post, but it is my 2nd most popular post in the last quarter (most read, according to WordPress). Perhaps because it is so topical. There is already a lot of information out there about those who were lost on the Titanic that I can’t imagine a newspaper being interested in li’l ol’ me and what I have to say 🙂

  7. robstevens says:

    I’m a bit overloaded with all the Titanic material, but this post was very interesting. Reading the story of a single victim makes it much more personal. It’s also commendable you did your own research, well done. The incorrectly portraying of how Mr. Murdoch responded to the disaster is very annoying, I pity his family who are victim of Hollywood’s storytelling.

    • Jo says:

      There has been a huge amount of Titanic info this week, I agree, and I think it is a very good thing that the people who lost their lives are remembered. That’s why I chose one Scot to research – I’m lucky that I live near Edinburgh where all the genealogy records for Scotland are held. The TV studio sent executives over to Dumfries to apologise to the Murdoch family, and they paid for a memorial to William and the other Dumfries-born man who died. A bit of compensation “after the event” though, when anyone who saw the film already had a pre-conceived idea of his character. Most unfair.

  8. zimnoch says:

    Oh Dear.How Insensitve .”Black” by name + Black By Nature !
    Great Post.Thank You.

    • Jo says:

      Thanks for your comment – grossly insensitive, I agree, and such corporate behaviour would not be tolerated these days. Thankfully…. Look forward to reading your next SS post 🙂

  9. Thank you for providing this gentleman’s story. There were 1500+ sad stories, but as the others have noted, the fact that his family was treated so horribly after his death is almost too much to believe. And, oh, to know if he was traveling with the knowledge he was going to be a father or not. The story of their courage, to play on as the ship was sinking, knowing that they were going to die, well THAT true story is worth telling over and over. The heart of a Scotsman, strong and true to the end.

    • Jo says:

      Strong and true to the end – I think that’s the Scots way, and you put it well! I keep wondering if he knew about his baby on the way, and the fact that he was so young – only 21, it’s quite heartbreaking. Even though he is not a relative of mine, this is one of the reasons that we keep on researching – to keep their stories going and let others know how lucky we are.

  10. Dee says:

    Jo I am fast becoming a huge fan of your blog! Thank you for this informative and enlightening story about John Hume. Legend has it that the band played “Nearer My God To Thee” as the ship sank. It has always been a favourite hymn of mine. Like yourself, I’m not terribly keen on the film. All romanticism aside (and it did make for a good romantic story, I’ll give it that!) it was heartbreaking to watch the first time and I’ve since been unable to subject myself to a subsequent viewing.

    • Jo says:

      Hi Dee, I will be returning to my own ancestors later in the week. I suspect they will not be so interesting as John Law Hume, but hope you will persevere 🙂 My granny used to sing “There is a Green Hill Far Away” while rocking my pram – the bits of the hymn that she couldn’t remember she sang “la la la la” and after one such session, I pointed at her and proclaimed “Lala”. She was known as “Lala” from then on. If you are subscribed to my blog, she is identified as Elsie 🙂 I have cousins in Toronto and visited in 1976 – an amazing trip for a 12 year old Scottish girl 🙂

  11. wrethford@comcast.net says:

    Jo – Great story. Thanks! I have been trying to leave you a message but I don’t appear to have an email address. I noticed someone wanting help finding relatives in Scotland. Send me an email and I will forward it on to you. wrethford@comcast.net

  12. Interesting..and such a tragedy..and the band played on:(

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