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“Always Marked by Refinement & Musicianship”: John Wesley Woodward

"Always Marked by Refinement and Musicianship": John Wesley Woodward

John Wesley Woodward was 32 years old when he boarded Titanic with his "best cello."

Wes, as he was called, had been a maritime musician for some time. His most recent trip had been a longer-term stint on the Caronia, and he had even been on board Titanic's sister Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke on September 20, 1911. In fact, Wes and two of his bandmates had been playing checkers at the moment of impact.

Damage sustained by the RMS Olympic in a collision with the HMS Hawke, 1911. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Wes was born in England in 1879.

He was the youngest child in a brood of nine, although by the time Wes reached adolescence, he already suffered the loss of two brothers and his father, Joseph. Joseph worked as a manager at a holloware foundry, otherwise known as a factory that specialized in producing bowls, teapots, pitchers, and the like.

In 1900, Wes was granted a licentiate as a cellist, meaning that he was officially qualified to teach music. By the next year, at all of 21 years old, Wes is noted on the census as a musician, which meant he successfully earned his living as such.

Wes was by all accounts a dapper and convivial fellow, his countenance always focused and calm from behind his wire-rimmed spectacles.

He was highly sought after for his musical prowess, and was continually recruited into both solo and orchestral work. In 1910, he traveled to Jamaica to work at Constant Spring Hotel, where "his sunny disposition render[ed] him a favourite wherever he went." He later told friends that this stint in the Caribbean had done wonders to improve his health.

Once back in Southampton in 1911, Wes signed onto the RMS Olympic's maiden voyage alongside John Law Hume, a Scottish violinist who would later become his bandmate on Titanic.

When the RMS Olympic arrived in New York City on June 21, 1911, Wes seized the opportunity to expand his horizons. Since Olympic would not depart for England until June 28th, Wes spent the week educating himself on American music stylings. The periodical Brighton Advertiser later reported that Wes "had a very high opinion of the Americans as lovers of music."

Courtesy of the RMS Olympic, Wes Woodward visited New York thrice more that year.


Titanic's elder sister Olympic, arriving at port circa 1911. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


But after the Olympic was laid up due to the aforementioned incident with the HMS Hawke, Wes was forced to take work on the Caronia, a smaller Cunard vessel.

Between November of 1911 and February of 1912, Wes bounced between Liverpool, New York City, and Mediterranean locations like Gibraltar, Egypt, Monaco, and Italy.

So much travel presented Wes with an opportunity to indulge in one of his other, lesser known hobbies: photography, an art he also exceled in. Wes was also fascinated by engineering, and reportedly spent hours in his workshop studying and building the mechanisms of internal combustion engines.

Although Wes insisted to his friends that he enjoyed the spontaneity of a life lived at sea, he was ready to transition to a happy life on land. He hoped to join an orchestra in Eastbourne, and was reportedly intending to be engaging to an unnamed young woman from London.

He just needed to get through the summer of 1912.

Titanic docked in Southampton.


Wes boarded Titanic on April 10th in Southampton along with seven other musicians.

He was already friendly with John Law Hume, whom he had not seen since the Olympic's accident in September of the previous year, and may have been acquainted with one of the pianists, Theo Brailey. Wes most likely had at least heard mention of the others--and they of him. The musical world was a small one, and he and several of his bandmates had a mutual friend in common: a musician named Edgar Heap who had played with at least five of them in the recent past.

Technically employed as they were via C.W. & F.N. Black out of Liverpool, all eight musicians boarded as Second-Class passengers with a shared ticket number of 250654. The group divided themselves between two cabins.

The musicians probably boarded and became acquainted with one another by the mid-morning; they had their first show all together at 11:30 a.m., when they were scheduled to play as First-Class passengers boarded and were greeted with champagne flutes.

They would then have to hustle to their next planned locations, to be in place for First-Class luncheon. A letter written by First-Class passenger Adolphe Saalfeld also confirms that some bandmembers later played that evening for First-Class teatime as well.

Their schedules and assignments throughout the voyage were distributed by bandmaster Wallace Hartley. Three of the musicians would remain rather stationary, playing primarily on B Deck near dining First-Class passengers. The remaining five men were to float to various locations for concerts in both First- and Second-Class.

On April 11th, Second-Class passenger Juliette LaRoche mentioned the musicians in a letter posted to her father.

"I am writing to you from the reading room ['salon de lecture'] and there is a concert next to me: a violin, two cellos [and] a piano."

As cited in © "The Band That Played On" by Steve Turner.

And since the band members were also boarded as Second-Class passengers, their fellow passengers would have also witnessed and interacted with the men when they were at leisure. Wes Woodward in particular appears to have been an object of admiration for his talent and gentility.

Contemporary promotional illustration of the Second-Class Library on both Olympic and Titanic, by Harland & Wolff.


A Second-Class passenger named Kate Buss, who was traveling from England to California to meet her fiance, kept a journal while on board, in which she called other individuals by little nicknames.

And thus, throughout her entries on Titanic, the ever-genial Wes Woodward was called "Cello Man."

"The Cello Man is a favourite of mine. Every time he finishes a piece he looks at me and we smile...

Saw Doctor just after dinner and reminded him of his promise to ask our Cello Man to play a solo. Says he would if I'd go to Kentucky... too late to arrange, so going to ask for it tomorrow. Cello Man quite nice. Very superior bandsman, and he always smiles his parting to us...

I couldn't get near to ask our Cello Man for a solo... he is quite gentlemanly. He agreed [to a solo] and we chatted.

As cited in © "The Band That Played On" by Steve Turner.

Shortly after the iceberg strike, Second-Class passenger Lawrence Beesley witnessed an intent Wes Woodward rushing to the upper decks.

I saw a bandsman—the 'cellist—come round the vestibule corner from the staircase entrance and run down the now deserted starboard deck, his 'cello trailing behind him, the spike dragging along the floor. This must have been about 12.40 A.M. I suppose the band must have begun to play soon after this and gone on until after 2 A.M. Many brave things were done that night, but none more brave than by those few men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea and the sea rose higher and higher to where they stood...

Excerpt from "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic" by Lawrence Beesley.

Not everyone saw it this way.

An unnamed Third-Class steward reported to the publication 'Western Daily Mercury' that "as the musicians ran after their instruments they were laughed at by several members of the crew who did not realize how serious matters were."

A tribute to the musicians of the RMS Titanic. Originally published by the Amalgamated Musicians Union.


Wes Woodward and his seven bandmates played, brave and tireless, throughout the sinking.

None survived.

Titanic's musicians were immediate lauded as heroes for their dutiful stoicism in the face of death. Among written memorials to Wes Woodward, the periodical Eastbourne Gazette mused, "To his relations and friends, and to all who knew him, grief at this young musician's death must ever be tinged with a glow of pride at the manner of it."

...A young man of an extremely agreeable and modest bearing, amiable, good-natured, of a sunny disposition, and an easy, equable temper that secured him many friends... his cello playing was always marked by refinement and musicianship; on several occasion he exhibited brilliant qualities as a solo excentant; but he excelled rather as an orchestral player than as a soloist. His orchestral playing was uniformly sound, steady and reliable; while these same invaluable qualities, conjoined with much natural taste and a cultured style, enable him to appear to utmost advantage in chamber music.

The body of John Wesley Woodward was never recovered.


Turner, Steve. "The Band That Played On." Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2011.

Beesley, Lawrence. "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic." Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912. Rpt. by Mariner Books, 2000.

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“We Thought He Would Fiddle Himself Into Fame”: Violinist John Law Hume

"We Thought He Would Fiddle Himself Into Fame": Violinist John Law Hume

John Law Hume, who went by "Jock," was one of Titanic's violinists, and was from Dumfries, Scotland. He'd been playing on board ships since he was only 15, and saw Titanic as an opportunity to exercise his talents for a future in concert-playing.

Jock's stepmother apparently asked him not to travel on Titanic, having had nightmares that tragedy would befall him. He ignored her, because he needed extra money; he was getting married to his sweetheart Mary Costin in just a few weeks.

Titanic's orchestra. Jock Hume is pictured in the lower left corner.


Jock was by all accounts a merry and charming man. He was described by a former band-mate, Louis Cross, as "the life of every ship he ever played on and beloved of every one from cabin boys to captains."

He'd been a bright student with innate aptitude for the violin--a fact he was no doubt delighted by, given that his father liked to spin family mythologies about forebears being great Scottish composers and instrumentalists. Louis Cross also recalled that Jock boasted that his family had been full of "minstrels" in days long past.

He studied a great deal, although he could pick up without trouble difficult compositions that would have taken others long to learn.

© As cited in "The Band That Played On" by Steve Turner. 2011.

An unnamed childhood friend described Jock as "a happy-faced lad" and spoke to the great esteem felt for him and his musical talents.

No one was a greater favourite at school... In the old days we have heard him, in the old Shakespeare Street Theatre, playing till the curtain should rise on many a mimic tragedy. We thought he would fiddle himself into fame.

© As cited in "The Band That Played On" by Steve Turner. 2011.

Jock appears to have preferred moving about between tables when playing a saloon, and loved to engage with people--even having a bit of fun with uppity passengers.

For instance, according to Louis Cross, a lady was vexing Jock by being a right know-it-all. After giving Jock a very tiresome time, she requested a particularly intricate piece of classical music. Jock smiled, whispered to his band-mates and then they played--so beautifully, that the woman made the effort to thank them afterwards for accomplishing such a fabulously difficult classical number.

Except that it was actually ragtime, played super-slow.

Jock reported to Titanic with two violins in hand, as he was testing them to see which suited him best.

He was assigned to the five-man band led by Wallace Hartley, and which played during various occasions throughout the ship.

The Notoriously Unlucky Lucky Stewardess Violet Jessop wrote in her memoirs of Jock's exuberant performance on the evening of April 14, 1912. The two had known each other from their time on Titanic's elder sister, Olympic.

"On that Sunday evening, the music was at its gayest, led by young Jock the first violin... he laughingly called out to me in his rich Scotch accent, that he was about to give them a 'real tune, a Scotch tune, to finish up with.'"

From the memoirs of Stewardess Violet Jessop. © As cited in "The Band That Played On" by Steve Turner. 2011.

This was characteristically Jock, as far as any testimony can support. It was well-known that he loved to imbue otherwise staid pieces with some Scottish flair, and loved to play jigs.

Accounts such as Violet's have led to some speculation that Jock, not Wallace, was Titanic's bandleader, but this is misleading. Violet's memory, as well as others, was of a quartet. It's likely, though unable to be confirmed, that Jock casually joined up with the restaurant trio during his downtime from the five-piece band led by Wallace Hartley.

After the collision with the iceberg, Violet somehow bumped into Jock as he ran up the stairs.

I ran into Jock, the bandleader and his crowd with their instruments. 'Funny, they must be going to play,' though I, and at this late hour! Jock smiled in passing, looking rather pale for him, remarking, 'Just going to give them a tune to cheer things up a bit,' and passed on.

From the memoirs of Stewardess Violet Jessop. © As cited in "The Band That Played On" by Steve Turner. 2011.

Jock Hume was 21 years old when he died alongside his seven band-mates in the sinking of Titanic.

His corpse was one of only three orchestra members to be recovered by the Mackay-Bennett, on a day full of rain and fog.

Jock had had nothing personal on him, such as items bearing his initials, that would have indicated his identity. So a photo was taken of him in his coffin and was sent out to the White Star offices for identification.

Age, about 28 Hair, Light curly; clean shaven - Marks, None

CLOTHING - Light rain coat; uniform jacket with green facing and vest; purple muffler.

EFFECTS - Cigarette case; silver watch; empty purse; knife with carved pearl handle; mute; brass button with "African Royal Mail"; English lever watch.

Mere weeks after the sinking, Jock's father Andrew Hume received a bill from C.W. & F.N. Black, the Liverpool firm that employed musicians for shipwork, demanding compensation for Jock's uniform. Jock had, it turned out, had it cleaned and altered shortly before Titanic's departure.

[April 30, 1912]

Dear Sir,

We shall be obliged if you will remit to 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. and F.N. Black

Andrew was so livid about the request that he forwarded it to the Amalgamated Musicians' Union. They published it with a single line of commentary from the editor: "Comment would be superfluous!"

But there was more outrage on Andrew Hume's horizon.

As it turned out, Jock had died never knowing that his fiancee, Mary Costin, was pregnant. Jock's family refused to accept the baby for years thereafter, even fighting Mary's claim in court during her pregnancy. They lost.

In turn, Mary, evidently wanting to make her daughter's paternity perfectly clear, named her daughter Johnann Law Hume.

Then, in 2015, Jock Hume re-entered the news when his grandson, Christopher Ward, discovered that Jock had another secret: that while in the Caribbean, young Jock had fathered a son with a Jamaican barmaid named Ethel. She had given birth in 1911.

Ward learned of it because in researching his genealogy, he was given a document that listed Mary and Ethel, across the world from one another, having both filed for compensation for their fatherless babies.


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