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LONDON (AFP) – The violin played by the bandmaster of the Titanic as the liner sank beneath the waves is to go on display at a museum marking the tragedy in Northern Ireland, officials said Monday.
The instrument belonging to Wallace Hartley was found strapped to his body after he drowned with some 1,500 others on board the supposedly unsinkable ship in 1912.
It has an inscription on the back from the 34-year-old's fiancee to mark their engagement.
For decades the rosewood violin was believed lost but it was found in the attic of a house in northwest England in 2006.
It will now be displayed at the Titanic Belfast exhibition from September 18 until October 13 before it goes to auction in Wiltshire, southwest England on October 19.
"We are honored and excited that Titanic Belfast has been chosen to display Wallace Hartley's violin which he played on RMS Titanic," said the museum's chief executive Tim Husbands.
"This could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to see one of the world's most famous and most valuable Titanic artifacts before it goes to auction."
The band played the hymn "Nearer, My God, To Thee" to calm passengers while they climbed into lifeboats as the Titanic sank beneath the icy waves in the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg.
Hartley and his seven fellow band members all died.
Hartley was given the violin by his fiancee Maria Robinson to mark their engagement in 1910. She had a silver plaque fixed to the instrument engraved with the words: "For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria."
It is now thought that the instrument was inside a leather bag that was found strapped to his body 10 days after the sinking, and was then passed to Robinson.
Robinson never married and after her death in 1939, her sister donated the violin to her local Salvation Army band, where it passed into the hands of a music teacher and then to the unnamed owner in whose house it was discovered in Lancashire, northwest England.
After seven years of testing, researchers said in March this year that the instrument was genuine.
Both the violin and the bag with the initials W.H.H. will go on display.