Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Titanic's final number: Paddy Dillon's testimony

The Hartley Solo Theory* is an interesting one. Perhaps there is additional evidence somewhere to support it, another survivor on board who witnessed the performance up close. Is it wise to base a theory on just one witness? Once again this theory falls into question, this time based on Thomas Patrick (Paddy) Dillon’s own eyewitness account.

Dillon’s story was printed in the local paper in Plymouth, England, on April 28. According to Dillon, the forward part of Titanic broke off like a piece of carrot. From the poop he saw the musicians swept off the deck into the water.

“There was one musician left. He was the violinist and was playing the air [solo] of the hymn Nearer, My God, To Thee. The notes of this music were the last thing I heard before I went off the poop and felt myself going headlong into the icy water with the engines and machinery buzzing in my ears.”

Dillon would not have had a view of Titanic's First Class performance venue from where he stood on the poop deck in Third Class. For Dillon’s account to be true, the solo violinist would have needed to find a way to perform on the aft part of the ship, which was at that point severed and teetering on the verge of going down.

And why not? Hartley could have been one of the people who ascended Titanic's sloping deck, looking for refuge at the rising stern. He could have found a safe spot to perform the hymn, perhaps leaning against something as the ship tipped forward.

But Dillon's story as told by the local newspaper in Plymouth was not the story he told on Day 5 of the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry.

3870. (Mr. Raymond Asquith.) Then you say the ship plunged and righted herself again; and was it then that you dived into the water?

- I did not dive into the water.

3871. How did you get off the ship into the water?

- I went down with the ship, and shoved myself away from her into the water.

Are we to believe it was that moment (when the ship was already submerged) when Dillon heard Nearer, My God, To Thee performed by Titanic's last standing musician? The paper did quote him as saying, “The notes of this music were the last thing I heard before I went off the poop….”

Oh, there is also the matter of the engines and machinery buzzing in his ears – if the engines had been stopped around the time Titanic struck ice, would they have still been making noise as the last piece of the ship sank? Or making noise from the submerged vessel as he shoved himself away?

The only thing similar between his two accounts was that he was one of the last to leave the ship and that he entered the water. Everything else about his two stories is completely different: how far in the air the stern was when he left it and whether he jumped or pushed off the ship. The reason this matters in light of the Hartley Solo Theory is that conditions on the ship needed to be favourable in order for there to have been a performance at the time he left it. Either way, on the remaining piece of sloping deck or on a submerged ship, it is a stretch to imagine that music was heard as the stern sank beneath the Atlantic waters.

It seems as though Dillon was either a very inventive storyteller, or he was the victim of a creative reporter. In any case, because he changed the context of how he left the ship, it comes into question where, when and if he heard the hymn performed by a solo violinist. It would be interesting for someone to ask a violinist to perform a hymn on an increasingly tipping sloping surface and see if it is possible. It is a romantic thought at best, and one that appealed to readers in 1912.

The majority of the survivors who had heard Nearer, My God, To Thee were those who listened from their lifeboats. On the night of Titanic’s sinking, what did they really hear?
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Related Posts
*Titanic's final number: Hartley Solo Theory
Titanic, 9/11 and the Science of Memory
Carpathia accounts: Nearer, My God, To Thee

3 comments:

  1. It may have been very difficult for Dillon to distinguish between falling or letting go and the downward motion of the ship, because in any of these scenarios, he still would have ended up in the water. Quite miraculous that he did not get sucked under. Is that what happened to the musicians? Or was it hypothermia? A lot of adults just couldn't swim. I wonder if Dillon had a lifebelt.

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  2. Dillon floated in the water until he nearly passed out and was then picked up by a nearby lifeboat. He was unconscious for most of the night.

    Several private comments to me also question his ability to see or hear the musicians from that part of the ship. The musicians played forward in First Class. The stern was Third Class. The deck was not one continuous level, there were ups and downs. I should have posted a photo, and might still.

    Also, the account in the newspaper and the one told in the official Inquiry sound like the experiences of two different people, not just slightly different, but vastly different. In the testimony file it is evident he had trouble understanding some of the questions and had a very simple way of describing the events. In the newspaper account the ship was described as breaking in two like a carrot. I thought it was a brilliant description, and fascinating that a man in the position of a coal trimmer could be so poetic. But when the two accounts are compared side-by-side there are two different "voices" at work, and only when I had compared the two did I suspect that a reporter had either pressured him or changed his story. I picture Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter.

    Logistically, it would have been simply impossible for any musician to perform on a ship in a sloped or vertical position - and consider that he may have put his violin away after that - would he have been able to do that on a vertical deck? Dillon's newspaper account is not reliable any way you read it.

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    Replies
    1. By "he May have put his violin away" I meant Wallace Hartley, and that wasn't clear in the above statement.

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