Titanic stories – Young violinist John Hume a ‘hero’ for playing until the end

In honour of the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, this is first in a series of stories exploring Halifax connections to the disaster.   


HALIFAX – The rows of headstones marking the final resting places of 121 victims of the Titanic disaster at Halifax’s Fairview Cemetery are for the most part simple, non-descript memorials.

There were 306 bodies pulled from the icy waters and brought to the Nova Scotia city after the ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic the morning of Apr. 15, 1912. Of those, a total of 150 were buried in three local cemeteries, but not all of were able to be identified.

About 30 of the graves remain nameless, bearing only the number their body was designated in recording the recovered victims.

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Occasionally, graves are adorned with flowers or a wreath. Those commonly include the headstones for the grave of the unknown child or that of J. (Joseph) Dawson, which drew much attention following the release of James Cameron’s 1997 film which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as the fictitious J. (as in Jack) Dawson.



One other grave that often gets special notice belongs to John Law Hume – a 21 year-old-violinist who played in the ships band and performed for passengers until the very end.
John was an accomplished life-long violist, who hailed from Dumfies, in England.

His father, Andrew was a violin teacher and maker who had his son playing the instrument by the age of five.

He was already performing alongside his father and his band before he was in his teens.
At 17, he began sailing the seas as a performer on ocean liners, explains Yvonne Hume – his great-niece.

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John didn’t want to be trapped in the confines of an office, working for a solicitor, she says, and wanted to set out on his own to see the world. So, he sought out work on cruise ships.

He had worked on the RMS Caramania, a part of the Cunard fleet, before getting work aboard the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic.

The Carmania, where the picture below was taken, was one of five vessels he worked on before he embarked on his final voyage.

(John Hume, left, in the last known photo taken of him aboard RMS Carmania. Courtesy of Yvonne Hume) 



Family silence

Yvonne didn’t get to learn much about her great uncle while she was growing up.

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“In those days, they wouldn’t really talk too much about it,” she says. “The older generation, when they talked about John or anything relating to John they almost went quiet… It was very, very difficult for me to get information about him.”

It wasn’t until she semi-retired from owning a pub and restaurant in Norfolk England and began researching his story that she learned what a “hero” John was.

What she learned about John came mostly from research and books about Titanic, as well as getting to know some stories from Titanic survivors.

“He was a very talented musician,” she says. “John was a very, very jolly, popular, happy lad.” 


Getting to know John

One story, she shares, is of John putting one over on a “pompous” woman who requested a rather complex song.

Yvonne explains John had the gift to be able to play back most songs just by hearing them.
“John turned round, winked to the other band members and played something totally different. The woman then came up to him (and) thanked him, said how wonderful it was and walked away very satisfied.”

She says that just goes to show what a wonderfully humourous man he was.

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She calls him a “hero” because, as seen in the film Titanic, he and his band mates held their post until the ship was swallowed up by the frigid Atlantic waters.

Incidentally, through her research and speaking to people about John, Yvonne says she actually encountered people who believed the musicians did a disservice to the ill-fated passengers, lulling them into a false belief everything would turn out all right.
Not so, she says.

“I think that when a ship is listing, you know something is wrong. And I think that these young men stood at their post and played until the end because they knew they wouldn’t survive, so they did what they loved best.”

Closely connected

It was stories like these that not only brought Yvonne closer to her lost family member, but also helped her develop a connection to the Titanic and Halifax.

She released her book RMS Titanic ‘The First Violin’ in 2011 and visited Halifax last fall and of course paid tribute to her great-uncle.

The city, like much of her experience writing the book, now holds a special place in her heart.

“I felt a strong sense of belonging,” Yvonne explains of visiting John’s grave. “After writing the book I’d become so involved in his life, so involved in fact I occasionally had to take a break from actually writing (it).”

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John-Hume-Grave (The grave of John Law Hume at Halifax’s Fairview Cemetery)


Yvonne says just being able to swing by the cemetery and spend time at his resting place was such a special experience.

She has also made some personal connections and has a special friend in a young girl who regularly brings flowers to the gravesite on her behalf.

The girl and her family have become so close with Yvonne, and John, they have plans to travel will actually travel to England to spend time together.

Yvonne’s family also grew somewhat because of her work.

Just before it was printed and word of the book got out, she got a letter from a cousin she never got the chance to know: John’s grandson.

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Before embarking on the voyage, he was engaged and his fiancée, Mary Costin, was pregnant with his son.

Yvonne’s uncertain if either of them knew at the time she was expecting his daughter, but they were to be married.

Unfortunately, after his death, Costin and the Hume family parted ways: John’s parents wanted nothing more to do with her or the child because they were so devastated about his death.
Costin wound up having to sue the Hume’s for a £67 settlement awarded to families of Titanic victims.

The daughter, Johnnan later changed her name, which was why Yvonne was never able to track her down and find out what happened to her.

In the end, Yvonne wound up telling her cousin more about his grandfather than his mother ever had.

Johnann died in 1995, at the age of 83, after a successful career as a journalist and publicist.

She says that was the final piece she had been needed for the book, but also to bring her closer to John’s legacy. 


(John Hume’s great-niece Yvonne Hume, author of RMS Titanic ‘The First Violin’) 


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Continuing on with Titanic

Interestingly enough, Yvonne didn’t set out to write a book just about John – she was originally writing a cookbook.

“I didn’t think at the age of 21 that there would be enough to write a full book about him,” Yvonne says.

But, she was wrong and says he lived quite a full life before his untimely death.
Although she released her story about John last year, the cookbook, RMS Titanic ‘dinner is served’, won’t be released in Canada until April.

And while she was surprised she wound up dedicating an entire tome to John, Yvonne says she has enough experience to write another book about what she went through learning about Titanic and the connections she has made. 




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