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The violin played by Wallace Hartley when his band defiantly played as the doomed Titanic sank – was recently found.

Tests have proven that the instrument band leader Wallace used when he and his seven fellow musicians drowned in the disaster over 100 years ago is authentic.

Author Steve Turner, who wrote a book about the Titanic band, said: “I was suspicious at first but when I looked closely I could only conclude that this was the real thing or the result of an extremely elaborate, and well informed, hoax. I am convinced it is genuine.

When Wallace’s body was found in the Atlantic, his violin was reportedly strapped to his chest. But its whereabouts have been a mystery ever since.

The person who owns the violin lives in the UK but is not one of the musician’s relatives. The owner says Wallace’s fiancee, Maria Robinson, was sent the instrument after the tragedy.

Among the evidence is a 1912 diary in which Maria, who moved from the US to Bridlington, East Yorkshire, drafted a letter to authorities in Nova Scotia thanking them for returning it to her.

The violin’s case has the initials WHH and on the instrument is the inscription: “For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria.”

If sold it would smash the record for a Titanic artefact – $210,000 for post office keys in 2007.

Auctioneer Henry Aldridge, of Devizes, Wilts, has spent thousands establishing if it is Wallace’s violin. Mr Aldridge said: “The owner has not decided if they want to sell but it is more likely it will go on exhibition if proved genuine. We hope to have a definite answer this year.”

Wallace, 33, was buried a hero in his hometown of Colne, Lancs, after the disaster on April 15, 1912. He had moved to Yorkshire in his early 20s where he became a popular band leader.

An auctioneer has hired experts to try to verify claims by the owner of the century old instrument that it belonged to Wallace Hartley, the leader of the vessel’s eight-man musical ensemble.

If proved, it could become the most valuable Titanic artefact ever to be considered for auction. But the claim is being treated with caution as a result.

Hartley and his fellow musicians earned legendary status for their decision to play on as the ship sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912.

They are said to have played the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee” after the vessel hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

Press reports at the time said that when Hartley’s body was recovered from the water his violin was strapped to his chest.