Growing up, Yvonne Hume had heard only snippets of information about her great-uncle John Law Hume. He was one of the band members on the RMS Titanic who famously played on even as the liner was sinking in the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg. But outside of that, there was very little to be gleaned from her family.
“You’re talking about the generation where they didn’t talk about death and stuff like that. John had died on the Titanic and there was an air of sadness around the whole subject,” she said. “If I brought the subject up, I was told, ‘Well, he died and it’s very sad and we’re all upset about it,’ so I never really got much information from my family.”
She said her life slowed down in the past decade and she wanted to write a book, so it was time to delve into the story without upsetting anyone “because we’re talking about almost 100 years ago now.”
Beside looking further into the story of her great-uncle, she was also interested in the food of the Titanic. As a chef, she had intended to write a book about recipes from the ship and include information about John Hume that she had been gathering. But her publisher wanted her to just write the cookbook, and put the information about her uncle in a separate work. The results are RMS Titanic: The First Violin and RMS Titanic: Dinner is Served.
The First Violin is an in-depth look at John Hume’s life, the history of the family and their hometown, and the White Star Line’s ships. It follows him from his childhood as a musical prodigy organizing outdoor band concerts in his hometown to that fateful trip on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, when he and his bandmates continued to play in an effort to calm the passengers as the ship began to slip beneath the surface.
The book is full of photos and reproductions of postcards from the day, helping creating a glimpse of Great Britain and White Star at a time when travelling abroad meant boarding a ship.
In her research, Hume found that her great-uncle’s life was becoming complicated when he set out on Titanic. His fiancee Mary was pregnant, and while Hume doubts he knew that at the time, he did intend to marry her after the voyage. But Mary received little support from his family after the sinking, prompting her to leave town and cut ties to John’s family.
John’s father, Andrew, who was Hume’s great-grandfather, even battled Mary in court over insurance money.
“I had no idea of that at all (before researching the book),” Hume said.
“Andrew gets some bad press, but actually my grandfather had nothing but good things to say about him.”
She said the pregnancy and resulting fight for a settlement would have created a scandal at the time, but Andrew wasn’t fond of Mary even before the Titanic sank.
“He didn’t like the family. There may have been a reason,” she said. “I just think he wanted better things for John and saw her as tying him down.”
Finding out about the fight over the insurance left Hume thinking Andrew “was very naughty in court. Having said that … I felt sorry for him because he’d suffered so much. The prodigal son had been killed tragically, and he couldn’t find out what happened to him.”
After Mary left with the daughter little was known of what happened to them, and Hume couldn’t find any trace of the daughter. Then, just as the book was ready to go to press, Mary’s grandson contacted her out of the blue.
He was also researching the family history, and they were able to share information to make the book more complete.
Hume was in Halifax earlier this month to visit her great-uncle’s grave in Fairview Cemetery, and to conduct a mini-book tour. “The main thing was to come over (from England) and pay my final respects to John because I’ve become so involved in his life over the past three or four years in writing the book, and emotionally involved, that this seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.
The cookbook features recipes used on the Titanic, from starters and main courses to desserts and recipes for afternoon tea. Included are such dishes as Waldorf pudding, filet mignon lili and oysters Findlay. Also included is a biography of the head chef on board, Pierre Rousseau.
Hume says she simplified the dishes to make them easier for anyone to make, while staying true to the original.
“The recipes were very chef-y. Pierre Rousseau was a very, very talented chef,” Hume said.
She said the recipes are still authentic, “but I’ve just stripped them down so that we can all cook them without any fuss.”