Jock's Jamaican secret
Gabriella, Vania and William Jock's Jamaican great grandchildren: left to right, Gabriella, Vania and William
Whenever people tell me they're planning to do some ancestry research, I tell them to fasten their seatbelts and brace themselves for a roller-coaster ride.
When I began writing And The Band Played On about the life and death on the Titanic of my grandfather Jock Hume, I thought my own family history could hold no more shocks or surprises. But I was wrong.

Earlier this year I contacted a collector of Titanic memorabilia, Senan Molony, after hearing he had acquired some pages from the ledgers of the Titanic Relief Fund. The Fund was set up to provide financial support for the widows and orphans of passengers and crew who died.

Molony, a Dublin-based author and journalist, told me that he had a page in his collection, dated 1915, which recorded the monthly payment by the Fund of 15s. 2d. to my grandmother Mary Costin for her 'infant' (my mother). He emailed me a scan of the page and when I rang to thank him, he said: 'I have another page which may be of even more interest to you. It would seem that the Fund made similar payments to another dependant of Jock's, a woman called Ethel McDonald. Does the name mean anything to you?'

No it didn't, but three minutes later, when I saw the scan of the second page from the Fund's ledger, I knew at once its significance:

"McDonald, Miss Ethel (Hume) - The Colonial Bank, Kingston, Jamaica. On the 1st of first month in each quarter remit draft in favour of Colonial Bank for payment to Society of St Vincent de Paul, who see to the application of the money."

Those of you who have read my book will remember that the year before his death Jock spent three months in Kingston, Jamaica, playing in the orchestra at the Constant Spring Hotel, then one of the most fashionable resorts in the Caribbean. The sum paid to Miss McDonald by the Titanic Relief Fund was 15s. 2d., the standard grant for the care, health and education of a child whose father had died on the ship. And the claim number that the Fund allocated to Miss McDonald, No. 689, was the same as my mother's.

I knew from my own grandmother's experience that the Titanic Relief Fund did not make payments to unmarried mothers unless there was absolute proof of paternity. This could mean only one thing: Jock had fathered a child in Jamaica.

Friends in Kingston put me in touch with a genealogist, Donald Lindo. On the basis that Jock had arrived in Jamaica on Christmas Day 1910 and left in April 1911, I was able to give Lindo a tight window for his search for a child born to Ethel McDonald. A week later, Lindo sent me the birth certificate.

On November 2nd 1911, Ethel McDonald, a barmaid of 37 Maiden Lane, Kingston, had given birth to a boy, Keith Neville McDonald. Like my own mother's birth certificate, the space for the name and address of the father was left blank.

When we spoke on the telephone later, Donald said: 'You realise, don't you, that Ethel McDonald would have been a person of colour. No white woman would have worked as a barmaid in Jamaica in 1911'. No, it hadn't occurred to me. Donald added: 'Given Ethel's occupation as a barmaid, I think we can reasonably assume that she worked at the Constant Spring Hotel.'

Two days later I flew to Kingston, my mind buzzing with questions during every minute of the ten-hour flight. Did Jock accept responsibility for the illegitimate child he fathered in Jamaica? Yes, he must have done otherwise the Titanic Relief Fund would never have authorised payments to Ethel for her son Keith, who would have been five months old when the Titanic sank. Jock and Ethel must have exchanged letters which provided the fund with the necessary corroboration.

Did my grandmother Mary know about Jock's Jamaican son, born less than a year earlier than her own child? Very likely. It would explain the cold, disapproving expression on Mary's face in the only surviving photograph of her, a look that went beyond grief into anger.

And Jock's father, Andrew, did he know? Of course he would have done. For the first time, I began to feel some sympathy for Jock's grieving father, who must have been furious when presented with a second illegitimate child by his wayward son, this time posthumously. No wonder he treated my grandmother Mary Costin so unkindly.

But this was not the time for speculation. In Kingston, my sole objective was to find out what had happened to Ethel McDonald and her son, Keith, and to locate their descendants.

In advance of my arrival, I had written a letter to The Gleaner, Jamaica's oldest newspaper, appealing for information without giving away too much; now my ancestry super-sleuth Donald, who turned out to be a sprightly 82-year-old, joined me in the search of the archives.

We spent days scrolling through microfilmed records in the General Register Office; we scoured old newspaper files; we searched parish church records and visited undertakers; we called on the Society of St Vincent de Paul, which had had long since ceased to care for fallen women and was now an old people's home; we drove to Maiden Lane, where Ethel had lived, discovering that it had been razed to the ground when a paint factory caught fire in 1969.

We found nothing. Ethel and her son Keith Neville McDonald had disappeared off the face of the earth.

After ten wasted days, Donald and I were forced to concede defeat. But before returning home, I asked Donald if he could arrange a visit to the former Constant Spring Hotel. I was curious to see 'the scene of the crime'.

When Jock arrived in Jamaica on Christmas Day 1910, the Constant Spring was at the peak of its popularity. Set in a 130-acre tropical parkland at the foothill of the Blue Mountains, it boasted 'a French chef, a concert hall, dancing by moonlightÉand the finest musical entertainment in the Caribbean.'

But the hotel fell on hard times during the Depression. After several failed attempts to restore its fortunes, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany took over the property and established the Immaculate Conception High School which today is one of Jamaica's top schools for girls.

The last guests checked out more than seventy years ago, yet if they returned today they would find the Constant Spring much as they left it, frozen in its colonial past. The grand, tiled entrance hall is unmistakably that of a hotel, the glass office from where the concierge directed his small army of bell boys still intact. The oak-panelled bar, converted into a dining room for the Sisters, retains the distinctive look and smell of a bar despite the absence of liquor and cigars for more than fifty years. Adjoining it, the old barber's shop has become the Sisters' main office, its long mirror stretching the whole length of the room. The breakfast room is now a chapel, the swing door to the kitchen still in evidence.

But these were not the rooms I came to see. 'Will you show me where the orchestra played,' I asked Sister Maureen Clare, head of the Franciscan Sisters in Jamaica, who had so kindly agreed to show us round.

'Yes, of course,' she said. 'The old dining room.'

Sister Clare led us to a large room, empty except for some discarded office furniture. 'The musicians would have played here every evening, in the alcove at the end of the room. It was your grandfather, who was in the orchestra, wasn't it? I understand he was very young and died on the Titanic. I'm so sorry. What was his name?'

I told her that his name was Jock Hume. But I spared her the real reason for my visit. As we stood there, I closed my eyes for a few seconds and tried to imagine the room filled with music and conversation - Jock, his violin tucked under his chin, in his best bib and tucker, Ethel with a tray of drinks perhaps eying him from the other side of the room. Just as Jock had found love at the Constant Spring, here he also met his partner in death: the cellist in the orchestra, John Woodward, would board the Titanic with him one year later.

There are few surviving photographs of Jock. A portrait taken in his mid teens shows the young fiddle player looking like a startled rabbit. But after Jock's death, the New York Times published a quite different photograph of him alongside an article about a fundraising event in aid of the families of the Titanic musicians.

Here we see an amused, confident and good-looking young man, his thumb tucked nonchalantly into his belt. There is an arrogant sexuality about his pose. He is wearing Bugsy Malone-style gangster spats and a white bib and tucker. Later, as I walked through the exotic gardens of the hotel with Sister Clare, I realised the photograph had been taken right here, near the bandstand, at the Constant Spring Hotel.

As we came to the end of our tour, the theme music of Pirates of the Caribbean burst out from the school block several hundred yards away where school's 90-strong orchestra, the largest in Jamaica, was rehearsing for a concert. Having heard of my visit, the school's director of music, Steven Woodham, an internationally celebrated maestro in the world of classical music, joined us and invited me to the rehearsal. He asked if I would say a few words afterwards to his young musicians to tell them about my grandfather.

I mounted the stage and congratulated the girls on their performance. I told them about Jock, explained how he had come to play Jamaica and how his skill with the fiddle had been his passport to see the world.

As the girls packed up their instruments and prepared to go home, one of them, a pretty teenaged girl, made her way through the crowd and sought me out. 'This is such a weird coincidence,' she said. 'My name is Hume, too - Gabi Hume. My father often talked about our family's connection with the Titanic. And, even weirder, your eyes are exactly the same colour as my father's.'

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. 'Come outside. I have some questions I need to ask you'. We were away from the crowd now. 'What is your father's Christian name?' I asked Gabi. 'Neville,' she replied 'He's dead now, he died when I was eight.'

'And your grandfather's?'

'I think it was Keith. Yes, Keith Neville Hume.' Donald and I looked at each other in disbelief. 'Will you give me your Mum's telephone number and address,' I asked Gabi, I'd like to meet her.'

I rang Tania Hume, Gabi's mother, on our way back to my hotel and we arranged to meet next day. Donald and I agreed that we would not reveal that Jock had fathered a child in Jamaica until we had heard her story and returned to the General Registrar's Office to start a new search - this time for Humes.

Tania, a successful Kingston businesswoman, told us that she had met Gabi's father when he was in his fifties and she was in her thirties. 'It was 1988 - a disastrous year for Jamaica because Hurricane Gilbert had devastated the island.' On their first date Neville had joked that disasters were nothing new in his family: his grandfather had been the bandmaster on the Titanic.

Who had told Neville this?

'His father, Keith Hume.' said Tania. 'I never knew his father - he died in October 1970, years before Neville and I met, killed by a car while crossing the road in Kingston.'

'How old was Keith?' I asked. 'He was 59', said Tania.

More goose bumps. That put Keith Neville Hume's year of birth as 1911, the same as Keith Neville McDonald's.

Tania told us that Neville, who was many years her senior, was divorced when they met but he had no children by either of his previous marriages. They had three children together: Gabriella, whom I met at the school, Vania and William, all of them now in their teens. Neville played the trumpet and all their children played an instrument.

I told Tania I would be in touch. I postponed my flight home and returned with Donald next morning to the General Register Office to resume our search, this time looking for Humes rather than McDonalds.

There is no record of the birth of anyone in Jamaica called Keith Neville Hume. But in 1935 someone called Keith Neville Hume, aged 24, makes the first of several subsequent appearances in the public records. He forms a relationship with a woman called Muriel Morris and they have a son whom they name Neville - Tania's late husband. On both his wedding certificates, Neville states that his father's name is 'Keith Hume'.

My super-sleuth Donald, much of whose working life was spent in the insurance business determining rightful heirs and throwing out unlawful claims, was now certain. 'It is quite clear,' he said, 'Keith Neville McDonald and Keith Neville Hume are one and the same person.

'Keith would have known the name of his father was because of the payments from the Titanic Relief Fund which continued until he was fifteen. Who would not be proud to bear the name of their Titanic hero father? Until recently, there was no legal obligation in Jamaica to inform the authorities if you changed your name. It is most likely that Ethel, too, changed her name.'

Having extended my visit, I had to return home. But before leaving, I telephoned Tania to ask her to look through her late husband's papers to see if she could find the birth certificate of his father, Keith. She rang back later to say there wasn't one. It wasn't the right time to tell her that I had a copy of his birth certificate and that his name was Keith Neville McDonald.

A month ago I returned to Kingston to tell Tania and her children what Donald and I have been able to establish: that Gabriella, Vania and William's great grandfather was my grandfather, John Law Hume, one of the eight brave musicians who played on as the Titanic went down.

I took with me a violin made and signed by Jock's father, Andrew Hume, their great great grandfather. My own children do not play the violin and it seemed right that this fine instrument should be in the hands of a young and musical family who share its name and fame.

Gabriella, Vania and William glowed with pride when I broke the news, but it did not come as a total surprise. Their father, they said, had often told them that his grandfather had been the bandmaster on the great ship, conducting the orchestra from his violin. But of Jock himself, they knew nothing until I came into their lives.

And so it was that in March 2015 my family grew by three charming, clever and beautiful teenagers, Gabriella, Vania and William. When I asked them, 'My mother's half brother was your grandfather - what relation does that make me to you?' they all shouted 'You're our Uncle Christopher!' and gave me a great big hug.

As for my own children, Sadie, Martha and (another) William, well they think it's time for a family holiday in Jamaica so that they can meet their new cousins.

I am glad that my mother died never knowing she had a half-brother in Jamaica or she might have thought less of her father, the Titanic hero. I feel the same about Keith McDonald, who grew up knowing nothing about his father's other family in Scotland but proud to know his father had died a hero.

Whatever else Jock did, when the chips were down, he and the other seven members of the band, distinguished themselves with their courage, playing on until long after the last lifeboat had been loaded.

But I sometimes wonder if, as Jock's short life ebbed away in the freezing water of the North Atlantic, the brave young violinist had time to consider the catastrophe he was leaving in the Titanic's wake: two illegitimate children, two unmarried mothers and a legacy of loss and abandonment for generations of Humes, Costins - and McDonalds.
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'A heartbreaking story wonderfully told' Julian Fellowes,
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And the Band Played On
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And the Band Played On
Do YOU know what happened to the mother of Jock's son, Ethel McDonald?
Maybe she, too, changed her name and became Ethel Hume. Contact me at:
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