Reading the score

Sharing a song and a dance at home has long been a source of entertainment. Since the early 1800s, Australian households have purchased sheet music to enliven their drawing room repertoire and the examples here, from our collections, were sold mainly in Sydney between c1834 and 1934.

These publications reveal the rhythms of daily life at home - where a young woman leads a lively dance from her piano at Warialda, in northern New South Wales, and a family in Moss Vale spend their Sundays singing sacred songs. There are pieces which reflect a love of Queen and country and others which celebrate with a post-Federation pride. These publications reflect the vitality of British and early Australian music publishing, the world of local music retailers and the rough and ready glamour of the Sydney concert scene.

‘Australian National Anthem’ by Lillian L. Dick (Sydney: Nicholson & Co., 1934)

This patriotic piece of sheet music was presented by its composer, Lillian Louise Dick (1875-1946), to family friend, Kate Thorburn (1857-1945) of Meroogal, Nowra, on 21 November 1934. Years earlier, Lillian’s husband, Dr James Adam Dick (1866-1942) and his brother Robert had become friends with Kate’s brother Tom Thorburn when all three were students at St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney. The families remained lifelong friends and frequent visitors to Meroogal. Kate had received Lillian’s new piece hot off the press and a little over a week later, on 1 December, the Sydney Morning Herald observed that ‘the chorus, “Land of Hope in the Southern Sea,” is bright and the melody being very simple, it could be very easily assimilated.’ Lillian’s composing was probably little more than a hobby and while ‘National Anthem’ was her only publication, she submitted more songs to the Commonwealth copyright office in later years: ‘The Old Lagoon’, ‘Where the Sweet Magnolia Grows’ and ‘Sunset’. The bright red flag fluttering on the music cover reflects 50 years of confusion about the colour of the Australian flag – was it red or blue? In 1953 an Act was passed confirming the Blue Ensign as our national flag.

‘Family Hymns’ by J.F. Burrowes (Sydney: Francis Ellard, c1839-45)

This collection of ‘Family Hymns’, arranged by English composer John Freckleton Burrowes (1787-1852), was used by the Throsby family of Moss Vale. It comes from a volume of songs once owned by Isabel Osborne née Throsby (1844-1901). These songs were published in an edition of fifteen hymns by Sydney music seller and publisher Francis Ellard, in the early 1840s. While the Throsby collection consists of only five Burrowes hymns, it is the largest number of known surviving songs from the Ellard edition. Sacred music specifically intended for the drawing room grew in popularity throughout the nineteenth century in both Britain and Australia. By the time this sheet music was published in Sydney, it was common for family members, such as those at Throsby Park, to gather around the piano in the drawing room on a Sunday evening and sing sacred songs together.

‘O, would I were a Boy again’ by Frank Romer (Sydney: Henry Marsh & Co, c1854)

At the beginning of the 1850s, two blackface minstrel groups from the United States visited Sydney for the first time. They were the New York Serenaders and Rainer’s Serenaders. Groups like these were immensely popular in North America, Britain and Australia and these visitors were widely advertised when they arrived in town. Local publishers sold copies of the songs they performed and examples could be found in almost every domestic music collection in New South Wales. This edition of ‘O, would I were a Boy again’ was published by Henry Marsh who also sold tickets to the performances of ‘Rainer’s Ethiopian Serenaders’ through his music store in George Street, Sydney. This genre of music combined popular British melodies with white impressions of African-American vernacular life on the plantation fields. Rainer’s early performances in Australia were celebrated for their displays of ‘grotesque and figurative excesses’. Later performances became more stylised and polished and were combined with other forms of unrelated entertainment.

‘Oft in the Stilly Night’ by Thomas Moore (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, c1858)

This song comes from a bound volume of sheet music that was located at Throsby Park, Moss Vale, and appears to have belonged to Miss Elizabeth Gittins (1834-1932), governess to the Throsby children from the mid 1880s to the early 1900s. Most of these songs were published in the 1850s and were collected not long after Miss Gittins and her family arrived in Sydney from the north of England in 1852. It is possible that Elizabeth saw the world-famous Madame Anna Bishop perform ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’ at the School of Arts in Sydney, on 21 September 1857, during one of her Australian tours. This copy of the song, with a depiction of Madame Bishop on the cover by local artist and lithographer Edmund Thomas (1827-1867), was published in Sydney soon after the performance and is an early example of concert-related merchandise.

‘Stand Aside’ by C. H. R. Marriott (London: C. Sheard, c1870)

The identity of the person who owned this piece of dance music for piano is uncertain, but we know it belonged to a family who lived in country New South Wales. ‘Stand Aside’ was bound into a volume of piano dance music towards the end of the nineteenth century with pieces owned by at least four different people. One of these, Alice Mecham née Martyr (1850-1878), lived with her husband and two young children on a large pastoral property, ‘Gournama’, near Warialda, in north-west New South Wales. Alice died at the age of 28, giving her lively dance music a particular poignancy. This piece is one of two in the volume that were purchased from music retailer, Henry Paskins, in West Maitland. ‘Stand Aside’ belongs to the galop genre, a quick and lively dance in duple time that was one of the most popular forms of ballroom dance in the nineteenth century. Derived from the galloping movement of horses, this physical dance would last no longer than two or three minutes and would usually be the rousing finish to an evening of dancing. No other copy of this English publication has been located in a public collection in Australia.

‘The 77th Galop’ by P. Cavallini; cover by S.T. Gill (Sydney: J.R. Clarke, 1858)

This piece of sheet music marks the visit of Her Majesty’s 77th Regiment to Sydney in 1857. The regiment had previously been engaged in the Crimean war, in which Britain and her allies had supported the Ottoman Empire in a dispute with Russia. The arrival of the soldiers in Sydney was celebrated by thousands of onlookers who enjoyed military displays and performances by the regimental band. This short piece for piano was composed in Sydney by the regimental bandmaster shortly before the 77th departed for India in April 1858. The wrapper is illustrated with a view of the band playing in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, drawn by Samuel Thomas Gill (1819-1880). The music comes from a bound collection of sheet music in the collection at Rouse Hill House and was no doubt performed on the new piano purchased by the Rouse family in 1855. The family owned hundreds of different pieces of music for both voice and piano and, like ‘the 77th Galop’, these surviving publications offer us an opportunity to share in the home-made entertainment of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

‘The Barham Mazurka’ by Louise N***** (Sydney: J. A. Engel, Printer, 1876)

Popular music has always explored the gamut of life – from the simplest of domestic tales to the grandest of narratives, and composers in nineteenth century Sydney were inspired by a variety of subjects. They dedicated their pieces not only to stories of human emotion, but also to mark current affairs and even more mundane topics such as the naming of a new suburb or the celebration of someone's home. 'The Barham Mazurka' was named after a house in Darlinghurst, Sydney, which at the time belonged to former Colonial Secretary and parliamentarian, Sir Edward Deas Thomson. This piece for piano was dedicated to his wife, Lady Anne, by the mysterious Louise N***** though the circumstances of its composition are unknown. There are only a few surviving copies of this sheet music and pieces by female composers in the nineteenth century were rare. ‘Barham’ was purchased by the Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) in 1900 and is still standing.

‘The Bird Song’ by John Winterbottom (Sydney: W. J. Johnson and Co., 1855)

This is a tale of a bird that lost its song. It was on 23 October 1855 when English actress and singer, Emma Waller, stood on the stage of Sydney’s Royal Theatre and performed ‘The Bird Song’. It was a new Australian composition and was the work of bassoonist, composer and entrepreneur John Winterbottom (1817-1897). Copies of the song were advertised for sale in the local press to coincide with Mrs Waller’s performance. It was probably around this time that a copy of the song was given to teenager Mary Throsby (1838-1914) of Throsby Park, Moss Vale. The sheet music was later bound into a songbook belonging to Mary’s sister, Isabel (1844-1901) - probably in the early 1860s - and then forgotten. This piece of early Australian sheet music, recently rediscovered at Throsby Park, is the only known copy of ‘The Bird Song’ to have survived.

‘The Queen’s Waltz’ by Charles D’Albert (London: Chappell & Co, 1857)

This piano piece comes from a collection of music belonging to Miss Elizabeth Gittins (1834-1932), governess to the children of Patrick Hill Throsby and his successive wives Elizabeth and Harriet, in Moss Vale. All the pieces in this bound volume were probably collected in Sydney between 1852 and 1860 and suggest that Elizabeth was keen to have the latest popular tunes at hand. ‘The Queen’s Waltz’ was first reviewed in the London press at the beginning of 1857 and was already being advertised for sale locally by late March in the Sydney Morning Herald. Back in London, Blackwood’s Lady Magazine observed: ‘It is the most fashionable dance music that has come under our notice for some time. The author is of well-known fame, and if we praise such pieces that are now before us, it is because our admiration is excited. The colour portrait is a picture worth framing.’ The popularity of such pieces had been greatly influenced by the young Queen Victoria’s passion for dancing and the increased affordability of pianos and their subsequent distribution across New South Wales in the mid-nineteenth century.

‘The Sea’ by Sigismund Ritter von Neukomm (Manuscript score copied and sold by Francis Ellard, Sydney, about 1834)

This professionally hand-copied sheet music comes from a volume of music bound together in the late 1830s for a young Sydney couple, Willoughby James Dowling (1812-1849) and his wife Lilias Dickson (1818-1869). Lilias had been the victim of a scandalous court appearance in November 1832 when a conman named John Dow had claimed before Judge James Dowling that he and Lilias had been secretly married and that he was entitled to her large fortune. The judge rejected Dow’s claim, but was disparaging about the girl’s reputation and was horrified to see her marry his nephew Willoughby less than three months later! The Dowlings, described as ‘good looking’ and possessing ‘considerable accomplishments’, had a collection of vocal music which consisted mainly of popular pieces of the day, imported from London for retail in Sydney. The Dowling album is the earliest known example of a personal compilation of songs bound together in Australia. The manuscript copy of ‘The Sea’ is also unique as there are no other known examples of published music being sold in Sydney in this way. This songbook has long been part of the Rouse Hill House collection, though how it came to be there remains a mystery.


Keeping time

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries watches were designed to carried on the person, attached to a waist hook, looped over a belt or as part of a chatelaine in the case of women


Come in spinner!

Gambling in Australia is regulated by the state and some types of gambling are illegal. The game Two-up, with its catch cry of ‘Come in Spinner!’, is legal only on Anzac Day and only in some states

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