Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Reading between the lines

I have previously expressed some doubts as to the reliability of the the recollections of Ms Pauline Seal (in 1923) as a source of information on the history of the Brisbane Band in 1857.

In the middle of Miss Seal's hagiography[1] of her father's role in the promotion of music in Brisbane, we find one curious anecdote purporting to have taken place immediately upon the arrival of the four musicians

... they went in search of a room, in which to conduct their practice. Longing eyes were centred on a room in the back of the old North Brisbane Hotel. Feeling rather nervous, Mr Seal approached the wealthy proprietor, Sergeant-Major Walker ... he was rebuked with the reply of "Tut mon, I would noo allow my hotel to be made a public show of by musicians ...
The North Brisbane Hotel was situated on the west side of Queen Street, between Edward and Albert Streets. It was destroyed by fire in April 1864. (Sketch held in State Library of Queensland)

What could be the (historical) importance of such a seemingly trivial incident in which one Scots publican declined the patronage of a group of newly-arrived non-British itinerant musicians? Particularly when the next sentence indicates that they found a suitable room just one block away.

The meaning becomes clear when you realise that Sergeant-Major Walker was Pauline's grandfather. A family tale that he had not thought much of his future son-in-law on first meeting is given an almost biblical dimension as Andreas and August and their soon-to-be-born Band are turned away from the inn into the night.

We are reminded again that this is not dispassionate reportage but deeply committed family history written in the last few months of the life of Pauline's mother and rich with personal meaning that needs to be pared away to reveal the underpinning facts.

[1] Records of Early Australian Musicians The Brisbane Courier 14 April 1923 page 17; Brisbane Bands Early Records Interesting Reminiscences 16 June 1923 page 18; Early Musicians on the Wallaby 1 December 1923 page 19

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A cultural triumph

The recreation of the inaugural concert by the Brisbane Band in the City Botanic Gardens this afternoon was a great success.

The State Library of Queensland are to be commended on the effort that they put into ensuring the authenticity of the experience. They even arranged for some simulated "urchins".

"We were sorry to observe some urchins running recklessly among the shrubs and the flowerpots. Precautions will be taken to prevent a recurrence of this by placing policemen in the gardens.Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 26 September 1857

Fortunately, all ages enjoyed the performance without the need for police intervention. While the Bellini aria and the three cavatinas might not have been to the taste of all, the polka and the galop were universally enjoyed. One cannot help but believe that the same was probably true in 1857.

My enjoyment of the afternoon makes me even more determined to strip away the legend that has been thrown up around Professor Seal and to find the truth about these four musicians.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Ending a war

In April 1919, Australians were preparing for the first peace-time commemoration of Anzac Day. For many this would truly confirm the events of Armistice Day that had ended the War to End All Wars. But for some, the terrible war was far from over.

Our great grandmother Lucy COLEY must have felt mixed emotions when she signed for a package from Army Records Branch on 19 April of that year. It was another sharp reminder that it was just six months since her son, Charles Cephas COLEY, had fallen in the Battle for Mont St Quentin on the Somme. On the other hand, this promised to bring her "the effects of No 6421 Coley C.C." by which she would remember her cherished son.

Lucy was obviously a strong woman. The undeniable shock of finding military paraphernalia rather than his personal items sent her not to her bed, but to her writing desk. She dutifully acknowledged the delivery and enclosed the official receipt but then added the following plaintive postscript (spelled as she wrote it).

Could you please tell me if there is anything els belonging to this soldier comming to me, he had a good many things which he treasured & I would so like to have them for remembrance.

To the credit of the staff in Victoria Barracks, they responded promptly. On Anzac Day (which was not yet a public holiday) the Major in Charge of Base Records signed a reply indicating that another package had been located and would be despatched post haste.

On May 5, Lucy received the second parcel. This one contained "2 wallets, testament, notebook".

These simple items no doubt gave her greater comfort than either the medals forwarded in May 1921 or the Commemorative Scroll and King's Message that she was eventually to receive in December 1922.

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