Friday, November 6, 2009

'orace cops a floggin'

Poor Horace Poussard slammed right into a Frenchman with a critical ear, familiar with Parisian taste in 1864, in Colombo. It seems that Frenchman, Fr. Devay (see last post)...well I'll let him tell it:

"Msr. T... and I let ourselves be tempted (by the ads Smythe had placed). I was in full dress having pressed and starched myself for this Musical Fete in full funeral costume as one wears to weddings and burials in all the civilized parts of the world. There were few people there despite the charlatanism and promises of the advertisements. A dozen women or more of whom one was black; some officers of the garrison and half-blood creoles. The celebrated Msr. Poussard is a man of 28 or 30 years. he's a clever instrumentalist and he, with great taste, makes his violin sing...when he wants to. But, for a long while now, he has lived and run about in the English Colonies. Dutch Colonies and other overseas territories. He has so bent and lowered his talent to the demands of average listeners that he plays difficult music in a burlesque manner; he made his violin cry, whistle, howl, croak, caw and bray. He made it sound like a tambourine, a jews-harp, an oboe, a guitar and bagpipes all to the frenetic applause and repeated encores from a rowdy mob with unsophisticated ears therein assembled. When Msr. Poussard returns to Europe he will have to deal with more refined listeners. He will have to abandon all this prestidigitation, these musical monkey tricks, this jumping about and somersaults for a more emotive and passionate execution which can move and enflame for music goes from the ear to the soul. Msr. Poussard proved this evening that he has in him the stuff of a real musician by playing with great purity and feeling, La Resignation by De Bériot and some scottish airs."

Again, Ouch!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Frederick Thomas Smith





























Smythe had a brother. A Professor of Music, temperance lecturer and Hotel Proprietor of the West Central Hotel, London. It was in family hands at least until World War 2, and it survived the blitz. He had married in 1863 to neighbour and Temperance/Church singer Emma Barnett.

Frederic Thomas Smith was born January 4th 1841 in Lambeth and died in 1919 in Hendon, leaving the Hotel to his sons, of whom Frank Barnett Smith died in 1926. He had eight children from whom there must be a descendant or two. Surely. The Temperance papers mentioned him in 1919 I am sure as he was well known and high up on the ladder of the don't tipple legion. What papers these are and where they are to be found is a mystery to me although Lambeth Palace (or is it the Kensington one?) has the records of some of the Temperance movements like the Band of Hope (of which Frederic was a secretary), although still extant and doing marvelous work, know nothing of their ancient history (which is understandable given they deal with suicides, drugs and such on a daily basis) nor could point me to any eccentric single-subject researcher who might have fondly pestered them and bored them to death at functions.

I need a paid professional walking, talking, microchipped, half-mad, English researcher with a packed lunch and eccentric manner to ferret about in the papyrus of London. So, I must await the pink sparrows liberation from their birdcage until I can afford such engagements. Should the pink sparrows die in their cage I am done for...perhaps.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Smythe, Book Hunter of the Antipodes

Another anecdote abut Smythe from the myesterious J.L.F. of the Hobart Mercury. This time from the 29th of July 1902


A few days ago, I got a letter from my old friend-and the public's old friend Mr. R. S. Smythe "the much-travelled, and, it may be added, "the much-read" in which be refers to the recent death, in Hobart, of the venerable bookmonger, William Legrand.


"What," says Mr. Smythe, "could possibly induce a Frenchman in those times to try his fortune in Van Dieman’s Land? But, I suppose there was a romance about going to the Antipodes, for a good many did go out, among them William Elliston, second son of the great actor. I met Legrand, and bought of him a charming book by Souvestre, ‘The Pleasures of Old Age.’ It bears the stamp of the Port Arthur Library. Of course I shall not care to read it for many years to come: it would not interest me."


Why Mr. Smythe should have any disinclination to know something beforehand of old age, and how he may make it pleasant is not easy to see. Most of us who have read "De Senectute" at school have looked forward brightly to our reaching 45! But Mr. Smythe's fishing up Souvestre's book in Legrand's old shop has reminded me of the romance of book-buying in that dingy, mysterious-looking store in Collins Street, which always seemed to be out of place in a comparatively new city. It looked like an accessible Hades, where the spirits of authors, Long dead and gone, congregated and talked about men and things, and received congenial visitors.

Amelia Bailey-Part Six

Amelia arrived in Shanghai, with her manager Smythe, Mr. Simmons and James Chisholm on the 15 th of July 1863. They booked into a Hotel and gave a series of concerts over five days but the place was under the the black cloud of Cholera; Boulanger, who had come to China to make some money for his Sydney based wife and child had died the day before they arrived at the Hotel Astor (now the Russian Embassy) and Robbio, fearing death by the disease had fled to Nagasaki as many foreign wives and families had done. They had committed to a small series of concerts which on at least one occasion was followed by a late night hotel party of rowdy and celebrated a nature. Shanghai had few single western women and had never see a professional singer as young or as pretty and in one night Amelia, as the star attraction made 1500 pounds and dozens of gifts. The party took the next available boat to Shanghai on the 20th which would prove to be equally dangerous, for what was supposed to have been a four day voyage turned into a twelve day one when the ship, the “Dolphin” was swept up in the edge of a Tornado and tossed around off course. rations were imposed and several times the ship looked like it was going to go under. They eventually put into safe harbour in the arms of an island of the coast of Korea before limping into Nagasaki.


Upon arrival in Nagasaki Bay it was noted by Chisholm that one of the two women on board the ship asked the Captain to bring a Japanese fisherman a little closer. The poor devil, dressed only in a loin cloth and probably not the handsomest of gentleman of his race, was looked at and disappointedly requested by proxy of the Captain to go back about his business. Such was Amelia’s first introduction to the Japanese.


Smythe claimed that the Amelia at that dangerous time was the only English woman in the city. The decision to open the country to trade had led to factional division between clans and within government. The day before the Bailey Company had arrived in China, a fleet under Admiral Kuper had sailed to Kagoshima to exact punitive bombardment on the Satsuma clans financial base, for their failure to hand over the assassins of a diplomat named Charles Richardson and his party. They did give Nagasaki a concert or two, even attending (and singing for their supper) at the bungalow of Thoams Blake Glover, the Scotsman who was in the following years earn himslef the respect of the Japanese as a nation. At his newly built bungalow he was also hosting Commander Skyryploff of the Bogatyr, so Amelia got to see her Russian Sailors once more.


Kupers fleet had been buffeted about during the battle of Kagoshima by the same typhoon that knocked about Amelia’s “dolphin” and when Kuper returneed to Yokohama, there arrived soon after, Miss Bailey, Mr Chisholm and Mr. Smythe and a certain Mr. Rudolofo Sipp, a temperamental pianist with a fondness for the bottle that guaranteed his name would slip from the feast table of history onto the floor to be swept up in the academic dustpan. Simmons, the magician had had an argument with Smythe over Amelia, although we don’t know the cause. Was it this that forced Smythe to marry Amelia in Nagasaki? Or did they marry in Shanghai under threat of Cholera? Or did they as I suspect, not marry at all? Either way, Simmons was a liability, having a limited repertoire and refusing to pact it over the course of a week or so. The effect of which was that each concert with the same audience attending over three days would receive different music and songs from Sipp, Chisholm and Amelia, but be subjected the same tricks seen the night before. Some punters were not happy.


After Yokohama, they sailed back to Nagasaki and on to China again, where Amelia teamed up with Martin Simonsen a danish born violinist of great skill and his wife Fanny. Sipp had gone onto America from Yokohama where Chisholm too had chosen to stay before his eventual departure for America a little under a year later. Once she left Shanghai where-in we know she gave three seasons of a week each in between the Northern Chinese cities that had European occupants, she sailed with Robert to Manilla, then to Shanghai where she did very well although resources have yet to be found and examined. Two thing during this period are certain, she wrote a letter to Poussard in Melbourne c/o the Argus extending an invitation to he and Douay to tour India, and she was pregnant, or had just had her eldest child, Bryan Bailey Smythe, who by the time she had left India was dead. Poussard replied and accepted, although the idea was most certainly Smythe’s, but Douay had suffered a sever nervous breakdown and Poussard arranged to meet Amelia and Robert in Ceylon in August of 1864, with Florence Calzado a comic singer of average ability, who arrived in Melbourne from England we-know-not-when and had entered into a ‘marriage’ with Horace serious enough to produce a child, who survived and ended up in France many years later. Florence had some skill, and had advertisied herself upon arrival sans agent, as Florence Beverley, contralto, then under the management of a Kate Howard, as Floraette Blanche Beverley. While with Poussard she used the name Calzado. I am assuming it was a confection of Poussards, having chosen the name after Torrio Calzado, the Havana born Opera Impressario that managed the Italian Opera in London sometime in the 1850’s. It might even bee that she was a real ‘Calzado’ being Torribo’s daughter. That would certainly explain her career bravely touted on little skill and so far away as Australia.


We can pick up Amelia’s trail again in Ceylon, where she started her great Indian tour of 1864-1867.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cyril de Valemency

I do rather hold a small mental grudge that hangs on the entry wall of my brain in a nice gilded frame, rather too big for it's content, regarding authors who mention a person in a biography and give no indication of who they are, what they do, did or failed to have done, wherein lay their span of years or worst of all, fail to supply even a whiff of a notion of why they should be mentioned at all. It is a thing of which (in my book) I don not want to be guilty. Some authors, I understand are writing for a captive audience, but neglect to reason out the fact that readers read for reasons various and that a neat corralling for the purposes of demography is asinine. 'Always write for a reader a thousand years hence' (my apologies to the man who penned 'Samarkand')

Cyril de Valmency, the rubrique of this emblogation is once such neglected personage. He was a painist whom I first encountered performing in the 1880s in Brisbane with Horace Poussard the french violinist about whom much is known. I tried in vain to find the merest jot regarding Valmency and did manage to contact a descendant and historian of a famous piano teacher named Richard de Valmency from whom the Cyril surely must have been related. He had never heard of him. Indeed, outside the Brisbane papers and a little wafer of gossip in Sydney's Tabletalk I had never heard about him again.

But this week, my knowledge regarding him exploded, beyond knowing he had red-hair and played Chopin quite well. I chanced upon an article in New Zealand that mentioned him to be Ralph Hood, a veteran of concert going in the land of the long white cloud ever since he had arrived there 'for his health' after a heavy course of piano learning under the German system. He was a Dartmouth born man of the year 1864 and so was Devonshire born and bred and his full name was Ralph Stewart Thomas Mitchell Hood, son of Army Surgeon and amateur archaelogue, Cpt. Stewart Thomas Mitchell Hood (brother to the Factor, which is Scot's for Land Steward, of the then Lord Airlie, to whom Ralph was a distant relation via a great grandmother). Ralphie boy was sent to Germany to further his piano talent and was very likely at some stage a student of Richard de Valmency (or relations thereof) in London or Paris.

Le voilà! He came to Australia as Ralph Hood, briefly emblazoned himself with the name Cyril de Valmency and went to England in that odd period between Victorian and Edwardian, Chopin-ing himself all over under the name Ralph Stuart. After that he disappears but that is enough. The papers in NZ further note that at each change of name he changed his appearance, being brunette, blonde and russet at various stages of his career.

Ralph my boy, here at least, and in my book, you will be given some modicum of noteworthiness for at least having devoted yourself to the sowing of Chopin.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Amelia Bailey-Part Five

Oatlands, is a town north of Hobart overland to Launceston where the company was persuaded to give a concert in the only available venue; the court house. By the time tickets had been exchanged for use of the facilities, the finding of chairs, provision for lights and the borrowing and carriage of the nearest piano to the court house, the ‘house’ was full, the company performed and no-one made any money. They left to perform in Launceston where Aitken stayed, having found Scot’s men and women much to her liking, and Chisholm and Bailey gave Moonlight concerts in the gardens there. Amelia was now in billing, part of the Chilsholm-Bailey troupe; her first as a principal in a touring concert company which, after having sailed back to Melbourne toured the provinces a little before Smythe suggested a larger project for 1863.


Early in 1863 a magician arrived in Melbouren with a small repertoire and the desire to make a career of himself. His name was John Simmonds, who billed himself as “Washington Frikell.” he was performing at the Mechanics Insititute, having been hired by Louis Laurens Smith, son of the great London entrepreneur Edward Tyrell Smith, in turn the offspring of a famous Royal Navy Admiral. Dr. L.L.Smith had also hired Geraldine Warden, a scot’s singer of some talent and fellow student of Amelia’s under Elsasser.


Simmons could never quite mange his time nor was he familiar with the necessities of getting people to pay money, so Smythe entered the picture, acting as manager and hiring Amelia as the vocal/pretty portion of the evening. Together they toured the countryside and goldfields, Marquis Chisholm having left to go solo in Sydney and surrounds.


In May of that same year the Russian corvette ‘Bogatyr” was in Melbourne on a visit (actually it’s real prupose was a ‘we bad, we big” tour, letting the British and assocaied countries know that they had muscled up after their defeat in Crimea) and the town was excited to see the white dressed Russian sailors in Town, the ladies especially. Amelia as it happened gave a private concert onboard the Bogatyr under the patronage of Admiral Popoff and crew.


In April, she gave a concert with Charles Horsely and Marquis Chisholm at Hocklin’s Hotel, then a popular concert venue opposite St. Francis Church. It was about this time that they may have been to the Otago Goldfields in New Zealand with Aitken.


Here we lose track of Amelia’s actual movement’s for Smythe arrives back in Melbourne having written a communiqué to Chilshom in Sydney and having also finished with the Wizard Mr. Simmonds, he was in Melbourne. Amelia is then next noticed setting sail on a coastal steamer called the Urara, with Mr. Smythe, Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Lynn, all of whom were intent on using Sydney as a jumping off point to sail to Shanghai, where they would, under Smythe’s plan, meet up with Edouard Desirée Boulanger, veteran pianist of the Californian goldrush and Agostino di Robbio, a temperamental pupil of Paganini with almost ten years of touring various Spanish Colonies under his belt. They arrived at the pier on the hour of sail, having stored away their luggage and Chilshom’s new harmonium (which Smythe had paid to be given to him as a ‘gift’) on board the Moneta that morning with the Company’s money (500 pounds) on the ship safe. They missed the ship, after having indulged in a last big lunch and had to pay some sailors to row them out to it for the Commander, a Captain Withers was awaiting a good wind and tide. Simmons stood at the rear fo the rowboat shouting and waving his large white ‘kerchief. The Captain was none too happy but the troupe was safely on it’s way.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Amelia Bailey -Part Four

September was a new beginning. Whilst Smythe was doing battle with the French in South Australia, the “Great Britain” arrived in Melbourne carrying a new stock of passengers and goods. Amongst the sea-legged populace was James Marquis Chisholm (1835-1872) a pianist of no mean skill, having trained with the pyrotechnic fingers but rigid control of Thalberg and Miss Margaret Edith Aitken who was the only daughter of a Glaswegian Doctor, so she said, but in reality was the daughter of James Aitken, the Scot’s actor, who had settled down to the giving of elocution for want of work and his wife, Mary Smith, a shipboard hostess with P&O oriental in the days when hostess meant a female concierge of a floating Hotel, who disappeared for months on end. Miss Aitken styled herself a elocutionist whose primary granting of entertainment was the reading of poetry and prose, usually of the heavy Scot’s kind. Both of them had formed a kind of ship board duo that entertained the officers and crew and did a good job of it as well.


When Smythe had returned they were struggling along at concert giving when he offerred a contract as manager. Amelia got back into the Philharmonia work which always occupied her in last three months of the year and had done since 1858-9. She performed with Henry Farqhuarson (Smith) and Armes Beaumont, now also a cog in the Philharmonia machine.


In October, Amelia signed up as the vocal dish in the Chisholm-Aitken Company. Smythe knew that Melbourne had a large population of Scot’s as did Tasmania, in particularly Launceston so he concentrated his campaign there. James was to dazzle with his scottish tunes and popular song, Margaret was to rolls her R’s and bash people about the head with thick slabs of Robbie Burns, the oratorical equivalent of haggis, and Amelia was to sweeten the deal with her pretty face and sentimental songs. Aitken was a good ‘actress’ in her readings of parts but she wasn’t pretty by any slap of an artists brush. But, in concert, each of them provided a distinct texture to an evening of entertainment, each catering to what we call nowadays a ‘demographic’.


On the 5th of November on Amelia’s 18th Birthday, still under the chaperonage of Mr. Smythe she concerted a confection of Mr. Chisholms called the “Dead Heroes” which was a moving music tribute (read pastiche) to two explorers who were not well equipped in brain nor limb and payed the ultimate price. But national heroes being hard to come by, Australia claimed them and grieved, and where there is grief there is emotion and emotion means ticket sales, if harnessed. Just whose idea it was is not sure but on that night at the Hobart Theatre Royale, a house draped in black crepe and fully decorated with all the indulgent emotion that such swathes can provide, a tableau vivant was offered, with music by Chisholm, readings by Aitken and spooky vocals from Amelia ( in the basement, keeping time with he man hired by Smythe to beat away the rats). The evening was a total failure; they hired two drunkards from the local police lock up to play the dead explorers, who then got into a fisticuffs, the smoke machine burned too much celluoid and caused the small boy manning the machine to scream for mummy and the prisoners turned thespians embraced in mid-fight, and plummeted over the footlights like Holmes and Moriaty over Richenbach falls. The house broke into laughter and the company cancelled any fantasies about repeating the performance and left town shortly thereafter.

She had just turned 18 and Robert was 29.

Amelia Bailey -Part Three

Her husband....possibly.


Robert Sparrow Smythe was the London born eldest son of robert and Elizabeth Smith of Lambeth. He had been apprenticed to Levey and Robson of 23 Great New Street Fetter Lane as an errand boy, compositor and reader. As part of his apprenticeship was the learning of shorthand by which he could notate and find employment in other areas. By the time he was 21 years old a weak bronchial condition drove him to take the long salt air voyage to the clean aired and sunny climate of Australia. He arrived in 1855 on the ‘Kent’ as plain old Robert Smith and sailed direct to Adelaide where he had and uncle Edward and young cousins, obtaining a post on the South Australian Register as a parliamentary reporter. In 1857 he became head of the Deniliquin and Pastoral Times, negotiating one of the highest wages then for a country paper, before quitting the boredom of country life for the city of Melbourne, where he tired setting up his own paper, but having that fold, worked as an early music critic at the Argus from where he covered, in 1861, the arrival of the operatic couple, the gruff Eliodoro Bianchi, a gruff balloon of a man on thin like legs and his frisky wife Giovanna di Campagana-Casali Bianchi and the French duo of violinist Horace Rémi Poussard and violincellist (Louis) Réné (Paul )Douay.


Poussard and Douay arrived to give a concert at an art exhibition o the 4th of June 1861, and had arranged for a two local singers, Amelia Bailey and a talented amateur, Edward Armes Beaumont, then a clerk at a shipping office. Including and recognizing local talent was a source of pride and pride sells tickets. Smythe was sent along to write up the concert for the Argus and it was at the Art Exhibition he met the young Miss Bailey and Msr. Poussard, all of whom would become important to each other. Catherine Hayes, the Irish prima-donna had been in Australia in 1854 and had provided Horace with letters of introduction and Amelia had claimed in South Africa in 1869 that she had been a pupil of Miss Hayes, who by that time was dead and could not refute it nor claim to not recall. I think the best that can be guessed is that Miss Hayes spoke to one of Allan’s classes on her tour in Melbourne, or said a few words of encouragement to one or two standouts. Amelia would have been twelve at the time so could have been possible...


Amelia spent the rest of 1861 in intermittent concert giving, with Mr. Alexander in June and at the Theatre Royale in late July, stretching her wings and breaking out from under the protective shadows of the Philharmonic. In November she is back on the papers giving a concert with Maggie Liddle, the Yorkshire born singer, whose live was to become a dwindling of expectations and the eventual demise when deserted by her husband, Fred Hilton.


In April of 1862 a theatrical ad for a play called “Sea of Ice” advertised it’s coming run with a ‘Miss Amelia’ in a small part. She was never heard from again and I wodner if our Amelia had tried her had at acting to supplement the income, for she really had none of her own.


In 1862, Smythe who had just passed some profitable months in South Australia with the Bianchi’s and was back in Melbourne to take over the editorship of the Illustrated Melbourne Post, the May issue of which featured etchings of Poussard and Douay, and no doubt it was about this time that the Messrs. arranged an extended plan of tour of South Australia, with Miss Bailey as the pretty face and vocal component.


Poussard and Douay were not disciplined in the actual business of managing advertising, sales and money taking and management thereof. Smythe had a little experience of it when he had left the Argus to pilot the Bianchi’s tour of South Australia, which he knew well. He knew negotiating, a little of contract law and had a good head on his shoulders.


Late April, the Poussard-Douay Concert Party arrived in South Australia and from the time they got off the coastal ship, Smythe cracked the whip via a punishing timetable; his time the Bianchi’s had demonstrated most clearly that hotel rooms had to be payed for between concerts and that expense ate heartily into any profit made. The best was to keep expenses down was to sing daily for one’s supper.


Arriving sometime in late May 1862, by the 24th Poussard, Douay and Bailey (along with Smyteh) were at a private party in Adelaide, then a very large newspaper ‘broadside in column’ appeared for a concert at teh Adelaide Assembly Rooms. It was a capital city overture before their June Cavalry charge; Port Adelaide, Glenelg, Adelaide again, Norwood Town Hall and Kensington South. July: Kopke’s Commercial Hotel, Tanunda, Kapunda, Burra Burra, Clare, Waterdale, Kapunda again, Angaston, Tanunda encore, Gawler, Salisbury, Auburn.


August was going to be no less punitive but fate had other plans. Whether by planned revolt or just sheer fatigue or lack of enjoyment that travel affords in favour of saving the coffers, the wheels came of the carriage. Literally. Late in June, in a hurry to make it to the next town, the group set out in the late evening, in a full rain storm, with howling strong winds and and eager horseman plioting four horses, that crossed the Hutt River at full speed, breaking down. It put the brakes on the tour. the gallant Mr. Douay carried Miss Bailey to the bank and the entire party was soaked and had to return to the town they had left, hanging out clothes, instruments, underwear and sheet music all over the Hotel.


After a concert on he 12th at Wallaroo, Smythe, as usual went ahead to book a venue, arrange ads or broadsides, town criers, ticket takers, book hotel rooms and try to find a piano or organ for the concert at whatever town at which they might be advertised. Poussard however, for whatever reason decided to ignore the plan, such as it was and accepted an invitation to stay at Kadina. Smythe, having scouted ahead and having laid out monies, sued Poussard for not having turned up. Neither man a stranger to law courts the case was won by Smythe on the 30th and he and Amelia returned to Melbourne, straight into the arms of another pair of entertainers, though somewhat more odd, Chisholm and Aitken. Both Scots and wacky as a tartan rug.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Amelia Bailey - Portrait





























A portrait of Amelia Bailey, assumptive, that is to say not-confirmed but I know it is so that is all that need be said. I found it where I knew it would be. The tinting is mine as the original was terribly faded and damaged. Although it can't be seen, she had a 45 degree stripe pattern on her dress. It is interesting to note that ladies until 1861 had always worn a top that matched the dress. A white shirt with a skirt was, when this was taken in 1866, only an innovation of 5 years standing, inspired by the Garibaldi Campaign of 1861. Women took to the white shirt like urchins after a lolly cart. The 'swiss belt' is pierced which is in itself a rarity.

I believe this was taken in India and found it's way to South Africa courtesy of little Miss Bowe who performed with her sisters, locally supporting Amelia in 1868 at a concert.

Amelia Bailey -Part Two

While in Australia and after his gold-fever had broken he settled down to teaching music and replaced the Liverpuddlian organist at the Collins Street Independent Church, John Russell as head of the Philharmonic Society in Melbourne which had grown from it’s amateur roots in 1840 to a respectable practised, reined and strapped stable of voices.


Amelia’s first professional concert was on the evening of the 25th of March 1858, in aid of the Indian Relief Fund, in which Mr. Allan had brought together three singing groups from St. Paul’s School, Collingwood Singing Class and the North Melbourne Choral Society. Amelia, who hailed from St. James School was billed along with Minnie A. Griffiths as soloists making their début, and the Herald reviewed it thus:


“This notice was impertinent; no debutantes ever needed less consideration; every song which these young ladies sang was encored; and it was really astonishing to think that the younger of them, a girl of thirteen or fourteen, with a dress several inches above her ankles, could induce so much feeling into George Linley’s ballad of ‘Constance’. Almost equally successful was her taller and slightly elder companion in Abt’s beautiful song of ‘When the swallows homeward fly’, a German song overflowing with love and tenderness.”


The older girl was of course Amelia and the accompanist on the occasion was Elsasser, her singing teacher. Amelia was sixteen, the same age as when she was appointed as a soprano with the Melbourne Philharmonic. A post to which she had likely been groomed by Elsasser who was it’s conductor at the time.


Again on the 21st of October the girls made their second concert solo, this time in an exhbition Building benefit concert. Miss Bailey’s voice was described as “full, rich and forecasting a high position amongst the colonial vocalists” Minnie’s “bewitching eyes” were noted by the St. Kilda Chronicle, a newspaper which, Amelia future husband, R.S.Smythe (1833-1917) founded and operated in partnership with Albert Richard Goulding, and for which he was likely the music and theatre columnist as he’d be later for the Argus.


In September she was, at the age of 15 nominated as principal soprano in the Philharmonic after having served in it’s which must have been quite a thing since her obituary in 1932 did not fail to mention it.


The philharmonic was where she came under the wings of contralto and colonial concert veteran, the Londoner, Frances Octavia Scrivenor know in musical circles as ‘Octavia Hamilton’ (1826-) the wife of Augustus Graham Moon. She was the first prima-donna Amelia at the make-up table and behind closed doors and was the secret keeper of the ‘captivating’ side of stagecraft, free, outside the order of the minor planets and as close to a libertine as one dare get.


Amelia Bailey -Part One

“...but there is no record of her musical career, if indeed it ever bloomed.”


So penned, in regard of Miss Bailey, Peter Game, author of “The Music Sellers” who had never tracked her career, which was in point of fact twenty years long and if measured by distance travelled and continents covered would have her eclipse the most famous of vocal names.

Amelia Elizabeth Bailey was born in Soho, London, the daughter of George Bailey (c.1805-1885), saddler and his wife Amelia Howell (1807-1889), both of whom were living in London at the time of the 1841 Census, in London. George was the son of Robert and Louis Bailey and Amelia Howell, the daughter of William Howell (a tailor by profession) and Louisa. George and Amelia had married on the 17th of May 1838 at St. Anne’s in Soho. The first child was born in London, a girl named Sarah Amelia Louisa Bailey, of whom we have no record save her passing with her brother George Howell Bailey (born and died in St. Olave’s London) who died during the July-September quarter of 1842. Amelia was next and arrived and survived on the 5th of November 1843. There followed sometime later a brother named George Robert Bailey, born 14th February 1845.


Amelia’s soul had hardly four years purchase on English soil when she was carried away on a ship on the emigration route to the colony of New South Wales, Australia in 1846. When she arrived, it was 5 years before the discovery of gold in Victoria and 7 years before the 1849 bonanza of California, so gold was not on George’s mind when he left London. A better life perhaps, far from the scythe wielding smog and the industrially corrupted air of a Dickensian London which had claimed two of their children already, might have been the motivating force. It was a well made gamble. George moved to Melbourne in 1851 when the gold fever struck and found work in the colony of Victoria as a saddler where two more children were born, Mary [Louisa?] Jane, and Sarah Jane Ellen, born 1853 in Melbourne were born in Victoria but died in infancy. Mrs. Bailey had lost three children and had just two left.


The colony of Melbourne was a bubbling copperpot of desperation and excitement containing such disparate groups who needed to stand together or disintegrate along their own lines. Melbourne had neither the population nor funds to build separate schools for every denomination of different shade and tint. Many schools, though rendered in a particular hue of religious belief accepted students of theological kin.


The gold rush of 1851 brought fortune hunters, as gold rush’s tend to do but it also attracted the enterpreneurs both small and large who were the suppliers, outfitters, purveyors and nabobs of all sorts of goods from beer, to ladies hats, from picks, to shoes, and what wasn’t imported, was manufactured on the spot from what was available. In happy addition, it brought men of talent and skill who, having turned their hand to teasing gold from a claim, soon realized that a better and more constant living could be made in being a school teacher, shop owner, clerk or subsequent variation on whatever trade or inclination they left behind in England, Scotland, Ireland or Europe.


George Leavis Allan (1826-1934) was one such adventurer who turned from the gold-pan to music education and eventually to sheet music and a Melbourne emporium icon. It is of note that his mother was an Ann Bailey, who’s family had lived in St Olaves, where lived also George Robert Bailey and wife Amelia. I wonder if Amelia was a cousin of some sort?


In 1853 George Leavis Allan started public teaching of Ladies and Gentlemen and later that same year started to teach as part of the school system and ended by being appointed the singing teacher for various schools and had in the course of his charge of teaching the children of Melbourne how to sing, discovered Amelia’s voice and recommened her for further training with a seasoned and professional musician, the Germanic gentleman, Herr Carl Gotfried Elsasser, who was scholarly, disciplined but an odd creature for his day in the handling of teaching.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Emmeline Zavistowski

Emmeline Zavistowki's family, I learned today (husband J.C.Shailer and sons), ran the "Hotel La Tourette" in Bayonne, New Jersey with 300 guest capacity and the latest in Electric light and other fancy bits'n'bobs of the day. Very popular in the latter part of the 1800's it burned down in 1916.

So Emmeline Inez Shailer (nee Zavistowski) ended her days as a 'Family' Hotel Proprietress in Bayonne although she is not on the 1901 Census. She may have been looking after her mother her lived nearby but I could not find her anywhere. I suspect she and her sister did much travelling after Alice was widowed early and Emmeline's husband Julius C. Shailer turned out to be somewhat of a bully. I still have little idea of what became of Emmeline; how she died and where...

If anyone has ever seen the movie "Two Weeks with Love" you'll know what imagery this conjures up though it is entirely possible that a real life equivalent of the Oceana Roll was done there as the Hotel did boast a musical director. As for the Abba-dabba-dabba song, I cannot say.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Smythe Interviewed

Yesterday there became available on line, an interview with Smythe about his world tour, this time mentioning names of people and giving me some more details on his 'when-and-where-ity' and I must get hold of the Hong Kong papers for 1864.

Two people were mentioned that will add some herbs to my narrative; Henry William Dent, barrister and Consul in Shanghai who advised Smythe to go to Japan until the passage of the Cholera season and Rev. Dr. John Morton Beaumont of China who had a grand piano at Foochow-Foo (as it was then spelled) and who played it very well by all accounts. I also learned that they met Agostino Robbio in Hong Kong which I did not know.

Lucy Escott came up for auction on Ebay but alas I cannot afford her at the moment so another bit of our visual history leaves our shores.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Benny Farthing

Since I had luck recently to have been contacted by someone who I had wished to have find me I thought I might try the same trick with the Bennies.

Who be the Bennies? Bennies' from Heaven? No. Benny's from Lambeth (later of Islington).

The subject of my biographical ministrations, as my sole reader is aware is R.S.Smythe who appears in the 1841 London (Lambeth) Census with his mother and siblings. The masculine head of the house is John Benny, printer and at a later date, teacher. John's son John James Benny was to become head compositor or some such knight of Print-and-font at the City Press Room. He had a sister Priscilla Benny,whose unique name and impoverished spinster's end might be at this moment clinging to the twenty-fifth floor of some family historians brain. I want to know all about them.

They lived in 1841 at 17 Devonshire Street now Courtney Street. Elizabeth Smith, Robert's mother lived with them. Robert himself had became a printers apprentice, reader then journalist, tutored and inspired no doubt by John Benny whose destiny remains unknown. I know the Benny's are important and I half think Mary Benny, the lady of the house was Elizabeth Smith's sister (born in Hoxton when it was just some grass and a disinterested goat), or perhaps Elizabeth was sister to Mr. Benny. Elizabeth Smith had an annuity which had disappeared by the 1850s... So what was the source of such an income?  R.S.Smythe's pa-pah' was supposed to have been a Commercial Traveller which would hardly leave behind such fiscal residue unless he was selling small arms door to door. What happened to him? Was he a drunkard? Did he meet a Dickensian end and what sort of man was he? Who are these Benny's? 

And finally, Edward Smith, a relative of Robert's maybe an uncle was a school teacher (just like John Benny) of Crafers in South Australia. I have written to Crafers School begging for any information about their founder and even offering up same but received no reply which in light of humanities long burning lust for letting the silverware of letter-writing and other social graces tarnish into a dull lead like lustre, is no surprise.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Antoine Boulanger

At last I may have found a weak spot in history's attempt to hide from me the who-about's of Antonio Boulanger, Edouard D. Boulanger's father. It seems that through all my searching I did not find any secretary noted of the Boulanger name as belonging to Talleyrand despite the fact that small forests sacrifice themselves regularly so that the big T may have yet another book written about him.

But I did find a man, the diplomatic agent Comte the Montrond (Casimir de Mouret 1768-1843) who was an intimate (read, puppet) of Talleyrand, that is to say, a close friend (his mother Angelique d'Arlus was actually close to Talleyrand) who had a secretary name Antoine Boulanger whom surviving sources seem puzzled over for he acted as valet de chambre, secretary, banker, friend, counsellor and other various roles to the Comte. The reason that this was strange is that the Comte was not rich (he had been, having practiced what we call now 'insider trading') yet Antoine Boulanger had his own wealth sufficient to have a domestic servant for himself and his family and retain a family lawyer. In other words, Antoine had more money than his boss. Huh?

What's more, Casimir seem's to be a fascinating man;  like a Talleyrand drawn in crayon and possibly a little 'unique'. He had a brother named Edouard de Mouret. Where did Antoine get his money? Was he the Boulanger in the English law case Talleyrand vs. Boulanger (a French money lender)? What happened to the money? Was it lost in the musical chairs of who-governs-who this week that was the early 19th century of France?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Smythe, Sultan of the Cerebellum

I was trawling today, as is my habit, amongst the digitized newsprint of the 19th century journals of the day, fishing for any item, be it minnow or marlin, that might give me insight into Smythe's life and character and today I got a bite.

It seems that in July of 1855 Smythe did not go straight to South Australia as I had thought but under the influence of the Australian sun, three months of salt air, ship's library books and his natural 21 year old's enthousiasm fueled by his intellectual life at Robson and Levey, set himself in as one of the honourable secretaries of the Victorian Institute and Philosophical Society which had just been formed and was awaiting royal grant for it's charter, being to develop Victoria through science and education by instrument of original researches and papers of it's members. Well this is a turn up. I did notice he noted as R.S.Smyth, not quite ready to abandon his bog-standard Smithness in favour of his now well known and bespoke monicker.

But he didn't stick around. I know he left for South Australia soon afterward's to take up as Parlimentary Reporter on the South Australian Register, a paper which I have been reading much about lately and about which I will emblog anon.


July and Smythe's Angry Face

It is the first of July. Another dull unwieldy and nerve-grinding month ahead. I found these juicy Smythe quotes. 

"When a man begins a letter to the editor of a newspaper by anticipating an ex-parte and incorrect statement from the other side, and declaring that he is ready to substantiate under oath all that he is going to say, you may safely conclude that he is going to say something which he thinks people will not believe" -R.S.Smythe, Letter to the Argus, 3rd Sep 1874

"The proverb states that a certain class of people ought to have good memories [prov: Liars should have good memories]. Mr. Bennett's memory is remarkably bad. Most people in writing a sentence can remember what they said in the preceding one, but Mr. Bennett before he gets to the end of one forgets what he said at the beginning" -R.S.Smythe, Letter to the Argus, ibid.

All of which is Smythe's floral way of saying 'Liar, liar, pants on fire." I love that kind of prose.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Smythe's Second Son

Smythe had an affair, at least I think he did. Mary Elizabeth Christian was a contralto; very pretty, bright blue eyes, fair hair and a sweet disposition. The son, Robert Christian Holmes Smyth(e) was born 3rd November 1874 and resembles both his mother and father. Where does the Holmes come in? Was Mr. Holmes, M.E. Chrisitian's singing partner at one concert, a god-father or something else? The ill-fated boy would died in the Boer War later at be wounded and buried at Thaba Nchu, near Bloemfontein and is interred there. Smythe's first son Bryan Bailey Smythe who was five years old when he died some where in India. I noted with a frisson of unease when a"Christian Smyth" was travelling with Frederic Villiers and R.S.Smythe on a coastal steamer to Queensland one year. Did Smythe's peddling of War stories via Villiers inspire his son to pursue the light-horse? I hope not, but I suspect it was so, along with an urge to prove himself against his more golden, taller and more accomplished half brother Carlyle. Christian Smyth looks very likable in his photos. How sad.

He must have been conceived when Smythe returned from India when he had been travelling with Arabella Goddard, Amelia and his family of two daughters and son. Was there a fight? Was Amelia having another affair? Did Goddard and Bailey gang up on old Smyth-y Boy? Was the marriage so dead in the water? Smythe formed a new company with Miss Christian, Solange and Andrée Novaro, Mister Farley and Charlie Huenerbein as accompanist and instrumentalist.

And today I found out that Amelia was teaching in 1872 at Motcombe Cottage in Chambers Street, South Yarra. No doubt Heidi knows that street as well.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Boulanger, deux

I have been knee deep in French googling. The Argus online has just in the last day put 1861 on which enabled me to find an death notice for an Auguste Gréterin, Director-General of Customs of France who had just died. He was "first Cousin to Mr. Boulanger of this city" (Melbourne. He was living in Williams Rd. at that stage). Calloo-callay! The man in question wasn't registered as Auguste but Théodore Gréterin (1792-1861 and a Senator with a bit of bling) who had three brothers (Phillipe, Pierre-Dieudonné and another unidentified) all of whom were in customs. The important bit was the revelation of his parents: Evrard Gréterin and Jeanne Nicole Hanus (1765-1833). All of which means that Edouard Boualnger's father Antonio had married either a Géterin or a Hanus. Well, there's a maiden name. Evrard is a variant of Edward, used in Nordic countries and Belgium (Walloon). I'd bet a guinea to a goose that Edoaurd was named after his mother's brother Evrard (or the father if Evrard was a Jnr.)

Now, I have to find Antonio Boulanger's link to the Duc de Montebello.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Boulangerie

Don't expect baguettes and croques-messieurs in this emblogation. This one is about the French pianist Edouard Desirée Boulanger (ca.1820, France-1863, Imperial Hotel, French Concession, Shanghai) whose father Antoino Boulanger was reputed to have been private secretary to Talleyrand that imposing Crystal Chandelier of Gallic History. Thanks to the strange gymnastics of Google-books I thought I'd try and find out who was Talleyrand's secretary. Their were not very many. To whit: Le Clement, Louis Paul d'Autremont, Charles Edouard Colmache (husband of Alice Lee, friend of Helen Faucit), Gallois, Charles Antoine Osmaond, Msr. de Montrond, Rouen, Le Chevalier, Roux-Labourie, Mathieu, Maubreuil (?), Baron D'Ideville, P.A. Heiberg and a Msr Perrey. No Boulanger though. But it looks like ol' Talleyrand went through more secretaries like a Hedge-fund Baron would go through a jumbo box of tissues. 

There was a French money lender named Boulanger who sued Talleyrand's brother in London in 1797. Boulanger had borrowed a VERY LARGE sum of money from that Boulanger. Talleyrand vs. Boulanger is famous it seems in English and American Law, setting some kind of precedent about suing in domestic courts over matters of the breaking of foreign law.

There was an Antonio Boulanger in Paris in the 1770s and he was the one from whom we get the word "restaurant." Wouldn't that be a hoot, if Edouard the pianist, accompanist of Catherine Hayes, pupil of Chopin, teacher, traveller and composer was the grandson/son of the original inventor of a comestible house of restoration? I'd like that.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Seredipity-doo-dah

Whilst trawling the seabed of the great internet ocean down a deep sea trench named google books looking for information on Horace Poussard or any Poussard connected with him, I found a published history of the Paris Conservatoire of Music. It had a list in 1849 of the prize winners and there was Horace's name, as I expected in tie for First Place for le Prix du Violon with Victor Cheri. But my eye caught the left column of the page  to see Gougenheim, Sophie receiving an accesit (certificate of merit for singing). I searched Musicsack to see if she ever became a person of interest and she was listed in the Conservatoires Lauréates and having been born in London. She did move to New York and married a minor singing teacher named Mariano Manzocchi of Naples whose claim to fame in these times was to have taught Adelina Patti for all of five minutes when she was a girl. I think it was three lessons, but whose quibbling? Mme. Manzocchi quibbled of course. She sued Patti in 1883 for the money that her parents owned her deceased husband (he died in 1860 and had kept scrupulous books). Poor Sophie must have been desperate for the cash to run her finger down Mariano's musty old ledgers.

It explains too, why Augustus and Theresa, the parents of the three Gougenheim girls did not leave New York. And all this was revealed by accident just a few days after I had lost an auction on the Gougs to a faceless nemesis who must know a little of them but not as much as is squirrelled away in my dossiers. See my earlier emblogation (enblogation must be now spelled emblogation. The n has to change to an m before  b or p word-pioneering is a messy business).

Karmic compensation or just the karmic credit limit on the matter of my interest in the Gougs. The cosmic abacus has pistoned it's beads thus and has calculated my allotment. I do have good information and learning karma. What one studies in one life becomes instinct in the next.

A small complaint about google books and the institutions that apportion small snippets accessible to certain zones: What the **** is the point of a snippet? Do you want to be deluged by annoying e-mails pleading to have copies of the rest of the thing made that may not even contain anything important? Do you hope to make a small fortune from the rivers of money pouring like molten gold into the coffers of your Document Delivery Service? Why the tease? Is the great God of Copyright such a vengeful deity that you grip to items containing all of humanity's intellectual family silver that is way out of date for the long dead authors whose work you did not publish, pay for or sponsor, but merely own? What happened to the uni in University and the latin root to read in library? When things no longer universal you cannot call yourself a University, but an Emporium, store or shop, and when we are unable to read them you are no longer a library but a frozen brick bonfire. The snippets on google books quite appropriately remind me of floating portions of burning books.

Google books recognize the importance of unifying through accessibility but public edifices do not. Top praise to Google Books and their triumphant vision and boo to the neuro-parochial neo-luddites.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Adieu Mes Gougues

That slightly smoky scent you can smell is the quiet ashen byproduct of fuming resentment for this morning I awoke to the EBAY alert that I had been outbid on a Carte De Visite of the Sisters Gougenheim. I made several feeble attempts at clawing back to the top but failed in the face of the invisible magic pocket who had entered a counter bid akin to the numeral madness of the orgy of Zero's employed in the Obama bank bailouts. Bugger.

Josephine and Adelaide Gougeneheim were of French Jewish and Irish extraction whose father was a kind of amicus curiae (not quite but you get the idea) with the translation of languages for courts, named Augustus Manuel Gougenheim, born in France (Bas-Rhin), employed in Dublin (where he married Theresa Murray), then in London and finally dying I think in the United States. The girls performed from an early age and toured America then Australia where Josephine married Marmaduke Constable and had several little Constables (does that not conjure up a Keystone-Cops image?) before separating and running a theater in country New South Wales. Adelaide was bit more saucy, she married in Melbourne, to a Thomas Priaulx Carey (which the descendants of that prominent Guernsey family deny despite a Government issued marriage certificate). Obviously annulled, or just plain ignored, she went back to London and married a Henry Richard Frisbie who was a stockbroker and as far as I know left no children. She did have one poor darling, Adelaide Josephine Frisbie who died aged five. Still, Adelaide and her husband had four domestic staff so all was toffee and toast for the remaining days I assume.

Still, the image I lost today was not an actual 'photo' but a photo of a realistic illustration which made the Goug's prettier than they actually were (cf. the NYPL Digital version) The harsh life of travel and stage aged them quickly and the photos I have in my collection (copies from my local State Library) don't show the evidence of any temporal indulgence. I consoled myself with a slice of cake over this nano-tragedy. Ah cake! You baked Bodicea and soother of all disappointments long may your frosting reign.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

China Chuckles at little Timmy

Little Timmy Geither, the left hand of Lord God Obama visited China and in the course of his desperate travels told a Beijing University audience the US dollar was safe and recovery was a sure thing. The audience laughed. That's right, laughed at the presumptuous little tyke. 

China, quite rightly, wonders why they are accumulating US dollars, treasury bonds and other holdings rather than spending it on domestic development. Geithner, that very morning had walked straight smack into another Great Wall of China, The Global Times which published a list of pre-eminent economists who, in chorus, called US holdings, risky. China hold's officially about 768 billion in US assets. The figure is nearly twice that, well over a Trillion. 

The Chinese aren't stupid. Geithner seems to think they have the same dulled down, ignorant mind set he's used to dealing with. They don't and he is in big trouble.

Calzado Who?

In 1863 in Australia there appeared out of nowhere a singer who advertised herself as 'Florence Beverley" late of the London Daily Mail. So, she has supposedly come FROM London where one assumes she had been singing in some way to be bequested a mention in the London Daily Mail.  She was acting as her own agent. Now, this is a dangerous thing to do at the best of times and failing to secure any engagement she was then touted under the management of a Kate Howard as "Floraette Blanche Beverley" a name which appeared once in the Argus and was never seen again. She then next appears in New Zealand with a small troupe under the management of T.R. Jones, which included a sword dancer. Horace Poussard, the touring French dose of culture on four strings and his Steiner violin poached her into his company and then she reappears packaged as "Florence Calzado" She then tours with him (under my past managerial tour of India and South Africa) with Amelia Bailey and the children. Then she comes back to Australia, having borne him child (we think), lists herself as widowed and marries a miner named "Samuel Paynter Thomas Cornish" in Hill End NSW and disappears.

Now she is a puzzle and a half of full-cream bamboozlement for she never appeared the slightest bit savvy about the business of chasing gingerbread (making money in stage-work) nor showed any gusto more that the required swig necessary to board a clipper and sail to Australia. Indeed, Heidi (see previous post) had dreamed a dream that starred in a supporting role the said Florence Calzado. It was a walk on role. Literally, for Heidi dreamt she was walking up the gangway onto a boat conscious of the woman behind her whose lack of stride was the cause of much vexation. It was a case of the "Oh Lord's sake do hurry Florence"s without needing to speak it. Curiously Heidi knew it to be in South Africa and wondered why the husbands (R.S.Smythe and H. Poussard) were not in the dream. Heidi's dream did prove to be most accurate as I found out LATER that both Smythe and Horace had left for England nearly six month earlier. The ladies stayed at the Cape alone without the children.

We have three photos of Florence but no name, no dates (though she looks to be about having been born in the 1840s) and no clue as to her beginnings nor her end. Her vocal talents were almost unanimously thought to be average except in the Natal in South Africa where her 'comic vocalist' stylings made her a hit. I am sure she hadn't expected that. But she could sing. She was nervous, timid, not urgent in nature so why come out to the Antipodes? The last image of her is on a cracked glass plate negative in the State Library of New South Wales under Mr Painter and Son. The sons face is missing, flaked off and poor Florence whose face is present is not even mentioned or named. Her face too, is haggard and defeated. Sad.

The London Daily Mail is, as it's title cleverly makes you suspect,  a daily paper and trawling through it from 1862-1863 is beyond even my capacity to suffer the sea sickness of rolling through barrels of microfilms. Anyway, we don't even have the microfilms of that publication here.

There was a famous theatrical family named the Beverley's (William Roxby Beverley and family) and an infamous Havana born Italian opera manager named Torribio Calzado (in London in the 1850s) who got caught cheating at cards but apart from this quo vadis? Was she progeny of either? Miss Calzado has torn out my hair for years, leaving no trail nor clue other that just a slow steady tale of fatigue and dwindling career. One Florentina Carro Calzado was born in 1842 in Valladoid, Spain to father Patrick Calzado (since when is Patrick a Spanish name? I received no memo on the subject) Was she Spanish? English? A Yorkshire lass? God help me. Calzado! Show yourself!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Heidi makes a point.

In a email received but not one hour prior to the writing of this post I was reminded by the Lady to whom I was married in 1863 (a fact about which there is much debate. She claimed it was in Shanghai, I seemed to have made a play for Nagasaki, but more of that anon) that, I had not yet explained how I came to be acquainted with my last incarnation and her enjoyment of this blog and my emails (as well a long standing friendship that has been road tested) has given her the liberty of admonishing my person over this disgraceful omission. 

So, here goes. In the 1990's at some year whose exact date I am too lazy to extract from the Himalayan Range of paper files, folders and 'phemera directly behind me, I met this lady at a party, let's call her 'Heidi'. We shared a delightful hunger in metaphysics or rather she was hungry for it and I loved cooking it. Chef and patron. A perfect combination. One night she had a dream in which she was in a house, seated at a desk writing thanks notes for condolences on the death of her husband. She was conscious within the dream of the house layout, her dress color, the cuffs and as if by addition of an internal soundtrack she knew it to be 1917 and that this same internal off-stage (but in mind) voice bid her to remember the date as it was important. Being 1917 she naturally assumed that her husband had died in World War One, as one does.

Sometime later a gay-friend and also ex-boyfriend (pre-armoire) told of his attendance at a house which he knew Heidi would have loved as Heidi does possess good taste but not the pockets to demonstrate it. In the course of the relating of this house Heidi started to finish off his sentences and descriptions. It was the same house as in the dream. Having now had the address delivered straight to her (she's a Libran and they don't do private detecting) she went and examined the National Trust file.

When she opened the file she read that the house belonged to R.S.Smythe, impresario and that his wife was Amelia Bailey, old time opera singer of Melbourne. (Old time indeed). As soon as she read that she started to cry (in a very dignified and aesthetic Libran manner) and continued to do so as she had also trained for sometime in her childhood as a singer with Allan's music, the self same company which had discovered and trained Amelia. Furthermore, she knew that I was Robert Sparrow Smythe, her husband who had indeed died in 1917 at his home.

Of course, I would have none of this. The reincarnation business, yes. I could eat that up like gallon drums of gnocchi livornese (delicious) but having been Mr. Heidi? No. I was then in mid struggle (I tend to like my struggles long and protracted like some night at some hideous theatrical agony disguised as an entertainment) with homosexuality and the fact that Heidi did not know. 

The gay part of the story aside, Heidi did then  manage to do quite a substantial bit of research and found a photo of R.S.Smythe almost immediately and found his grave without recourse to a map of any kind (upon which we have already, quite literally, danced. A small jig I recall. Anything more gymnastic would have been disrespectful to the neighboring bones). All during this time she kept up the insistence that I was R.S.Smythe which made me generate a useable amount of red emotional hectopascals. I took to my bed and put myself into meditation to obtain some clue as to who I actually was so that I might use it as evidence in a refutation. After twenty minutes of relaxation nothing came so I began the stretching and breathing changes to bring me back to normal state and as I did so a loud voice said "You were Robert Sparrow Smythe". Now this voice was not imaginary. It was loud and it was so audible that I jumped off the bed, opened the door thinking it was a trick. No-one was there. My parents were out shopping, and unless Tuppence, the family poodle (now deceased and doing leavening duty in the canine life-stream) had recently discovered by some faustian bargain the power of speech, then there was no vocal chords with earshot that could have produced that sentence.

So, I admitted defeat. When a loud disembodied voice pops into your bedroom and delivers in perfect diction (and with a fair whack of authority) it's hard to argue...assuming you could find the entity belonging to the statement. So I took over the research from Heidi and have been at it ever since. Thereafter followed waterfall upon waterfall of fact, recollection, reaction and revelation which have all acted as engine to this tale.

It's a tale hard to believe but never the less, the reality of both Heidi and myself. Sorry "Heidi" but I just had to give you a Bavarian pseudonym. If you would a different name I am open to suggestions. Just don't send the disembodied voice around. A phone call or email would be fine.

Oh, and the marriage? There is an official certificate in the 1880's but that was four children and several affairs later (both of us strayed). Was I even married to Amelia when I was a Robert? Who knows? I can't find any certificate in Nagasaki or Shanghai. Then again, I have never tried. I think it was Nagasaki. Well, I'm as gay as a Dozen Dancing Dumbledores this time around so there's no marriage in Shanghai, Nagasaki or any other place. Except in my imagination.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

R.S.Smythe respite


This past month I have over-Smythed myself. I have been going like a bull at a gate and have found his early work environment, a possible exterior sketch of his work place at Robson and Levey (in London beyond my grasp both in kilometres and pounds sterling) next to the Three Tuns pub and located Peel's Coffee house which registered internally as important and there, which indeed it was. I have all the addresses for Smythe's life in London (1841, 1851 census') until he left in 1855. My next move is to track down his brother will and obituary to see what can abstracted from them. There are three references in a British Library; two interviews with Old Bullfrog (his step grand daughter who recently passed away called his photo that when she was younger, having never met him.) and one obituary for Robson to which I have earlier alluded. (Smythe above right aged 18)

Then there is Elsasser whose image eludes me. I have seen a pencil labelled photo of him in an album and next week I am slated to see an album at the University of Melbourne which they tell me is wholly unidentified, each and every portrait. Elsasser spent sometime in England before coming out here at a progressive school in Nottingham. Who is Elsasser? Oh I should tell you...where are my journal manners?

Carl Gottlieb Elsasser was a German musician, composer of average but local note whose father was a School Teahcer and friend of Heldenmaier (whose life and work is quite amazing, centering around the education of children, both able and disabled and quite a revelation to all of us who think of Victorian education as all tyrants, barefeet and soot...which is mostly was). Elsasser was the singing teacher of Smythe's wife Amelia Elizabeth Bailey.

Elsasser was written about sometime ago by a vanishing act of an author named William Percival Nash (proprietor of Innisfallen Press, Heidelberg Heights. No longer Extant) whom, from the reactions I have catalogued had an as yet, non-descript and seemingly inharmonious relationship with Academic Institutions and 'types' which I can well understand. His book did not include from memory any image of Elsasser but one is out there and lack of recording these images is of great vexation to me as it should have been done many years ago. Some word based academics seem to view images as less important than text and while they will cite via footnote of citations (usually the size of small circus parades) any notations of images and their whereabouts, even if not published in thesis or in book form seem to relegated to the caboose along with the suitcases, hatboxes and sacks of mail. No buttoned and be-glassed travelling compartment for them . Shame.

Why is there no National Portrait Gallery publication such as was done by Dover many years ago? It's magnificent book, large enough to terrorize un unruly crowd and crammed full with over 1,000 famous American's in small photographs during the 19th century and before.

All of which is no surprise. People no longer know how to see, to look, or to farm from an image all the information that is there and so images serve only as tools to break up areas of text and provide mood, context, costume, effect or minimum of visual-ity (sorry to have fabricated another word but visibililty would not have done). From the small fuzzy photo I have seen of Elsasser I can see that his hairstyle is one he has kept since his early days for  it belongs to the 1840s, his cravat is very floral in a time when they simply were not and it's gathered together with a silver broad-ring. This man was a progressive and a real German Romantic. Both his face and regard can tell you things the text cannot. Despite being the most visual saturate culture that has ever been I suspect we are the most visually illiterate. Art is becoming noise.

Images can be read, interrogated and husbanded. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chasing Gingerbread


This is the cover of "Chasing Gingerbread" a photo-book of performers who, though encountered in footnotes are rarely if ever seen. A group of us are attempting to compile a small ark of some kind from our meagre collections. Gingerbread is slang for the gilded bit of nonsense of rich peoples architecture and furniture. The term then evolved in theatrical slang to stand for box office profit. It is a 7 x 7 inch format and only holds about 40 images. If the quality is up to it's promise I shall try and assemble collectors to fill a 500 image book. My visions tend to be much bigger than my capacity to fulfill them but such is the thing. I might even be able to talk the State Library of Victoria into taking part or at least publish their own versions. Did you know there are images of people, fascinating for their accomplishments or simply just for their image that have never been seen at all? And, when they are lucky enough to get a witness of any kind to visit they usually luck upon an academic who has no funds nor publisher to shell out the shekels necessary to pay for the copyright, reproduction rights, original copy and other such legal confections that managers believe will generate vast amounts of income. Cultural heritage IS NOT a resource, it is the collective family silver and no diploma bearing Oompah-Loompah manager will convince me otherwise. Let them board longships and try and take my opinion and take it by force. I will auto-scuttle before that happens.

Charles Robson

If you examine the letters on line of 19th Century Scots author (who was 1/64th mystic) Thomas Carlyle you can look up several mentions of a man called Charles Robson (his printer), who during the course of my Smythian researches, has held a kind of magnetic pull over my attention and despite knowing only his name and that Smythe was employed by him, I knew I had to find out more as I was sure there was more to find. He died in 1876, did my Mr. Robson and the strange intermittent and slightly psychotic returns of Google Book search threw up a publication from 1876 called "The Bookseller: a newspaper of British and Foreign literature" (Why do Victorian books and periodicals have titles so long they should be equipped with a hospice half way betwixt the first word and the last for those of us whose lung capacities are not industrially sufficient enough to read them in one breath?) which contains an obituary only scraps of which I can see. Harvard University seems to be in the business of floating bits of burned treasure map onto the information sea and hoping I can stick it together. Whom am I, Jack Sparrow?

Anyway, before I start kvetching about Harvard University and their other bad habits, I learned that Mr. Charles Robson came from a family of numerous brothers and sisters and became a compositor at age 15 (born in Kelso, 1805) and was sent from from London by whom I know not. He then became a reader at a place in Hatton-Garden. He taught himself Latin, Greek, Arabic and other impressive intellectual feats later going into business with Mr George Levey in St. Martin's Lane, then Great New Street next to the Three Tuns. Now, Robert Smith (Mr. R.S.Smythe much later) had I believe, a drunken absent father which drove my then brother Frederic into music and the Temperance movement and Smythe into books. I do remember fondly Mr. Robson for his quietude, learning and powers of concentration and Mr. George Levey I remember for his business acumen and perfume of ruthlessness. I am sure that Smythe had these men as proxy father figures, one demonstrating self education, which I in this lifetime believe to be the cornerstone of a strong identity and, Mr Levey who illustrated a certain degree of toughness with the world. Emotional reactions to people I was associated with in my last time around are sometimes the only recognition I have to go on. The colour and makeup of that emotional response can usually be described a little more thoroughly and to date has not been wrong. I have to get hold of that obit from Harvard or whomever has a copy of the 1876 Bookseller.

"Between the tynes
are born the lines
that carry the current sage
from a tiny black and pregnant sea
out of the ink bottle
on to the page"

-The Gingerbread Cat, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Alice Zavistowski

The Zavistowski Sisters were two daughters and a mother with whose details I will not burden you. But, as they came to Australia, at first under George Coppin's contracted behest, then locally piloted by R.S.Smythe, they have been of interest to me. I happen also to know the current incarnations of the girls and have been researching both Alice and Emeline in order to understand Karmic structure.

I mention it here because the whole affair of the girls destinies, as managed by their mother Christine  was a right muddy boot in the syllabub. Emeline married a man who had been in the Civil War, an Army man and a Marine. His early military record showed him a con-man and an abuser of authority. Emeline had previously been married by elopement (annuled later) to a young singer named William Carleton, warbler of Irish Ballads. Mother stopped that with warrant and revolver and had her then married off to the respectable (on the surface) Major J. C. Shailer to whom she bore one too many children and she died in middle age. Her children melted into obscurity. Alice and Emeline's  father went mad separated from her mother who then died and left poor Alice, who had all her family and even her husband, an ill heir to a shipping magnate, Marshall Webb, dead and gone. She spent the rest of her days (with no relatives in the United States that I know of) in the Pavillion Cottages at Sharon Springs  in Sunnyside in the company of a Miss Eldredge. It saddens me, to see this bittersweet summer of butter and white linen end to a life whose details I had longed to find.

Those amongst my readers (of which there is but me for the moment) will be happy to know that Alice and Emeline are presently in a straight (one of them is male) life-partnership in California, fulfilling karmic commitments and dedicated to each other in a way that speaks volumes for their past life association and affection. Everything ends well...eventually.

R.S.Smythe

In the course of my researches into the life of R.S.Smythe the question is often asked, why does an illustrator whose principal interest is art, design. music, song-writing and assorted other objects of interest, come to be occupied with the life a theatrical manager who has been a long time dead and to whom history has not even had the grace to leave even the most faded of clues.

The immediate answer is "Oh, I need something that occupies the non visual part of my brain..." and in the way of what the japanese call aizuchi it seems to work a treat. The actual answer is that R.S.Smythe was me. The other me, the 19th century me, the pre-Allister (my actual name) me. Smythe is my previous incarnation and my full investigation of his life is simply a part of my self education. His life is in no way an attempt to find my past glory days in the microfilms that I have rolled through, nor to function as an engine of vainglory by proxy. My sub-strata IS Smythe (and his/our previous lives) and the distance of an intravital period (between births) and my experiences to this date have made me a different person so that Smythe is my was-ness, but is not my is-ness (Pooh would understand that) although I do have his debts, I should say our debts, as well as rewards. Purists can be comforted though, for my book, when it arrives, shall not be a wispy and gossamer anfract of a 'past-life' tale but a real biography of a man and his time that I will not pollute with 'recollections' unless they can suffer the probity I impose. And Lordy, there will be footnotes, enough for a dinner party but not enough for a country fair I am afraid. Footnotes are like alleyways, a few are sufficient for further exploration and add charm to a street, but too many are instruments of intellectual perdition and lead to muggings of the brain.