First day at SLM

Day 1 of my task to survey the Scottish material at Sydney Living Museums began with a sprint. After Matt’s helpful brief on Friday, I knew going in where to begin (always useful)! He also kindly gave me access to the recent Symond’s Collection database that has already done much of the legwork for me.

These 19th-century bound collections are fascinating volumes and just looking at the battered binding already leads to much head scratching. These are certainly not volumes that once bound were put on the shelf, never to be used again. It would seem that they were taken out and played time and time again and evident in the haggard look of both the binding and music contained within.

The first volume I examined, which is inscribed ‘Haidee B. Harris from her affectionate Mama, April 8th 1864’ would appear to be a music collection compiled by the sister Flora Harris (supposedly a descendant of the heroine of the Jacobite rebellion Flora MacDonald). The story of the MacDonald family is intriguing in itself -Their father, Robert was brought up by his elder brother, Joseph Macdonald Harris (1789-1860), who was an active musician in London in the 1820s and 1830s, and a personal friend of John Braham and Isaac Nathan. Robert became a legal officer for the City of London but resigned from his position in 1852, and emigrated to Australia with his wife and 9 children. Flora was active as a professional singer in Sydney in the mid-19th century, but little is known of her sister. Why Hairdee’s volume of music, with little trace of her famous sister, is in the collection is a mystery waiting to be solved.


Within the volume are several pieces published in Edinburgh, particularly the John Watlen, who just happened to train under Domenico Corri (a major musical figure in the city during the 1770s). There is so much Watlen music in these collections that I wonder if he was somehow directly trading with Australia? This perhaps would solve the riddle as to why many of the pieces (though printed in Edinburgh) only seem to appear in Australian collections.


Another gem of this collection, is a handwritten manuscript book filled with Scottish dance tunes and even the old song from the theatre, including Madam Mara’s celebrated song ‘Hope told a flattering tale’. Whoever the copyist was tool extreme care when notating the collection and the result is a stunningly preserved personal collection. I will have my work cut out search down all of the tunes but thanks the, I hope that job will be made a little easier.



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