Another exciting day at the library, but I am not going to discuss the new volumes I was working with today; rather I would like to take a closer look at one of yesterday’s volumes.
I mentioned in a previous post that there was a volume given to Haidee Beatrice Harris (1848-1934) from her mother (Mary Ann Thew) in 1864. Haidee was the younger sister of mezzo-soprano Flora Harris Sheridan Moore who worked both as a performer and teacher in Sydney. Unlike her sister, Haidee would never emerge as a professional singer, though she did perform in at least a couple of public concerts as an amateur vocalist.
1905 ‘MISS FLORA HARRIS, 1856— MRS. SHERIDAN MOORE. 1905.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 8 April, p. 13. , viewed 07 Mar 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19322317
One might expect a volume gifted in the latter half of the 19th century would contain mainly 19th century, Victorian style repertoire. However, the music actually dates much earlier – in fact it dates from the latter half of the 18th century.
More than half of the pieces contained within the volume are from the same publisher, John Watlen. He had worked for Domenico Corri in Edinburgh in the 1780s before starting his own publishing house in Edinburgh (which went bankrupt by 1794) and then later in London in the first half of the 19th century. All the pieces from Watlen that appear in this volume are marked from his Edinburgh publishing – a clear indication that this is a late 18th-century print.
For arguments sake, let’s say this is nothing more than a mother bestowing a family heirloom to her young daughter. One might imagine her daughter to be happy to receive such a gift, but perhaps not as happy to use it. But, the state of binding would suggest that it was well-used and well-loved for many years. Why would a young girl want to play and sing music that was almost 60 years old?
During one of the first days after having arrived in Sydney, my friend introduced me to gentlemen originally from Lancaster. Despite living for almost a decade in Australia, he described himself as feeling inside a time-lock. He felt deeply connected to his home country as it was when he left, despite having a conscience understanding that the country had probably moved on and was quite different place to live. I wonder if this is what Haidee and her family experienced? She had been born in Britain and though she had moved to Australia as a girl, her childhood memories and family discussions may have made them all in a way ‘time-locked’. Furthermore, Haidee’s connection may have been even more profound, since her father Robert Harris was the great-nephew of Flora MacDonald – heroine of the Jacobite Rebellion who had supposedly rescued Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden. This could be the reason why the volume is predominantly filled with Scottish songs, including some rare gaelidgh prints.
More than having an interesting story to tell, this volume points to a different attitude towards domestic music making and sheet music collecting in the Australian colonies. The is no sense of keeping up with London fashions, which one might assume would be all-the-age, especially for a family establishing themselves in a new land. This music in its native country may have been nothing more than disposable ephemera, but to the Harris family, it was a useful treasure worthy enough to be passed from mother to daughter.