Daily Archives: February 24, 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 16-23 February


Perhaps the approval of the new post office was conferred too readily, because complaints began to be voiced about the ‘penny wise pound foolish’ approach being undertaken in building the first post office. In particular, there were criticisms that the office was only a small room 12 feet square, and that the delivery and receipt of mail would be carried out at a window that did not have protection against bad weather.

 We would suggest either the erection or the hiring of a suitable building on the part of government for the purposes of a Post Office, sufficiently capacious to admit of a receiving and sorting room, a private office for the Postmaster, and a delivery room which should have a window opening into a passage, lobby or verandah, for it will not be denied that the comfort of the public should not altogether be lost sight of in these arrangements

You can see an image of the old Post Office here.  The clock shown in the picture was not part of the original building.


The Sydney correspondent for the Port Phillip Herald reported that Judge Willis was due to arrive in Melbourne soon.  He gave a hint of the trouble that was to arise during Willis’ time in Port Phillip

Mr Justice Willis has been appointed Judge at Port Phillip, and expects to be in time to hold a court in March. His Honor has been on bad terms with his learned brethren for some time; and probably wishes to have a court of his own, where he cannot be overruled. Mr Willis is a very learned, very clever, and above all a very conscientious man, but it must be admitted that he is rather eccentric; as an equity lawyer he is not equaled in the colony (PPH 19 Feb 1841)


On 18 February, Melbourne was treated to a concert given by Mr Nathan at the Caledonian Hotel.The next day, the Port Phillip Herald reported that:

A vocal Concert was given at the Caledonian Hotel last evening by Mr Nathan and his talented Family. We have only time to notice that it was exceedingly well attended, and passed off with the greatest eclat. His Honor the Superintendent, J. Simpson and W. H. Yaldwyn Esquires, with their Ladies were amongst the company present.

Isaac Nathan was born in England in 1790, the son of a hazzan (Jewish cantor) and was so musically precocious that he was apprenticed to the famous London Maestro Domenico Corri to learn singing and composition.  Like all musical artists, he cultivated patronage links to further his career.  One such patron was Princess Charlotte (who had taken music lessons with him); another was Lord Byron, who Nathan urged to write words for the melodies of the synagogue service that Nathan was so familiar with.  The result was Byron’s Hebrew Melodies, which remained in print, along with Nathan’s settings, for the rest of the century.

Nathan’s career declined, however, with the death of both Lord Byron and Princess Charlotte and he was forced to diversify into writing newspaper articles on boxing and music and he penned popular operettas to cover his gambling debts.  He published a history of music in 1823 but with little prospect of rehabilitating his career, he and his family emigrated to New South Wales.

His concert in Melbourne consisted of eighteen items, five of which were his own composition.  A review of the concert noted that:

He appears, with an egotism perhaps in this case pardonable, to have selected several of his own compositions for performance.

He was not to stay in Melbourne for long. On his arrival in Sydney in April 1841 he established an academy of singing, became the choir master of St Mary’s Cathedral and organized the largest concert of sacred music ever heard in the colony. Later dubbed ‘the father of Australian music’, he composed Australia The Wide and Free, with words by W. A. Duncan, for the inaugural dinner of Sydney’s first council in 1842 and two other ‘choral odes’ Long Live Victoria (the Queen, not the state) and Hail Star of the South. He commemorated the 58th anniversary of the founding of Sydney with Currency Lasses in 1846  and wrote two works related to the explorer Ludwig Leichardt- the first mourning his disappearance; the second celebrating his imagined return.  His opera Don John of Austria (not Australia) was the first opera wholly composed and produced in Australia and it was performed at the Victoria Theatre in Sydney.  He also wrote  a strange miscellany of called The Southern Euphrosyne,  where he attempted to transcribe traditional Aboriginal music, the first serious attempt to do so.  He died in Sydney in 1864 after being hit while alighting from a city horse-tram.

The ABC Lateline program screened a segment on him in 2003, featuring his biographer Dr. Graham Pont. You can read the transcript here.

His Wikipedia entry summarizes his significance thus:

Nathan’s Hebrew Melodies must rank as a real achievement. Nathan’s music for them was in print in England at least until the 1850s and was known across Europe.

Moreover, Nathan can claim some credit as inspiring Byron’s texts. These not only in themselves diffused a spirit of philosemitism in cultured circles (indeed they became perhaps Byron’s most genuinely popular work); but they were used as the basis for settings by many other composers in the nineteenth century, both Jewish (Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Joachim) and gentile (Schumann, Loewe, Mussorgsky, Balakirev, and others).

Nathan’s writings on music had little direct influence, small sales, and received no serious reviews in the press. In isolation, he struck upon and highlighted a theme which was at the time a major concern of the Jewish intellectual movement in Germany; the delineation and promotion of a genuine Jewish culture. The same spirit seems to have motivated his pioneering work with the music of the indigenous Australians.

Finally, Nathan’s indomitable refusal to admit defeat in life in exile – he undoubtedly paralleled himself with his hero Byron – has enabled him, from his concertising and writings on Aboriginal music, to be justly remembered by antipodean musicologists as “the father of Australian music

Isaac Nathan may have lived and worked in Sydney, but he came to Melbourne first!


The weather was typical Melbourne summer weather- hot, followed by a cool change. On 16th and 17th February the weather was in the low 80s (28 degrees), but a cool change on 18th was followed by five days of temperatures below 70 (about 20) degrees.