At our January meeting, Dorothy Eyears introduced our Guest Speaker – Professor Peter Roennfeldt, previously Director of the Qld Conservatorium at Griffith University and now a staff member, with a special interest in Musical Heritage and significant buildings.
Professor Roennfeldt shared with us the story of Madame Henrietta Mallalieu/Mrs Willmore (1842-1938), one of Queensland’s first colonial musicians.
He covered the life of this remarkable woman which was documented in his book. He recounted the story of her three marriages, the three houses where she lived in Brisbane, and most importantly her contribution to musical life of early Brisbane.
Born in London, she and her sisters were all self taught musicians. In 1862 she unknowingly married a bigamist by whom she had a son before she became aware of her situation. She moved to Cheshire, married Alfred Mallalieu, and migrated to Brisbane in 1864. Henrietta and Alfred had 3 daughters but their marriage broke down when Alfred went to Sydney in 1875. Throughout this time, Henrietta continued with her musical endeavours. In 1884 she married W.G. Willmore who appeared more interested in her daughter Beatrice than her. He left for Canada, she sued for a judicial separation, won and obtained all his property including their house at Toowong. This house subsequently became a CWA Hostel for Country Woman Students for over 35 years.
Madame Mallalieu was a highly skilled pianiste and her first solo performance was in 1866. In 1872 with violinist R.J. Jefferies and other members of his family, she travelled extensively in Southern Queensland, giving numerous concerts, either as a soloist or with members of the Jefferies family.
It was through her husband, Walter Willmore, that Henrietta was introduced to the organ, not a typical instrument for a woman to play. She became the first woman theatre organist. A highlight of her career was performing at the opening of the Melbourne Exhibition Building in 1881. She was organist for the Brisbane Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings, and gave concerts in Brisbane Exhibition Building on Sunday afternoons. Her husband had been instrumental in the purchase and installation of the organ in the Brisbane Exhibition Building, which Henrietta was the first to play on. This organ was later installed in the City Hall. As well as concerts, Henrietta had an active teaching schedule.
Henrietta was active in Women’s Electoral League and was rewarded with a medal from the King of Belgium for her assistance in World War I. She was associated with the Women’s College at The University of Queensland, where a Memorial Chair remains in her honour.
Although Henrietta may not have been particularly successful in her personal life, she was highly successful in her musical career. Several members purchased a copy of Peter’s book to find out more about this inspiring woman.
Brian Stevens, a classical music lover appreciated the talk and moved a vote of thanks and also presented a Certificate of Appreciation and gift.
Sherwood Probus Club has a varied and interesting suite of guest speakers at its monthly meetings, thanks to Dorothy Eyears, who organises our meeting program.