Newcastle and Maitland Composers

Robert Bishop Theobald (fl 1858-1874) was a teacher, musician and poet. He arrived in Newcastle sometime after 1860 and in 1868 was drawn into Newcastle high society when his daughter, Adeline Matilda Theobald married James Edward Hannell, second son of prominent citizen, James Hannell, in a sumptuous double wedding at Christchurch. The other couple were Joseph Wood and Fanny Ann Hannell (third daughter of James Hannell). The Newcastle Chronicle described the wedding as ‘the grandest wedding ever seen in Newcastle’ (Newcastle Chronicle 10 June 1868).

Robert Theobald was principal of the Collegiate School, Church Street, Newcastle. He also gave evening classes for young men of the district (See Newcastle Chronicle, 2 June 1866). His poems were published from time to time in the Newcastle Chronicle and an extract of “Dear England!”, which appeared on the 21st March, 1872  follows:

Dear England! my birthplace, my loved island home!

At last the sad time of our parting has come;

And I feel that no language is able to tell

The pangs of my heart, as I bid thee farewell!

But the anchor is weighed, and our vessel so brave,

Is cleaving her way through the white-crested wave;

Theobald was involved in the musical life of the city, undertaking the ‘honorary conductorship’ of the Newcastle Choral Society in 1868, a position he shared with Messrs Peak and Burrowes (Newcastle Chronicle, 29 February 1868). He was successful in having a number of compositions published of which the following have survived: The Galatea Polka,The Rosella Scottische, The Prince’s Return, Prince Arthur’s MarchThe Cricketers’ Quadrille and Le Mystere de Kiama.

An extract of Prince Arthur’s March is available on this page

Franz Leopold Louis Becker (1840-1897)

Franz Becker, referred to as Herr Becker by the local newspapers, arrived in Newcastle in the Spring of 1869. He advertised his services as a teacher of languages and music on 23rd October, 1869. In November he gave a private organ recital at St John’s Anglican Church, Parry Street, Newcastle. A review of the recital praised his performance, saying that ‘Mr Becker’s proficiency on the instrument was apparent from the moment he commenced the sacred march by Jomelli’ (Newcastle Chronicle, 9 November 1869). His career then proceeded along a path of teaching, conducting and performing. His involvement in the community is evidenced by the concert he organised to raise money for Mr Prince’s widow and seven children, the first of a series, the advertisement tells us (NC, 9 May 1872). He was involved in the various music societies and early on in 1870 he attempted to start an orchestra and chorus (NC, 3 Feb 1870). Subsequent programming suggests that he was successful only in the case of the chorus.

He departed the Hunter in 1879, after a last appearance in March in Morpeth. There is no sign of a farewell function and his household contents were advertised to be auctioned in April, with the explanation that he had returned to London (Maitland Mercury, 3 April 1879). However, it seems that he took up a post as organist at St Columba’s Charters Towers, noted by the Northern Miner as conductor of St Columba’s choir in 1880 and advertising his services again as Professor of Music in the Northern Miner in 1883. In 1883 he married Fanny Louisa Fortey and moved to Bundaberg to become organist at the original Anglican Church, Christ Church. In Bundaberg he had more success in starting an orchestra and is complimented on it in the Queensland Figaro and Punch on 16 July 1887. He died in 1897 and is buried in the Bundaberg cemetery.

Becker was an accomplished composer and wrote a number of works whilst in Newcastle. However, only two are available at present: Love’s Philosophy, a ballad and the Myrtle Villa Polka, dedicated to a Newcastle resident, William Lockhead, whose villa overlooked the sea in the suburb, the Hill.

An extract from Myrtle Villa Polka is found below:

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