Three sopranos : two visitors and one who came to stay

150 years ago Brisbane, Maryborough and Rockhampton were treated to a series of concerts featuring Madame Carandini and her daughters Rosina and Fanny with Mr Walter Sherwin. Madame Carandini and the elder daughter Rosina were both celebrated sopranos and pioneers of the opera in colonial Australia.

Rosina Palmer, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 195957

Rosina Palmer, Fanny Carandini, Madame Carandini and Walter Sherwin, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 195957

Madame Carandini was baptised Maria Burgess in London in 1826 and arrived with her family in Hobart, as assisted immigrants, in 1833. In 1843 Maria married Jerome Carandini, the tenth marquis of Sarzano, a political exile from his native Italy. Carandini arrived with a troupe of musicians and was a fine counter-tenor and dancer and was appointed to teach languages and dancing at Queen’s College. In 1844 the Carandinis moved to Sydney where Marie studied with some of the notable musicians of the day, including Isaac Nathan and Sara Flower, an English contralto. Marie Carandini appeared in many early opera productions in Sydney and Melbourne to great acclaim. With her daughters, Walter Sherwin and others, Madame Carandini then formed her own concert company and in the 1860s and 1870s toured the colonies from Adelaide to the Palmer goldfields. In 1869 Signor Carandini was pardoned by the Italian government but, soon after he returned to claim his confiscated estates, he fell ill and died.

Rosina Palmer, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 195958

Madame Carandini with her daughters Rosina and Fanny, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 195958

Rosina Martha Hosanah Carandini was the eldest of five daughters of the Carandinis and she inherited her mother’s beautiful soprano voice, appearing at age 14 as Adalgisa to her mother’s Norma in that Bellini opera. In the 1860s, the ‘Carandini Family Troupe’ travelled up and down the country and with other performers toured as far afield as India and California. In 1860, at the age of 16, Rosina married Edward Hodson Palmer, cashier and later accountant in the Bank of Australasia and in 1866 they moved to Melbourne. As it was considered impropper for a respectable married woman to appear on the opera stage, Rosina focused her attention on oratorio with the respectable Melbourne Philharmonic Society and Liedertafels.

Mrs Rosina Palmer and Miss , John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 195959

Mrs Rosina Palmer and Miss , John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 195959

Rosina was widely praised by many visiting artists for the quality of her singing and could no doubt have achieved much more if not for the restrictions placed on married women by polite society. Of her eight children, only a son and two daughters survived to adulthood. Fortunately one of he daughters, at least, inherited the beautiful voice of her mother and grandmother and brought it to Queensland.

Mrs Gilbert Wilson, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 199033

Mrs Gilbert Wilson, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 199033

Emmeline Ida Louise Palmer married Gilbert Wilson and moved to Brisbane in 1882. We know about Emmeline Wilson’s contribution to music in Queensland from an article in the Courier-Mail, 29 February 1940. The article, unfortunately, contains several inaccuracies, but gives a good impression of the esteem in which she was held in Brisbane.

THE many friends of Mrs. Gilbert Wilson will be sorry to learn that she is to leave Brisbane within a fortnight to make her home in Melbourne with her sister, Mrs. Palmer [Miss Irene Palmer].
Although of late years Mrs. Wilson’s musical interest has been focused chiefly on attendance at the recitals and concerts of visiting celebrities and local musical organisations, few have contributed more than she to the art of music in Queensland, for both as a concert singer and as a teacher her influence has been widely felt. Mrs. Wilson’s mother, the late Mrs. Palmer, was as Rosa Carandini one of five generations who inherited the silver soprano voice which was also the natural endowment of Mrs. Wilson. In the early musical annals of Australia are many pictures of the beautiful Carandinis, who are of Italian descent. In the files of newspaper offices and in many a family album might be found pictures of these singers of the past in crinolines and ringlets, as well as in the seductive modes of the nineties.
Mrs. Wilson’s grandmother, Madame Carandini, was an operatic primadonna of European repute, who came to Australia in the early days, and her daughter was for many years the leading soprano singer in Melbourne. Her daughter, in her turn, coming to Brisbane as the bride of Mr. Gilbert Wilson in 1882, carried on the family tradition by appearing in the leading roles in oratorio and concert programmes. Several times she declined tempting offers of a career abroad, as she preferred to remain in Queensland. For some years after she retired from the concert platform Mrs. Wilson continued to teach, and many will remember the enjoyable recitals given annually by her pupils, among whom were numbered many of the leading figures of Brisbane society.
Mrs. Wilson, who is now 77, is a life-member of the Musical Association, and throughout her musical career she was noted for her generosity in appearing at concerts organised for charitable causes, her reputation and her artistry together being great factors in the success of such efforts.

Poster Ball, Brisbane, 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 177783

Mrs Wilson at the Poster Ball, Brisbane, 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 177783

Since Mrs Wilson retired as a singing teacher in Brisbane some 80 years ago it is perhaps optimistic to hope that some former student will contact us with some memories but it is not unreasonable to imagine that some influence of such an important teacher remains in Queensland.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography has entries on Marie Carandini and Rosina Palmer.

Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland