Instalment 10

Chapter 5

A Collar of Diamonds

Despite the intervening years, the shadows of the Great War had not been dispelled. Eddie and George were well aware of the neglected members of society languishing outside this privileged milieu. Eddie still  felt  guilty  for  not  fighting  in  the  conflict.  As some compensation of conscience they gave a number of concerts for the recently established Not Forgotten Association (NFA), an organisation dedicated ‘to provide comfort, cheer and entertainment for the wounded ex-servicemen still in hospital as  a result of the Great War.’* It was movingly observed that George Brooke’s sympathetic voice made an instant appeal to those cruelly blinded by mustard gas.

Eddie and George only engaged the periphery of that small and notorious Mayfair set, those forty or so publicity-seeking rebels known as the  ‘Bright  Young  People’  who  have  passed  so sensationally into history as representative of Society. The musicians inhabited the so-called ‘Good Set’ of birth, power, property and the old school tie, Establishment figures who actually determined significant social and political change. The ‘Bad Set’ of Bright Young People have been exploited by numerous books and films. Our overview of the period is largely distorted, although vastly entertained, by their exhibitionist activities such dancing the Charleston, the Black Bottom, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and infatuation with jazz. Despite the wild and occasionally destructive goings-on, these renegades, bored by the formality of their elders and disillusioned with pre-war values, released a great deal of pent-up and brilliant creativity in the arts. Evelyn Waugh satirized their behaviour in his novel Vile Bodies.

Evelyn Waugh: 'I can only be funny when I'm complaining'
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)
Vile Bodies by EVELYN WAUGH - Paperback - First Edition - 1930 - from Peter  L. Stern & Company, Inc. (SKU: 20041P)
‘Vile Bodies’ First Edition Chapman & Hall 1930
Some ‘Bright Young People’ – Vile Bodies

Noel Coward had two sensational plays running in the West End – The Vortex and Fallen Angels, both of which Eddie saw and enjoyed immensely.

The Vortex - Wikipedia
Noel Coward and Lilian Braithwaite in ‘The Vortex’ 1925

He met the star of Fallen Angels Tallulah Bankheadon a number of occasions at parties and found her ‘an overwhelming personality’. She galvanized London audiences of the day. The uninhibited Americans had arrived. Shocked, he once witnessed her do a knickerless cartwheel in a ballroom.

*The NFA continues its good works. The present patron is HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.

Tallulah Bankhead (1902–68) known as the ‘Alabama Tornado’ was a wild American stage and screen actress whose gravelly voice, outrageous personality, scandalous sexual behaviour, acidic wit, alcohol and drug taking gave her the reputation of a fascinating and often imitated libertine. ‘Good girls keep diaries, bad girls never have the time.’ she once noted.

Tallulah Bankhead 1902 to 1968 Photograph by Sarah Vernon
Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) Photograph by Sarah Vernon
Cruella de Vil Is Wicked—But Tallulah Bankhead Was Even Wilder | Vanity Fair
Each 'Cruella' People Had been Impressed by Tallulah Bankhead – Latest Hunts

His positive views on the theatre were not shared by the veteran actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, however. ‘The public are asking for filth,’ he roundly declared. ‘The younger generation are knocking at the door of the dustbin.’ In his autobiography, the British sculptor and painter of horses John Skeaping described an incident that graphically illustrates the polarized society of the twenties, so different from the pre-war years:

The twenties were the great era of parties … I once attended a very grand party, given by the elegant, perfumed Lord Allington and his mother. Her guests were all out of Debrett, while young Allington’s friends were from the studio and the theatre. These two factions were drawn up on different sides of the room, when at a lull in the proceedings, Tallulah Bankhead, the gorgeous red-headed film star, suddenly got up and moved across the room to where Lady Cunard was sitting. Grabbing hold of Lady Cunard’s dress, a skimpy affair held up on the shoulders by two tiny straps, she ripped it down to the waist, remarking in a loud gin-voice as she did so: ‘I always wanted to see your tits’ Pandemonium broke out and Bankhead was wafted away, screaming with laughter.’

* * *

In early June, Eddie and George gave a concert at 39 Upper Brook Street, Mayfair.

Lady Quilter’s house at 39 Upper Brook Street where Eddie and George gave a concert in June 1925

Later in the month another important concert at Norwich House, Norfolk Street, Park Lane. As ever, Eddie carefully noted in his journal: ‘By permission of Mrs Robert Emmet once again in the presence of HRH The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.’ The seventy-seven-year-old Princess was the most beautiful and artistically creative fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. She pursued an idiosyncratic marriage with John Campbell, the 9th Duke of Argyll, known as the Marquess of Lorne.

Royal Splendor: Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll: Queen Victoria's  Artistic Daughter
HRH Princess Louise Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939) – Queen Victoria’s highly artistic and rebellious daughter

*Barrow, Gossip: A History of High Society from 1920 to 1970, p. 23.

John Skeaping, Drawn from Life: An Autobiography (London 1977), p. 88.

Norfolk Street no longer exists. It was renamed Dunraven Street by the London County Council in 1939 after the fourth Earl of Dunraven.

John George Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845–1914), the Marquess of Lorne, was the 4th Governor General of Canada (1878–83).

No daughter of a sovereign had married a subject of the Crown since 1515, when Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk married Mary Tudor. Princess Louise and John Campbell lived rather separately. Although sharing an enthusiasm for the arts they failed to have children. Campbell was rumoured to be homosexual which at the time raised a few tentative eyebrows.

John George Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845–1914)

Princess Louise led an extraordinarily complex and unconventional life. As well as being an able actress, early feminist, pianist and dancer, she was a prolific artist and sculptress. She was also outstandingly talkative, disliked the formality of the court, loved travel and cultivated anonymity. However, by 1925 Louise was often confined to Kensington Palace by poor health and it is surprising she attended this concert at all as she was becoming increasingly reclusive.

On this occasion Eddie played works by Gluck, Brahms, Mozart, the Finnish composer Palmgren, Schumann, Chopin and Beethoven ‘in a masterly fashion’. George gave songs in French  by Lully and Massenet, in German by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, a group of ballads in English by Roger Quilter accompanied by the composer himself. Finally he sang a selection of the ever-popular Negro spirituals which were observed to ‘so admirably suit his sympathetic voice.’

Jehanne Wake, Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Unconventional Daughter (London 1988).

The large audience was exclusively made up of duchesses, dowagers, ladies and other female notables such as the beautiful and fashionable Marchesa Malacrida. No gentlemen were present. They clearly preferred the late afternoon male conviviality of their clubs in St James’s to musical soirées. In attracting such an ‘exclusive’ group of ladies one can only conclude that Eddie and George must have been possessed of significant and surprising charm and social grace alongside their undoubted musical talents. Certainly it was an opportunity for them to ingratiate themselves with the aristocracy, one of the few roads open to a well-remunerated classical concert career in London.

In July 1925, 18 Carlton House Terrace was ‘lent’ by the former 1908 Olympic Rackets bronze medallist Major the Hon. John Astor and his wife Lady Violet for a further concert in aid of the Southern Irish Loyalists’ Relief Association.* Princess Louise was again present, but only for a short time as she was increasingly frail. She had come once more especially to thank Eddie and George ‘for so generously giving their services and arranging  such a delightful concert.’

18 Carlton House Terrace. This Grade 1 listed regency mansion of 50,000 sq. ft. was the most expensive house ever sold in London at £ 250 million in 2013
The £250m home next to the Queen: London property smashes UK house price  record as it goes on sale | London Evening Standard | Evening Standard
The period Grand Staircase at 18 Carlton House Terrace
Inside: This vintage picture shows how the £250million house looked under a previous owner
Interior view of the library at 18 Carlton House Terrace (BL10325) Archive  Item - The Bedford Lemere Collection | Historic England
The period Library at 18 Carlton House Terrace where Edward Cahill may have played in 1925 (covered piano is on the left)
NPG x162335; John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron Astor of Hever - Portrait -  National Portrait Gallery
John Jacob Astor V, 1st Baron Astor of Hever (1886–1971)

* John Jacob Astor V, 1st Baron Astor of Hever (1886–1971) was a son of William Waldorf Astor, the richest man in America who moved to Britain after a family feud in 1891. He was raised on the magnificent and notorious Cliveden estate on the Thames followed by Eton and Oxford. On his father’s death in 1919, John Astor inherited Hever castle in Kent where he lived the life of an English country gentleman. In 1916 he married Violet Mary Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound (1889–1965).

Eddie was always fascinated by the latest developments in science and technology, particularly the gramophone and wireless. The first experimental radio concert broadcast in Britain had been given at 7.10 pm on 15 June 1920, when Dame Nellie Melba’s famous trill erupted onto the airwaves from the Marconi Company’s New Street Works near Chelmsford, Essex. She sang the Addio, senza rancor from La Bohème and two songs by the French composer Herman Bemberg, who had travelled from Paris to accompany her on the piano. The broadcast was received as far away as Madrid, Warsaw and Rome and even a ship at sea off Malta. She had advised Eddie to take advantage of this revolution in music and he was quick to take the opportunity.

Dame Nellie Melba making the world’s first concert wireless broadcast 15 June 1920

‘Farewell, without bitterness’. Melba was superb in this aria and the words Addio, senza rancor were inscribed on her grave.

One of the first BBC test transmissions was of a boxing commentary on the London station 2LO on 11 May 1922 from the Marconi House studios on the Strand. The British Broadcasting Company (‘Company’ replaced in 1927 by ‘Corporation’) had been formed in October 1922 to ‘educate, inform and entertain.’ Later in its development, in the interests of formality, all announcers were ordered by John Reith, the first General Manager, to wear evening dress to match that of the performers.

Formal dress focuses mind, says BBC host - PressReader
‘Formal dress focuses the mind’ says the early BBC host announcer dressed in Black Tie at the microphone

The wireless quickly became popular and the number of listeners expanded rapidly. The station was broadcasting for eight hours a day by 9 October 1925 when Eddie and George gave their first half-hour afternoon concert at 4.45 pm. Sadly the  earliest BBC broadcast recordings to survive only date from the 1930s. 

As a result of what must have been a favourable reception, Mr Percy Pitt, General Musical Director of the BBC, offered them a wireless contract for the whole of Great Britain.* Eddie was always tremendously enthusiastic about the wireless and its power to disseminate knowledge of classical music. He noticed that after radio became popular, the servants in the great houses following the formal recital would ask him to play Beethoven or Schumann, even Chopin waltzes by title, even by opus number.

The organist and conductor Percy Pitt (1870-1932)

* Another forgotten musician of this fertile period. Percy Pitt (1870–1932) was an English organist and conductor. Born in London he studied music at the Leipzig Conservatory before being appointed Chorus Master in 1906 and then the following year Principal Conductor at Covent Garden. In 1908 together with Hans Richter he produced one of the earliest Wagner Ring Cycles in English. Pitt shared the conducting with Richter, who respected his musicianship greatly as did Sir Edward Elgar. Pitt was the first British musician to conduct the Ring in an opera-house. He was Director of the British National Opera Company until 1924 and also a composer of charming light orchestral music.

As a result of this concert broadcast, they were invited a number of times to country house ‘Saturday-to-Mondays’ at Rolls Park at Chigwell in the Epping Forest district of Essex.

Rolls Park, Chigwell, Essex – garden front. House demolished in 1953

This was the home of one of the best known and admired military men of the Great War, Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd, who organized many of the defense and recruitment campaigns in London during the conflict. Winston Churchill stayed at ‘Rolls’ during his 1924 election campaign for the Epping seat in Parliament.

In Australia in 1927 Eddie broadcast a reminiscence of his weekends there:

Sir Francis Lloyd by Bassano 28 February 1920 (NPG)

Sir Francis affected stays, Louis heels, powder and rouge and a complete ignorance of music. At his home I played for fun ‘Annie Laurie’, Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ and ‘God Save the King’ and he knew not one from the other. But he said he loved to see me at the piano, because the way I danced up and down the keys was funnier than George Robey. He roared with laughter through the highly complicated opening passages of the ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ because it was quicker and cleverer than George Robey. He said ‘First you pick out a couple of black keys and catch hold of a couple of whites, then you throw all the black ones down one end and slog into the whites and La Campanella sounds like an argument leading up to a battle.’

NPG D33968; Sir Francis Lloyd - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery
Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd (1853–1926)

Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd (1853–1926) was a British army officer Commanding the Brigade of Guards and General Officer Commanding the London District during the Great War.

He told me he never had any idea when ‘God Save the King’ was being played, and naturally as a soldier he must have heard it hundreds of times. ‘Your fingers remind me of little mice running away from the cat!’ he exclaimed.

The Music Room at Rolls Park

Sir Francis used to give brilliant dinner parties. I have never seen a dinner table look more brilliant and I have seen many great ones. I think Sir Francis and Lady Lloyd must have had one of the best silver dinner services in England. There was always an air of distinction whenever the Lloyds were entertaining a house party. Remember I had a good opportunity of comparing the entertaining in celebrated houses. Lady Lloyd was rather a frail looking little person, but she was always conspicuous by her very gay and youthful dressing. I remember her wearing a very severe white satin dress with a long flowing train and a lot of soft flowing draperies and some lovely diamonds. It seemed to me both these charming people had a flare for wearing very striking clothes.

Lloyd, Lady, née Mary Gunnis; wife of Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd 11994
Lady Lloyd, née Mary Gunnis, wife of Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd  1906 by Philip A. László

One thing I remember in connection with the dinner parties which took place at ‘Rolls’ was that after the meal, the little dog ‘Wump’ would come into the room and Sir Francis would put ‘Wump’ on the table. The dog would walk in and out of all the silver things without knocking over anything.

The Countess of Malmesbury once came to dinner at Rolls accompanied by her own little dog named ‘Mogul’. She began to discuss the intelligence of this animal.

‘He talks to me don’t you know. I understand everything he says and he understands everything I say. But of late he has been visiting the servant’s hall and has now begun to talk like one of the servants. He is developing a quite frightful accent. I have forbidden my maid to let him go down there again!’ Much laughter erupted from Sir Francis at this remark.

In November ‘the boys’ were invited to attend the funeral of Queen Alexandra ‘in Arctic frost and snow’, who had died of a heart attack.*

Portrait of the beautiful Queen Alexandra and her daughters Louise and Victoria

*Queen Alexandra (1844–1925), Alexandra of Denmark, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India as the wife of King-Emperor Edward VII who died in 1910. She was a dowager queen and the mother of the reigning monarch King George V.

In December in one of their last concerts of the year, George gave a recital of Negro spirituals at the invitation of the Rev. Pennington- Bickford, Rector of St Clement Danes Church. They became close friends as both musicians were ‘good Roman Catholics’ and fervent supporters of Ecumenism. This church, well over three hundred years old, stands on island in the Strand quite indifferent to the maelstrom of modern traffic that swirls around it. The Rector appropriated the well-known London tune ‘Oranges and Lemons’ for St Clement’s and its famous bells. He established the annual distribution of oranges and lemons to local children.*

St. Clement Dane Church by American Stock Archive
St. Clement Danes Church, London, by Sir Christopher Wren (1682)

Eddie and George decided to return to Australia in February 1926 for a concert tour. They turned down the broadcasting contract with 2LO. However in the course of a week or so they made twelve recordings for the Columbia Gramophone Company. Despite all the social and musical success and glamorous engagements, from their letters home it is clear they were missing their families and the familiar environment. They both terribly missed the sun. ‘How tired I am of this blasted English climate!’ Eddie wrote to his sister. The round of London Society engagements was exhausting. They had been catapulted unprepared into a social world so entirely different to their own that they were suffering a debilitating variety of ‘culture shock’.

* Although unconnected with the two musicians, the subsequent tragic and dramatic Second World War history of St Clement’s is moving to recall. On 10 May 1941 the Rev. Pennington-Bickford watched the church burn down after the Luftwaffe fire-bombed the building, this church at which he had spent his entire Ministry. A month later, his parish- ioners considered he was so filled with grief and despair that he took his own life. His wife then leapt from a window three months after that, grief-stricken both at the loss of her husband and the church they both so loved.

St Clement Danes - Wikipedia
St Clement Danes bombed during

Sadly to date only one recording by George Brooke is traceable, an internet link to which is provided in this book.

Among the many farewell dinners in their honour, they gave a recital in late January 1926 at 28 Kensington Court ‘lent’ by Lord and Lady Swaythling just before they sailed for New York. Among the usual Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Beethoven, Mme Guy d’Hardelot personally accompanied George in three of her latest songs which he was taking to Australia: Wings, The Quiet Country Places and The Great Unknown. The fabulously wealthy Lady Swaythling was to become and would remain one of the staunchest supporters of Eddie throughout his future career in Europe. A number of prominent Americans attended this recital and offered to arrange future engagements in America which Eddie and George enthusiastically accepted.

Gladys Helen Rachel (née Goldsmid), the fabulously wealthy Lady Swaythling (1879-1965) in 1923
(Bassano NPG)
One of Edward Cahill’s most affluent and important patrons
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Lady Swathyling’s Drawing Room in 1919. The piano Edward Cahill played is in the far right hand corner (Bassano NPG)

A feisty character and future patron emerged at this farewell recital. This was Lady Weigall née Grace Emily Blundell Maple, the tremendously affluent daughter of Sir Blundell Maple the furniture magnate.* In 1898 she had married Baron Hermann von Eckardstein, First Secretary of the German Embassy. The Baroness (pet name ‘Bunchy’) brought an action against her politically notorious husband (‘Bear’) on the grounds of adultery and cruelty. She had been forced to pay his gambling debts which amounted to some £320,000 during the marriage. A gigantic loss.

Lady Archibald Weigall (1876-1950) née Grace Emily Blundell Maple
Baron Hermann von Eckardstein Vanity Fair 21 July 1898 (Spy)

After the divorce, in 1910 she married Sir Archibald Weigall. Their interest in Australian artists such as Eddie and George came from their experiences when Sir Archibald had been Governor of South Australia from 1920 to 1922. Both had developed a great love of the country and its people. The Weigalls lived at the recently built ‘Tudor to Jacobean’ style Petwood House in Lincolnshire, which was filled unsurprisingly with Maple furniture. Here they entertained on a lavish scale.

Once when Eddie was a guest there Nellie Melba was also present and met for the first time the writer Beverley Nichols who was to become her private secretary. His novel Evensong published in 1932 presented a ‘warts and all’ portrait of her in fictional guise as Madame Irela, a famous soprano in decline. The book caused a popular outcry in Australia. In an interview after publication Eddie supported the Nichols portrait.

* Lady Weigall née Grace Emily Blundell Maple (1876–1950). Her husband Sir Archibald Weigall, 1st Baronet KCMG (1874–1952), was a British Conservative politician who had been Governor of South Australia from 1920 to 1922. Although never explicitly calling for Federation and abolition of the Australian States, he did describe the results of the division of power in Australia as being ‘farcical’ and ‘chaotic’, and concluded that ‘State Governors and State Legislatures are now anachronisms’.

Purchasing power of £320,000 in 1910 would be around £29.5 million in 2022.


When Melba first met Beverley Nichols at Petwood, Lady Weigall’s country home near London, she spoke of him to me as the most brilliant young man she had met since Oscar Wilde and predicted that he would make a big noise in the world. She also told me later that Nichols was the only man who knew and understood her and could write a book about her. In my opinion Beverley Nichols has very cleverly drawn the character of Melba. He may be a bit severe. His stories about her violent temper and other little things were perfectly drawn.*

Beverley Nichols (1898-1983) One of the original ‘Bright Young People’ writer, playwright, passionate gardener and entertaining speaker
NPG x10652; Beverley Nichols - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery
Beverley Nichols ghostwrote Dame Nellie Melba’s autobiography

Eddie would give a number of future recitals in this historic and attractive house.

As the boys boarded the MV Caprera in Southampton at the beginning of 1926 bound for Fremantle in  Western  Australia  they could not but reflect on three extraordinary years spent in England. By sheer good luck they had begun as variety theatre performers and been launched into the upper echelons of the aristocracy. They planned to return as soon as they had assembled a full diary of future engagements. ‘People have been kind beyond our wildest dreams,’ Eddie commented to a roving newspaper reporter as they embarked.

Edward Cahill playing the ukulele with the chip’s cook on board the MV Caprera

In a triumph of travel logistics they managed to give a series of concerts in Italy en route to Australia performing in Genoa, Florence, Rome and Naples. Despite its fame, they found the Neapolitan opera disappointing with poor soloists but excitedly visited the summit of Mount Vesuvius whilst the volcano was ‘in an angry mood.’

MV Caprera

* Interview with the Telegraph (Brisbane), Thursday, 21 January 1932, p. 1.

Lincolnshire airfields played a vital role in WWII. Petwood’s most notable appearance in wartime history is as the Officers’ Mess for the 617 Squadron. It was decided that the 617 ‘Dambusters Squadron’ should be made into a special duties squadron which would work in isolation and secrecy at Petwood and Woodhall airfield. For Officers at war, Petwood was fondly remembered as a ‘splendid place’ remote from battle. Adapted from Petwood: The Remarkable Story of a Famous Lincolnshire Hotel, Edward Mayor, 2004.

PP Instalment 9

Chapter 5

A Collar of Diamonds

At the end of May 1924 Eddie and George were invited through the good offices of the Dowager Marchioness of Linlithgow to a dinner and to perform at a sumptuous banquet at Lansdowne House.*

East front of Lansdowne House before the demolition of the garden front rooms 1931-32
Photograph cir. 1925

This glamorous dinner was attended by members of the Royal Family (the Duke and Duchess of York, Prince Henry and Prince George) and hundreds of titled and distinguished guests. They dined off gold plate and chose from an ornate French menu offering among other confections Les Coûpes d’Artagnon, Les Suprêmes de Volaille Princesse and Les Délices des Dames. G.H. Mumm 1913 champagne was served throughout, with Royal Tawny Port, liqueurs and cigars.

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Lansdowne House menu and seating plan 30 May 1924 (Edward Cahill Esq. seated at the bottom right of horseshoe table)

The banquet was held to present scrolls marking the endowments of beds in the new University College Obstetric Hospital. The band of the Grenadier Guards, the pipers of the Scots Guards and a Welsh male choir performed. ‘The boys’ gave what was quickly becoming their standard programme at the conclusion of the banquet. It was a long way socially, a near incomprehensible distance, to Lansdowne House from the sheep stations of rural Queensland.

There is not a woman, scarcely a man among us who does not bear witness, in the way he dresses, or dines, or parts his hair, or takes the hand of a lady in a ball-room, that he is a humble imitator of the example set him by people who live in large houses and flourish in the pages of Debrett. There is not a man outside this narrow pale, be he English or Australian, who could walk along Piccadilly in the company of two members of the aristocracy, effete though that aristocracy may be, without a sense of elation bordering on vertigo.

* Lansdowne House was originally designed and built in 1763 by Robert Adam for the Marquess of Bute.

† Buchanan, The Real Australia, p. 26.

It was after this banquet and before they were due to open on 16 June 1924 at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London that Eddie made a decision that was to have crucial consequences.

Among the introductions I carried with me from Lady Stradbroke was one to a member of the Royal Household. I posted it fearfully one night in a red pillar box, glancing timidly at the address ‘Buckingham Palace’, and I went back to my flat in Maida Vale wondering whether the letter would be safely delivered and if I should get a reply.

Sir Edward Wallington (1854-1933) cir.1930 (NPG)
Private Secretary and Treasurer to Queen Mary

In a few days it arrived. I could hardly believe my eyes! Sir Edward Wallington, Knight Treasurer to Queen Mary, had summoned me to Buckingham Palace.*

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Letter from the Secretary to the Dowager Viscountess Harcourt to Edward informing him that Queen Mary would like to hear him play

What should I do? What should I wear? How should I behave? I didn’t know. I had no- one to ask. Never has anyone felt so young and helpless, so raw, so much a denizen of the outer fringes of Empire. I could hardly eat for days. I took long London ‘bus rides on the open top deck to soothe my nerves. When it was cold and rained I pulled over the oil sheets and felt cosy. Eddie Cahill, a young pianist who only a year ago had been happily lost in sunny Australia was now invited to go to Buckingham Palace and would probably be asked to play to the King and Queen. At least, so I hoped.

The day arrived when I walked down The Mall to the palace. A sentry in a scarlet tunic, and with a huge bearskin on his head, paid no attention to me as I entered the gates but a policeman stopped me. Whom did I wish to see? I told him. He saluted and I walked across the enormous forecourt to a door on the right of the palace. Sir Edward Wallington quickly put me at my ease.

Footsteps were heard outside the door. ‘The Queen,’ Sir Edward murmured reverentially. I was told that Her Majesty wished to hear me play and would I attend a concert to be arranged at 69 Brook Street, Mayfair the home of Lady Harcourt. Was I agreeable? Yes, I stammered. I was delighted! And I walked out of Buckingham Palace treading on air. I wondered how my nerves would last out until the day of the concert.

I soon received a letter from the Secretary to Viscountess Harcourt that said: ‘The Queen is dining with the Dowager Viscountess Harcourt on July 1 and has informed me through her private Secretary that she would like to hear you play …’

I had been asked to play for half an hour. What should I play? I decided on Chopin.

*Sir Edward William Wallington (1854–1933) had a significant Australian career before his service to the Royal Household as Private Secretary and Treasurer to Queen Mary. This almost certainly influenced his decision to summon Eddie to the Palace. In the meantime, the two artists prepared another season of entertainment at the Victoria Palace.

Eddie continues his account of the royal adventure:

When the day of the concert at last arrived, I again spent shilling after shilling taking ‘bus rides all over London to try and forget the ordeal that awaited me that evening. But it was no good.

Nerves are terrible, but I have never met an artist without them.

69 Brook Street Mayfair – the London residence of Viscountess Harcourt
The Private Invitation to the Concert for Queen Mary, 69 Brook Street, July 1st 1924

That night I found myself at 69 Brook Street. Crystal chandeliers blazed down upon the kind of audience I had always seen in my boyhood dreams. Queen Mary, with a collar of diamonds at her throat and a tiara, sat in the front row with the Viscountess Harcourt*. Behind her, blazing with real jewels and tiaras, sat the cream of the English aristocracy, the wives of ambassadors and many men and women distinguished in public life. I walked out to the piano, made my bow to the Queen and played a Chopin Nocturne.

queen mary, consort of king george v, mary of teck, victoria mary augusta louise olga pauline claudine agnes, 1867 to 1953
Queen Mary of Teck wearing the Vladimir Tiara in 1925 from the estate of the Grand Duchess Vladimir, a member of the Romanov dynasty who managed to smuggle her jewels out of Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution

At the end of the concert, pressed to play more, I decided to play a little thing I had arranged on the boat coming over to England from Australia. I called it ‘The Musical Box’. As soon as I had played the final note, Lady Harcourt came up to me and said that the Queen wished to speak to me. She was gracious and recalled her impressions of Australia saying her favourite city was Brisbane.

She made no mention of our statesmen, but what impressed Her Majesty most of all were some of the strange creatures that went on two legs – she could not recall the name – but with an undulatory wave of the Royal Forearm she indicated ‘the things that go this way’ – meaning kangaroos. She wondered if they still had them. She asked about ‘The Musical Box’ in such a simple friendly way that I found myself talking to her without the slightest embarrassment. I told her that while I was aboard ship, I heard a little girl playing with a musical box and the thin tinkle of the tune got into my head, so that I went to my cabin and wrote it down. The Queen smiled. We had been talking for about fifteen minutes.

To me, Queen Mary symbolized all that a real Queen should be. She was regal but shy, possessed warmth of personality but great dignity. She loved precious jewels and wore them with supreme confidence.

From that moment the doors of all the great houses in Mayfair were open to me. I think I am right in saying I started a vogue for Salon concerts in private homes which lasted from 1923 to 1937, just before the outbreak of the war. This is an era which has vanished but what great memories that era has for those who played some slight role of importance in it.

*Mary Ethel Harcourt née Burns (? –1961), the daughter of an Anglo-American banker, married Louis Vernon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt (1863–1922) in 1899.

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Mary Ethel Burns, Viscountess Harcourt (?-1961) in 1911 (NPG)

This dinner and entertainment took place on 1 July 1924 and the guest list was indeed distinguished.* The Queen had not been ‘out to dinner’ for many years. It is curious, a sign of his artistic vanity perhaps, that in this gushing reminiscence Eddie makes no mention of his musical partner George Brooke, who also performed after dinner for the Queen. He also failed to note the presence of the celebrated and glamorous Parisian pianist Madame Caffaret, who performed ‘Pianoforte Selections’ that evening. In addition, the English art song composer Roger Quilter accompanied the celebrated lyric tenor Roland Hayes, one of the first African- American male concert artists to receive wide acclaim.

A wonderful evening by all accounts. The Dowager Viscountess Harcourt was wearing the famous Boucheron Harcourt tiara and necklace. In gold, silver, emeralds and diamonds it was one of the most glorious tiaras in the age of tiaras.

Dowager Viscountess Harcourt | Royal tiaras, Royal crown jewels, Tiara
The Viscountess Harcourt wearing the famous Boucheron Harcourt tiara
The Boucheron Harcourt tiara

It says a great deal for the talents of Eddie and George that they were invited to join such august musical company. There was a fanatical enthusiasm for jazz then sweeping London among the ‘Bright Young Things’. Lady Cunard’s daughter, the notorious shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, scandalized her mother by openly living with her black lover the jazz musician Henry Crowder. Allegedly over lunch the acerbic Margot Asquith asked her mother Maud ‘Emerald’ Cunard, ‘What is Nancy up to? Is it dope, drink or niggers? The old aristocracy invited the rather more artistically distinguished African-American singers to perform Negro spirituals.

*Apart from Queen Mary honouring Viscountess Harcourt with her company, among the many guests in attendance at this dinner were the Duchess of Norfolk, the Earl and Countess of Bessborough, the Earl and Countess of Buxton, the Earl and Countess of Chesterfield, Viscount and Viscountess Willingdon, Countess Fortesque, the American Ambassador and Mrs Kellogg, Sir Edwin Lutyens the great architect, Sir George Framp- ton the noted British sculptor and Sir Campbell Stuart, Deputy Chairman of The Times Publishing Company.

† Quoted in Angela Hughes, Chelsea Footprints: A Thirties Chronicle (London 2008), p. 132.

Eddie and George left with a host of future invitations to playing the great Mayfair mansions of the day. More importantly their appearance had been mentioned in the Court Circular. As they made their way home in an elated state, they were almost certainly unaware of the most notorious politico-sexual scandal of the 1920s that had rocked the address 69 Brook Street and the Harcourt family only two years before. Louis Harcourt, known as ‘Loulou’, the 1st Viscount Harcourt, was discovered dead in his ‘Loulou Quinze’ dressing room. He had committed suicide by gulping down an entire bottle of a sleeping concoction known as Bromidia.

Mary Ethel (née Burns), Viscountess Harcourt (?-1961); Lewis Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt (1863-1922)

Although the marriage had appeared outwardly respectable, ‘Loulou’ was a sexual predator, an enthusiastic  paedophile.  In the autumn of 1921 he had ‘pounced on an Eton boy who, with his mother, was visiting Nuneham Court, the Harcourts’ country house in Oxfordshire. Thirteen-year-old Edward James told his mother of the advances of ‘a hideous and horrible old man’. She gossiped about the incident in society and it finally came to the notice of the police. The British genius for tasteful camouflage concealed the grim details of the affair and the coroner delivered a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’ although he had committed suicide. Loulou’s extensive child pornography collection disappeared without trace.*

Lord Harcourt by Harry Furniss
Lewis Harcourt – ‘Loulou’ – by Harry Furniss (1854–1925), a British illustrator. He established his career on the Illustrated London News before moving to Punch

Music would continue to console Lady Harcourt after the family moved to Oxfordshire and Eddie continued to give recitals at Nuneham Court throughout the 1930s.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon attended this recital and gave an account of it in his recently published diaries. Loulou had also made sexual advances to him.

Tuesday, 1st July 1924

[…] Arrived in London at eight and hurriedly got into knee breeches for a small musical party at Lady Harcourt’s, to meet the Queen …The Queen was very affable and talked to everyone. She was dressed in pink and wore a star tiara…a very tiny and charming party. Lady Harcourt, I think, had wanted to assert herself after her seclusion following the scandal of poor Loulou’s [Viscount Harcourt’s] death and the Queen, ever willing to do a kindness, had fallen in with the plan. Lady Harcourt was in black, wearing an amethyst train and very like the queen to look at.

Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (1897-1958)
(Trustees of the Channon literary estate)

*This account of a famous scandal of the time, not covered in the contemporary press but familiar to ‘those in the know’, is taken from the detailed description in Matthew Parris, Great Parliamentary Scandals (London 1995), pp. 84–6.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon The Diaries 1918-1938 Edited by Simon Heffer p. 117

* * *

‘Old Friends’ Lt. to Rt. Lord Bath, Lord Montague of Beaulieu, H.R.H. The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at the Eccentric Club Dinner 12th March 2012

I have been a member of the  Eccentric  Club  in  London  for  some years. Family traits are seemingly carried in the genes. By extraordinary serendipity in March 2012 I was to have dinner in the same house, 69–71 Brook Street Mayfair, in the very same room as ‘Uncle Eddie’ had given his recital for Queen Mary. The dinner was to be given in the presence of the club patron and royal of my own day, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh together with Lord Bath and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and about 60 distinguished fellow club members.

Eccentric Club Dinner in the Ballroom as it appears in modern times.
The very room my great-uncle Edward Cahill gave his piano recital for Queen Mary in 1924

We ate in the opulent former Ballroom, surely one of the most outstanding interior survivals in a private London house.* The menu was chosen by HRH The Prince Philip himself and Piper Heidsieck champagne was served throughout. I felt the evening to be an extraordinary coincidence 88 years after my great-uncle had played here.

Before dinner over an aperitif I had briefly spoken to Prince Philip. I explained something of my great-uncle

‘Your Royal Highness, my great-uncle Edward Cahill played Chopin for various members of your extended family in the 1920s. Queen Mary in this very room in 1924, also Princess Beatrice, HH Princess Helena Victoria and others’.

He listened attentively and then remarked with characteristic irony before quickly turning away to the next interlocutor.

‘Well … lucky for them!’

H.R.H. The Prince Philip clearly preoccupied with more striking matters than chatting inconsequentially to the author standing expectantly on the far right. However following this moment of bliss he did engage me briefly in conversation.
Towards the conclusion of the meal after the Sabayon your author engaged in conversation with his friend Jan Taylor-Strong, raised in Hollywood and a Mayfair hostess of the traditional school
Note the resting Imperial Napoleonic bees on the waistcoat

* * *

Another Afternoon Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace at the end of June was followed by a recital at ‘Number One, London’ in the Waterloo Gallery at Apsley House. At the time this was the most famous privately owned gallery in the world. The Duchess of Wellington had invited a number of foreign ambassadors to view the gallery and asked Eddie and George to come earlier for tea and to discuss the music they would play. They were the first Australians ever to perform there. Eddie spoke of this recital with the greatest pride throughout his life.

History of Apsley House | English Heritage
Apsley House, ‘Number One, London’
The former home of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo. Designed and built by Robert Adam in the 1770s, the house was bought by the duke in 1817. He transformed it into a palatial residence befitting his status, and filled it with works of art and gifts from grateful rulers across Europe
Interiors - Wellington Collection
The eclectic French Revival Waterloo Gallery at Apsley House. A double height interior by Benjamin Dean Wyatt completed in 1830.

Both artists were fond of horse racing and in late July donned their panamas and motored down to West Sussex for ‘Glorious Goodwood’. Various musical engagements followed before the year closed with a tour of the Irish Republic, including a season at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. The Dublin Independent wrote:

Good music appeals to the Dublin public […] Mr Brooke is a true lyric singer, has excellent diction and pure tonal qualities. Edward Cahill has fine technique, backed up by expression and interpretation not often found in pianists.

The Cork Examiner wrote of George’s voice:

There is magnificent quality in his voice, and he produces his notes without effort. He is full of temperament, and is gifted with absolutely clear enunciation.

*The building now houses the Savile Club. The Ball in the Fourth Series of Downton Abbey was filmed here. The silver and blue colour scheme was based on that of the exquisite Amalienburg, a small mansion pavilion de plaisance in the gardens of the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich.

† This historic house was originally built in red brick by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1778 for Lord Apsley, the Lord Chancellor. In 1817 it was bought by the Duke of Wellington who carried out many renovations. The house was given the popular name ‘Number One, London’, since it was the first house passed by visitors who travelled from the countryside after the toll gates at Knightsbridge.

Eddie, as the business brains, had by this time decided that   this was ‘definitely the last time’ they would appear in  the  Variety Theatres. Both had developed far higher musical, social and commercial aspirations. Surviving financially in the London society of the day was a significant challenge that could not be satisfied by the uncertain income of the music halls. Eddie found the other acts on the bill amusing but artistically demeaning.

In Dublin they had shared the bill with Ted Waite ‘The Lachrymose Comedian’, a ‘well-formed’ girl who ‘danced very prettily’, a card trickster and ‘The Dakotas’, a group of rope-spinning and whip- manipulating performers ‘from the Wild West ranches.’

They had both attended serious music recitals by the great German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus and the spectacular Italian coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci at the Theatre Royal. They realized that additional avenues of serious musicianship could open for them, may even help them survive financially in London, if they applied some serious effort. ‘Enough is enough of popular music. No more compromises! Alter course.’ From now on, Eddie’s address book chronicled a social climber of epic proportions.

* * *

The traditional English country house is arguably one of the finest contributions the nation has made to European art and architecture. The romanticism of woodlands, broad acres of arable or grazing land, a distinguished building and attractive gardens create an aesthetically irresistible ensemble. Many wealthy self-made men of business built new country houses along similar lines.

Horwood House

Eddie and George were invited to stay at  Horwood  House near the village of Little Horwood in Buckinghamshire. They had already played in the village hall but not at ‘the big house’. The mansion had been built in 1911 by the Irish millionaire pork and bacon magnate Sir Frederick Denny and his  wife  Maude. The motivation at Horwood was decidedly different from their aristocratic forebears. These houses were seldom conceived as a statement of authority, grandeur and power as were the Elizabethan or Palladian prodigy houses of the past. As Vita Sackville-West observed, the new aspired to be ‘essentially part of the country, not only in the country but part of it, a natural growth.* As much effort was directed towards varied plantings and inspired garden design as to the house itself. The distinguished gardener Percy Thrower, son of the house gardener Harry Thrower, was born there in 1913.

A walled garden at Horwood House

In a 1923 Country Life feature on the house, Christopher Hussey observed of Horwood: ‘the unity is wonderfully complete; the unity is one of genial simplicity.’ This emerging class was progressively being absorbed and accepted into the upper classes after the Great War and were increasingly attracted to artistic patronage as an indication of high cultural status. Eddie and George admirably fitted the position of ‘musicians in residence’ defined for them by the Dennys.

The etang from an upper room of Horwood House

The first glimpse of an English country house by a visitor from abroad is a sight never to be forgotten. In a letter to his sister  from Horwood, Eddie relates that one morning in April he was walking beside a formal étang or pool between clumps of daffodils and crocus. A  stand  of  tall elms led him to a flagged  path past a water-lily pond bordered by weathered brick walls and fruit trees. The path continued to a rugged field newly planted with elegant silver birch and rhododendrons. Beyond, he strolled into  a spinney and a wild bog garden over a rickety bridge and stream edged with reeds and spiky iris. Dew glistened on vibrant green fields studded with oaks in the middle distance. He reflected on the extraordinary twist of fate that had brought him to this point in his career in such a short space of time. He wondered how long his good fortune might last.

*V. Sackville-West, English Country Houses (London 1941), p. 7.

† Christopher Hussey (1899–1970) was one of the major authorities on British domestic architecture of his generation and in particular English gardens and landscape. His writings on the ethos and design of the English country house were outstanding and influential. Horwood House is now a conference hotel near Milton Keynes.

Frederick Denny had married Maude Marion Quilter (elder sister of the master of the English art song, Roger Quilter) in 1888. Born in 1868 and the eldest of seven children, she had grown up partly in Sydenham near Crystal Palace, the venue for numerous concerts and an area where many eminent English musicians of the time lived. This environment, together with a brother who became a famous composer, had sensitised her to the power of music and musicians. Roger Quilter’s biographer Valerie Langfield observed:

This was a family used to comforts, money, servants, a family that felt it had a reputation to develop and maintain. However, it was above all [her father] William Cuthbert Quilter’s autocratic outlook and philosophy that dominated the family.*

*Valerie Langfield, Roger Quilter: His Life and Music (Rochester 2002), p. 6.

Maude’s father, Sir William Cuthbert Quilter was a remarkable man: an MP, stockbroker and extraordinarily successful businessman who left an immense fortune when he died in 1911. He had built Bawdsey Manor on the Suffolk coast in 1886, a monumental farrago of architectural eclecticism (Victorian Tudor Revival) where Eddie frequently performed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Maud’s mother Mary Ann Quilter (née Bevington) came from a wealthy Quaker family which had established a leather business in London. Maude Denny was one of an emerging class of wealthy ‘new’ hostesses in London. She became Eddie’s most loyal patron for the numerous concert tours of England he made between the wars. His idea of musical ‘At Home’ recitals both in town and country establishments was taken up as a new fashion by many hostesses of the period much to Eddie’s financial and social satisfaction. In such country houses they met glamorous and theatrical artistic luminaries such as Dame Edith Evans*, Dame Clara Butt, Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Ellen Terry.

Maude Denny the gardens at Horwood House

*Dame Edith Evans (1888–1976) was an outstanding English stage and film actress. Her stage career spanned sixty years during which she played more than 100 roles. One of the most famous was the haughty Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

† Ellen Terry (1847–1928) was a beautiful English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain.

† Dame Clara Butt (1872–1936) was an English contralto, recitalist and concert singer. Her voice was unusually powerful and deep fitting the dominant ambience of the British Empire of the time. The Edwardian composer Elgar composed his famous Land of Hope and Glory for her.

‡ Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882–1976) was a great British actress who toured internationally in Shakespearean productions. The playwright Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan for her in which she starred with great success.

Like many of their patrons in London, Maude had a particular interest in Australia and Australians. She had been close to her exceptionally tall and authoritative brother Arnold Quilter, who had a distinguished military career. He was Rupert Brooke’s commanding officer. Quilter was cautioned by the Commander-in-Chief General Sir Ian Hamilton concerning Brooke: ‘Mind you take care of him. His loss would be a national loss.’ These warnings were to no avail as he was already ill, bitten on the lip in Cairo by the same type of virulent Egyptian mosquito that killed Lord Carnarvon following his discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Brooke finally succumbed to septicaemia on 23 April, 1915. Arnold Quilter was part of the burial party that made their way  to a small olive grove high on the island of Skyros where Brooke was buried in a grave lined with olive branches and aromatic sage. A fortnight later Arnold too lay dead on the grim shores of the Gallipoli peninsula. Her intense grief caused Maude Denny to take a more than a casual interest in matters Australian. She became tireless in the promotion of ‘her own two Australian boys’ Eddie and George.

* * *

The two musicians had spent Christmas 1924 and New Year 1925 in Paris. The city was an exciting and glamorous revelation. George studied French, corrected his enunciation and increased the many French songs already scattered throughout his programmes. Eddie established contact with one of the most outstanding  musicians  of the day, the Swiss-French pianist, pedagogue and Chopin interpreter extraordinaire, Alfred Cortot.

Alfred Cortot and the Chopin Etudes
Alfred Cortot cir. 1925 (The Piano Files)

‡ Alfred Cortot (1877–1962) was a Swiss-French pianist born at Nyon in the wine-growing district of Vaud on the shores of Lake Geneva. He was one of the most respected and inspiring performers and teachers of Romantic piano music, especially that of Chopin and Schumann. He continues to have an illustrious career even in death as he was among the last of the great age of ‘subjective interpretation’. His controversial support for Vichy France and the Nazis during the Second World War has been forgotten by today’s students of the instrument who are fascinated by his individualistic, intuitive and poetic interpretations. Notable pupils of Cortot included Vlado Perlemuter, Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti, Samson François – and Edward Cahill. Daniel Barenboim commented: ‘He always looked for the opium in music.’

Cortot’s methods were partly influenced by Tobias Matthay, so Eddie maintained muscular continuity in finger exercises and directives concerning posture. A favourite maxim for Cortot was ‘find the right gesture, and the passage will play itself’. He directed Eddie to work on his digital weaknesses using the manuscript of his as yet unpublished book Rational Principles of Pianoforte Technique. Cortot divided instrumental study firstly into psychological factors, which he felt to be a function of personality and taste, and secondly into physiological factors, such as the movement of the arms, hands and fingers. He conceived of the bulk of piano exercises in somewhat hyperbolic language:

‘…the problem of pianistic technique is seen wearing the terrific aspect of a hundred-headed hydra. My method demonstrates the vulnerability of the monster.’ *

Although not taken on as a full-time pupil, Eddie took a significant number of lessons from Alfred Cortot in Paris and on the Riviera. He realised that the Cortot Chopin and Schumann interpretations were visionary ‘despite the many wrong notes’.

Eddie and George stayed with the Dennys at Horwood through March and April of 1925, assembling suitable programmes, extending their repertoire and practising. In early May, when the household had moved to London for The Season, Eddie conceived the brilliant idea of hosting their own afternoon ‘At Home’ using Maud’s London residence at 73 Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. Most of the houses in the street were still in private occupation at that time. Eddie was in his element.

Maude Denny’s London residence at 73 Grosvenor Street W1 where Eddie and George hosted their own ‘At Home’ in May 1925.
The house is now the London headquarters of Estée Lauder cosmetics.

‘Those clever Australian artists’ stood at the head of the heavy oak staircase and welcomed their many distinguished guests. The visitors passed into a double music room, one for the musicians and the other separated by an arch for the audience. George sang a number of duets with the soprano Miss Elsie Treweek.

*Alfred Cortot, Rational Principles of Piano Technique (Paris 1928), Foreword p. 1.

† Remarked in conversation with the author in Monaco in 1968.

‡ The house is now the London headquarters of Estée Lauder cosmetics.

Many in the audience who had not heard Eddie and George for some time were ‘delighted with the extension of their repertoire’. It was generally decided the Negro spiritual melodies and Maori songs were the most arresting music on the programme. The Quilter songs, which George had only recently studied, were accompanied by the composer and were also very popular.

Among the guests were the Duchess of St Albans*, the Dowager Marchioness of Dufferin  and  Ava,  the  Dowager  Marchioness  of Linlithgow, Lady Swaythling (who would become another adoring patron), Lady Weigall, Sir Edward Wallington, the song composer Madame Guy D’Hardelot, Mrs Neville Chamberlain and many other now forgotten members of the aristocracy. The British Australasian reported rather trivially

Tea had previously been served downstairs, and the table decorations of early blossoms conveyed a very refreshing breath of spring. The carnations everywhere, too, were a tribute to the garden at Horwood, Mrs Denny’s country house in Buckinghamshire, which is famed for its beauty.

The Sketch in a tone of patrician detachment observed that at the Chelsea Flower Show the ‘huge branched calceolaris used in the dining room’ were now considered acceptable in the best circles ‘…and don’t suggest the semi-detached villa in the least.’§ Society also desperately needed to know that Lady Quilter wore ‘a very attractive dress of the new dark powder-blue.’ There was no comment on the quality of the music performed. Eddie and George had rather thrust themselves almost exclusively into the midst of the older conservative British upper classes.

*Beatrix Beauclerk, Duchess of St Albans, Marchioness of Waterford (1877–1953), born Beatrix Frances Petty-FitzMaurice, was a daughter of the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne and his wife, Maud.

† The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava (1843–1936) was the wife of Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (1826–1902) who was a distinguished Governor General of Canada (1872–78) and an outstanding Viceroy of India (1884–88).

‡ The fabulously wealthy Gladys Helen Rachel Montagu (née Goldsmid) Lady Swaythling (1879–1965) was a member of both the Goldsmith and Rothschild banking families. She was married to Louis Samuel Montagu, 2nd Baron Swaythling (1869–1927) who was a pre-eminent British Jew, financier, and political activist. He was the heir of Samuel Montagu, 1st Baron Swaythling, who had founded the bank Samuel Montagu & Co.

§ Gastrochilus calceolaris is a type of orchid endemic to the Philippines.

PP Instalment 8

Chapter 4

Bach and other fearful wildfowl

Eddie and George did not fall into a fit of the dismals at the lukewarm reviews, but courageously decided to take positive action and organise some serious music lessons. This was particularly challenging for Eddie as a mature pianist but rather less challenging for George. Although Eddie had been a child prodigy, astonishingly neither artist had had any significant degree of formal musical training and yet both had been hailed on their tours as among the finest of musicians. Eddie was now thirty-eight and George thirty- seven, although Eddie was extraordinarily youthful in appearance with an exuberant a personality that belied his age. He often fibbed about it, neatly subtracting a remarkable thirteen years in official but clearly unverified documents.* Like many Australian artists they were unprepared for the high standards and criticism of the London music critics.

* A true copy (No: 61189) of his Colony of Queensland Birth Certificate (Extracted 27 February 1962) certified by Registrar-General Timothy Francis de Sales Scott, confirms his Date of Birth as 10 November 1885 at Beenleigh.

Fortunately the letters of recommendation from Dame Nellie Melba opened distinguished musical doors. In May she had written to them personally from her sumptuously furnished house at 15 Mansfield Street W.1 The letter on elegant pale blue paper reads

May 30th 1923

Dear Mr Cahill,

I am writing this letter to wish you every success in England. It is always difficult for new-comers to begin, but I feel sure that once you get a chance you will make good, as you did in Australia.

Yours very truly

Nellie Melba

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Letter from Nellie Melba May 30th 1923

She was seriously ill at the time and this letter indicates great generosity of spirit.

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Telegram of concert patronage from Dame Nellie Melba

Eddie managed to be accepted for  a  series  of  lessons  with  the great English pedagogue Tobias Matthay (1858-1945). He had already profitably encountered this method with Miss Roberts in Brisbane and was now an acolyte at the source. This teacher concentrated on tone production and touch, analysing the muscular minutiae of finger and arm movement involved with the pianist’s interaction with the keyboard. This was of great importance to Eddie as he had very small hands that could barely stretch an octave yet play much Liszt and Chopin with ease.

In the past many had marvelled at his authoritative performance of the Bach/Tausig Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. They were even illustrated in the Melbourne Table Talk journal in an article entitled ‘Hands and the Man – Can they Stretch an Octave?’ Like the hands of Chopin, when the physical need arose a remarkable flexibility of ligaments and muscles allowed his hands to stretch and open, uncannily resembling a snake swallowing a bird. He began to perfect a touch and tone of delicacy, evenness and velocity typical of the late nineteenth century school of pianism. Performance suggestions were offered by Matthay in a generous, kind and illuminating manner. His predominant maxim was ‘Never touch the piano without trying to make music.’

The inspiring piano pedagogue
Tobias Matthay (1858-1945)

George took advice in programming  and  also  lessons  in  voice production from the great English romantic art-song composer Roger Quilter.* Their meeting with his elder sister Mrs Frederick Denny was to be of incalculable consequence for their future London careers. He also managed to arrange lessons in London with the outstanding composer of romantic songs Guy  D’Hardelot.This was the nom de plume of the exotic Helen Rhodes (née Helen Guy) born of a French mother and English father in an ancient castle near Boulogne-Sur-Mer once lived in by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She was also to play an important part in their forthcoming musical careers.

*Roger Quilter (1877–1953) was born in Hove in Sussex. This neurasthenic, fastidious but tremendously gifted English composer was born into an aristocratic family and, unusually for a composer, was educated at Eton. He attended the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt together with Percy Grainger and Cyril Scott. He was a prolific composer of the English romantic art song as well as orchestral music. He accompanied George Brooke at the piano on a number of occasions.

The great English art song composer Roger Quilter (1877–1953)

† Guy d’Hardelot (1858–1936) studied at the Paris Conservatoire and was much praised by Gounod and Massenet. The great French operatic soprano Emma Calvé did a great deal to popularize her songs. That rare creature, a woman composer of masterly refinement and form, she was cultivated and befriended by members of the English aristocracy such as Lady Diana Cooper. Her most famous love song Because has been recorded by all the great tenors from the dawn of recording.

Guy d'Hardelot - Wikipedia
The French song-writer Guy d’Hardelot (1858-1936)

However perhaps the most important teacher for George at this time was Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen (1854-1931) who lived on the South Downs at Steyning in Sussex.* He was one of the last personal links with the romantic school of German Lieder composers – Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf – and the greatest concert tenor of his day. This magnificent singer was possessed of a noble style and wonderful Vortrag which powerfully moved the hearts of his listeners.He was also a great teacher with whom many well-known artists had studied.

Clara Schumann regarded him as a special exponent of her husband’s songs, and he was her guest for nearly a year at Frankfurt, studying and singing Robert Schumann’s songs, inspired by her wonderful playing and guided by her intimate knowledge of the music. This phase of study undoubtedly explains the insight Mühlen displayed in the interpretation of Schumann’s Lieder, not only from the vocal point of view, but in his feeling for the dynamic shading and inner meaning of the accompaniments. (‘How one remembers him saying, ‘No! No ! Kinder, that is not the way! Clara’s darling fingers would play it so,’ indicating the exact shading he required.’)

Raimund von zur-Mühlen - Wikipedia
Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen (1854-1931)

Aristocratic circles in Berlin adored his Liederabend recitals. Bismarck, amid scenes of great enthusiasm, placed upon his brow a beautiful silver laurel wreath, inscribed with the words, ‘To the Prince of Singers, Raimund von Zur-Mühlen’.§ At one concert Brahms shouted: ‘Endlich, endlich habe ich meinen Sänger gefunden!’ (‘At last, at last, I have found my singer!’). Mühlen mainly concentrated on strengthening George’s upper voice without forcing the sound. The distinguished teacher had found Australian voices to be generally excellent. George was able to concentrate on interpretation from the outset.

* Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen (1854–1931) was born in what is now Viljandi in southern Estonia, formerly Fellin, a town belonging to the Hanseatic League.

Vortrag was the period style of the interpretation in question.

‡ From the extensive tribute upon his death by H. Arnold Smith ‘Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen: The Passing of a Great Artist’, The Musical Times, Vol. 73, No. 1070 (1 April 1932), pp. 316–20. A fine essay indeed.

§ The Musical Times.

The boys now worked hard at assembling programmes that achieved a rare balance between the seriously classical and the merely charming. Never trite, the collections of songs and piano pieces always reflected the innocent sensibility and sentiment that suffused music that preceded the Great War. They avoided the easy seductions, irresistible decadence and effortless wooing of the audience by jazz that was the contemporary rage.

Instead George chose to sing Negro spirituals, many of them refined works of art, which were received with admiration by all social classes. Many of the songs and piano pieces they chose were by now forgotten composers. Eddie and George regarded the musical discernment of Variety Theatre audiences with a respect they clearly appreciated.

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Original Cahill-Brooke Programme
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Original Cahill-Brooke programme Victoria Palace Theatre

A newspaper debate erupted on their first appearance at the Victoria Palace in London. It was begun in the Sunday Times under the title Art and the Public by the acerbic and distinguished theatre critic and diarist James Agate. He posed a question and raised an issue:

How far must he [a musician] temper the wind of his artistry to a public, the marrow in whose bones may be supposed to freeze at the bare mention of the classics? Compromise is normally the solution. The artist prints on his programme Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabine [sic] and other fearful wildfowl. But there is no need for alarm … public taste is not so low as those who cater for it insist.*

He then turned to the performance of the two young Australians: ‘I have no doubt these two young artists were anxious to preserve their musical souls provided this was not at the expense of the audience … let me say here that they broke fewer promises than is customary.’ They had been recalled many times. He observed in his characteristic ironic style that the audience were as highly delighted by Eddie’s performance of the ‘enchanting’ Józef Wieniawski Valse de Concert in D-flat major ‘as if the pianist had blacked his face and banged out Back-back-back to  Mazawattee  to  the  accompaniment of hysterical saxophones.’ (James Agate in the Sunday Times). Clearly Agate remained singularly unimpressed by the current jazz madness sweeping London.

* James Agate, Sunday Times, August 1923. James Agate (1877–1947) was the supreme British diarist between the wars cast in the mould of Samuel Pepys. He was also a pungent theatre critic for the Manchester Guardian, the Sunday Times and the BBC. His diaries were published in nine volumes under the title Ego. He believed in chronicling the minutiae of life which he felt would outlive politics in future human interest. How right he was.

† Józef Wieniawski (1837–1912) was a child prodigy, pianist, composer for the piano and brother of the great violinist Henryk Wieniawski. They often performed together in concert. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, for three months with Franz Liszt in Weimar in 1855 and finally in Berlin from 1856–8. He taught and performed in Warsaw and Lublin until life became unbearable under Russian occupation whence he fled to Brussels with his wife and family where he died in 1912. This Valse de Concert was not popular with musical critics of the time but its infectious sparkle and melodic charm was tremendously popular with audiences. A good example of Eddie’s understanding of what contemporary audiences desired.

The theatre critic James Agate (1877–1947)

Eddie had failed to perform the promised Konzertstück by Weber. Agate, in a peculiar lapse of musical taste, did not regret this, but felt that their choice of songs was prosaic. He regretted the replacement of Maori songs and some promised songs by Roger Quilter with ‘more popular fare’. He felt this caution came from a significant underestimate of the tolerance of the music hall audience for the classics. One correspondent in this debate pointed out how a music hall performer needs to be ‘a psychologist of no mean order’ and carefully plan the sequence of the programme ‘so that the changes are rung from one number to another with the maximum of effect’.

James Agate was not a music but a theatre critic, an occupation which had brought him that particular evening to the Victoria Palace. A perceptive man, he had unwittingly touched upon the crux of their London dilemma. How could they earn a living against the stiff competition of the music hall and still develop    as serious classical musicians when confined to performing in popular venues? Most of their previous experience had been on the Australian popular vaudeville circuit. Their personalities and stage presence had flourished there. Agate concluded his article with a further question that shifted the blame from the performers to the organisers: ‘Is the taste of the public low? Perhaps. Is it as low as the managers of our theatres, music halls and picture palaces pretend? No! A thousand times no!’

Increasingly Eddie and George included classical music in their programmes even on the variety theatre circuit.  This  dilemma  goes a long way explaining why, when given  the  opportunity,  they assiduously cultivated the more lucrative and less musically compromising engagements offered by High Society. Chopin himself had cultivated the same social class upon his arrival in Paris in 1831. Eddie almost immediately attracted the same type of aristocratic female support in the London of a different age. They would not have long to wait for social and musical success of no small order.

* * *

The New Year celebrations of the momentous year of 1924 began with fireworks, champagne, the first Labour Government in history under Ramsay MacDonald and the suicide of the distiller Sir John Stewart in the baronial hall of Fingask Castle, Perthshire – the first of many suicides that year as more businesses began to fail. The Maharajah of Patiala took the entire fifth floor of the Savoy, over thirty-five suites of rooms and was reputed to wear underpants costing £200 a pair.* The great British Empire Exhibition was opened at Wembley by King George V and some ten million visitors would see this remarkable event before it closed. Fear of Bolshevism culminated in the forged Zinoviev letter scandal, which destroyed the government of Ramsay McDonald in October and brought the Conservative party to power with Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister.

* £200 in 1924 is the equivalent of £10,000 in 2020. Was the underwear woven with gold thread perhaps?

† The details of the fascinating story of the Zinoviev Letter is contained in Chester, Fay & Young, The Zinoviev Letter (London 1967).

One of Eddie’s favourite novels was published that year. Michael Arlen who described himself as ‘every other inch a gentleman’ published the ‘hard-boiled’ first modern bestseller The Green Hat. The heroine Iris Storm drives a matchless yellow Hispano-Suiza and shockingly for the time enjoys casual sex. With killing effrontery she comments ‘It is not good to have a pagan body and a Chiselhurst mind … hell for the body and terror for the mind.’

La Route d’Houlgate, Bibi with Mamie and the Chauffer, Jean, in her Hispano Suiza 32 HP, 1927 (Jacques-Henri Lartigue)
Michael Arlen in 1925 (NPG)

Change was certainly in the air. Next to America, Russia was the country that preoccupied the imagination of  Londoners  at this time. It is hard to overestimate the excitement caused by any arrival in London of the immortal Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.

Anna Pavlova - Ballerina, Dance & Death - Biography
Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)

To attract a wider audience for the 1924 London season directed by Serge Diaghilev, the electrifying Ballets Russes starred in a variety bill at the London Coliseum in a production of the ballet Le Train Bleu. A reporter wrote ‘It is as difficult to get a seat for ‘The Blue Train’ as it is to get a seat for the thing itself during the height of the Riviera rush.’

Ballets Russes' "Le Train Bleu" (1924). Library of Congres… | Flickr
Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes stage ‘Le Train Bleu’ 1924

Eddie and George adored this light and fluffy confection, a French modernist ballet which celebrates fashion yet criticizes superficiality, set in a chic French beach resort on the Côte d’Azur. Bathing  costumes,  tennis  and  golfing  outfits  were  designed  by ‘Coco’ Chanel, music by Darius Milhaud, a libretto by Jean Cocteau, the curtain painted by Picasso with the added attraction of charming acrobatic dancers.

This ‘sporting ballet’ for Les Poules and Les Gigolos was created for the 1924 Paris Olympics by Bronislava Nijinska (Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister) and was choreographed to show off the acrobatic prowess of the dancer Anton Dolin.

Le Train Bleu top image
Bronislava Nijinska and Anton Dolin in Le Train Bleu, performed by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, June 1924.

Diaghilev’s programme note is amusing: ‘The first point about Le Train Bleu is that there is no blue train in it. This being the age of speed, it already has reached its destination and disembarked its passengers.’* Everyone thought the ballet ‘perfection’. Harold Acton wrote: ‘one had to sit through the antics of jugglers, trick-cyclists and acrobats, before the curtain rose on a single ballet.’

‘The boys’ never lost sight of the fact they were essentially entertainers. There was no shame attached to performing at such popular, commercial venues in London in the 1920s.

Les costumes de Coco Chanel pour Le Train Bleu
Costumes by Coco Chanel for ‘Le Train Bleu’

˟ An excellent full account of the ballet and a modern production, New York Times Dance Feature, 4 March 1990.

† Harold Acton, Memoirs of an Aesthete (London 1948), p. 85.

The year 1924 was also a momentous one for Eddie Cahill and George Brooke. It began inauspiciously with  variety  theatre  performances  at  the raucous Empire Theatre Newcastle and the Empire Theatre Liverpool. The Liverpool Courier commented on Eddie’s playing: ‘He confined himself rather too much to the virtuosic branch of  his art. His accompaniments to Mr Brooke’s singing showed the more artistic player.’ Clearly achieving the right musical balance was proving a challenge in the rugged north. They then toured gentler Brighton, appearing at the Sunday Concerts at the Winter Garden, Bournemouth under Sir Dan Godfrey and at other south coast ‘watering places’ to far greater acclaim.

Bournemouth Winter Gardens Theatre around 1923
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Bournemouth Winter Gardens theatre in 1924. The original building was a glass clad structure, similar to the Crystal Palace in London and home to the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra between 1895 and 1929.

Eddie had one curious interest seemingly at odds with being  a classical musician. He was interested in motor racing, had even done a little in Australia and arranged to visit the Brooklands circuit over Easter. He felt a connection between the two forms of risk- taking – one with Liszt at the limits of the keyboard concertizing and the other at the limits of a fast car on a race track. The adrenalin rush that resulted from the proximity of an accident, of danger, stimulated his rather neurotic temperament. A moth attracted to the flame.

Brooklands Museum |
A Napier-Railton airborne on the Brooklands Members’ Banking driven by John Cobb

The great golden age of sports car racing was flourishing in these years, although the track itself had been open since 1907.* In Australia the Cahill family loved the new Dirt Track motorcycle racing, in particular Eddie’s sister Elizabeth, an unlikely interest for an operatic soprano.This popular sport was begun by Australian farmers racing motorbikes around rough oval circuits in the early 1920s.

Cec O’Mara and Ben Unwin on their motorcycles at a Speedway race at Davies Park in Brisbane 1930 / Image courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

‘Bessie’ had written to Eddie after reading about motorcycle racing at the new Brooklands track and suggested he should go while in London and report back to Beenleigh. After all, she had read that Brooklands attracted wealthy aristocrats and one never knew who Eddie might encounter.

20 May 1922, HRH The Duke of York pictured at Brooklands race meeting with motor cyclist
S.E. Wood.

In May 1922 HRH the Duke of York, mainly interested in motorbikes, had called a Brooklands Royal Meeting. ‘The Duke was greeted by the Earl of Athlone and a Persian carpet was laid out on the track when he arrived. The Duke had entered his chauffeur, S.E. Wood, riding a 350cc Douglas and a 988cc Trump-Azani. Brooklands racing at that time was organised along horse-racing lines. He wore the Duke’s colours (a scarlet jersey with blue stripes and sleeves like a jockey) but was unfortunately unplaced in his races.’

 Chitty Bang Bang IV, the 27 litre Higham Special at Brooklands This was an extreme racing car created by the Polish racing driver Count Louis Zborowski.

The car inspired Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang story. His son had complained to Fleming ‘Daddy, why do you love James Bond more than me?’ and this story was written as a ‘redemption present’

The car was renamed ‘Babs’ and modified by Godfrey Parry-Thomas who was killed on Pendine Sands attempting the land Speed Record in 1927
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Colette Salomon as ‘The Modern Woman’ – Vogue, 1927 (George Hoyningen-Huene)
1924 JCC 200 Mile Race. Brooklands, Great Britain (Print #18226671)
1924 JCC 200 Mile Race. on the Brooklands Members’ Banking September 1924.
Downton Abbey Backstory: Real Photos of 1920s Auto Racing | Time
A Brooklands race in the 1920s

Eddie attended the 1924 Easter Meeting where the Polish aristocrat Count Zborowski drove incredible aero-engined giants in battle, becoming airborne on the famous but uneven concrete banking.

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Count Louis Zborowski at Brooklands in his 23 litre Maybach aero-engined Chitty Bang Bang I

Zborowski pitted his monstrous 27-litre Higham Special against the 21.7-litre Fiat ‘Mephistopheles’ of Ernest Eldridge and ‘Le Champion’ driving the 20-litre Isotta-Maybach.

Higham Park - Wikipedia
Higham Park – the country seat of Count Louis Zborowski
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A glamorous ‘Roaring Twenties’ party at Count Louis Zborowski’s Higham Park 1922

˟ Brooklands had been built on land near Weybridge in Surrey by an early motoring enthusiast Hugh Locke King. It was the first purpose-built car racing circuit in the world. He finally decided on a 2¾ mile banked oval course 100 ft wide around his estate where British cars could be tested and raced. This vast and pioneering undertaking put his financial future into doubt but Brooklands became one of the most famous racing car circuits of all time.

† Elizabeth Moran (née Cahill, 1888–1963) was the author’s paternal grandmother. He well remembers her taking him as a young boy every weekend to the Brisbane Speedway to watch cinder track motorbike and Midget car racing. She was addicted to this unlikely sport and the smell of hot Castrol R oil. He still finds it exciting.

‡ David Venables, Brooklands: The Official Centenary History (Yeovil 2007), pp. 83–4. A brilliant illustrated book on the history of Brooklands covering the cars, motor-cycles and aircraft.

Society concerts continued to increase apace. They were asked to support many causes that might have led more thoughtful and politically committed artists to question the moral, even political implications of participation. In May,  Lady  Violet  Astor  ‘lent’  18 Carlton House Terrace  for Eddie and George to give the first  of many concerts to raise funds for the Southern Irish Loyalists’ Relief Association. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll*, had come especially to thank ‘Mr Cahill and Mr Brooke’ for ‘arranging such a delightful concert’. British loyalists were suffering in southern Ireland after the Irish War of Independence and the establishment of the Irish Free State at the end of 1922. Clearly Eddie with his Irish background felt his future concert career in High Society, a trajectory that implied support of the British ‘enemy’, was of far greater importance than the independence movement of his ancestral countrymen.

* HRH The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848–1939) was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

PP Instalment 7

Chapter 4

Bach and other fearful wildfowl

They leave us – artists, singers, all

When London calls aloud,

Commanding to her Festival

The gifted crowd.

From overseas, and far away,

Come crowded ships and ships – ea, With scornful lips.

For Her, whose pleasure is her law, In vain the shy heart bleeds –

The Genius with the Iron jaw

Alone succeeds.

When London Calls, Victor Daley*

Cabin trunks marked ‘Wanted on Voyage’ were manhandled into their First Class cabin, the rest safely stowed in the bowels of the SS Naldera.

S. S. Naldera
This passenger liner entered service in April 1920 on the London-Bombay-Australia route

In January 1923 nearly all the Cahill family and many distinguished folk from Beenleigh made the long, dusty journey to Sydney to see them off to London. Their emotions were in turmoil as evidenced by many sleepless nights. This would be a true leap into the dark. England to most Australians of the time remained profoundly the far away ‘mother country’.

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Edward Cahill and George Brooke in Durban South Africa en route to London 1923                                                               

*Victor Daley (1858–1905) was an Australian poet who represented the ‘Celtic twilight’ school of poetry.

They were carrying letters of recommendation to many influential members of London Society. The bastions of correct form could not have been breached in any other way. One from Lady Stradbroke, wife of the Governor of Victoria, another from the Labor Premier of Queensland and one-time gold prospector, ‘Red Ted’ Theodore. Recommendations came from the vaudeville performer Miss Ella Shields and Robert Courtneidge.* Finally the ultimate open sesame for any musical artist visiting London, a letter of recommendation from Dame Nellie Melba herself. ‘Better to be a lamppost in London than a star in Australia,’ she had waspishly commented when she heard them at Government House Adelaide in 1917. ‘You boys have the goods,’ she said in her most robust style. ‘Go to London where there is a market and sell them.’ Melba did not bequeath her patronage lightly.

Eddie and George arrived in London in February in the dark and damp cold of mid-winter. At last they could boast that they had ‘sauntered down the Strand’, the urgent goal of so many colonials visiting the capital for the first time. Clammy, atmospheric fog replaced the pure light of Australia. Passers-by materialized threateningly and were mysteriously absorbed into the gloom. Before they encountered the consolations of smart society, the climate convinced Eddie for some time that he had made a terrible mistake. Yet London in 1923 was a brilliant city. For two young Australians from a small country town it was a heart-stirring experience.

I looked at London, astonished by its size and by the millions of people in it. Could it be possible, I asked myself, that anyone would want to hear me play the piano. An unknown young man from a tiny place in Queensland. The idea was fantastic! Well, perhaps not quite so fantastic.

* * *

*Robert Courtneidge (1859–1939) was British theatrical manager-producer and playwright and father of the famous actress and comedienne Cicely Courtneidge (1893–1980).

Before the outbreak of the Great War, tensions in Europe  had risen to an explosive level. Her Highness Princess Marie Louise (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a later patron of Eddie and George) relates an extraordinary incident that took place when her second brother, Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein was sailing  on the Emperor’s yacht to Norway. She told Eddie of the bizarre incident and later related it in her memoirs:

Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein at Barn Hall (Print #14351197)
Prince Albert of Schleswig-Hostein (1869-1931) at Barn Hall 1910

I can say in perfect truth: the Emperor did not want the war… when the Emperor was shown the telegram sent to Serbia by Berchtold, he was terribly upset … when his agitation had calmed down he turned to my brother and said, ‘Abbie, let us go and wash the dogs’. So they retired to the Emperor’s cabin, took off their coats and scrubbed the dachshunds.*

Five years after the armistice, the English society into which Eddie and George had now moved was in a state of profound transition. Many members of the aristocracy and middle classes would never regain the luxurious standard of living they enjoyed before the war. However opera had returned to Covent Garden six months after the conclusion of the hostilities with a gala performance of Puccini’s La Bohème with Nellie Melba singing the part of the seamstress Mimi. The thousands of hated war profiteers who had avoided mud, rats, flies, corpses, mustard gas and shrapnel were now thriving in positions of power and influence. Sorrow had touched almost every family in the land. The distractions and escapist pleasures of cricket, football matches, the public house, the palais de danse as well as the variety theatre gradually became irresistible attractions. No one ever wanted to fight again. ‘The vulgar, disgraceful, over-fed, godless social order that we call Edwardian was finished.’

Eddie and George, using their influential letters of introduction, hoped to soon be frequenting High Society. The younger generation of aristocrats had been enthusiastic for war. The rhetoric of German ‘frightfulness’ (the killing of civilians) was an irresistible a goad to action. They had sped eagerly into battle and been slaughtered, blinded or otherwise maimed, their families later financially ruined by ‘super-tax’ and crippling death duties. One soldier of the British Expeditionary Force had written: ‘A lot of ships were needed to bring the British Army to France. Only two will be needed to take it back, one for the men and the other for the identity discs.’ Lady Diana Manners, considered the most beautiful woman of the age and a member of the ‘wildly avant-garde’ and ‘outrageous’ group known as ‘The Corrupt Coterie’ lost almost all the young men she had ever loved.

*Her Highness Princess Marie Louise, My Memories of Six Reigns (London 1956), p. 178.

† Kenneth Clark (Lord Clark of Civilisation) in Another Part of the Wood (London 1974), p. 41.

‡ Angela Lambert Unquiet Souls: The Indian Summer of the British Aristocracy (London 1984), p. 149.

As many young aristocratic women, Diana Manners, ‘the most beautiful woman in England’, was working as a nurse among the wounded in the frightful conditions of Guy’s Hospital in London. ‘Our pride was to be unafraid of words, unshocked by drink and unashamed of ‘decadence’ and gambling – Unlike-Other-People, I’m afraid.’* She was later to become one  of the most loyal patrons of Eddie’s recitals in both London and Paris. The war for Diana was ‘a gruesome soul-shattering end to the carefree life I knew.’

Diana Olivia Winifred Maud Cooper, Viscountess Norwich,
née Lady Diana Manners (1892-1986) ‘the most beautiful woman of the age’
(E.O. Hoppé (1878-1972) The famous German-born British photographer – 1916

However, on the surface life little appeared to have changed among the privileged classes. The London Season continued undiminished although the aristocracy were slowly abandoning their London mansions and retreating to the country. Lady Circumference comments in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall ‘Well, we all feel the wind a bit since the war.’ The aristocratic behaviour of society in London was being replaced by a type of louche New York café society. Patrick Balfour, Lord Kinross, describes the changes:

In so far as the ‘twenties can be defined they were a period of change: from quails in aspic to eggs and bacon, from champagne to lager, from coal fires to electricity, from mansions to mansion flats, and from balls to cocktail parties; an age in the course of which peers became Socialists and Socialists became peers, actors and actresses tried to be ladies and gentlemen and ladies and gentlemen behaved like actors and actresses, novelists were men-about-town and men-about-town wrote novels, persons of rank became shopkeepers and shopkeepers drew persons of rank to their houses, the Speed King supplanted the Guards Officer as the beau idéal of modern woman and modern woman herself grew each day slimmer and slimmer – and slimmer … It was an age in which traditions of the old dovetailed into the ideas of the new.

* * *

At first Eddie and George stayed in a small hotel near Victoria Station before taking up residence in early spring at 26 Randolph Crescent, Maida Vale  in West London. Known as ‘Little Venice’ it is a unique combination of affluent white-stuccoed mansions, patio gardens and lush greenery reflected in the water of picturesque canals.

Randolph Terrace Maida Vale where Eddie lived during his First and Second UK Tours
1923 and 1927

*Diana Cooper, The Rainbow Comes and Goes (London 1959), p. 82. This volume of memoirs is one of the most moving personal accounts of the destruction by the Great War and the halcyon sunset days of aristocratic Edwardian England.

† Ibid., p. 112.

‡ Patrick Balfour, Lord Kinross, Society Racket (Tauchnitz Edition, Leipzig 1934), pp. 59–60.

The betrothal of the twenty-eight-year-old Prince Albert, Duke of York to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was announced shortly after they arrived. The Royal Wedding would be on 26 April 1923. One of the letters the boys were carrying was from Lady Stradbroke. It opened the doors to No. 7 Carlton House Terrace, the home of the Hon. Lady Herbert.* Although no longer young, this American hostess had married into a distinguished English family. From her drawing room overlooking The Mall, Eddie and George watched the plumed cavalry and splendid carriages of the wedding procession to Westminster Abbey. Here they were introduced to an assortment of fashionable hostesses and members of the aristocracy.

Massive crowds at the wedding

Later they lost themselves in the vast throng that greeted the royal couple who appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace beside the regal, almost austere figure of Queen Mary.

Balcony Scene. [Album RCIN: 2851033]
Three Royal generations on the balcony at Buckingham Palace following the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York 26 April 1923. The Duke and Duchess of York (upper right), and three royal generations on the balcony at Buckingham Palace (lower right), Queen Alexandra on the far left, Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess of York, and King George V on the far right.

The bride wore a medieval-style chiffon moiré wedding dress embroidered with silver thread and pearls and incorporating sleeves and train of Nottingham lace. Afterwards the happy couple left to spend their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey, country home of the Royal family’s intimate friend, Mrs Ronnie Greville.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon leaves her Mayfair home for her wedding to Prince Albert, Duke of York, the future King George VI.

‘Lilibet’ surprisingly  did not wear a tiara. The groom, known to the family as ‘Bertie’, wore dress uniform in blue-grey, that of a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon wears a gown by dressmaker Madame Handley-Seymour; Prince Albert wears his Royal Air Force uniform.

Another letter from Lady Stradbroke introduced them to the conspicuous Dowager Marchioness of Linlithgow. She invited them to a luncheon for ‘at least fifteen’ smart London hostesses and they left with seven engagements at one hundred guineas each. They could hardly believe their good fortune (100 guineas in 1923 was worth over £5000 at 2015 values).

Hersey Hope, Marchioness of Linlithgow - Wikipedia
Hersey Alice Hope, Marchioness of Linlithgow (1867-1937)

*The Hon. Lady Herbert (d. 1923) was born Leila ‘Belle’ Wilson, a New York heiress. In 1888 she had married Sir Michael Henry Herbert (1857–1903) who had been British Ambassador to the US in the final year of his life. She had the reputation of attempting to be more English than the English and represented the increasing society influence of a growing number of American London hostesses.

1935 painting of Wilton House by Rex Whistler (1905-1944) The South Façade is the location of the State Apartments created by James Wyatt in the early 19th century, replacing the 17th century arrangement of rooms by Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1665) and his assistant Isaac de Caux and later altered by John Webb (1611-1672)
Double Cube Room at Wilton House

Sir Michael came from a distinguished family whose seat was magnificent Wilton House near Salisbury in Wiltshire, arguably the most beautiful country house, gardens and grounds in England. Many English historical films have used scenes set in the famous Inigo Jones Double Cube Room at Wilton (Barry Lyndon, The Madness of King George, Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Brown, The Crown).

(Photos and captions of Wilton House courtesy of Victoria Hinshaw)

† Andrew Barrow, Gossip: A History of High Society from 1920 to 1970 (London 1978), p. 16.

‡ Hersey Alice Mullins, Marchioness of Linlithgow (1867–1937) was the wife of John Hope, 1st Marquess of Linlithgow (1860–1908) who, as the 7th Earl of Hopetoun, was the 8th Governor of Victoria (1889–95) and a highly controversial 1st Governor-General of Australia (1901–3). Lady Hopetoun’s private character was less formal than her public one. She was a keen angler, an expert horsewoman and an enthusiastic hunter. She was a crack shot, even though shooting was then considered an unusual activity for a woman and disapproved of by Queen Victoria. She was also a photographer and an artist in cartoons, caricatures and watercolours.

The year they arrived in England  was  eventful.  February  1923 saw the glories of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings revealed. In April some 200,000 fans packed the new Wembley Stadium for the first Wembley FA Cup Final. In politics May saw Bonar Law resign his brief premiership of less than a year and Stanley Baldwin appointed Prime Minister. In June the great racehorse Papyrus won the Derby and in July wives were allowed to petition for divorce. October witnessed Southern Rhodesia become a self-governing colony. ‘Popular’ music, the craze for jazz and the associated abandoned life style of drink, drugs and sex was emerging. John Cobb was racing a ten-litre Delage and Count Louis Zborowski his Chitty-Bang-Bang aero-engined monsters at Brooklands motor racing circuit. Many BBC regional stations began broadcasting and the first transatlantic radio broadcast between London and New York took place. The wireless celebrated its first birthday.

The contacts made at the royal wedding led to their first informal engagement. Before their official concert tour they provided a modest entertainment in aid of the District Nursing Association in the village of Great Horwood. This small concert in the village hall was arranged by a Mrs Frederick Denny of Horwood House, who had founded the association as part of her charitable works. ‘Such piano playing had never before been heard in the village … every piece was of course encored.’ observed the local reporter.

The impresario Frederick Shipman, who had arranged their Southeast Asian and Indian Tour, had organised various public engagements at variety theatres throughout England and Scotland. In the few months before their first appearance at the Alhambra in Glasgow they set about shopping for elegant clothes in Jermyn Street and spent a small fortune on costly silk top hats, detachable collars and cuffs, white tie, tails and morning suits, all de rigueur for formal London occasions. Eddie’s experience as a draper had given him impeccable taste in clothes. The gift of diamond cuff-links and shirt studs from the Maharajah of Jaipur could at last be put to good use. They wandered the teeming Caledonian Market in North London and were offered bowler hats, brass doctor’s plates and a skeleton in a box.

Attendance at the royal wedding also led to their first society appearance in April arranged by a mysterious Mrs Webster at 25 Tedworth Square, Chelsea.

View of the Chelsea Embankment 1923

Being merely ‘young colonials’ they felt particularly nervous performing before a distinguished collection of countesses, dowagers, duchesses, lords and their ladies. Eddie suffered from nerves and had a special mixture concocted in Soho supposedly to suppress stage fright. George was of a more sanguine temperament. They both harboured the undeserved Australian cultural inferiority complex faced with the English aristocracy, a common affliction in the early days of Federation, something not shed nationally until much later.

He knows that although his erudition may be sound, his clothes faultless, and his hands as clean as his linen – though he may have much knowledge, much tact, much eloquence, much refinement – his acceptance among the people who can trace their descent for a couple of centuries will be achieved in spite of, and in no way because of, the land of his birth.*

The Times review of the concert was not particularly encouraging, praising Eddie’s performance of Schumann’s Aufschwung but deciding the Chopin Nocturnes and Waltzes were not sufficiently cantabile. George’s lyric tenor voice was praised but not his selection of English art songs. The Morning Post felt they made ‘a favourable impression’ and ‘applauded some excellent singing and piano playing.’ This appearance led to other social engagements such as at the home of the fashionable Mrs Ernest Guinness wife of the Hon. Arthur Ernest Guinness who lived at Grosvenor Place. She is now best remembered as the mother of the ‘Golden Guinness Girls’, the brightest and most notorious of the ‘Bright Young People’ of the 1920s.

*Alfred Johnson Buchanan, The Real Australia (London 1907), p. 303.

1912 Portrait of the Hon. Mrs Ernest Guinness (1876-1949)
Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee (1853-1928)

†Her magnificent 1912 portrait by the eminent artist Sir Frank Dicksee expresses the confidence and opulence of the Edwardian era perhaps more than any other.

They opened their United Kingdom public season in one of the best-equipped theatres in Britain, the Alhambra Variety Theatre in Glasgow on 9 July 1923.*

A Watercolour of the Alhambra Theatre by Robert Eadie RSW from the cover of a 1928 Tatler Magazine
Stage of the A;hambra Theatre 1914

It was able to accommodate almost three thousand people and considered to be the most modern theatre in Britain. Specialising in variety shows, stars such as Harry Lauder, Cicely Courtneidge, Jessie Matthews and Ivor Novello had appeared there. The Australians received star billing. Two days before, the Weekly Record had revealed under the headline ‘Wizard Pianist’ that Eddie had ‘the smallest pair of hands among the world’s pianists’ and could barely stretch an octave. However they assured prospective audiences that once ‘the pocket Paderewski’ had arranged the piano stool to accommodate his diminutive stature ‘there is not one masterpiece in the world of music that will deter him’.

The heyday of the music hall and variety theatre was slowly fading after the Great War as the age of the cinema began to flourish. In November, a theatrical agent shot himself in the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome of St Paul’s, after his business had been ruined by the cinema. The greatest architect of those sumptuous Edwardian jewel-box interiors, Frank Matcham, had died in 1920. Many superb theatres were demolished. ‘The boys’ appeared twice nightly to disappointingly mixed reviews. Shortly after however as some compensation, they were warmly received in Birmingham at the Grand Music Hall.

*The Theatre opened in 1910 and was designed by architect, Sir John James Burnet. It was built on the site of the popular Waterloo Rooms, which had previously been Wellington Street Church. The name derives from association with the Moorish palace in Granada.

A marvelously detailed, truly fascinating illustrated history of this famous theatre :

* * *

Their London concert season that year began in grand style with their attendance in morning dress at an Afternoon Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on 26 July 1923. This was a charming affair with green and white striped refreshment tents and white marquees set out in the gardens of the palace with excellent tea and ‘cucumber sandwiches the size of a stamp and cake’ as Eddie noted. Various military bands provided festive entertainment as distinguished guests were formally presented to the King George and Queen Mary under an awning. Later the King and Queen wandered among the guests, stopping to chat briefly now and again.*

King George and Queen Mary in 1913
King George and Queen Mary at a Buckingham Palace Afternoon Party in 1913

After receiving such invitations so soon after his arrival in England, before long Eddie began to be driven by ambition and a degree of social snobbery. Although outwardly advocating the maintenance of a natural style without affectation and determined not to conceal his Australian accent, he began to fill an address book that by the end of his career in London would appear like a concise edition of Debrett’s.

Their modest London concert debut was held over the August bank holiday at the Victoria Palace Theatre.

An artist’s impression of Frank Matcham’s
Victoria Palace Theatre

The audience were enthusiastic, and ‘cooees’ mingled with the applause. Again the official reviews were mixed. Eddie was thought rather begrudgingly to ‘play the piano with plenty of skill if a little mechanically’. But the Daily Telegraph wrote ‘Edward Cahill is a pianist of unusual skill and talent, whose spirited playing delighted last night’s audience. He has a most delightful staccato touch.’ Concerning George, The Times had ‘Nothing but praise for his attractive voice’ although he was thought to be wasting his talent on ‘hackneyed songs’. The Pall Mall Gazette was more forthcoming: ‘Their reception after the performance was extraordinary; although they were called before the curtain several times the audience could not have enough of them, and actually stopped the following item in order to have a speech.’

*In the 1920s the Buckingham Palace garden parties (called at the time on the invitation ‘Afternoon Party’ were more pleasant, exclusive and far less crowded than today.

† ‘Cooee!’ is a shout used in the Australian bush to attract attention. Loud and piercing, it can carry over long distances. The word means ‘come here’ from the Dharug language spoken by the now extinct Aboriginal people from the Sydney area. One of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries entitled The Boscombe Valley Mystery is solved when Holmes recognizes ‘cooee’ is an Australian word.

For more on the famous Victoria Palace Theatre :

Their fiercely loyal housekeeper, a typical East End Londoner, attended this concert. She was sitting in the gallery.

Eddie’s diary relates her conversation:

‘They all loved yer!’

‘How do you know?’ asked Eddie

‘Well, I stood at the door comin’ out an’ I said ‘How’ed you like ‘em?’

‘We loved ‘em!’ they said.

‘They was lucky. If they ‘adnter, I’d a walloped ‘em!

This season was followed by appearances at the London Alhambra in Leicester Square.

The Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, London, at Night – William Thomas Wood (1877-1958)

Here they appeared alongside the Vaudeville-Revue artists Lee White and Clay Smith.*

A Great Revue Artist.- Miss Lee White, with Mr. Clay Smith. 1922.
A great Vaudeville-Revue Artist – Miss Lee White with Mr. Clay Smith 1922

Decorated in the Moorish style, the venue was ‘the most comfortable theatre in London’ according to Kenneth Clark of Civilisation. The London Morning Post referred to George’s voice ‘of almost honey sweetness and possesses the art of absolutely clear enunciation … They do not want to draw only the trained musician but to interest the casual lover of music. Consequently their repertoire consisted of both popular and classical numbers, drawn from the best sources. Their success was immediate.’

A season at the London Coliseum followed. The Star commented patriotically with fresh wounds clearly uppermost in their mind, appreciative of the war support shown by Australia:

Australia will be There’ was the song of the War, and last night, two Australian artists were there too – with a splendid reception. Both are admirable artists and were a big success.

They appeared alongside the great Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa.

Sessue Hayakawa - Wikipedia
Sessue Hayakawa

They also appeared at the celebrated London Palladium National Sunday League Concerts and also at the Boosey Ballad Concerts at the Albert Hall and the Queen’s Hall. Eddie reflected later in life that when he looked down at the audience of thousands from the stage of the vast Albert Hall he felt his heart almost bursting as his childhood dreams of becoming a concert pianist had all come true. The National Sunday League concerts had been established, as the secretary Henry Mills stated, ‘generally to promote intellectual and Elevating Recreation on that Day’. The Daily Mail reported they were so enthusiastically received ‘they could scarcely leave the stage’. The critic further noted the growth of their astonishing popularity after having only spent a short time in England.

*Lee White (1886–1927) and Clay Smith (1885– ?) were an American husband-and-wife Vaudeville team. White and Smith, who are credited with giving Gertrude Lawrence her start in show business, at one time owned and operated London’s famous Strand Theatre.

† Clark, Another Part of the Wood, p. 72. He visited the Alhambra as a schoolboy to see a Diaghilev ballet after a painful session at the dentist.

‡ Sessue Hayakawa (1889–1973) was a Samurai and a brilliant Japanese actor of both the silent film era and the talkies. In the late 1920s he was as well known as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. He was one of the highest paid stars of his time. Hayakawa is best known as Colonel Saito in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best Supporting Actor in 1957. This remarkable man was also a theatre actor, film producer and director, screenwriter, novelist, martial arts expert and ordained Zen Master.

Hollywood's Golden Age of Racism | Sojourners
In 1915, with the actress Fannie Ward, Hayakawa had the first on-screen interracial kiss.

Being unused to criticism of any significant kind on their concert tours of Australia, India or Southeast Asia, some of the less positive official reviews came as an unwelcome shock. In London Eddie had already attended a number of piano recitals by internationally famous pianists, something normally denied him in Australia. He heard the superb violinist Fritz Kreisler and the pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski at the Albert Hall, both of whom he admired greatly. He managed with his persuasive charm to engage Paderewski’s agent, a Mr L.G. Sharp, to arrange a few suitable alternative venues for them. Because of his small stature Mr Sharp began to refer to him as ‘The Pocket Paderewski ‘, a nickname that stuck.

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Ignacy Jan Paderewski on the stage of the Albert Hall in 1933

At the Queen’s Hall Eddie heard the almost forgotten but brilliant Ukrainian-born Russian pianist Leff Pouishnoff*, who specialized in Chopin. Pouishnoff had escaped the Bolsheviks during a concert tour of Persia and had arrived in England only a year before Eddie. His career had been suffocated by the Great War and the Russian Revolution, but after settling and performing in London he was greatly acclaimed. Eddie was influenced by Pouishnoff’s refined touch and sophisticated nuance, a technique in performing Chopin that never lapsed into effeminacy or sentimentality.

Leff Pouishnoff (1891-1959) by Margaret Marks, Lithograph 1942
Leff Pouishnoff (Piano) - Short Biography

He also greatly admired the famous Ukrainian-born pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch and naturally the Pole of genius Arthur Rubinstein, a pioneer of the modern performance aesthetic and only two years younger than Eddie. The remarkable but forgotten Belgian pianist and composer Arthur de Greef was also performing in London at that time. De Greef had studied in Weimar for two years with Franz Liszt. Eddie loved the sparkling, light elegance and charm of the Chopin Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat major he heard.

File:Arthur de Greef portrait (5599697595).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
The Belgian pianist and composer Arthur de Greef (1862-1940)

Eddie, despite his great natural gifts, now realized that he must work and study harder than ever to make his mark as a serious concert artist. He must improve his technique and significantly enlarge his repertoire if he was to be noticed at all as a virtuoso pianist in the great capital. He now began to practise in earnest. He was worried that success seemed to have come rather late in life and that his Australian beginnings were a mixed blessing.

*Leff Pouishnoff (1891–1959), a pupil of the renowned pianist and teacher Annette Essipova, a pupil and subsequently wife of the great Polish pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky. In 1938 he was the first pianist to be televised.

Autograph / signature of the Russian pianist who specialised in Chopin, Leff  Pouishnoff. Dated June 1928. by POUISHNOFF, LEFF 1891-1959.: Very Good No  Binding Signed by Author(s) | David Strauss

PP Instalment 6

Chapter 3

‘The East of the ancient navigators’

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Edward Cahill (1885-1975) at the beginning of the India South-East Asian Tour

As the ship left Sarawak and crossed the Java Sea to their next engagement, plumes of ash billowed into the sky from volcanic craters along the ‘Ring of Fire’. The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party would soon berth at the port of Batavia (present day Jakarta), the capital of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) known ominously as the ‘Graveyard of Europeans’.

Batavia 1920 | Batavia, Cityscape, Chinatown

Javanese natives dressed in colourful batik caps and Dutch traders in white duck crowded the wharf. They were driven with their luggage by ‘fast’ motor coach a few miles to Weltevreden and the Hotel Des Indes.

The Dining Room at the Hotel des Indes

The entrance to this luxury establishment was alive with a flurry of red parasols and batik sarongs, motor vehicles, two-wheeled pony traps and bakeks, a type of rickshaw. They were checked into a private bungalow in the extensive grounds. Huge banyan trees (considered holy by the Javanese) grew in the front garden. Festooned with the tendrils of creepers, the branches were full of tiny chirruping birds. Both musicians had begun to feel the uncomfortable heat. ‘It is as if we are being slowly cooked!’ exclaimed Eddie.

Reviews of these concerts have not survived, but we know they performed in the hotel alongside the tremendously popular Mr Podinovsky’s Russian Quintet, which provided nightly dance music.

The tremendously popular Mr Podinovsky’s Russian Quintet, which provided nightly dance music.

They also performed at the Concordia Club and the Box Club. Eddie gave a successful recital including Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Schumann’s Aufschwung from the Fantasiestücke Op. 12, the second Novelette in D major, and the Staccato Caprice by the forgotten Austrian composer Max Vogrich.*

*Max Vogrich (1852–1916) was born in Hermannstadt, Transylvania (now Sibiu, Romania). A childhood prodigy, he was an acclaimed pianist by the age of 14. He studied in Leipzig under Carl Reinecke, Hans Richter, Moritz Hauptmann and Ignaz Moscheles, completing his studies in 1869. From 1870 to 1878 toured continental Europe, South America, and the United States. From 1882 to 1886 he toured and taught in Australia. He died in New York.

Max Vogrich Weimer 1908

His forgotten works include operas, an oratorio, cantatas, several masses, symphonies, violin and pianoforte concertos and sonatas besides duets, songs, and chamber music.

Probably as a result of years spent in the drapery at Beenleigh, Eddie always dressed in a dapper almost exhibitionist style. After the well-attended afternoon concert at the historic Harmonie  Club he spent some time shopping at Oger Frères, a fashionable gentlemen’s outfitters. Throughout his life Eddie would remain proud of his appearance, taking a perfectionist, almost a prissy care of details and vainly attempting to cultivate the wild mane of hair so characteristic of the ‘inspired virtuoso’. One evening they watched with fascination the traditional Wayang kulit or puppet theatre which had been erected in the hotel garden. For many hours human desires and destinies are acted out by the puppet master, the shadows being cast on a screen illuminated from behind. The drama is accompanied by a small gamelan orchestra*.

Wayang puppet theatre of Bali, Indonesia (Print #14227388). Cards
Wayang kulit puppet theatre with gamelan orchestra cir.1925
Inside the Puppet Box: A Performance Collection of Wayang Kulit at the  Museum of International Folk Art: Katz-Harris, Felicia: 9780295990743: Books
Modern Wayang kulit puppets
Wayang Kulit in Indonesia - Light and Shadow -
Modern Wayang kulit puppets in the shadow theatre

The train travel they had experienced during their concert tour of India had by now become a source of allure to both our artists. Java did not disappoint as they boarded the train to make the long, hot journey to Solo (Surakarta) in Central Java. The carriages were quite open for coolness, and native Javanese seemed to be hanging from every window and door. But these steam trains were fired by wood not coal. This meant that glowing cinders as well as smoke were constantly blown into the carriages burning holes in one’s clothing. It was now the end of May and the wet season had drawn to a close.

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Locomotief en trein van de Nederlands-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij TMnr 10014036.jpg
Locomotive and train of the Dutch Indies Railway Company, Java 1920

Java was divided into two royal capitals,  both  descended  from the Mataram kingdom: the Sultanate of  Yogyakarta  and  the Sultanate of Surakarta (Solo). Eddie and George had been invited to perform and also attend a gamelan concert and Wayang orang classical dance at the Palace of the Royal Court or Keraton Surakarta Hadiningrat at Solo in Central Java.

*A very particular musical ensemble of percussion instruments particular to Indonesia. Generally from the islands of Bali or Java it comprises a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs, bamboo flutes and bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included. The tuning, rhythm, intervallic structure and notation of a gamelan orchestra is extraordinarily complex. Many of the greatest 20th century Western composers such as Olivier Messiaen were influenced by gamelan music.

Their host, Susuhunan (His Exalted Majesty) Pakubuwono X, wore a black cap with gold bands with what appeared to be a curious mixture of Western dinner jacket and an elegantly patterned batik sarong, slippers and a short sword decorated with flowers. Eddie wrote to his sister:

It is so strange to see this mixture of Eastern and European styles jumbled together! Decorations, waistcoat and sash, enormous rings, even a watch chain as we are used to in the West yet also wearing a gem-encrusted turban and jewelled slippers. His consort looked far less splendid. The peacock and the hen  in short!

Pakubuwono X - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Susuhunan (His Exalted Majesty) Pakubuwono X

The audience comprised Dutch administrators and ‘various aristocratic Javanese personages’. The concert was followed by traditional refreshments of spiced tea, coffee or chocolate with tiny sweet rice cakes sprinkled with coconut.

A gamelan orchestra of native musicians then assembled. They accompanied a Legong dance by two prepubescent female dancers in fabulously ornate gold costumes moving in a sort of trance as Eddie described it ‘like butterflies visiting flowers’, fluttering wide-open eyes, elegant fingers curving in arabesques and tiny intricate foot movements. There was also a chorus of male and female singers.

Balinese music and dance in the golden age of the 1920s
Image 1 - indonesia, BALI, Beautiful Native Djanger Dancers (1920s) Postcard
Legong Dancers Java 1920
Balinese dancers and gamelan orchestra 1920-36 | Indonesië, Indonesisch
Legong Dancers and percussion orchestra Bali 1920
Legong dancers | Old photos, Bali, Dancer
Legong Dancers Java 1920
nickyskye meanderings: Bali,Borneo in the 1910's, 1920's,1930's, 1940's,  wandering around the Tropenmuseum website
A beautiful Balinese face

He admired the extreme beauty of the male dancers who followed, their ravishing costumes, the gem emblazoned kris tied with a silk band to their waist, their smooth amber skin, the kohl-shadowed eyes that accentuated their noble profiles and the sensuality of their movement.

Sampih | garlic never sleeps
Balinese male dancers and gamelan orchestra cir.1920

After the concert Eddie and George left the palace in the cool of the late evening and wandered under the oil lamps that hung from the banyan trees. They were in a dream, feeling as if they had visited the enchanted realms of a fairy tale.

Their long tour was concluded. As they sailed back to Australia on SS Montoro in late November 1920, they watched fascinated as the distant volcano Mount Bromo spewed a huge plume of ash and pumice. Eddie’s taste for the glamorous luxuries of royal patronage was firmly established on this early, sublimely exotic voyage into the heart of India and Southeast Asia.

* * *

Their return to Beenleigh after so many months of epicurean delights and adulation could only have come as an anticlimax. The sumptuous gifts from their Asian journey that he proudly displayed made a great impression in provincial Beenleigh. Diamond-encrusted cigarette cases and ruby cuff-links were not a common sight in small Australian towns. The voyage had also deeply impressed him musically and would contribute to the development of his repertoire. He began to study Debussy’s Estampes (Prints) in particular the first, entitled Pagodes, with its evocation of the gamelan orchestras he had so recently heard.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gamelan-debussy.jpg
Claude Debussy and a gamelan orchestra

Debussy wrote:

Javanese music obeys laws of counterpoint that make Palestrina seem like child’s play and if one listens to it without being prejudiced by one’s European ears, one will find a percussive charm that forces one to admit that our own music is not much more than a barbarous kind of noise more fit for a traveling circus […] Javanese rhapsodies, which, instead of confining themselves in a traditional form, develop according to the fantasy of countless arabesques.

After being treated with oriental obsequiousness and acknowledged as a musical celebrity it was difficult for Eddie to accommodate to the harsh realities facing the state of Queensland in the early 1920s. The idea of an Australian Federation of States, which had come into force on 1 January 1901, had not been received enthusiastically by what was now defined as the ‘State’ of Queensland rather than the ‘Colony’. Many Australians had been traumatized by the sacrifices of the Great War, in particular the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign. The Australian casualty rate after the Great War stood at almost sixty-five per cent, among the highest of any Empire country. At one and a quarter per cent of the population, almost every family had been affected including Eddie’s own. This volatile political mood was hardly conducive to the creative arts.

The pianist showed no interest in politics, the burgeoning Labor movement or the rise of Australian nationalism. Eddie was a confirmed aesthete. He was no tough farmer’s son facing flood and drought, the infestation of prickly pear, venomous snakes or the cane toad. He was never a real ‘cobber’. His diminutive stature and artistic temperament only sharpened his sense of being an outsider. ‘Only girls play the piano, mate!’ was contemptuously thrown at him on more than one occasion.

The state registers a highly masculinist culture, stemming from its penal origins and the pioneering of harsh terrain: rambunctious, brash, violent and larrikin. Women were shown their place … A land always hard like an anvil of survival; a climate in most weathers equatorial, capricious and punishing; and everything befitting living in extremis – the sharper chromacity, the inordinate lushness or barrenness of nature, the roar of insect noise, of cyclone and bushfire, the overbearing humidity and distance – monotonous limitless horizons of red, powdered earth, all drenched in blazing light. *

*Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 270.

The first concert appearance of Eddie and George in Australia after the India and Southeast Asian tour was in February  1921.  As part of a wide-ranging concert tour of the country they were billed with the variety vaudeville act known as ‘The Sparklers’ (songs, popular operatic arias, comedians and ballet) in Brisbane’s Palace Gardens Theatre. The audience was large and rather distinguished. The English Governor of Queensland, Sir Matthew Nathan, a soldier and civil servant attended, together with his ‘suite’ and the Labor Premier ‘Red Ted’  Theodore (a fierce Labor man) as well as the Mayor of Brisbane. The Brisbane Courier made a comment on Eddie’s performance of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 which illustrates how popular entertainment of the time teetered on the cusp of change from being simple entertainment to being appreciated as more musically serious.

Mr Cahill credited his listeners with an elevated musical taste … he exhibited originality of style without extravagance, and was polished without affectation … While he interprets the most classical works, he also contributes the more popular numbers, and thereby meets with the approval of audiences.

Eddie’s popular father died in May at a youthful 64 and was much lamented by the local community and his family. In November 1921 Eddie and George had luncheon at Government House in Melbourne with the ‘cheery-faced’ Governor of Victoria, George Rous, 3rd Earl of Stradbroke and his volatile and rather informal wife Countess Helena, Lady Stradbroke. They were able to renew their acquaintance with another guest at this luncheon, Dame Nellie Melba. The introductions they made at this social event were to be of the utmost importance to their future careers. Lady Stradbroke was to give them substantial patronage and letters of introduction before they travelled abroad.

Miss Helena Violet Alice Keith Fraser, later Countess of Stradbroke and wife of the 3rd earl of Stradbroke in Victorian fancy dress at the Devonshire House Ball 1897
Lady Stradbroke posed with bombs dropped on Henham Hall
Lady Stradbroke, formerly Helena Fraser and wife of George Rous, 3rd Earl of Stradbroke, pictured in nurse’s uniform at the family home of Henham Hall in Suffolk contemplating the bombs dropped by German aircraft in April 1915. 
Historic image of Stonnington Mansion
Stonnington Mansion (Government House, Melbourne) Residence of the Victorian Governor, George Edward John Mowbray Rous (1862-1947) 3rd Earl of Stradbroke
Lord Stradbroke saying goodbye to an officer of the guard of honour. 24 May 1926 – farewell to Victoria, Australia.

†George Edward Rous, 3rd. Earl of Stradbroke (1862–1947) was the 15th Governor of Victoria, Australia. Helena Violet Fraser (?–1949) was the daughter of Lt.-Gen. James Keith Fraser. She was one of Eddie’s most important patrons from the very beginning of his concert career. She married George Rous in 1898 and was created a DBE in 1927.

 After much deliberation on the grim  employment  prospects for them in Australia and encouraged by patrons and friends, Eddie and George finally decided to take that great leap into the unknown for colonial Australians – a passage to London. At the time most Australian musical artists of any talent were forced to travel abroad to study and gain experience. They announced that they had decided to leave Australia for London at the beginning of 1923.

Eddie always planned concerts with a high degree of marketing panache. For the beginning of the 1922 season he proposed an extended series of ‘Farewell Recitals’ around Australia and New Zealand. Using his personal charm and pianistic talents, Eddie throughout his career ruthlessly cultivated his social contacts particularly with the enthusiastic wives of distinguished citizens.

Their first ‘Farewell Concert’ was arranged in the Assembly Hall, Melbourne for 2 December 1921 under the patronage of the Lady Stradbroke and in the presence of Dame Nellie Melba.

Nellie Melba - Wikipedia
Nellie Melba (1861-1931) cir.1907

At  the Grand Opera House Wellington on the New Zealand leg of their farewell tour they appeared on the same programme as the great Ella Shields.* Shields was an American-born vaudeville star, a diminutive male impersonator whose first husband wrote her famous comic signature tune Burlington Bertie from Bow, ‘a study of genteel vagabondage from its best angle’. She was billed as ‘young and pretty with a lad-like figure, modestly controlled, and yet boyishly virile … [she] puts pep into the most jaded audience’. She also enthusiastically encouraged them to go to London.

Ella Shields
The male impersonator Ella Shields (1879-1952)
The male impersonator Ella Shields (1879-1952)

Eddie was becoming increasingly serious about music and tiring of the kaleidoscope of acts that appeared on their programmes. The variety might include ‘Harko’ the Comedy Cartoonist, ‘Togo’ the Miraculous Japanese with Sensations of the Orient, ‘Nancy Cook’ the Winsome English Soubrette with Handsome Frocks, a Dialect Comedian of Pantomime Fame. And yet the silent cinema and music hall had given Eddie a unique and extraordinary apprenticeship for becoming a serious classical pianist.

* Ella Shields (1879–1952).

†Julie Andrews performed this song with great panache in the 1968 movie Star directed by Robert Wise.

Colourful and rowdy audiences trained him to significantly project his personality, subdue his stage fright and carefully plan the entertainment content of his programs. The Sunday Sun reviewed a concert in Sydney at the Tivoli Theatre with the manly vigour of a Regency pugilist:

Edward Cahill, a pianist of quality, proved that he could get a half-Nelson on vaudeville patrons, and hold them enthralled. With Cahill was George Brooke, who sings with fervour, and will be the idol of many a matinee girl.

Their appearance at the Hibernian Hall in Cairns in August 1922 that was excitedly anticipated. The advertisement enthused:

‘Hear the Famous Australian Artists prior to Departure for London and Paris. Dame Nellie Melba wires: ‘Best Wishes for Success of the Tour’.

The two farewell concerts in September at the Theatre Royal in Rockhampton were extensively reviewed by the Morning Bulletin. The paper enthusiastically predicted that in his wonderfully varied program Eddie was ‘on the high road to considerable eminence as a pianist … [ with] the true touch of a master.’

Further concerts at the Tivoli Theatres in Melbourne and Sydney followed before their final embarkation for England and London. George was presented with a handsome tribute from the famous English contralto Dame Clara Butt. She considered him ‘the most artistic singer I have heard since coming to Australia’. Their voyage to ‘the Mecca of Music’ would take them some six weeks.

PP Instalment 5

Chapter 3

‘The East of the ancient navigators’

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were exhausted from their Indian tour as they again boarded the SS Montoro in Calcutta bound for a reappearance in Rangoon (Yangon), Bangkok and Singapore on the return voyage to Australia. The tour of India was reported to be one of the most successful ever attempted by Western classical musicians. They looked forward to resting on the  ship  in  the cool sea breezes. However the water was as still as glass, the sky leaden and the air oppressive. The listlessness, irritable moods and lack of sleep engendered in the deep tropics enervated them, yet Eddie enjoyed the sense of impermanence created by travel. It gave him a heightened sense of reality. George, a more grounded personality, often found himself irritated by the closeness and Eddie’s fluctuating moods.

Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon (Rangoon)

Rangoon. The heat, humidity and thunderstorms of May 1920. The opulent Golden or Shwedagon Pagoda nestled among the palms, its pinnacle dominating the skyline of the city from every angle. Somerset Maugham referred to it as the ‘sudden hope in the dark night of the soul’. Eddie wrote in his travel journal of the vibrant colours of the city, crammed to bursting with golden pagodas and Chinese temples:

I feel I have entered a sort of paradise. The Queensland coast is beautiful but the sense of the exotic East is very strong here.The air itself seems perfumed. How Debussy would have loved this place and painted it in impressionistic sound pictures! The refined Burmese dancing girls wear lilac, pink, green and lapis lazuli silks and ornaments. They have a natural elegance of carriage, graceful hand movements and seductiveness imitating mystical birds or guardian spirits, all moving in a manner as beautiful as a musical phrase.’

90 Amazing Myanmar ( Burma ) ideas | myanmar, burma, myanmar (burma)
Burmese (Myanmar) Dancers 1920

During the Calcutta season Josie Westaway had met an admirer, the dashing Captain H.A. Keywood. Unknown to the boys they had become secretly engaged during their appearances in Quetta in Balochistan (now Pakistan). Keywood ardently followed the party to Burma (Myanmar) where the couple were married in Rangoon in a small but picturesque ceremony.

Gymkhana Jive – Taj Mahal Foxtrot
Gymkhana Club Rangoon 1920

Reluctantly the happy party broke off touring the resplendent sights to prepare for the concerts at the Gymkhana Club. The Rangoon News wrote of their second concert: ‘Saturday night’s audience was larger and even more enthusiastic than that on Friday … Cahill showed his mastery of the instrument.’ Eddie and George slept on board ship for the few nights of their stay. They impatiently waited for the stevedores to load fuel, mail and supplies before sailing on to Singapore and a short season at the legendary Raffles Hotel. With the marriage and departure of the femme fatale their own relationship resumed its usual friendly course.

* * *

Although certainly no intellectual, Eddie had always been a great reader and was particularly fond of the novels of Joseph Conrad. Lazing in a deckchair on a rare sparklingly clear day at the beginning of the southwest monsoon of late May 1920, he marked a passage in a dog-eared copy of the narrative story Youth as they sailed close to the coastline of the Malay peninsula to take up their engagement at Raffles.

The fronds of palms stood still against the sky. Not a branch stirred along the shore, and the brown roofs of hidden houses peeped through the green foliage, through the big leaves that hung shining and still like leaves forged of heavy metal. This was the East of the ancient navigators, so old, so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise.*

*Joseph Conrad, Youth (London 1902) pp. 45–6.

When in 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles signed a trade treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah on behalf of the British East India Company, the current idea of Empire was rather more idealistic than our later corrupted perception of it.

He wrote:

If the time shall come when her empire shall have passed away, these monuments will endure when her triumphs shall have become an empty name.’*

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles remains one of the great symbols of British imperial colonial life and yet it was founded neither by Sir Stamford Raffles or any other British national. Four sharp entrepreneurial Armenian brothers, the Sarkies, recognized the trade potential of the port. They purchased the Raffles Girls’ Boarding School in Singapore to convert to a hotel. Raffles opened in 1887. Rudyard Kipling, an early distinguished guest, commented ‘the food is as excellent as the rooms are bad.’

In time the port of Singapore grew to become the seventh biggest in the world. Opium dens rubbed shoulders with luxury hotels. Between 1897 and 1899 Raffles was extensively renovated transforming the modest hotel into ‘The Savoy of Singapore’. Renaissance-style architecture with cool verandahs, a vast columnar dining room paved with Carrara marble, bronze statues and sweeping staircases illuminated by ‘decadent’ electric light. Fans circulated lazily although punkahwallahs were retained to foster an exotic Eastern atmosphere. Fortunately the last Singapore tiger had been shot under the billiard room in 1902.

Arriving at Raffles Hotel Singapore 1920

Eddie and George were collected from the ship by hotel jinricksha for their concert season. Their suite had its own sitting room, bedroom and dressing room with an attached bathroom and direct telephone, luxuries unheard of outside the great European capitals. They looked forward to ‘all the comforts of home’ with an English breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs or kippers followed by tea, toast and rough-cut Seville orange marmalade. Later in the day a tiffin would be served.

*Quoted in James Morris, Pax Britannica (London 1968) p. 154.

† A ‘coolie’ who moved a large hinged fan attached to the ceiling above the hotel guests via a pulley system. At Raffles they were operated with sublime lethargy by way of a string attached to the big toe.

‡ A light afternoon meal often of delicately curried dishes originating in British India.

The ‘Bright Young People’ of Singapore had begun to patronize Raffles in the 1920s and tea dances had become de rigueur. An orchestra played every night. The atmosphere of the city tended to the morally casual. In the exaggerated class-conscious atmosphere of the Straits Settlement, white tie and tails together with long   ball gowns were insisted upon even in the stifling humidity. Eddie and George with their vaudeville experience kept everyone entertained. They sweated through the night and failed to sleep in the afternoons. In competition with their classical repertoire, jazz was the predominant musical passion at Raffles.

The entertainment provided by the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party was particularly welcome in an atmosphere of colonial ennui. The sheer enthusiasm that greeted these two talented musicians, the relief from boredom they offered, comes as no great surprise. The Singapore Times wrote:

‘Because his name does not end with a ‘ski’ or a ‘vitch’ some people would think that Mr Cahill’s playing would not compare with that of the great foreign pianists but the pitch of enthusiasm aroused last night soon dispelled this idea. He is undoubtedly the best pianist heard in Singapore for many a rainy year.’

Eddie and George were a close team both emotionally and musically, discussing and noting accounts of the formidably eccentric colonial characters they encountered. Many distinguished writers were to paint literary portraits of such bizarre personalities. Somerset Maugham described the White man in Malaya as ‘a pale stranger who moves through all this reality like a being from another planet … they are bored with themselves, bored with one another.’*

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dr. P.V. van Stein Callenfels TMnr 10018797.jpg  - Wikimedia Commons
Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels

One such eccentric they encountered was a commanding figure who haunted the Raffles Bar of an evening. The archaeologist and anthropologist Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels was a distinguished graduate of Leiden University.He was rumoured to have eaten human  flesh  when  living  among  the  cannibals of Sumatra. This giant of a man entered Raffles mythology by insisting on quarts of beer and consuming ten bottles of gin at breakfast. According to one report ‘his monstrous body heaved and shuddered like a shaken blancmange’. Arthur Conan Doyle modelled Professor Challenger on him in his novel The Lost World. Raffles was probably where Eddie also first made the

*Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook (London 1949), Readers Union Edition, 1951, p. 169.

† Pieter van Stein Callenfels (1883–1938).

acquaintance of the notorious and glamorous Russian physician Dr Serge Voronoff who grafted monkey glands (thyroid and testicles) into humans in pursuit of the secret of eternal youth. Little did he realize at the time what an important role this mournful-looking individual, accompanied in the tropics by a statuesque young blonde, would play during his own declining years on the Côte d’Azur.*

Serge 001
Dr. Serge Voronoff

* * *

After this entertaining season of concerts the Cahill–Brooke Concert Party took passage in late May 1920 on a Danish freighter from Singapore to Bangkok. Officials in white ducks and solar topi leaned against the rails of the promenade deck, gazing vacantly out to sea. Siam (Thailand) had held its mysteries in the European imagination for centuries. Eddie was increasingly attracted to the high social status and luxurious lifestyle of the aristocratic audiences that patronized them in Southeast Asia. They had been summoned by His Majesty Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) to play Chopin and sing at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) in 1920 (1880–1925)
Coronation portrait of King Vajiravudh (Ram VI) on 11 November 1911. by RAMA  VI. | Krul Antiquarian Books
Coronation portrait Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) (1880–1925).

As Crown Prince, Rama had led a remarkably cosmopolitan life, opening up his previously isolated country to foreign influence. He represented his father in Europe for the first time at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and subsequently at her funeral. He also attended the coronations of King Alfonso XIII of Spain as well as King Edward VII and his consort Queen Alexandra in England. He invited many crowned heads of Europe to his own coronation ceremony in 1911, the first time foreigners had been invited to any royal event in Siam.

Educated at Sandhurst and Christ Church Oxford he was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club and read law and history. Unusually fascinated with the eighteenth-century history of Poland and the piano music of Fryderyk Chopin, in 1901 at the age of twenty he published the recondite volume The War of the Polish Succession.

In 1904 he temporarily became a monk according to Siamese tradition. After accession to the throne in 1910 he carried through many wide-ranging reforms, in the face of fierce opposition from the aristocracy.

*Ilsa Sharp, There is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (London 1981), pp. 101–3

† Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (1880–1925).

During the Great War this Anglophile brought Siam (Thailand) in on the side of the Allied Powers. He became effectively the father of modern Thai nationalism. A gifted writer and poet he produced modern novels, short stories and plays. He translated three Shakespeare plays into Thai – The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet. After a remarkably colorful sex life and many tragic love affairs involving various marriages, broken engagements, concubines and homosexual lovers, he passed away in November 1925, a mere two hours after his only daughter was born. Such was the remarkable man for whom Eddie and George were to play and sing in private audience.

The Royal Palace, Bangkok

The exoticism of the palace and its opulent interiors were breathtaking. Tears formed in the eyes of the King as Eddie  played Chopin nocturnes on a fine English Broadwood grand. The nationalist spirit of the polonaises seemed to inspire the king with a curious fervour. He leant forward attentively on his throne at climactic moments. His love and knowledge of European music also became apparent as the unaccustomed harmonies of Schubert and Schumann songs filled the oriental space.

Their concert of undemanding classics was also very successful in the rather less august surroundings of the Bangkok Sports Club. George was singled out for particular praise by the Siam Observer: ‘We have never heard a tenor whose enunciation was so perfect  or who so manifestly sets himself to interpret the meaning, the spirit, the message of a song.’ Eddie’s charismatic personality was favourably commented on, but so too was the frightful state of the piano.

The clubhouse in around 1910
Royal Bangkok Sports Club around 1910

The Observer continued:

‘That he should attempt one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies for example, on a piano which seemed likely every minute to fall to pieces left one aghast; yet he scored perhaps his greatest triumph here. If Bangkok does not pack the halls at the remaining place, then it may be set down as a soulless place and a disgrace.’

Without complaint Eddie always dealt with the unpredictable instruments he often encountered.

Bangkok canals and Markets around 1920
Thai Dancers Bangkok c.1920

* * *

Eddie and George paced the deck of the steamer Kuching taking their morning constitutional. An early morning thunderstorm had cleared the air. The soft tropical sunrise over Sarawak revealed distant mountains framing a wide bay dotted with islands. Mount Santubong rose almost a thousand meters directly from the northern end of the bay. The two friends had almost recovered from their concert a few days earlier at the Jesselton Hotel in Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), the capital of the West Coast Residency of the British Protectorate of North Borneo. They found the exoticism of the location tremendously exciting. The concert took place on the broad verandah among the British officials of the British North Borneo Company reclining on rattan chairs in white ducks sipping gin pahits.

The town of Jesselton. North Borneo c.1911

Western classical music was unexpectedly accompanied on instruments by hundreds of local Bajau people known generically as the ‘Sea Gypsies’. These native peoples, dressed in bright cloth and ornamented with seashells and turtle shell, had come ashore from their boats and were sitting on the grass outside the hotel. The men played drums while the women enthusiastically performed on suspended brass gongs and large wooden xylophones. They completely drowned out the romantic melodies of Chopin and gave Eddie moments of great hilarity. His inborn sense of Irish theatre played up to this ‘spontaneous madness’.The Liszt piano pieces and Maori songs attracted even more frantic beating on the drums and gongs. An unprecedented scene unfolded with dances, singing and general gaiety. The eruption of such wild spontaneity exhausted Eddie and George. ‘What a devilish racket but such fun! This is living! More please!’ Eddie noted in his journal.

* * *

Some weeks before, during one of the regular tea dances at Raffles in Singapore, Eddie and George had encountered HH the Ranee Sylvia Brooke *, daughter of Reginald Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher and the wife

*Sylvia Brooke née Brett (1885–1971)

† Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher (1852–1930) ‘Reggie’ was an historian and Liberal politician. This rather modest description entirely belies the extraordinary ‘behind the scenes’ influence of this éminence grise on virtually every important aspect of British government and royal policy of the day. The marriage had its moments.

of the third and last White Rajah of Sarawak, Vyner Brooke*.This wild eccentric lady was slowly but surely building a reputation for cultivated outrageousness. In later life she adopted a flamboyant Hollywood-inspired social style, wrote books, painted, piloted wood and wire biplanes and led a Technicolor love life of outstanding mendacity. The popular press adored her.

File:Sylvia Brooke.jpg
Sylvia Leonora Brett (1885-1971)
Ranee of Sarawak (1917-1946)

Opinions could be mixed however as evidenced by two MPs sent from Westminster to sound out local opinion as to the possible cession of the Kingdom of Sarawak to Britain. The Labour MP D.R. Rees-Williams thought she had ‘brought  the  charm  of Mayfair to the Tropics and  some  of  the  exotic  perfume  of  the  Tropics to Mayfair.’ The Conservative MP David Gammans however objected to her dancing with prostitutes at the Cathay Cabaret in Kuching, remarking in a private memo to the Secretary of State: ‘She has these girls to the Palace and paints their pictures. A more undignified woman it would be hard to find.’ Sex in marriage she once described to her sister Doll ‘As an act it is both ridiculous and awkward, and I take a very poor view of it indeed.’ Despite her physical aversion to ‘the act’ three ‘dangerously beautiful’ Brooke daughters were produced during the marriage. They would add to their mother’s fitful lustre by marrying eight times between them including an earl, a band-leader and an all-in wrestler.

During the cocktail hour one evening Eddie and George had found themselves chatting animatedly to the  Ranee, lubricated by quite a few of the hotel’s notorious Singapore Slings, a drink invented by a Raffles’ barman, a Hainanese immigrant named Ngiam Tong Boon. They were tipsily attempting to trace a highly unlikely family connection via surnames between George Brooke and Vyner Brooke. When she learned of their coming concert in North Borneo and later heard them perform at the hotel, she insisted that they give a concert at the Astana Palace in Kuching, the capital of the Brooke’s jungle kingdom.

*Charles Vyner Brooke GCMG (1874–1963) the third and final White Rajah of Sarawak was born in London. His life is more than worthy of the wildest fiction.

† I am indebted for details of Sarawak and Sylvia to Philip Eade, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters (London 2007). The detailed history of the Kingdom, the relationship of Sylvia and Rajah Vyner Brooke and the antics of the rest of the remarkable Brooke family is chronicled in this hugely entertaining volume.

The Cahill–Brooke Concert Party thus found themselves on a tramp steamer sailing down the Malaysian coast of the South China Sea. Steaming up the Sarawak River towards the capital Kuching they passed small Dayak villages clinging to the muddy banks. Scattered groups of amber-skinned women and children stood motionless in the sea as the steamer passed, figures in a landscape of mangrove swamps, screeching monkeys and head-hunter’s jungle. Eddie and George were taken ashore to the landing stage by canoe. Sarawak in 1920 was a brilliant and entertaining British colonial anomaly. Originally part of the Sultanate of Brunei, it was ceded to the British adventurer James Brooke in 1842 as a reward for assisting the Sultan put down a local rebellion.*

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Sir Charles Vyner de Windt Brooke; Sylvia Leonora (née Brett), Lady Brooke, Ranee of Sarawak
(National Portrait Gallery – Bassano)

As the first White Rajah, James ruled Sarawak as his personal kingdom and greatly increased the area under his control. However by May 1946, submerged in an intrigue of bureaucratic smoke and mirrors, Sarawak had become the last colonial possession to be acquired by Britain. The Astana, where Eddie and George were to perform, had been built by the acerbic second White Rajah, Charles Brooke. The Ranee Sylvia Brooke was musical and played the piano. Before her marriage she was the percussionist of the Grey Friars Orchestra, a band made up entirely of eligible young girls. This band had been cunningly formed by Margaret de Windt, the mother of the future Rajah, Vyner Brooke, in order to provide potential spouses for her three shy sons. The idea was successful.

The Astana, Sarawak, around the time of the Cahill-Brooke Party Concert 1920

*James Brooke (1803–1868) the first White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Benares, India. He never married. Like many adventurers associated with the British East India Company his actions in Sarawak were directed to expanding the British Empire, assisting the local people (by whom he was treated as a type of deity) in fighting piracy and slavery and expanding his own personal fortune in the process. Brooke features in much English literature including The White Rajah by Nicholas Monsarrat and Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim as well as the Kipling short story ‘The Man Who Would be King’.

† Charles Brooke (1829–1917) the second White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Burnham, Somerset in England. He ruled Sarawak from 1868 until his death. He adopted similarly stern patrician values to his uncle James and improved the lot of the native peoples of the region and suppressed the passionate head-hunting activities of the Dayaks.

The Brookes had a unique relationship with the Dayak head-hunting chieftains and their people. Many hundreds of Dayaks assembled in the beautiful gardens of the Palace in the late afternoon before the concert. Vyner was a passionate gardener and the native people sat almost suffocated by the heady perfume of gardenias, tuberoses and frangipani. Again Chopin and Schubert were accompanied by brass knob gongs, xylophones and drums. Sadly, the Sarawak Gazette has left us no account or critical musical assessment of the concert. Can you imagine this extraordinary scene of an opposition of cultures in 1920 ? Eddie and George were not particularly dejected to leave the poor instruments and the disappointing rooms of the dilapidated Astana.

Ibu Dayak warrior headhunters from Longnawan, North Borneo
The Dayak Head Hunter from Kalimantan, In Search of the headhunting tribes  of Borneo – BE BORNEO
Gallery inside a Kayan Dayak house with skulls and weapons lining the wall
The shrunken, smoked heads of slain enemies (Photo circa 1912: Charles Hose)
Pin on RETRO
Shaven-headed Dayak bearing a spear with a parang hanging from his side

PP Instalment 4

Chapter 2

Of Maharajas and Palaces

By the end of March 1920 the weather was heating up to an uncomfortable degree and the company were pleased to learn that after an unnoticed concert they gave in New Delhi, their next point of call would be the cool, pleasure-loving hill station of Mussoorie.

Rudyard Kipling wrote of Mussoorie in Kim:

‘Who goes to the hills goes to his mother.’

Under the great ramp to Mussoorie he drew together as an old hunter faces a well-remembered bank, and where he should have sunk exhausted swung his long draperies about him, drew a deep double-lungful of diamond air, and walked as only a Hillman can. Kim, plains-bred and plains-fed, sweated and panted astonished.

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Edward Cahill during the South-East Asian Tour

As summer strengthened rendering the plains a sweltering crucible, the British, especially the women, fled the relentless heat like migrant birds. They settled in the clubs, hotels and rented houses of the hill stations of the Punjab from April to the end of June. Many single girls in optimistic and party mood were ‘fishing’ for a suitable aristocratic sun-burnished officer on leave when they made the two thousand metre ascent to beautiful Mussoorie, the ‘Queen of the Hills’. The husbands were abandoned to ‘do their lofty duty’ and baked on the plains while their wives adopted a young ‘bow-wow’ for the duration.* Mussoorie had a ‘rather naughty’ reputation for theatricals and loose moral behaviour. Here individualism was allowed a freer rein than the more famous and ‘proper’ Simla, the official summer capital ironically known as ‘The Abode of the Little Tin Gods’.

Mussoorie | Mussoorie, Tourist spots, Uttarakhand
Mussoorie 1920
The Mall, Mussoorie, 1920

The variety of its scenery and spectacular views marked it out from other hill stations. Mussoorie had two breweries, a polo field, a small golf course and at the glamorous centre of social gatherings, the Himalaya Club and the Happy Valley Club. Anglo–Indian bungalows, decorated with hanging baskets of sweet peas and geraniums, were named with nostalgic Englishness Holly Mount or Rosemary Cottage. At Stiffles Restaurant the tables overflowed onto the summer pavements. The restaurant had once catered for the visit of the Princess of Wales, later to become Queen Mary. Balls, dinners, theatricals and  tea  parties  attracted  all  manner  of respectable and louche aristocracy. Lovers languished in the exoticism of the East longing for leave. Maharajas built summer residences in the guise of French chateaux.

Maharaja of Kapurthala’s chateau (far left) seen from the gorge near Wild Flower Hall, Benares 1920
Kempty Falls, Mussoorie 1920

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were in great demand as by the early 1920s the hill station had become the epitome of the ‘roaring twenties’ in India. Dance teachers of German origin conducted classes on the finer points of ballroom dancing. After travelling by train from Delhi to Dehra Dún, the concert party were taken up the serpentine road to the main town by tonga. Fragile railings were the only barrier against terrifyingly precipitous drops. The first motorcar only managed to reach Mussoorie in 1920.

The Savoy Hotel – Agatha Christie used the circumstances of a murder here in her first novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles

They stayed at the fashionable Savoy Hotel, a place with a certain ‘reputation’. The American writer Lowell Thomas, who spent several weeks with Lawrence of Arabia in the deserts of Palestine, visited Mussoorie in 1926 during his extensive travels in India. In his book The Land of the Black Pagoda he wrote of what became known as the ‘separation bell’ at the Savoy. He laconically observed:

‘There is a hotel in Mussoorie where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their own beds.’

*A ‘bow-wow’ was an admirer who with the greatest rectitude would do all those little tasks a colonial lady so often required – fetching, carrying, standing on attendance for wants and needs, dealing with Indian tradesmen, providing company and status at afternoon tea, balls, soirees and so on.

† A romantic horse-drawn carriage.

* * *

The parents of many British children were not sufficiently well   off to send them to public school in England. Mussoorie had an equable climate, crystalline air and was more easily accessible than many hill stations. As a result many fine boarding schools opened to satisfy this demand for education. The teachers were recruited in England and the first students were mainly the daughters of British officers.

Some music students and staff at the Woodstock School. Mussoorie

The concert party had been invited to perform at Woodstock School, which at that time functioned as a finishing school for well- bred young ladies. Since its foundation in 1854, excellence in music had been a priority and the students and their guests were highly appreciative of Eddie’s mastery of the piano.* The  programme was similar to others on the tour but Chopin’s so-called ‘Military’ Polonaise was a particular hit together with Liszt’s stirring Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Eddie was surprised at their depth of knowledge as they requested specific works by Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and even Borodin. George sang Grieg and Schubert songs as well as those of a more religious nature such as ‘Angels Guard Thee’ and ‘Song of Thanksgiving’. Throughout his life Eddie  preserved  great  enthusiasm  for  the talent of the rising generation. The musical education of the young was often at the forefront of his thoughts.

*Woodstock School continues to thrive. In 2021 it had around five hundred pupils from almost thirty different nationalities. It is considered one of the finest schools in India and its music department now has an almost legendary reputation for excellence.

He accompanied this recital with a short detailed talk on each composer and his inspiration in composing the piece. Vain certainly but never an egocentric performer, he cultivated a strong personal interaction with the audience.*

* * *

While wandering Bombay between their concert  engagements, the concert party had witnessed various street disturbances. They had been subject to mysterious personal taunts. They discovered these insults were the direct result of the turbulent atmosphere in the town of Amritsar, some three hundred kilometres distant. The reverberations of an atrocity that had recently occurred there destabilized the entire country and was the catalyst that began the disintegration of the British Empire in India.

The Golden Temple of Amritsar today

The reflection of a golden temple trembled in the breeze on the surface of the lake known as Sarovar (Holy Pool of Immortal Nectar). Turbaned Sikhs in scarlet robes sat cross-legged on carpets in the shade of spreading trees in contemplation and prayer. Eddie was rendered speechless by the sight. More thoughtfully he found it difficult to believe that only a year before, this holy city, the spiritual and cultural heart of the Sikh religion, had witnessed an unparalleled act of savagery.

As Herbert Asquith, former Prime Minister, put it to the Hunter Committee in 1920:

There has never been such an incident in the whole annals of Anglo–Indian history, nor, I believe, in the history of our Empire, from its very inception down to the present day.’

Mounting disorder in the Punjab had been fertilized by the passing of the notorious Rowlatt Act of March 1919 in response  to perceived threats of revolutionary  terrorism.  Suspects  could be imprisoned without trial or legal representation for up to two years. The spectre arose of a repeat of the vicious Indian Mutiny and Cawnpore Massacre of 1857, outrages that were deeply etched into the British imperial psyche.

*I am indebted to Ganesh Saili and his book Mussoorie Medley: Tales from Yesteryear (New Delhi 2010) for my descriptions of old Mussoorie. All the perfumes and spices of India erupted from the wrappers when I unpacked this book from the post in Warsaw.

Hansard: Punjab Disturbances. Lord Hunter’s Committee, HC Deb 8 July 1920, vol. 131.

Opinion | The Massacre That Led to the End of the British Empire - The New  York Times
Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer (1864-1927)

In the face of political activism in Amritsar, the officer in command of the area, the coercive and psychologically unbalanced Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, issued stringent proclamations against public meetings. Any assembly would be fired upon without warning, a proclamation ineffectively communicated to the populace at the time.

By April 1919 British civilians in Amritsar were being subjected to terrorist acts, looting and murders. On the evening of 13 April several thousand Indian men, women and children had assembled for a meeting in a walled open space of the town known as Jallianwalla Bagh. Dyer felt this group posed an unacceptable threat to law and order. He arrived in his Rolls-Royce armoured car (unable to pass through the narrow entrance) together with a small body of carefully selected Gurkha and Pathan troops whom he knew felt little affection for Punjabi civilians. He lined his men up and without prior warning ordered them to open fire on the unarmed crowd. The firing continued uninterrupted for ten to fifteen minutes with panic-stricken knots of people wildly fleeing bullets, unable to escape in any numbers from the enclosed walled field. He ceased firing only when the ammunition ran out, leaving hundreds dead and perhaps a thousand or more wounded.

The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, months after the massacre.
The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, some months after the massacre

He subsequently imposed a curfew which effectively prevented recovery of the dead, dying and wounded. ‘I thought I would be doing a jolly lot of good and they would realize that they were not to be wicked,’ he commented during the official investigation of the incident. The effects of doing ‘my horrible, dirty duty’ (as Dyer put it when he was relieved of his post) can hardly be overestimated. Huge support was given to Dyer by the British in India, at home and by the Army. This compliance with such savagery alienated Indians previously respectful of British moral prestige. The atrocity galvanized Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. He remarked after the long drawn out official inquiry ‘We do not want to punish General Dyer; we have no desire for revenge; we want to change the system that produces General Dyers.’

‘The Golden Temple Amritsar’ by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

When Eddie and George arrived in Amritsar to give a concert barely a year later in April 1920, Dyer had just embarked for England in disgrace. A profound legacy of hatred remained and they were justifiably worried about appearing in such a light matter as a classical concert in these volatile surroundings. However exercising a degree of personal courage they ‘soldiered on’ and the evening performance passed off peacefully enough. Those British civilians and officers who attended said it was a welcome emotional release from the ‘trying times’ they were then experiencing.

* * *

A postcard of Jamrud Fort , Khyber Pass

Another long train journey followed through Rawalpindi to ancient Peshawar and the Jamrud Fort on the North-West Frontier at the entrance to the Khyber Pass that connects Afghanistan and Pakistan. While changing trains they noted with alarm a rough placard nailed up at Peshawar station. Eddie copied it into his notebook:

‘Active resistance will crush the viper’s head. Burn their offices, mutilate their railways and telegraphs, induce the police and Army to work with you and slay these dogs of Britain every – where you find them.’

They continued the short journey to the fort in a ‘blue funk’ as Eddie put it. He had read of the perennially imminent Russian threats to British India at this place, the ‘Great Game’ as it was known, but tried rather to concentrate on the music he would play, drumming his fingers on the dusty seat back of the railway carriage.

Khyber Pass Afghanistan/Pakistan -Train & Tunnel (Print #4405461)
Train emerging from a tunnel, Khyber Pass 1920

The line passed through awe-inspiring mountains, tunnels and over bridges and deep culverts. Fierce local Afghan tribesmen perched on the cowcatcher. Eagles swooped and at night the jackals howled. It is scarcely credible that a concert of European classical music was being given in this fortress during the Waziristan campaign surrounded by colourful caravanserai plying the Silk Road. The battered piano in the fort had not been tuned for years and Eddie finally abandoned his solo numbers leaving the floor mainly to George who sang stirring tunes to a gentle accompaniment. The officers and troops were delighted. The soprano Rita Erle had by this time returned to Australia, exhausted by the debilitating heat. Eddie and George continuing the tour as a double act.

* * *

Benares – Goddess Kali on Shiva – Kangra Painting (1800 – 1825)

The red tongue of the Hindu Goddess Kali sprang from her mouth in shame, the black female figure with flailing arms was surrounded by fire. Her powerful eyes skewered one’s heart as she stood on the indigo body of her husband, the Hindu deity Shiva. The image wore a necklace of skulls. The street down which Eddie was walking contained this forbidding mural, a dark and narrow alley littered with refuse and reeking of ordure, dissolution, death and decay yet the nearby bazaars teemed with life and colour. Bright stalls sold a riot of mortuary paraphernalia. Pilgrims wearing perfumed garlands of flowers prayed at tiny wayside shrines or passed in crowded knots seeming to flow like the tide towards the banks of the Ganges, like tributaries of the great river itself. Ascetic holy men (sadhus) were covered in ash with matted, dusty, hennaed locks, long beards and fierce expressions.

A sadhu (ascetic holy man) in Benares (Varanasi)1910
Benares (Varanasi) 1922

By early May 1920 the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party had reached Kashi (Benares or modern Varanasi) the spiritual capital of India, a city associated with death and its transcendence. They had travelled by train for days on the East Indian Railway from Bombay, some 1600 kilometres. This ancient site has produced great writers, thinkers, philosophers and a remarkable school of music, a city famous for its woven cloths and ornate silks. The British writer, photographer and painter Richard Lannoy describes it ‘a state of mind’ rather than a place. The Maharaja of Benares would be their host and they would play Western classical music for him.

Benares (Varanasi) – Ghats 1920

Eddie Cahill was a concert pianist but also a man possessed of  a passion for exploration and insatiably curious about unfamiliar cultures. He drifted through the pungent haze that lay over the city, clambering  down  myriad  steps  through  dizzying  levels  of complexity, passing ornately carved pinnacles of blackened temples, terraces, the bastions of palaces, arcaded blocks, cracked platforms, crumbling walls of brick, pyramids, domes, patios and hanging gardens with withering plants, desiccated leaves fluttering onto filigreed cast-iron balconies. Large grey monkeys skipped about.

Feeding the ‘sacred’ monkeys – Benares (Varanasi)
Bathing Ghats – Benares (Varanasi) – Ganges 1918

Suddenly the Ganges, the colour of old gold, lay before him. Beneath the terraces at the water’s edge a panoply of tattered woven leaf parasols sheltered bathers and Brahmins from the sun. On platforms over the water, men exercised in incredible postures or swung heavy batons. Temple bells mixed with chattering voices. The colours of draped cloth – yellow, mauve, saffron and green – radiated a festive atmosphere of a floral display while clouds of pigeons whirled in spirals. There was a solemnity, even nobility, in the draped figures of women carrying polished brass pots glittering in the sunlight.

‘On The Ganges River, Benares’ (Varanasi) by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

Early one morning Eddie and George took a boat and glided down the Ganges at sunrise. The entire river bank was thronged with bathers and the river itself dotted with boatmen disposing of remains or ashes. An occasional corpse or dead dog floated past. The water was clearly polluted yet the pilgrims drank of it to purify themselves, believing it miraculous. The panorama reminded Eddie of Arcadian classical paintings by Poussin or Claude, Carthage in ruins. In the evening the shore was lit fitfully with oases of light. These were the Burning Ghats* of Kashi, the most exalted of them being the Ghat of Manikarnika.

The Burning Ghat of Manikarnika near Benares
Benares (Varanasi) Burning Ghats

In a mental state bordering on horror they saw wooden biers, shrouded bodies roped to them then immersed in the Ganges and allowed to dry. A pyre of selected woods was constructed, the body reverently placed upon it and lit with a flaming torch after incantations had been intoned. Waves of heat and smoke carrying the sound and smell of flames devouring flesh rose to the visitors’ viewing towers where they stood. Funeral priests moved through the haze like phantoms, striking the corpses with batons. Eddie was aghast to hear the cracking of the skull with a bamboo pole, to release the soul. They watched the compelling scene with fascination, their inexperienced natures stunned by the sight.

Ramnagar Fort Benares (Varanasi) around 1920

Eddie and George were to perform at the magnificent eighteenth-century Ramnagar Fort before HH Maharajadhiraja Sri Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur and his guests. He had been created Maharaja of Benares of the  new  Princely  State  by  the  British in 1911 and had been granted a personal salute of 15 guns. This imposing and exotic red sandstone confection of Hindu and Islamic architecture is situated some fourteen kilometers from Varanasi  on the opposite bank of the river. Monumental walls and bastions reminiscent of crusader castles line the river front. Airy open formal courtyards, fountains and carved arcades adorn the interior spaces.

Prabhu Narayan Singh, Maharaja of Benares (1855-1931) 1903 before whom Eddie and George performed

Chopin was historically performed before the Maharaja for the first recorded time

*A ghat is a defined length of river frontage between some 30–200 yards long. Most are in the form of terraces of steps leading down to the River Ganges. The ‘Burning Ghats’ are those where corpses are cremated.

†Lt. Colonel HH Maharajadhiraja Kashi Naresh Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur (1855–1931).

The Maharaja lavished gifts of diamond-encrusted cigarette cases and diamond cuff links upon them and placed his magnificent Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost at their disposal. Early motoring in India was a dramatic activity as they discovered en route to their concert. As the car made its stately progress past bullock carts, their occupants tumbled out in fear onto the road, the animals plunging into nearby ditches at the manic blowing of its klaxon. The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ wafted past sacred cows and elephants, supplicants before wayside altars, screaming children and colourfully turbaned pilgrims. Dogs fearlessly charged the car head on emerging unscathed from beneath barking wildly in the choking dust. One of the British guests, a Deputy Collector, told them of an elderly Indian woman walking in the middle of the road who was run over and killed by a speeding car carrying the Nizam Mahbub Ali Pasha of Hyderabad. His Highness being troubled by the event sent a generous gift to the family. Observers noticed that from then on whenever the Nizam went driving the road suddenly filled with the elderly poor placed there by impecunious and optimistic relatives.

Thank you Letter from the Maharaja of Benares

The concert was a great success and an historic occasion. They performed in the opulent Durbar Hall within the Maharajah’s palace, a room lined with precious marbles, brocades of silver  and gold, inlaid ivory furniture, a sandalwood throne, crystal chandeliers and tiger skins. For the first time in the history of the palace Eddie performed Chopin (the first time his music had been performed for a Maharaja), Liszt, Beethoven and Chaminade whilst George sang Schubert and Brahms Lieder, English art songs as well as Negro spirituals. A Hindustani late-night raga native to Benares was movingly performed on the sarod, mridangam and tabla at the conclusion of their concert

PP Instalment 3

Chapter 2

Of Maharajas and Palaces

It was my songs that taught me all the lessons I ever learnt.

The beautiful, spiritual face of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

Frederick Shipman harboured immense ambition for the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party. He conceived the longest musical concert tour of the Southeast Asia and India ever attempted by Europeans. Over a period of more than a year, at times together with the operatic soprano Rita Erle (formerly Rita Kirkpatrick) and lyric soprano Miss Josie Westaway (the beautiful young soloist of St Mary’s Cathedral choir Sydney), they would tour India, the Philippine Islands, Siam (Thailand), Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Kashmir and Burma (Myanmar). In late September 1919 after a lavish farewell party thrown by Miss Westaway at her parents’ home, they embarked on the SS Montoro, a comfortable passenger vessel that plied between Australia, India, Java and Singapore. The paper streamers connecting them to friends and relations stretched taut and snapped. A great adventure lay ahead.

Edward Cahill at 25 before the beginning of the Far Eastern Tour
SS Montoro

Their first taste of the exotic East came unexpectedly in Darwin itself as they were marooned there for three dull weeks waiting for a passage. In 1919 Darwin was an unprepossessing town  prone to periodic destruction by cyclones. Unemployed Chinese, Europeans and Japanese lolled in the stifling heat. Bullock carts and camel trains passed lethargically along the wide streets while the occasional bean seed planter in a white sola topi and tropical suit emerged onto a wooden balcony. The evening before they sailed, an excited Eddie and George gave a concert using an ancient piano in a dilapidated ‘concert hall’.

Stokes Hill Wharf - Wikiwand
Stokes Hill Wharf, Darwin cir.1920

The voyage was smooth and uneventful, the gentle thrum of the engines reassuring, the movement of air on deck refreshing during velvet tropical nights. Their first appearance in ‘the East’ en route to India was at the imposing Victoria Theatre in Singapore for two nights on 22 October and 24 October. A few months before their arrival a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles had been erected before the tall signature clock tower to celebrate the centenary of the founding of Singapore.*

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall
Victoria Theatre Singapore cir. 1920

They then sailed on to Bangkok for a brief appearance while the ship took on stores and cargo. Reviews of these concerts appear not to have survived. They would give further performances on the return voyage to Australia after their extended tour of India. After reaching the Bay of Bengal some hundred miles from Calcutta (Kolkata) Port, a highly skilled and immaculately dressed pilot boarded the ship with his assistant. He guided the ship through the swift and treacherous currents of the Hooghly (Hugli) River past the ruins of a Portuguese Fort to the berth at Diamond Harbour. Kipling described it as ‘the most dangerous river on earth’ with channels swollen with ‘the fat silt of the fields’. Eddie and George were taken by car from here to the Grand Hotel. They would perform their first recital of the tour at the dazzlingly white imperial Calcutta Club.

Automobiles parked along once-fabled Chowringhee Road where the pleasure seekers went. Firpo’s restaurant and night club was one of the best anywhere, and adjacent to it is Grand Hotel, still synonymous with luxury. In the distance is a tower of the sprawling Whiteaway Laidlaw, a famous department store, now an LIC property named Metropolitan Building. The pavements of Chowringhee have been appropriated by hawkers and Firpo’s is now a market.

Calcutta (Kolkata), known as the ‘City of Palaces’ had been the colourful and exotic capital of the East India Company and British Raj for over a hundred years. The imposing Calcutta Club had been founded in 1907 by Lord Minto successor to Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India§. Minto, a keen hunter (his shooting party bagged 4,919 inedible sand grouse in two days in 1906), once commented in a burst of imperial pride ‘The Raj will not disappear in India as long as the British race remains what it is …’. Wandering about in the enervating heat they admired Dalhousie Square (the present Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh), the classically columned administrative centre of the city and the former headquarters of the East India Company.

*Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781–1826) was a British statesman most famous for his founding of Singapore on 6 February 1819. His legacy lives on along with his name.

‘An Unqualified Pilot’ from Rudyard Kipling Land and Sea Tales (London 1923), p. 35.

‡ Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto (1845–1914) Viceroy of India 1905–10.

§ George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859–1925) was the pre-eminent Viceroy of India 1899–1905.

Like many young men of the day, the most Eddie and George knew of the city (and perhaps of the entire country) was that notorious myth of Empire, the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’.

The Black Hole Of Calcutta, In Which Drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library

Eddie was enraptured by the former capital and its extensive parks. They strolled through the hazy European Quarter along wide avenues of classical Palladian architecture. The  Royal Botanic Gardens, perhaps the finest in the Empire, were situated on the opposite bank of the Hooghly River. They admired the Great Banyan, traveller palms, mangoes, feathery casuarinas and mahogany. At the entrance to Government House a monumental classical arch was crowned with a British lion, its paw possessively resting on a globe in a statement of invincibility.

File:Government House, Calcutta in the 1860s (01).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)
Government House – Gateway, Calcutta, 1865 – PURONOKOLKATA
Gateway to Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)
The Raj Bhavan (Government House), Kolkata, India, by Charles Wyatt
The Throne Room, Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)

They explored the poor areas and dusty markets, the air beguiling them with spices and the aroma of rich roasting coffee.

It was a particularly sensitive time for a concert party to be touring India. By the time of their visit cracks in the edifice of imperial domination had inexorably begun to widen. The storm clouds of Indian nationalism were gathering. The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party had arrived to entertain but the Anglo–Indian administrators were teetering on the brink of profound change.* Ghandi had transformed the Indian National Congress into a powerful force demanding home rule. Our entertainers had sailed into a fraught political atmosphere.

Both Eddie and George believed that audiences wished primarily to be amused, women being far more sympathetic to music than men. This would certainly have been the case in colonial India. British men were judged on their preference for ‘hard bodily exercise’, their ability to ride, hunt game, show skill at pig-sticking, shoot and talk about tigers. These jungle wallahs preferred ‘knocking about in stained brown raiment’ and waking up for breakfast in virgin undergrowth to listening to classical music. When the blunt Irish-born Viceroy Sir John Lawrence learned that one benighted Civilian had brought a piano out to India he swore to ‘smash it’ for him.

*In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the term ‘Anglo–Indian’ was defined by the OED as ‘Of mixed British and Indian parentage, of Indian descent but born or living in Britain, or (chiefly historical) of British descent or birth but living or having lived long in India’.

† Sir John Lawrence (1811–79) was a British statesman who served as Viceroy of India 1864–69.

‡ Members of the Indian Civil Service were known as ‘Civilians’.

However, scattered among the prospective audience were the Collectors and Civilians of the Imperial bureaucracy.* They were the minority of cultured Oxford men, some even intellectuals, who read Plato, Horace and Homer whilst in India. Some studied and made significant contributions to knowledge of the languages and ethnography of the subcontinent. Most contributed significantly to advancing the infrastructure in India, ruling by a curious mixture of discipline, military might and moral force.

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The Calcutta (Kolkata) Club

The Calcutta Club concerts were highly successful (discounting the wayward tuning of the piano) with many encores being enthusiastically demanded. As well as performing his usual Liszt rhapsodies,  Chopin  polonaises  and  nocturnes,  Eddie  realized  it was close to Christmas. Many in the audience were separated  by their colonial duties from the comforting drawing room fires and festive cheer of ‘Home’. To conclude the classical section of his concerts Eddie performed the novelty piece ‘Trinity Chimes’ by the American composer Walter Decker. In this astonishing piece ‘Silent Night’ alternates with ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ in the bell-like upper registers of the piano, the charm and amusement of which was augmented by George ringing hand bells. This reminder of an English Christmas was rapturously received.

A period cartoon of Edward Cahill at the piano, Calcutta (Kolkata) 1920

*A ‘Collector’ was a principal position in the executive branch of the Indian Government (Indian Administrative Service).

                                                                                       * * *

A long train journey hugging the coast of  the  Bay  of  Bengal  took them through heat and dust to Madras (Chennai) on the Coramandel Coast, the landscape a mixture of palms, lagoons and white beaches. The climate of Madras was debilitating so the city was not a popular posting. The new, large capacity Wellington Cinema in the suburb of Tana welcomed them for a week-long season. Eddie received glowing reviews praising his musical temperament ‘which enables him to give interpretations of compositions which are full of expression, which seek to convey the meaning the composer intended to convey.’ He was forced  to perform on an indifferent baby grand piano with sweating, slippery fingers. The Madras Times wrote: ‘The chief praise must undoubtedly be given to Mr Cahill. He played magnificently, and the memory of at least one item, Zanella’s Minuetto will remain with us for a very long time.’* Eddie also played the Moonlight Sonata, the famous Rachmaninoff Prelude in G minor and some minor salon works of his own composition.

Wellington theatre Mount Road | Vintage photographs, Historical photos, Old  pictures
Wellington Theatre, Madras (Chennai) cir. 1930

*The Tempo di Minuetto No. 1 Op. 29.

                                                                                        * * *

A week-long season in Bangalore (Bengaluru) left them exhausted.

Newspaper clippings Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bangalore
Bangalore 1900

The company were lodged in the fine West End Hotel. In the city Cubbon Park was named Rotten Row in a nostalgic reference to London’s fashionable ride in Hyde Park. Eddie was far more of a mannered aesthete than George and enjoyed what  he  called ‘the charm and extravagance of imperial life’. The  heat  and  exotic atmosphere excited his libido as he picnicked with ladies in Meade’s Park and listened to imperial military bands. George found the English rulers pretentious and often refused to accept formal invitations to white tie dinner parties. The need to adapt to English colonial manners soon led to frayed tempers. In addition a platonic romance seemed to be blossoming between Eddie and ‘the particularly charming’ soprano Josie Westaway. George sang duets with her and discovered his own heart similarly engaged. This lead to the boys leading rather separate social lives.

Bamboo Island & Cubbon Park Bangalore - Old Postcard 1905 - Past-India

The testimonials from Dame Nellie Melba gave them carte blanche to the highest cultural circles. Eddie was praised for possessing ‘the characteristic modesty of a true artist’. George was praised for the adventurous variety of his songs ranging from Schubert Lieder to Negro spirituals. In an interview he commented that as artists they wished to attract the casual lover of music, ‘the one who says he knows nothing about it but just likes it.’

                                                                                     * * *

The pleasantly mild winter weather continued until the end of January 1920. The steam locomotive of the Guaranteed State Railway Company pulled into the largely deserted fortress-like railway station at Secunderabad carrying the concert party to their next engagement. This small town, founded as a British cantonment at the turn of the eighteenth century, is separated from its better known twin sister Hyderabad by beautiful Lake Hussain Sagar.*

*A cantonment was a permanent military station.

Secunderabad at the turn of the century

Eddie and George performed at the Secunderabad Club, one of the five oldest clubs in India and at that time reserved exclusively for British officers and their wives and families. Enthusiasm greeted what was clearly an ‘event to pass the weary hours’. After the concert the audience clamoured for a return of the touring company. The local paper wrote pointedly

‘As a rule touring parties that come to small stations like ours are attended only by people who can think of nothing else to do or dinner parties the hostesses of which do not feel able to entertain their guest after the meal. This was not the case on Monday.’

Secunderabad Club - Wikipedia
The Secunderabad Club cir.1920

The travelling concert party were almost living on trains breathing in gritty smoke for hours. From Secunderabad they travelled on a narrow gauge railway into the thankfully cool nights of Poona (Pune). Pune is situated in Maharashtra at the confluence of the Mutha and Mula rivers, occupying a strategic position on the trade routes between the Deccan and the Arabian Sea. Poona was one of the best rest stations in India because of the climate, the gymkhana, the charming balls and ‘jolly regattas’ celebrated on the river.

Main Street, Poona (Pune)

The concert party performed at the weatherboard Gymkhana before a mixed audience of graceful ladies and stiff military officers. The ‘Poona Season’ began in June so they had arrived at an unfashionable time. Eddie worried about an initially ‘deep silence’ that reigned after each item. Society in Poona was rather straight-laced at any time but at the conclusion the audience erupted into ‘tumultuous applause’. The concerts were reviewed as ‘a musical treat of a very high order.’

Gymkhana High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy
The Gymkhana, Poona (Pune)

Eddie was curious to explore the other side of town, the alternative world of their ‘official’ engagements. The Imperial Poona lifestyle was in shocking contrast to the indigenous area, still locked into the Peshwa era. He noticed no broad roads here, simply unsealed tracks, numerous Hindu temples, a labyrinth of suffocating alleys and lanes swirling with dust and dirt. Stinking latrines were placed at the entrance to houses for the convenience of the sewage collectors creating terrible discomfort to those entering or leaving the dwellings. At night a shattered collection of kerosene lamps gave fitful illumination to the human shadows that flitted past seeking the safety of home.

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From Poona to Bombay (Mumbai) was but a  short  distance.  They experienced a certain ‘Grandeur of Arrival’ at The Victoria Terminus, an imposing Venetian Gothic Revival building enlivened by exuberant Indian decoration.

Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) Mumbai (Bombay)

They were taken by horse-drawn carriage to the extraordinary Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, the grandest in the city. Poverty and wealth lay in close proximity; beautiful women and tall athletic men gave a theatrical atmosphere to street life.

Watson's Hotel, Bombay.
The finest hotel in Bombay” now lies in a shambles | Condé Nast Traveller  India
Watsons Esplanade Hotel, Mumbai (Bombay)

Watson’s Hotel had been fabricated in wrought and cast iron by the Phoenix Foundry Company in Derby, shipped out and assembled on a wide Esplanade. One writer referred to the skeleton of the exceptional structure ‘like a huge birdcage had risen like an exhalation from the earth.* The floors were of precious teak, mahogany and Minton tiles. There was a central atrium with a restaurant, drapers, tailoring shops, drawing rooms and billiard rooms located below the hotel accommodation.

*James Douglas, Bombay and Western India: A Series of Stray Papers, 2 vols, 1893, vol. 1, p. 218.

The hotel was the first pre-skyscraper, multi-storey habitable building in the world in which all loads, including those of the brick curtain walls, were carried on an iron frame. Eddie and George took small rooms in the upper story reserved for ‘bachelors and quasi-single gentlemen’. The reception cannot have been so different for them than when Mark Twain stayed at the hotel at the turn of the twentieth century. He described his own arrival at Watson’s in his wonderfully prolix travelogue entitled  Following the Equator:

‘The lobbies and halls were full of turbaned, and fez’d and embroidered, cap’d, and barefooted, and cotton-clad dark natives, some of them rushing about, others at rest squatting, or sitting on the ground; some of them chattering with energy, others still and dreamy; in the dining-room every man’s own private native servant standing behind his chair, and dressed for a part in the Arabian Nights …*

The Times of India, 14 February 1870, p. 2.

*Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Round the World (Hartford, Connecticut 1897), p. 348.

Kipling fictionalized the hotel in two of his stories.

The first concerts Eddie and George gave were at the Bombay Gymkhana, originally a cricket pavilion that had grown into an exclusive club for British officers. After their evening and lunchtime concerts, which were extremely popular, they would relax, sip their Pimm’s or take a ‘peg’ of whiskey and watch a cricket match from the spacious veranda. Fans revolved lethargically in the high wooden ceilings. Their customary mixed musical program was ‘ferociously applauded’.

bombay gymkhana club, mumbai gymkhana, mumbai news, maharashtra, once upon a time, bombay gymkhana history, bombay gymkhana club information
Bombay (Mumbai) Gymkhana

The Bombay Advocate wrote that the customarily decorous audience were given to ‘enthusiastic cheers mingled with outbursts of applause when Mr Edward Cahill, the talented Australian pianist, finished his second number’. The response bordered on an actual ovation by the colonial ‘men of action’ normally bored to tears by piano playing. George was considered to have a ‘fine platform appearance’ and ‘a limpid quality of tone and fine phrasing’. Xaver Scharwenka’s spirited Polish Dances were tremendously popular, as was the Miserere scene from Il Travatore. As well as Chopin polonaises, Eddie repeated the novelty piece ‘Trinity Chimes’ with George once again enthusiastically setting to on hand bells. The nostalgia thus evoked almost brought down the house. They had also been secured for a long run of performances at the magnificent and relatively new Royal Opera House, the interior adorned with crystal chandeliers, precious marbles, cane seating and behind the stalls, rows of boxes with notorious couches.

The Bombay Chronicle perceptively noted that ‘Mr Cahill tries to arrange his programs that it may have a crescendo of interest, and by arousing the imagination to appeal to the casual theatre-goer as well as the trained musician.’ The hall was crowded to hear his ‘renowned singing tone’ in a selection of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words and to appreciate his lightness and elegance in the Andante and Rondo capriccioso. They leapt to their feet after the dramatic and popular Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.12.‘His mastery of the piano suggests genius rather than talent. He is destined to become famous.’ Eddie commented on the intense musicality of the large number of Bombay Parsis who patronized their concerts, one family attending eighteen performances and following them to other points of call around the country.*

† A ‘peg’ was a miniature jug for a measure of alcoholic drink in colonial India. Also known as a chota-peg.

*The Parsis are an ancient minority Persian Zoroastrian racial group who fled religious persecution in Iran in the 10th century to settle in India, mainly in Bombay. They were particularly loyal to Britain during the period of Empire and their outstanding character qualities, moral stature and advanced culture were greatly respected by the imperial powers. The conductor Zubin Mehta is and the popular singer Freddie Mercury was a Parsi.

                                                                                           * * *

The Viceroy at the time of their visit to Jaipur was the much decorated Frederic Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford, ‘a lofty patrician with a Merovingian disdain for interference in any business at all and a man in the hands of his own officials. He had been a controversial Governor of Queensland from 1905–9 before being appointed Viceroy by George V in 1916. The soundness of his judgment was often called into question. Despite the grandeur and power of their position, the Viceroys were not always from the absolute top flight of administrative British talent. The enormous Rajputana Agency area was referred to disparagingly in personal letters as the ‘Great Sloth Belt’. The concert party had been invited to give a single concert of classical music before the Maharajah of Jaipur, HH Maharajadhiraja Sir Madho Singh II§. The Viceroy also communicated a wish to hear the Queensland pianist. This was the first occasion the music of Chopin had been performed before Maharajas.

† Frederic John Napier Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford (1868–1933), Viceroy of India 1916–1921.

‡ Nigel Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer (London 2005), p. 324.

§ HH Maharajadhiraja Sir Madho Singh II (1880–1922).

An adopted son of the Maharaja HH Ram Singh (1835–80), HH Madho Singh II was a just and progressive ruler. He extended the superb Rambagh Palace to lavishly accommodate guests. It had its own polo field attached to the pleasure gardens. Lord Curzon had a particular respect for this ruler who had made an historic visit to England in 1902 to attend the coronation of King Edward VII, now Emperor of India. Mounted Indian colonial troops had made the event into a superb pageant. To accommodate his orthodox Hindu lifestyle he chartered an entire P & O liner modified to include a temple to Krishna. Master silversmiths had cast two vast polished gangajalis (water containers) from some 14,000 silver coins filled with hundreds of gallons of sacred Ganges water for drinking and bathing while abroad.


For their first concert in overwhelmingly sumptuous surroundings, the Maharajah sent two Sunbeam motorcars to collect the concert party. For the second concert he dispatched a richly caparisoned elephant. When entering the palace by motorcar they had wondered at the imposing gate what appeared to be a doorbell mounted high above the ground. Seated in the opulent howdah perched on the back of the elephant its high placement became clear.

A Royal elephant flanked by guards awaits the Marharaja 1929

The Maharaja, as Eddie noted, festooned in ‘more precious jewels, pearls and priceless fabrics than I have ever seen in my entire life’ appreciated the performance.

Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh.jpg
The Maharaja of Jaipur before whom Eddie and George performed

George almost caused a serious incident of etiquette before they began to perform by investigating in a mood of vague curiosity what was behind the Purdah Curtain in the Durbar Hall. The private secretary to the Maharaja rushed across preventing the cultural calamity of George gazing upon the ruler’s wives concealed there to hear the concert. Eddie and George in wonderment finally rested in the palace as honoured guests, touring and admiring the beauty of this princely city with its pink sandstone palaces and beautiful gardens.

jaipur street 1926
Street scene Jaipur with the famous pink buildings (Gervais Courtellemont)

                                             * * * * * * * * * * *

PP Instalment 2

Instalment 2

Chapter 1

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

Eddie’s work in the silent cinema was the beginning of his artistic career. However whilst inhabiting the world of celluloid dreams, roaming the outback and playing in darkened cinemas Eddie did not really take much note of the worsening world situation. It was reported on 28 June 1914 that a European town called Sarajevo was in mourning for an Austrian royal personage who had been shot by a lunatic. Tributes to the nobleman, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, were paid by the British House of Commons. Sir Oliver  Lodge,  on his way to Melbourne in July for the meeting of the British Association, said it was most regrettable that Britain should fight over ‘a little bother in Serbia.’

The gravity of the European crisis was overlooked in general  in Australia as other matters were distracting the public. Dame Nellie Melba was on her way home. Through her influence the Commonwealth Government had acquired the Marconi patents for wireless broadcasting. Australia was beating Canada in the Davis Cup and Maurice Guillaux was setting out to carry air mail from Melbourne to Sydney, then the longest air mail flight in the world. When war was actually declared the Sydney Morning Herald drew itself up:

‘Above and beyond everything our armies will fight for British honour. It is our baptism of fire.’*

Eddie had chosen not to enlist for the Great War despite the pressure exerted by his younger and more jingoistic brother James. He did not particularly dislike Germans – his mother was one.

The whole idea of hatred, death and killing were abhorrent to him. The war had silently crept up on most people. His mother was secretly relieved. She had suffered and wept enough when his brother James had enlisted in 1916. Another son heading towards the trenches would have been too much to bear. His Irish father was strangely non-committal, yet he seemed to exert an invisible pressure on his artistic son not to be a shirker and do his duty.

* Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 6 August 1914, p. 6.

A man given the white feather of cowardice for not enlisting in the Great War

Eddie never forgot the shame of being handed a white feather in full view of the drinkers outside his father’s hotel by one of the pretty Beenleigh girls. For the entire period of the war he felt neurotically divided between the responsibility he felt towards his artistic calling and a nagging guilt for failing to enlist. An idea of the prevailing attitude to culture is contained in the earliest newspaper mention of Eddie in the Darling Downs Gazette of Saturday 19 June 1913. He is referred to as ‘the brilliant young pianiste’ in a society gossip column entitled Le Beau Monde, the writer having adopted the moniker ‘Pansy’. Of his concert in Toowoomba on 21 July a perceptive columnist was one of the first to describe qualities that remained throughout his career

Mr Cahill’s technique lacks nothing in accuracy, his taste is excellent and he has the enviable facility of making the audience firm friends by his unassuming manner and undoubted facility.

The German Dauth immigrant side of his mother’s musical family were silently marginalized as ‘enemy aliens’ although not interned during the Great War. The discrimination did not reach the heights it did in England where even dachshund dogs were attacked in the street. Some five percent of the population of Queensland was of German heritage, yet the state had a more moderate policy towards internees than most other Australian states. Overall, the pressure of immigration remained an inflammatory issue. The town of Innisfail was described by the notorious Smith’s Weekly as ‘a town of dreadful dagoes … a filthy foreign scum oozes from its highways.’

Darling Downs Gazette, 22 July 1913, p. 6. At this concert Eddie performed Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, the Chopin Nocturne Op. 27 No. 2 and Prelude in C minor Op. 28 No. 20 as well as the Scherzo-Caprice Op. 22 by the now forgotten French composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95). At this time he played Gors and Kallman German pianos.

‡ Quoted Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 176.

 * * *

Another of Eddie’s few brief periods of formal study of the instrument entailed six months in 1912 with a Mr J. A. Johnstone of Melbourne, described by the Queenslander newspaper as being ‘a musician of broad views and great knowledge, a clear and commonsensible thinker and writer on musical subjects, and altogether one of the best equipped teachers in Australia.’ Overflowing with natural talent Eddie was largely a self-taught musician with the sustaining vanity that accompanies such gifts. He had left the family nest and was now committed to making his living from music, specifically piano playing.

Early in 1914 he was to be introduced to a man who would change his professional life considerably. The  English-born singer, variety artist, entrepreneur and businessman Edward Branscombe had arrived in Australia in 1896 with the English Concert Company. He had been a solo tenor at Westminster Abbey during much of the 1890s, but his career is primarily associated with Australia. In 1901, following a tour of South Africa, Branscombe assembled the Westminster Glee Party and toured the Commonwealth performing a repertoire of English part songs, glees, and madrigals. In addition to his role as soloist, he acted as music director, conductor, and arranger.

Edward Branscombe

Unlike Britain where the musical  hall  and  vaudeville  attracted fairly exclusively working-class audiences, the average Australian audience comprised a considerable mix of classes and tastes. Australian theatre was not exclusively preoccupied with bushrangers, convicts and the harsh life of settlers in the outback although they took their rightful place as a reflection of the country’s history. Variety acts and plays from abroad were equally if not more popular than the home-grown product.

Branscombe pioneered the use of open-air venues in Australia with his 1909 season at the Melbourne seaside suburb of St Kilda. Open-air garden theatres were subsequently opened in Brisbane and other state capitals. By 1911, Branscombe had put together a number of troupes under the generic title ‘The Dandies’, the name reflecting the elegant style of costuming and stage decoration. Each troupe, comprising around a dozen performers and a music director/pianist, was distinguished by a colour. Beginning with the Orange Dandies, subsequent companies evolved in the manner of the rainbow to be the Green, Pink, Red, Violet, and Scarlet Dandies.

The Blue Dandies

These companies maintained a significant presence around Australia throughout the First World War, and in this respect played a particularly important role in the country’s cultural development, particularly in the smaller, more far-flung capital cities. They employed more than sixty performers at a time and each troupe had an almost exclusive repertoire of many original songs. They presented new material each season. The performers were experienced, multi-talented professionals from the worlds of music hall, vaudeville, or musical comedy. Eddie was taken on as the music director and pianist of the Violet Dandies for the 1914– 1915 season and the Orange company from 1916–17. The Orange Dandies had orange and black stage decorations and the men in the troupe wore evening suits faced with orange silk. He greatly respected Branscombe’s attention to detail and musical knowledge.

The home of the Brisbane cast was the Cremorne Theatre on the banks of the Brisbane River. The great Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski performed there on his tour of Australia and commented favourably on the musical discrimination of Brisbane audiences.*

Paderewski and a child from the film ‘Moonlight Sonata’

Eddie performed more serious classical works as well as vaudeville accompaniments, some composed by himself. In popular venues such as the Exhibition Gardens in Adelaide he was sometimes restricted to an upright piano by limited stage space. He loved Weber and performed the Invitation to the Dance with vocal accompaniment as well as the Konzertstück in F minor and the Grieg Piano Concerto A minor with his sister Lily (also an excellent pianist) who performed the keyboard reduction of the orchestral parts on a second instrument.

Glittering confections played with his characteristic élan and panache such as the Grand Polka de Concert Op. 1 by the forgotten American composer Homer Newton Bartlett (1845–1920) were tremendously popular. He was born in Olive, New York. A pianist and composer, he was considered one of the finest of American musicians.

*Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941) was a Polish pianist, composer, politician and states- man who battled for Polish independence. He was well known and deeply respected on a global scale for both his musicianship and as a statesman. He was the prime minister and foreign minister of Poland in 1919, and represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference in the same year.

The fine pianist Harold Bauer, a pupil of Paderewski who performed with Pablo Casals and Fritz Kreisler, was touring Australia early in 1913. He was greatly impressed with Eddie’s playing and encouraged him to study in Paris. The outbreak of war and financial constraints prevented any serious consideration of this idea.

The Brisbane Courier described what an audience might experience in this type of early Australian theatre during the capricious summer weather:

Open-air entertainments are delightful on summer evenings in Brisbane, and the popular ‘Cremorne’ theatre, situated on the river bank, South Brisbane, facing the south-east, and open to the cool breezes, is always a favourite resort. During the cool evenings, and when the weather is threatening or unpropitious, the popular theatre is converted into a huge canvas hall, and completely enclosed in waterproof awnings and side screens which afford protection against inclement weather.

Cremourne Theatre, Brisbane: History lesson on local icon | The Courier Mail

A decisive meeting came about during this happy period when Eddie met the lyric tenor George Brooke (b. 1886), also a performer with the Violet and Orange Dandies. Eddie was very taken with his superb voice and together they performed English art songs, German Lieder and in particular Negro spirituals of which George was particularly fond. He had studied singing in Melbourne under a Professor Frederick Beard. The British minstrel show was enormously popular in Australia at this time and the more artistic and spiritual forms of its expression were greatly appreciated by ‘cultured’ audiences. In a broadcast for the BBC in the 1930s Eddie reminisced about his first meeting with George Brooke:

George Brooke (1886-1930)

‘I met my fate in the person of George Brooke. He became my partner in every musical venture, and my life-long friend. He had previously been a clerk in a bank but found it so desperately boring he decided to pursue his dream of being a singer.  I had gone over to Manly one warm summer evening to see the Dandy Show. There were about a dozen performers in the company which appeared to be a very popular one.

†Harold Bauer (1873–1951), a notable pianist born in Kingston upon Thames to a German father (a violinist) and an English mother.

‡ Brisbane Courier, 22 September 1917, p. 12.

But George Brooke the singer was even then the star attraction of the show. A man with expressive dark eyes and a smile that disclosed teeth of dazzling whiteness, he was noticeable on the platform by a certain aloofness, an expression almost of boredom, when he was not actually singing. The moment he opened his mouth he appeared to become another person, and seemed to exert on his audience, quite without effort, an extraordinary personal magnetism.

The atmosphere of the crowded audience changed imperceptibly as he sang his first number. People sat silent, attentive, not a dress rustling, not a cough or movement. He sang a simple ballad The Empty Nest. Another artist might have rendered it sugary sweet, an ordinary song. This young man lifted it into the realm of true art. I knew then he was destined for greater things than a Dandy show. It was not long now before I was in the same show playing for Brooke, and this was the beginning of a great partnership that lasted until his untimely death.

George, although he knew as well as I did, that he ‘had the goods’ was always more apathetic in business than I was and it was becoming more and more the rule between us for me to be the battling member of the firm. That was the difference in our respective temperaments. It has always been my way to rush in where angels fear to tread, but George was more of the ‘live and let live’ type. ‘Leave it to Ed’ in business matters was his slogan. He had less sense of money than anyone I ever knew. I have even known him to start out to do our household marketing with a five pound note returning with five pounds in change and an armful of purchases! ‘Why worry?’ was his motto and yet strange to say, he was wonderfully accurate and painstaking in things of real importance he wanted to carry through. It was always left to Brooke to look after the cash. In the job he was quite in his element, never made a mistake in the reckoning and never lost sight of it until it was safely in the bank.’

You can hear a rare recording by Edward Cahill’s musical partner George Brooke of My Love Parade from the American musical comedy film The Love Parade and Peasant Love Song from the film Married in Hollywood – Columbia Records 1928
(Permission from the National Sound & Film Archive Australia)

Another consequential moment occurred early in 1915 in Adelaide on one of their earliest Australian tours with the Dandies when Eddie and George met Dame Nellie Melba.*

*Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931) was an Australian operatic lyric soprano of incalculable fame and renown in her day. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian period performing for Royalty across Europe, the Tsar of All the Russias and Leo Tolstoy. She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician and became a household name. She actively supported her compatriots, like Eddie and George, if she felt that they, as she put it rather bluntly, ‘had the goods’.

Dame Nellie Melba in ‘La Traviata’.
Eddie was one of her protégées

Eddie continues in a broadcast reminiscence:

‘The diva at that time was giving a series of concerts in the Exhibition Building – a great barn of a place – in whose pleasant gar- dens our own show was also holding a season in the open air.

We frequently said to one another ‘What a bit of luck it would be for us if we could induce Melba to hear our work.’ The idea grew to be a sort of superstition in our minds. If Melba would hear us and approve, all would be well. I remember the clock striking 12 on the night when we finally sealed a letter containing our request to Melba to give us a private audition and I said to Brooke ‘Surely that is a good omen for us.’ George was just as keen on the idea as me, but, as usual I did all the talking!’

Next morning we were summoned to Government House, where Melba was staying as the guest of Lady Galway.* I had heard Melba sing. How can I describe her voice? To me it was as sparkling as silver. There was a coolness about it. It is almost impossible to describe the beauty of it. I can never forget that haunting white quality, or should I say that perfection of tone in Salce, Salce the Willow Song sung by Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello. Meeting her face to face on such an important mission was a very different matter. We knew of her erratic temperament, her moods, her sudden likes and dislikes, How would she act towards us?

Punctually at the appointed time Melba came into the drawing room with that quick, forceful step of hers that was so characteristic. We had heard from Lady Galway that Melba was exhausted under the strain of the previous night’s concert, but there was no evidence of it in her appearance. She immediately asked us to begin. I played one of my favourite works, the dramatic Bach-Tausig Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Brooke sang the German Lieder that he loved so well. Before Melba had spoken we both felt she was interested in our work. In her abrupt, spontaneous way she asked me to also play some work at two of her concerts.

As we were about to leave she said ‘Always keep something in reserve. Never give the public all you have.’ This of course was of great value to me as a professional pianist.

* Lady Galway (1876–1963), Marie Carola Franciska d’Erlanger, was a Baroness and the only daughter of the Irish Baronet Sir Rowland Blennerhassett and Countess Charlotte Julia de Leyden, a biographer and historian from Bavaria. She was a British charity and civic worker and advocate for women’s rights.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Lady_Galway.jpeg
Lady Galway (1876–1963), Marie Carola Franciska d’Erlanger
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Lady_Galway_Home_for_Convalescent_Soldiers.jpeg
Lady Galway Home for Convalescent Soldiers from the Great War

She married Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Galway, KCMG, DSO (1859–1949) who was the spectacularly controversial Governor of South Australia from April 1914 until April 1920. During the Great War the Governor stirred up resentment against Australians of German descent despite the fact his wife was half German.

Newly appointed Governor Sir Henry Galway arriving at Outer Harbour Adelaide in 1914

Subsequently Melba said to Brooke ‘You must both go to London after this terrible war is settled. Better to be a lamp post in London than a star in Australia.’ Naturally this gave us great heart. Melba had enormous strength of character. The Queenslander newspaper commented on the success abroad of Percy Grainger. Of the re- mark made by Madame Melba the paper observed ‘Paderewski is still on the throne, but the world is wide, and there is plenty of room and reward for pianists of exceptional quality.

When the time came she promised to give us letters of introduction to her manager in London and something special to my heart, a letter of introduction to the great Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann.* At the time he was considered one of the greatest Chopin interpreters in the world. I always likened Melba to a Roman Emperor.’

Performing with George he found it easier to calm his nervous tension. Described as ‘bright, alert, happy and breezy in speech, quite modest in regard to his attainments but an enthusiastic music lover’he occasionally and surprisingly suffered stage fright. They gave many concerts as a duo all over Australia  to great acclaim   in addition to their Dandies contract. The ‘sharing’ of musical discoveries rather than ‘presenting’ music would be the source of their continuing popularity. Their work with the Dandies helped them achieve a remarkable balance in skillful programme design within a variety of musical genres. A Schumann Novelette or the Chopin Grande Valse Brillante might jostle surprisingly well with the popular and stirring Maori song Waiata Poi; a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody may follow a Negro spiritual; serious Schubert Lieder or Puccini operatic arias hold hands with charming salon piano pieces by the largely forgotten composers such as Cécile Chaminade‡, Amilcare Zanella§ or Benjamin Godard.

* The Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann (1848–1933) was regarded as one of the greatest pianists of his day and considered by his public as the greatest interpreter of Chopin. He was possessed of extraordinary eccentricities during performances, often engaging the audience verbally, describing how he was playing, even praising himself lavishly and audibly in mid-piece. ‘Excellent Pachmann!’

Vladimir de Pachmann - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Vladimir de Pachmann (1848–1933)

Prahran Telegraph, 5 February 1916, p. 4.

‡ Cécile Chaminade (1857–1944) was a now largely forgotten French composer who had an extremely successful career performing her own works with inimitable Parisian chic and panache.

Cécile Chaminade
Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade was born on August 8, 1857 in Paris, France. Her family was a musical one: her mother was a skilled pianist and singer and her father was a violinist. Like many of the great musicians I’ve featured,...
The beautiful composer Cécile Chaminade (1857–1944) reminiscent in this photograph of a picture by the superb French female 18th century portraitist Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842)

§ Amilcare Zanella (1873–1949) was an Italian composer and pianist who became famous in Argentina and later Director of the Conservatoire at Parma and then later a renowned musical figure at Pesaro on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

Amilcare Zanella - Wikipedia
Amilcare Zanella (1873–1949)

Not all the reviews were glowing (‘Mr Cahill’s fingers work faster than his feelings. He necessarily was not so successful where a deep note of feeling has to be sounded, but in others he was delightful … Mr Brooke also is too obvious in his intentions’, wrote the rather mean-spirited music critic of The Argus in Melbourne in November 1917). It was slowly becoming clear that if their star was to rise, a period of ‘study overseas’, preferably in London, would be the next sensible step.

Eddie was a neurasthenic individual, super-sensitive to criticism, and towards the end of 1917 had a complete nervous breakdown. This was the first of a number he suffered throughout his life that hints at a manic-depressive personality or bi-polar disorder. The source of his anxiety was perhaps only partly the result of his fear of audience and critical reaction to  his  playing. There was the prolonged guilt associated with not enlisting and grim apprehensions for his brother fighting at the front. As my researches deepened I began to wonder about his sexual orientation. In this censorious time it may have given him worsening inner conflicts. Certainly he was afflicted with what is now known as ‘free-floating anxiety’, generalized worry out of all proportion to the risk. Anxiety was the first inherited familial aspect of his personality I noticed in myself.

It was thought by the Dandy company that Eddie would need to give up the concert stage for at least a year. However, being a resilient personality and at base a bubbling optimist, he turned matters to his advantage, even attracting a fee for a newspaper testimonial praising the manufacturers of Elliott’s Beef, Iron and Malted Wine which apparently restored him to mental health ‘I am back at my piano again and now feel as ever I was. Your wonderful tonic is a real ‘pick me up’ saving me weeks of illness.’ So well in fact that he gave a ‘heartily applauded’ charity concert for the State War Council’s Appeal Fund at the Town Hall in Melbourne in March 1918.

Vintage advertisement published by Queensland Deposit Bank and Building  Society, 1887 Courtesy of www.househi… | Vintage advertisement, Building  society, Queensland
Edward Cahill’s Tonic

The Armistice with Germany was signed on 11 November 1918. Eddie and George were suffering chronic financial need and cast about them for further opportunities. Eddie had become deeply depressed over the deaths in a single year of his brother James from influenza and his beautiful sister Mary, beloved for her selflessness, from acute rheumatism. A sense of mortality now lay heavy upon him. Unemployment was a chronic immediate post-war problem in a land hoping to become in the words of the British Prime Minister Lloyd George, ‘fit for heroes’.

Now that the war seemed to be haltingly drawing to a close they decided to leave the Dandies and take the risk of setting up alone as the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party. An account of a concert in the Brisbane Daily Standard of April 1917 indicates initial difficulties:

The Centennial Hall on Saturday night was too small to accommodate the enthusiastic audience that greeted them. The need for a decent hall for this class of entertainment was never so apparent as on this occasion. The promoters did their best to hide the ‘dinginess’, but were powerless to eliminate the noise of clicking billiard balls and roisterers in the backyard adjoining the hall. A tin of rubbish and offal made its presence felt in the outside passage until a soldier volunteered to remove it. Apart from these disadvantages the acoustic properties for vocalists are bad.

After a generally successful Australian tour (where the Moonlight Sonata was usually considered the high point) the primary critical observation, apart from their exhibition of great talent and attracting insistent encores, was that their immense popularity stemmed from ‘playing to suit the tastes of lovers of all classes of music’. Not all was cherry blossom. Classical music critics called for more seriousness from Eddie and more spontaneity from George. Yet most agreed on their tremendous musical promise. It was widely considered that Eddie would become one of the greatest pianists Australia had produced since Percy Grainger.

They were soon engaged by the famous Canadian impresario Frederick Shipman, who managed the tours of such stars as the Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba and the Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler. He planned an unprecedented tour by Western classical musicians of India and the Southeast Asia…..

PP Instalment 1

Chapter 1

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket


Preface ix
Prologue xiii

  1. Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket 1
  2. Of Maharajahs and Palaces 22
  3. ‘The East of the Ancient Navigators’ 40
  4. Bach and other fearful wildfowl 56
  5. A Collar of Diamonds 76
  6. ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’ 97
  7. Brooklands and the Court Circular 107
  8. Vienna and Das süsse Mädel 123
  9. Catastrophes 139
  10. High Society and Le Train Bleu 158
  11. Into the Jungle of Germany 170
  12. Lost in the Darkness of Change 194
  13. ‘Skeletons Copulating on a Tin Roof ’ 210
  14. Nostalgie Pour La Patrie 231
  15. Cheating the Dance of Death 251
  16. Brideshead Not Revisited 267
  17. Room 855, Le Grand Hôtel, Boulevard 287
    des Capucines, Paris
  18. Grand’Uff. Eddie Cahill contemplates 298
    the Ruin of Europe
  19. Ja, Baas – The Colonisation of the Mind 310
  20. Life in the Fairy Kingdom 331
  21. Et In Arcadia Ego 345
    Bibliography 359
    Acknowledgements 371
    Map of Contents 373
    Index 382
    About the Author


I shall never forget hearing the recordings of the pianist Edward Cahill for the first time during the millennium year. One Saturday evening spent at home alone in rainswept London I decided on an impulse to climb up into the attic and open the trunk of his effects I had inherited long ago. My mood that night was fearfully low as I was attempting to emerge from a blighted love affair. Depression about my future had also set in as I felt I had been studying the piano seriously for far too long without significant success. Seeking the warmth and reassurance of some connection with my family   I brushed away the cobwebs suffocating the trunk and began to rummage through the detritus of his life. At the bottom I found some old tape recordings and took them downstairs in anticipation. My old Revox open-reel machine spun into life.

I shall always treasure the feeling of exhilaration on first hearing the individuality of the piano sound he created in his interpretation of La Campanella by Liszt. He performed the work as a spectacular tour de force of virtuosity with the greatest refinement of touch, vitality of tone, bell-like timbre and that feathery velocity reminiscent of the late nineteenth century giants of the keyboard. As a musician myself I was astounded at the quality of the playing and determined there and then I must research and write about his life. I was to uncover a universe of fascinating historical recordings, period detail and a career of relentless glamour and success. After a long delayed beginning, the quest for this family portrait was to take me six years.

The fragmentary material piled into that old cabin trunk was a chaotic jigsaw puzzle. It contained unsorted personal letters, journals, manuscripts, music reviews, scrap books, music, concert posters, concert programmes, newspaper articles, official documents, period photographs, a small piece of 16 mm film as well as 78 rpm shellac and tape recordings. Some newspaper reviews glued into the  scrapbook  were  carelessly  trimmed  so  as to be undated, unidentifiable or sectionally damaged, letters contained only the month and not the year they were written with illegible signatures. Photographs often did not identify the exotic subjects. The treasure chest had been collecting dust in the attic of my London flat for over thirty years.

Fortunately in 1968 I had spent some six months with him as a young man and discussed in depth his career, music and the piano. Now I asked myself whether there was sufficient material to construct an engaging biography of a long forgotten Australian concert pianist born in 1885 who was also a member of an unknown family? I feared no-one attempted biographies of such forgotten figures owing to the piecemeal nature of the sources. However I was determined to assemble this remarkable life.

Tantalising references had always hovered in the family of a ‘legend’, of ‘a brilliant classical pianist who played for Queen Mary in London and the aristocracy of Europe during the glamorous 1920s.’ As ‘Uncle Eddie’ had left Australia permanently in 1934 the family could never fully comprehend the depth of his achievement. Few details were known, family records scarce, his name rarely mentioned. No chronology of Edward Cahill existed until I tentatively began work. Establishing this with accuracy soon became the major challenge of the enterprise. Informed supposition was an occasional unavoidable necessity as it proceeded. Any inadvertent blunders are entirely due to my own lack of vigilance.

As time passed I gradually began to see  ‘Uncle  Eddie’  not only as a rounded personality but also very much ‘a figure in the landscape’ of his day, similar to those diminutive personages that populate 17th century classical landscape paintings by Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin or Gaspard Dughet. I became increasingly consumed by the mysterious process of unravelling the poetry of his life as an artist and the society that nurtured him. I brought to light extraordinary coincidences and unsettling congruencies with my own life.

During this ‘resurrection’ I did not travel to all the destinations that comprised his itinerant lifestyle as his recitals spanned almost every continent and were often in prohibitively expensive exotic locations. Many countries have changed out of all recognition since his time as a result of war, partition or simple developmental change. Inevitably there are tantalizing gaps as in all biographies. However I travelled extensively even obsessively in his footsteps encountering a multitude of astonishing places in what became in the end an amazing journey of musical and spiritual discovery.


In the year 1891 a curly-haired boy runs along the sunny banks of a river in the early morning chasing a butterfly with his net. Dragonflies with electric blue abdomens and clear wings hover above the muddy water. If he stays very still they will even settle on his trousers for a few seconds warming themselves in the sun. He is a very happy little boy. He has carefully prepared his beer and treacle mixture the night before and smears it on the slim trunks of his favourite eucalypts and nearby bushes. This nectar attracts the butterflies and he can easily capture them in one swift arc. He loves the kaleidoscopic colours of nature. Singing to himself, he puts them in his killing jar. He then carefully folds them into small paper envelopes.

Caper White butterflies drinking by a river in Queensland

Later, before they dry and stiffen, he carefully pushes fine pins through the thorax and spreads the wings and straps them flat with strips of special paper onto the setting board. Later, when they dry, he displays them in the cabinet his grandmother had bought for him. In spring he loves to watch the huge migrations of the black and white Caper Whites drinking at the river banks. The fast Tailed Emperor, wings folded like a painted Chinese fan, feeds on the over-ripe figs and flowering citrus trees in their garden. In his bedroom he has a glass case of smelly, hairy, wildly striped caterpillars. He loves to watch them until the silver or green chrysalis forms and hangs from its silken pad on the twigs. He sighs with impatience, waiting for its radiant future. The beautiful adult creature finally emerges, shimmering in its fresh markings to begin its life of spectacular display. These he lets fly free.

He is not your normal little boy by any means. He is actually a bit of a show-off, like his butterflies. He loves sounds too; all sorts of sounds fascinate him. They thrill him. He collects old bottles and tins, in fact anything that makes a sound when you hit it with a stick. On this shabby orchestra, sitting in the dust, he performs for other children in the neighbourhood and his brothers and sisters who gather around. The grown-ups roar with laughter to see a very small boy rushing madly about hitting bottles and tins. Lizards scatter under the rocks; rosellas and black cockatoos flee to the trees. Then someone teaches him how to improve his sounds. They show him how by filling the containers with different quantities of water he can produce different notes. His tin can and bottle symphonies improve. He cannot be stopped.

After these first ‘performances’ in the dirt and dust of colonial Australia he learns the piano against his father’s wishes from the wife of the milkman, goes from strength to strength musically  and travels from continent to continent, culture to culture until   he accomplishes his childish dream. He finally plays in recitals in London commanded by the Queen of England and later in the houses of all her aristocratic friends. The little boy’s name is Edward Cahill and this is his story.

Chapter I

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

On the east coast of Australia in the State of Queensland, or ‘Deep North’ as some Australians call it, lies picturesque Moreton Bay, some twenty kilometres north of Brisbane. Captain Cook named but did not explore it on 15 May 1770 during his first voyage. ‘This veritable Garden of Eden’, teeming with fish, crustacea of all kinds, exotic flowers and colourful birds, subsequently became a ghastly penal outstation. Europeans began to settle the area, but the geography of impenetrable forest and river made farming difficult. This provided a challenge for the predominantly German, Prussian, English and Irish immigrants. The promise of a salubrious climate, orderly government, regular laws, excellent education and religious freedom were irresistible to many fleeing over-population, famine and poverty in Europe.

In 1862 John Davy, his wife Mary and his brother-in-law Francis Gooding emigrated to Queensland and established a sugar plantation between the Albert and Logan Rivers which they named Beenleigh after their old farm in Devon, England. The farm had been suffering severe financial difficulties despite the generally increased prosperity of agriculture in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. In their new home they were soon growing sugar cane and manufacturing rum, a business which developed into the famous Beenleigh Rum Distillery. A small township subsequently evolved at the junction of five roads and flourished under the same name, Beenleigh.

In 1863 the thirty-year-old farmer and blacksmith Johannes Dauth, his twenty-five-year-old wife Caroline and their three children emigrated to Australia from Stöckheim,  Brunswick, some three hundred kilometers north-east of Frankfurt-am-Main. Germans living west and east of the River Elbe had suffered from an increase in population too large for the resources of the land and were facing economic disintegration. These were the boom years for emigration to Australia. Only a few years before Queensland had been created a separate colony from New South Wales. The new colony required a labour force to populate its vast spaces.

The barque Susanne Godeffroy

After lengthy consideration the family sailed on 22 September 1863  on  the  maiden  voyage of the clipper Susanne Godeffroy. She put to sea from Hamburg and encountered a rough and stormy passage through the English Channel and particularly high seas around the Cape of Good Hope into the Roaring Forties. ‘Long ridges of water ran high and fast’ which damaged the masts.* Passengers often landed looking ‘like they had been in the grave for a week and dug up’ reported one migration official. The ship anchored in Moreton Bay over four months later. All the Dauth children survived and a baby was born to Johannes and Caroline whom they named Mary. This infant, so romantically ‘born at sea’, somehow managed to survive the long voyage and would ultimately become the mother of the brilliant Australian pianist Edward Cahill.

Upon arrival Johannes settled in the New Year first at Eagleby (also known as the ‘German Pocket’) but soon moved to nearby Beenleigh where he became one of the earliest settlers. He opened a blacksmith’s shop and built a residence in George Street. Germans were highly respected as hard workers and he became successful supporting his family in relative comfort.

By the mid 1870s Beenleigh was a thriving rural business centre, the main town of the Logan and Albert districts. Queensland had the largest number of German-born residents in the Australian colonies. A school opened in 1871 and one of the Dauth family was among its first pupils. The Beenleigh Hotel was soon established on the corner of George and Main Streets ‘a handsome new two storey building … which will favourably compete for accommodation  and situation with any hotel in the colony out of Brisbane’.

* I am indebted for most of the early history of Beenleigh to Anne McIntyre of the Logan River & District Family History Society Inc. who assisted me greatly in my research and also published They Chose Beenleigh: A Tribute to the Immigrant Landholders and Pioneers of the Beenleigh and Eagleby, Queensland, Australia prior to 1885 (Beenleigh 2009), Sailings, p. 47.

By 1885 the population of the town had risen to over four hundred. Although Queensland was not noted at this time for its cultural activities, the presence of the German community and their love and talent for music meant there was substantial support for the building of the School of Arts.*

Edward Cahill’s father was born in 1857 on the border of County Tipperary and Laois County (formerly Queen’s County) Ireland. The Great Famine of 1845–9 had devastated landlocked Queen’s County. Thousands died and many were forced to eat anything they could find. The magistrate Nicholas Cummins described his visit to the hovels of Skibbereen in West Cork:

In the first (hovel), six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth, their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees.

School of Arts, Beenleigh

Thousands of inhabitants looking for a better life fled the Great Famine and emigrated to America, Canada or Australia, the Cahill family among them.Edward Cahill Senior was resident in colonial Queensland by 1869. In March of 1881 he was reported to have captained the Tambourine Cricket Club against Upper Logan and knocked up a creditable score as an excellent ‘all rounder’. On the Prince of Wales’s Birthday the following year he played for Beenleigh as a wicket keeper and fielded and batted outstandingly. He was remembered in the town with much affection as a jovial Irishman with a rough sense of humour.

By the 1880s the economy of this vast colony had moved into positive cycle. However the colony of Queensland remained ‘a rather puzzling mixture of success and failure.’§

* The School of Arts Movement originated in Scotland and spread throughout the English-speaking world in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Times of Christmas Eve 1846 quoted in Thomas Keneally The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New (London 1998), pp. 129–31.

Between 1841 and 1861 Queen’s County lost almost half its population from 154,000 to 90,600.

§ Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland (Cambridge 2007), p. 111.

Many immigrants felt misled by the rosy expectations their agents had given them. Unskilled labour faced a bleak future, but those who commenced‘the fierce battle with nature to form things’* could save and prosper if their health stood up to the rigours of the climate.

In November 1884 Edward Cahill Senior and Mary Dauth married in Brisbane and took up residence permanently in Beenleigh. Despite the economic gloom, he took over as the ‘Licensed Victualler’ of the Beenleigh Hotel in April 1894, renting it for 30/- per week. For the previous five years he had been the licensee of the nearby Yatala Hotel about three kilometres from Beenleigh.

The Beenleigh Hotel following the extensive remodelling by Edward Cahill Snr. in 1910. The hotel was regrettably demolished in 1977 despite an extensive National Trust of Queensland Report in 1975 recommending its preservation.

His new hotel became the centre of the town’s social life and the haunt for regular meetings of the local cricket club, jockey club and rifle association. The booking office and staging post for the legendary Cobb & Co transport and Royal Mail coaches was situated in the hotel. ‘Incidents’ in the life of the town tended to happen there. One anecdote tells of a day when a young man working in the cane fields near Eagleby felt a prick on his ankle and realised he had been bitten by a snake, probably the dreaded Coastal Taipan. Despite the swift efforts of the local Dr Sutton he died under ‘the best medical supervision’ in a room at the Beenleigh Hotel.

Edward Cahill Junior was born almost exactly a year after their marriage on 10 November in the boom year of 1885. Mary Cahill bore a child every year for the next eight years. She was to survive this gruelling experience without serious illness and only one was to die as an infant. In time the Cahills built a house they called ‘Roscrea’, which became a landmark in Beenleigh. The residence was named after the town near the border of Laois County and County Tipperary where Edward Cahill Senior was born.

The area around Beenleigh is quite flat, dotted with shrubs and eucalypts such as Ironbark and Forest Red Gum. Despite being only twenty kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, the town is stiflingly hot in summer. The Albert River where Eddie hunted butterflies still takes its slow and picturesque course through the rather arid landscape. When I visited Beenleigh there was no evidence of the site of the distinctive Cahill family home. Undoubtedly Roscrea would have been characterized by broad verandas shaded by a large, graceful Dutch gable roof of shingles or corrugated iron. Sadly I could find no photograph of it during my extensive research. However a few of the buildings Eddie would have known as a child are preserved in what is known as Old Beenleigh Town, an historical village situated on the outskirts of the town’s modern suburban sprawl. I attempted to reconstruct this early Australian community in my mind’s eye but it was an almost impossible task. Born in 1885 Eddie would find modern Beenleigh unrecognizable.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 110.

Around £150 in 2020.

A Settler family in Beenleigh 1872
The ‘Carpenter’s Arms Public House Beenleigh District 1872
Main Street Beenleigh  Queensland ca. 1893  from the verandah of the  Beenleigh Hotel.
The town where Edward Cahill was born in 1885
Beenleigh in 1895
The handsome colonial Cahill family of Beenleigh

Top row from left:   James, Elizabeth, Mary, Caroline, Edward
Front row from left:  William, Edward Senior,  Margaret, Mary Cahill (née Dauth), Lilian

* * *

Eddie’s grandmother and mother were both particularly fond of music. As he grew older he spent hours experimenting with the sounds on his grandmother’s old piano, one of the few refined features of their colonial life. She wanted him to learn to play and spoke secretly to his mother about it. His father had no interest in butterflies or piano playing. ‘You women will spoil the boyo. The piano is for colleens! Your sisters can learn the piano if they want. He should learn to ride and shoot like a man!’

At the age of five, his mother decided he should begin lessons at his grandmother’s house with the milkman’s wife. She could play fluently and taught the boy to read music. A few times a week during her round she would tie up the horse, leave the milk cart outside and slip into his grandmother’s house to give Eddie a half hour ‘secret’ lesson. Our ‘jovial Irishman’ did comment rather unfavourably, however, when he saw his young son early one morning enthusiastically trotting down the dusty country road between the weatherboard houses dressed in a red velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, his hair carefully pomaded and curled. He threatened to beat him black and blue.  ‘My  mother  loves  him so much!’ his wife assured her husband when he expressed exasperation and returned to the bar to serve some thirsty sun- burned pastoralists. Eddie seemed to know, seemed to have always known, what he wanted to do with his life. That was, of all unlikely things in this region of pitiless heat, pioneers and heartless bush, to be a musician and above all to play the piano. Eddie adored these lessons with the intensity of a vocation.

He was enrolled at the state primary school and was popular with his classmates. The teachers in the small school felt he was above average intelligence for his age. He seemed to be able to instantly communicate his friendliness, good temper and general happiness with life to everyone. Even at this early stage he was a particularly charming child. By the age of eight, the piano playing was coming along well and the lessons became far less of a secret, in fact the whole thing was rather out in the open. He was making extraordinary progress, far beyond what might be considered normal for a child of his age and far beyond the skill of Mrs Bale the milkman’s wife. ‘Lost in the music!’ she said one day. ‘Naturally gifted!’ she exclaimed on another.

Occasionally, now that he was old enough to keep quiet and cease fidgeting, his mother would take him to a concert at the School of Arts. There was an unusual degree of sophisticated cultural life in this small, isolated town, a place which surprisingly nurtured his dreams. His father was becoming increasingly irritable as the boy reached puberty. He had hoped ‘the boyo’ would eventually ‘grow out of it’ and come into the hotel business. ‘Music is no career for a man son! Musicians are unhappy, hopeless fellows. If you keep this up you’ll end up in the gutter. Wake up to yourself!’

The boy did not seem to care. Every time he sat on the piano stool he could imagine huge crowds of people listening to him in great halls, idolising his performance. He had particularly small hands but wonderful  dexterity  and  an  engaging  natural  way  of playing. He also seemed to have what was known as ‘perfect pitch’, a mixed blessing in some respects, and could improvise his own tunes on any melody that was given to him by members of an audience. In a diary reminiscence written for a radio broadcast made in Sydney as he approached middle age he underlined ‘I was a very happy little boy’. But in reality he contemplated with horror the idea of working in his father’s hotel among the rough drovers, cane cutters, cattlemen and rum drinkers.

One of the worst decades in Australian history opened as he began at the  rural  primary  school  in  Beenleigh.  From  1891–96 a severe economic depression crippled the country and was immediately followed by one of the longest-lasting droughts in the colony’s history lasting from 1898–1905.* Unemployment reached catastrophic levels. White settlers clashed with Aboriginals and Melanesian ‘Kanakas’ who were deemed to be a ‘doomed race of Heathens’.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 124

Local papers brayed ‘no white woman is safe’. By the close of the century the lives of many immigrants and hundreds  of thousands of native people had been sacrificed in a genocidal mayhem that had lasted for years.*

* Grimly detailed throughout Evans, A History of Queensland.

* * *

As the eldest son, Eddie was expected to take up a trade after leaving school at fifteen. It is hard to imagine an environment less conducive to becoming a classical concert pianist than the Queensland of the early 1900s for such a cultured, aesthetic young man. The family decided that an excellent beginning for someone of Eddie’s sensitive temperament would be as a draper’s assistant in his father’s drapery business a few doors down from the Beenleigh Hotel.

Travelling Drapers – ‘Downes’ – Beenleigh

Wanting to please rather than follow the summons of his heart, he agreed to take up this dull trade. Each morning he swept the floor of the shop and sprinkled it with fresh damp sawdust, raised the blinds on the front window and adjusted the headless manikins freshly dressed by an eccentric window-dresser. In the evening he lit the oil lamps, which turned the shop into a glowing cavern with pockets of mysterious darkness. He learned to cultivate the charm of the professional salesman. He exuded a natural appeal which impressed the appreciative English colonial ladies who were keen to keep up appearances and deck themselves out in copies of the latest London or Paris fashions. For physical relaxation he played lawn tennis at the weekend, a choice over Rugby Union football, tennis being a sport which was considered askance by the men of Beenleigh. Yet he managed early each day to fit in an hour or more piano practice at his grandmother’s house and even more on Sundays.

He was already twenty-five when, by now a fully fledged draper, he decided he could not stand working in the shop a minute longer, even as the manager. He was chronically tired of measuring out lengths of cloth for elderly women with endless discussions of price. He could hardly wait until the doors closed for the day and he could rush to the joys of the piano and practise like a demon. He had given what might be considered his first piano recital in the School of Arts in 1907. But as he lay in bed at night listening to the raucous shouts from the verandah of the hotel, the drunken carousing in the streets, he planned to run away to Brisbane, embark on a ship bound for Europe, burn the shop down, anything to escape the drudgery that stretched endlessly before him. He wanted adventure, glamour and fame, the adulation of the glittering crowd as a performing musician. He was unashamedly convinced of his talent.

* * *

In 1909 Queensland celebrated its 50th year as a separate entity with a Jubilee Exhibition at the annual Brisbane Agricultural Show in the Botanic Gardens and the official opening of the University of Queensland. Eddie decided to enter the piano competition which was part of the celebrations. The event was judged by a Professor Ives. Eddie was proclaimed the ‘Piano Champion Solo’ for his performance of a Schumann Novelette and he was awarded a gold medal in addition to some prize money.

The Piano Champion Solo Gold Medal awarded to Edward Cahill, Brisbane Jubilee Exhibition 1909

This victory was followed by some serious tuition with a mysterious Miss Hilda Roberts, a Brisbane pianist who introduced him to the acclaimed method pioneered by Tobias Matthay in London.* These lessons gave him the self-confidence to seek new endeavours and challenges in music.

Tobias Matthay (1858–1945)

The early silent cinema had always fascinated Eddie as a teenager. He used to avidly attend the screenings of short documentaries and comedies at the School of Arts in Beenleigh and also played for Beenleigh Pictures, the firm who screened silent pictures  there. Often too he played for the dance that followed. In the early newsreel of the spring meeting of the Melbourne Cup filmed by the Frenchman Marius Sestier, he was captivated by the glamorous crowds of women in ornate Edwardian lace dresses.Eddie had his first taste of the bewitching theatre of royalty and upper-class life, the endless procession of elegant carriages, superb horses and court uniforms, cocked hats fluttering with ostrich feathers in the 1901 documentary The Inauguration of Australia.

*Tobias Matthay (1858–1945) was an outstanding English pianist, teacher, and composer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music under the composer and pianist Sir William Sterndale Bennett and taught there from 1876 to 1925 as Professor of Advanced Piano.The English virtuosi Myra Hess, Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, Harriet Cohen and Irene Scharrer were but a few of his outstanding pupils. He founded a piano school in 1905 and published several books on technique.

The Frenchman Marius Sestier (1861–1928), came to Australia from India in 1896 and made some of the first Australian films and screened them at the Salon Lumière in Sydney.

At thirty-five minutes it was one of the longest films of the time made anywhere in the world. On one cloth-buying trip to Brisbane in 1907 he saw ‘Australia’s Greatest Drama’, The Story of the Kelly Gang, at the Centennial Hall, the world’s first full-length feature film advertised as being ‘over a mile in length’ and ‘over an hour in duration’.* The piano accompaniment included a ‘Lecturer’ who explained the story and characters using a pointer. Voices behind the screen added dialogue. A kookaburra had been trained to laugh when a limelight lamp shone on it.

* The Story of the Kelly Gang was photographed for J. & N. Tait by the talented Millard Johnson and William Gibson and first shown in Melbourne on Boxing Day 1906.

An Australian Outback Travelling Picture Show 1910
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Bert Ive outside the Centennial Hall, Brisbane, Queensland
Silent Picture Projection Equipment 1910 (NFSA)

He slowly became aware of a possible avenue of escape from the drapery. One day a horse-drawn travelling picture show arrived in Beenleigh. A number of these forgotten touring companies wandered the vast outback of Australia offering silent cinema entertainment. Isolated towns lacking in electricity and the phonograph meant these shows were tremendously popular. They often mixed vaudeville acts with short films projected by limelight. Music was a vital ingredient although during the projection there was a good deal of mechanical noise. Devastating explosions were always likely. ‘Going to the pictures’ was an adventure in the early years of the Australian silent cinema, for both the audience and the projectionist.

He considered the job of ‘picture pianist’ something he could easily accomplish and auditioned for the Irish manager of a travelling show called Flaniken’s Films that  had  just  lost  its  accompanist. At the audition he improvised with great élan and spirit for The Eureka Stockade. The company presented silent stars such as Charlie Chaplin, ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Mabel Normand as well as the rough and tumble of the Keystone Cops to entertainment-starved outback audiences. Eddie would also provide the music for the dance that followed the show.To the shock and dismay of the entire Cahill family, Eddie excitedly accepted the offer of this poorly paid, uncomfortable job with Flaniken’s Films travelling the outback as an accompanist.

He was beside himself with delight. The itinerary would take in much of central Queensland and northern New South Wales. This was to be his first professional musical engagement and the beginning of an enduring love affair with the stage and travel. His father was bitterly disappointed having purchased the Beenleigh Hotel in 1909 and radically remodelled the exterior. He had hoped Eddie would take over when he retired.

The evening programme could be a five-reel feature with two or three shorter comedies or ‘scenics’ as they were known. A singer travelling with them performed songs by the renowned Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder or popular numbers such as Meet Me To-night in Dreamland or I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now accompanied by lantern slides. As he toured with silent pictures Eddie learned how to ‘work’ an audience, to strongly communicate intense emotion with music. The type of vaudeville act that might accompany the films is breathlessly described in an advertisement in the Barrier Miner of 8 January 1912, published in the rough and isolated outback mining town of Broken Hill in far west of New South Wales where ‘Mr Eddie Cahill (A.R.A.M. Gold Medallist) and pianologist will preside at the instrument’.

‘Ching Sung Loo, the Chinese magician, is one of the star per- formers with his pretty lady assistant. His stage setting is said to be a blaze of Oriental grandeur. He does not speak during the performance, but glides about the stage stealthily and mysteriously. It is claimed that he makes steaming coffee from apparently nowhere, which is freely distributed to the audience; that he raises a lady into mid air utterly defying the laws of gravitation and places her on the points of three swords; that he raises a large bowl of water with living fishes in it from nowhere; that he shoots an arrow through a lady’s body, changes wine into water; and that the climax is reached when he eats paper and cotton wool, and the next moment clouds of smoke and streams of sparks issue from his mouth. Then he allows a rifle to be fired point blank at him, and he catches the bullet, which has been previously marked for identification purposes by one of the audience.’

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In time, books of  musical  suggestions  were  published  such as the Edison Kinetogram to assist pianists and orchestras in their accompaniments.* Eddie learned to project his feelings directly through the piano in a variety of musical styles. Sinister and uncanny mood music for the night, agitato running passages for high tension dramas, seductive touches for the warmth of love, the disturbing chords of jealousy, heavy masses heralding impending doom, the grandeur of heroic combat or the tumult of battle. Eddie was talented at this task, had excellent technique, was a good sight-reader and knew a great deal of music by heart. It was a hard school but an invaluable apprenticeship. He felt that exploring the beauty of the Queensland countryside was ample compensation for the meagre pay.

A still from the silent movie The Story of the Ned Kelly Gang

It was not long before Eddie found himself in a more permanent position conducting an orchestra of eight at the King’s Pictures and the historic Princess Theatre in Brisbane. A lone pianist can watch the screen and improvise whereas an orchestra cannot accomplish this as an ensemble. One of the earliest scores composed especially for a silent film was by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns for L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise in 1908. Eddie was required to compile music from the classical scores of one composer or order selections from a number of composers to suit the emotional hue of the film. This technique reached its apotheosis in 1925 with the legendary score written by Edmund Meisel for The Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein. The director wrote ‘The audience must be lashed into a fury and shaken violently by the volume of the sound…this sound can’t be strong enough and should be turned to the limit of the audience’s physical and mental capacity.’

On a less dramatic scale, Eddie believed that the music should not simply be background but become part of the fabric of the film itself. Such an idea was most unusual at the time and sadly his work in this area has not survived. One of his favourite silent features was The Cheat (1915) an early silent directed by Cecil B. DeMille starring Fannie Ward and the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa. Famous for its dramatic low-key lighting, it explored the taboo of an extra- marital intrigue through erotic Orientalism, female masochism and forcible seduction. In one harrowing scene the flesh of the female character is branded like a prize heifer by the seducer in a gesture of possession. This would no doubt have required a significant leap of musical invention for the young pianist, inexperienced in such passions as were most of the audience.

* A beacon in the dearth of well-researched academic studies of the history of music in the silent film era is the excellent and informative Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies 1895–1924 by Martin Miller Marks (New York 1997). Quoted p. 72.

A charming film of life on the road in an Australian travelling picture show in the early 1900s is The Picture Show Man (1977) directed by John Power and starring Rod Taylor, John Meillon, Judy Morris, John Ewart, Patrick Cargill and Harold Hopkins.

Edmund Meisel (1894–1930) is a neglected Austrian composer who was a pioneer and a truly avant-garde artist in his approach to silent film music.

Eddie’s work in the silent cinema was the beginning of his artistic career. However, whilst inhabiting the world of celluloid dreams, roaming the outback and playing in darkened cinemas, the world situation ….