William Saurin Lyster 1828-1880
William Saurin Lyster
Lyster had no children, yet his legacy was remarkable. He left an appreciation for opera and memories of innumerable world-standard performances, including dozens of local premieres. His ranks included many artists who later made significant contributions both here and overseas.
Lyster had no children, yet his legacy was remarkable. He left an appreciation for opera and memories of innumerable world-standard performances, including dozens of local premieres. His ranks included many artists who later made significant contributions both here and overseas. A representative roll call would include ‘The Tasmanian Nightingale’, Amy Sherwin, who sang Lucia for Lyster in 1878 and achieved stardom in the United States and Europe; Howard Vernon, who became ubiquitously associated with the Savoy repertoire; Nellie Stewart, who was only 14 when she appeared in Lyster’s Orpheus in the Underworld in 1872, little realising she would become the nation’s favourite actress; George Johnson, who passed on his vocal talents to his daughter, Gertrude Johnson, founder of the Australian National Theatre Movement; Fannie and Martin Simonsen’s daughter had a starry international career as soprano Frances Saville, and their grand-daughter, the brilliant Frances Alda, not only became the New York Met’s leading soprano, she married its director, Giulio Gatti-Casazza; conductor Alberto Zelman, who, with his son, Albert, led music making in Melbourne for decades; and Pietro Cecchi, who became Melba’s first teacher.
And there were the Musgrove brothers, George and Harry, sons of Lyster’s sister-in-law, actress Fanny Musgrove, née Hodson. The Musgroves inherited the bold entrepreneurial model that Lyster established: major companies touring the continent, rather than a company firmly anchored to a particular theatre in a particular city. George Musgrove’s theatrical career started with a job in Lyster’s box office. He became a powerful entrepreneur, especially of opera, and he worked for a time in liaison with J.C. Williamson; he had a long, loving relationship with Nellie Stewart. Harry Musgrove was only 16 when he began his working life with Lyster. Later he had a series of important managerial roles with Williamson’s. His son, Harry G. Musgrove ran the Tivoli Circuit during the 1920s.
And what of Lyster’s beloved Narree Worron Grange? In 1874 he donated two acres on Wellington Road for the establishment of a local school. It was named Lysterfield in his honour; the name now to applies to the whole district. Around 1890 Georgia, Lyster’s widow, sold the remaining land for subdivision. The old homestead, whose music room had hollow panels to provide resonance, was demolished in the early 1980s. With it went the ornamental lake, the croquet lawn and the extensive gardens, but the name Narree Warron, adjusted to Narre Warren, lives on as the name of a nearby suburb.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Watch this space
Alison Gyger: Civilising the Colonies, Pellinor, 1999
Harold Love: James Edward Neild, Melbourne University Press, 1989
Harold Love: The Golden Age of Opera in Australia, Currency Press, 1981
Sally O'Neill, Thérèse Radic: ‘William Saurin Lyster’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 5, Melbourne University Press