George Musgrove 1854-1916

George Musgrove

George Musgrove

Born in Surbiton, England, on 21 January 1854, he was 12 when the family came to Australia.

He worked for a while in the box office for Lyster’s opera company and, at the age of 20, married Emily Knight

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A great and good man

‘In the theatre George Musgrove was a law unto himself,’ wrote journalist Claude McKay.
‘He played pranks with his German opera company, sometimes with disastrous consequences. At times he had them completely out of control. Many of them were heavy-witted and without the slightest appreciation of a joke. He thus brought on his own head occasions when the curtain would rise on one opera and fall on another, through company squabbles. His misguided bantering was not confined to the singers. On one occasion, when a party of late arrivals in full evening dress said to him, “So it’s The Valkyrie tonight, Mr Musgrove?” “Just a minute,” George said, “I’ll go and see.” And he solemnly walked to the back stalls entrance and looked into the theatre. “Yes,” he said on his return, “so far it’s as you say”.’

There was a time when the name Musgrove was synonymous with entertainment in Australia. In the early years of the 20th century there were no less than eight Musgroves in the entertainment business; now there are none.

The Musgroves proudly traced their ancestry back to the supreme British tragedienne, Mrs Siddons. Her niece had married a music-seller and composer called George Hodson, and their children – George, Fanny, Georgina and Henrietta – all made names for themselves on the stage. George was a comedian in London; Henrietta an actress; and Georgina a fine contralto. Georgina married the Irish opera impresario William Saurin Lyster. They came to Australia in 1861 for a six-month season but stayed on, pioneering opera in this country.

Fanny, the fourth of the Hodson children, carved a career as an actress in London, and married an accountant, George Musgrove. They somehow managed to raise a family of 14 and migrated to Australia in 1866. Five of their sons – George, Henry (known as Harry), Arthur, Frank and Charles – made their mark in theatre.

It was George who made the biggest impression. Born in Surbiton, England, on 21 January 1854, he was 12 when the family came to Australia. He worked for a while in the box office for Lyster’s opera company and, at the age of 20, married Emily Knight. They had three daughters – Lily, Rose and May; Rose distinguished herself as a sensitive actress in drama and light opera, much against her father’s wishes.

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Biographical references

Ian Bevan: The Story of the Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
Jean Gittins: ‘George Musgrove’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 5, Melbourne University Press
Claude McKay: This is the Life, Angus & Robertson, 1961
Nellie Stewart: My Life’s Story , 1923
John West: ‘George Musgrove’, in Companion to Theatre in AustraliaCurrency Press, 1995