Eliza Wallace Bushelle
This impressive young soprano toured England, Australia, Vienna and the United States of America. She held audiences spellbound in Australia. She was also a Professor of Music, a notable pianist.
Eliza Wallace was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo on the 7th February 1820. Her ancestors came to Killala with a group of Scots Presbyterians during the late 1600’s, they build a chapel there. Rev. James Wallace was minister from 1709–1720. Her paternal grandparents Jacob Wallace and Margaret Lyons were married at St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Killala in 1770. Their children were Thomas b.1773, Susanna b. 1776 (later another Susanna was born in 1778) also Spencer b.1789 (Eliza’s father). He was stationed at the Military Barracks in Ballina continuing the family tradition of Militia Musicians when he had enlisted at Clonmel during July 1804. Her mother was Elizabeth Mc Kenna whom her father married in the Protestant Cathedral in Limerick as he was stationed at Rathkeale at that time. Eliza was the youngest child with siblings; Susanna, William and Wellington. [i]
Not much is known of Eliza’s life prior to her singing career. The siblings would have learned many skills from the readily available instruments of their father’s band. By age ten years she was proficient with difficult airs on the violin, she also possessed remarkable vocal ability. While in London she studied under Santly and Garcia.
The Wallace family; Spenser Wellington, Professor of Music aged 41 with his second wife Matilda 28 and their two sons plus Eliza 16 and Spenser Wellington 22 emigrated on the James Pattison from Cork to Australia during February 1835 arrived in Australia in 1836. Elizabeth was listed as an Actress and Musician in the ship’s manifest. During her brother’s concert debut at the Royal Hotel in Sydney on June 1st 1836 Eliza performed three solo numbers; an aria in Italian, a Swiss air The Springtime is Coming also an Irish song The Minstrel Boy plus a duet by Rossini. An Australian reviewer was captivated; he wrote that “We may venture to predict that she will become the first singer in this hemisphere. Her voice is full and rich, and above all possesses that flexibility of intonation so indispensable to a perfect voice.” Eliza continued her career when she joined her brother in September 1836 at a major music event in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney featuring ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ followed by a second such oratorio concert on the occasion of the 50th Celebration of the Colony. It is noted that she “displayed much musical ability and that power of voice which has procured her the reputation of being the best professional female vocalist in the Colony.” [ii] Eliza had the lead in the first Italian opera that was performed in Australia, Rossini’s ‘Cinderella’ in 1843. During 1847 she sang in Vienna in a Royal Concert for the Emperor and his Court. She had been engaged by Mendelsson to sing in the “Elijah” at Vienna.
She left Australia during 1847 to 1863 to travel to England then performed in her brother’s opera Maritana at Convent Garden. They then traveled on to the U.S. and Brazil where she continued her performances.
Eliza met her future husband John Bushelle in Sydney (He had been born in 1806 at Limerick). He was a Bass Baritone. [iii] They married in May 1839, a Newspaper article states that “Miss Wallace, the talented vocalist, entered into an harmonious union, or, in other words, has been united in the sacred bands of wedlock, with the celebrated amateur who performed at the late grand concert with so much eclat.” [iv] ‘An Harmonious Union’, The Colonist (15 May 1839).
They had four sons but Eliza was pregnant when John died while on a tour in Tasmania in 1843. Her fifth son was born several months after her husband’s death while she was still a young widow.
Career as a Teacher
Eliza returned to Sidney in 1862. She continued performances while she also became a fashionable singing teacher. She gave her first Grand Concert where all the ladies and gentlemen were the pupils of Mme. Wallace Bushelle. The concert was held annually. For years it funded many local charities including the Randwicke Asylum for Destitute Children. She performed the entire piano accompaniments for these concerts while she also performed as a vocalist. The talented pupils at her training college formed the core of that continent’s emerging young talent. [v] It is recorded that Eliza composed at least two lost works, the Gondolier’s Song, (The Sydney Morning Herald 15th September 1845) [vi] plus the ‘Destruction of St. Mary’s.’ (Empire 2nd August 1865) [vii] Details appear of a ‘Concert’ in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald‘ (3 August 1865.) [viii]
Eliza had failing health in later years but continued to teach at her home in Victoria Street, Sydney. She died on 16th August 1878 aged 58. She is buried at the ‘Necropolis’ now the Rookwood Cemetery.
Many tributes to her were published in newspapers worldwide including the Sydney Morning News. In a letter to the Editor of the Melbourne Argus, J.H.B. Curtis wrote on June 2nd 1890 under the heading ‘Melbourne stage in the Forties’ that Eliza Wallace Bushelle could run up and down from E flat below Middle C to E flat above without any perceptible break. [ix]
A Plaque was unveiled in the Military Barracks, Ballina by the local Wallace Society in Eliza’s Memory on Friday 16th October 2015. [x]
[iii] O’Reilly. Terry (2012) Amazing Mayo Stories
[v] O’Reilly. Terry (2012) Amazing Mayo Stories