The famous opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba of Australia has Scottish relations buried here in Inverarity Kirkyard. More information on this to follow.
Nellie’s parents, before emigrating to Australia, once lived at Dalmoulin, now a ruin by the river Prosen, below the memorial to Antartic explorer Captain Scott, or at Prosenhaugh further downstream.
Her grandparents (Porter) lived at Prosenhaugh where, until about 40 years ago, there was a building nearby known as Porter’s Hut.
Nellie’s parents moved to Kirriemuir prior to going to Australia. The year before leaving, a baby girl, who would have been Nellie’s older sister, died in infancy at Kirriemuir.
Dame Nellie Melba was born Helen Porter Mitchell on the 19th of May 1861 at “Doonside” in Richmond, now a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. Nellie changed her surname to Melba, a condensed version of Melbourne, because of her love of her country, Australia.
As a child born into a musical family, she grew up with her parents Isabella (nee Dow) and David Mitchell, and seven younger brothers and sisters in Lilydale. Her mother was her first music teacher.
She was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne with her early singing tuition from Ellen Christian and the Italian tenor, Pietro Cecchi, who is credited with urging her to make singing a vocation.
Following the death of her mother in 1881, Nellie’s father moved the family to Queensland where she met and married Charles Armstrong in Brisbane in 1882. A son, George was born a year later but the marriage ended in divorce in 1900.
Determined to pursue an operatic singing career, Nellie moved back to Melbourne in 1884 before going to Europe in 1886 where she studied under Mathilde Marchesi in Paris. Her operatic debut came in Brussels in 1887 and after a few setbacks, she became a great success returning triumphant to Australia in 1902.
Dame Melba’s achievments were many as were the plaudits for her performances although, in true prima donna style, she could be temperamental and bossy. However, especially in her homeland of Australia, she was much loved and adored.
Before her death in Sydney from a blood infection complication on the 23rd of February 1931 and burial at Lilydale cemetery, Nellie toured with the Melba-Williamson Opera Company, made a number of “comebacks”, set up a scholarship, opened a music school in Richmond, bought a cottage as a retreat in Coldstream, near Lilydale, to the east of Melbourne.
Her name is immortalised with two foods, a dessert (the Peach Melba), and melba toast.
Nellie’s greatest honours came in 1918 when she became a Dame of the British Empire followed by, in 1927, her elevation to Dame Grand Cross.
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