Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Boyd, Eileen Alberta (1890–1975)

by Rosemary Broomham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Eileen Alberta Boyd (1890-1975), singer, was born on 13 December 1890 in Sydney, fourth child of Albert Boyd, a hotelkeeper from Victoria, and his Sydney-born wife Margaret, née Shalvey. Eileen was taught elocution by Harry Leston and dancing by Tom Donnelly. Billed as 'The Baby Baritone, Clog Dancer and Whistler', in 1900 she toured New Zealand with Dix's Gaiety Company. In May next year she appeared in Brisbane before joining J. C. Williamson's Royal Comic Opera Company and later performing with Harry Rickards's vaudeville circuit. In Sydney she attended St Vincent's College, Potts Point; on tour she had a tutor.

Pictured in 1904 as a sweet-faced girl with modest, downcast eyes, Eileen grew to only 4 ft 10 ins (147 cm), but had a voice of remarkable purity and power. She studied with Signor Steffani who took her to Paris in 1910. In London she sang at National Sunday League concerts in 1913. Compared favourably with (Dame) Clara Butt, Miss Boyd was described as 'a rare contralto' with a vivacious manner. After training with Sir Henry Wood, she sang under the conductors Sir Edward Elgar, (Sir) Hamilton Harty and (Sir) Edward German.

During World War I Eileen reputedly arranged and performed in at least 350 concerts. From 1914 she recorded songs, some martial in character, for Jumbo records. On 1 May 1915 at the register office, Brentford, Middlesex, she married a 42-year-old master mariner Hugh Ernest Roberts; he died on 24 October, leaving her with a son and a 13-year-old stepdaughter. Eileen twice toured Britain (1915 and 1917) with Peter Dawson and Mark Hamburg; with Clara Butt, she sang Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius before King George V and Queen Mary in 1917.

A remunerative contract from Hugh McIntosh brought her to Sydney later that year, with both children. Disappointed at finding only revue parts, she worked in music-hall and made three Asian tours. On 6 September 1920 at the Congregational parsonage, Richmond, Melbourne, she married a widower Horace Gordon Lane; they were to have one son. Back in Sydney, Eileen's 'domestic arrangements' obliged her to decline invitations to join Melba's opera company and to audition at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. Although she turned to teaching, she took part in the Australian Broadcasting Co.'s first transmission to England in 1927 and resumed recording with the Columbia Graphophone Co. Ltd. Her most successful record (My Dear Soul and an Australian song, I passed by your Window) remained on sale for twenty years. A concert was held in her honour in 1935 and next year she appeared as soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney. She toured New Zealand (1936 and 1937), and for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (1937), but the microphone cast doubts on the quality of her voice and she found it increasingly difficult to obtain engagements.

Impoverished after her husband's death in 1941, Eileen worked in the Commonwealth Department of Labour and National Service and in the Commonwealth Employment Service for fourteen years. Generous and spirited, she continued to sing at fund-raising concerts for charitable organizations (raising almost £8000 for the Anzac House appeal in 1957) even after she retired to Hammondville homes in 1966. Survived by her two sons, she died there on 14 September 1975 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Stage Annual, 1904
  • Achievement, 1967
  • Otago Witness, 24 Oct 1900, 15 May 1901
  • Brisbane Courier, 6 May 1901
  • Times (London), 13 Feb 1913
  • Town and Country Journal, 15 Dec 1915
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Mar 1935, 19 Sept 1936, 6 Mar 1937, 16 Sept 1939, 15 Oct 1958
  • Boyd file, ABC Archives (Sydney)
  • P. Burgis, discographer, Imperial Concert Agency (London), publicity material (annotated by Boyd, privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Rosemary Broomham, 'Boyd, Eileen Alberta (1890–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boyd-eileen-alberta-9558/text16837, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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