Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crossley, Ada Jemima (1871–1929)

by Margery Missen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Ada Jemima Crossley (1871-1929), by Talma & Co, 1901-05

Ada Jemima Crossley (1871-1929), by Talma & Co, 1901-05

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H37081/23

Ada Jemima Crossley (1871-1929), singer, was born on 3 March 1871 at Tarraville, Gippsland, Victoria, daughter of Edward Wallis Crossley, ironmonger, and his wife Harriette, née Morris, both from Northamptonshire, England. Ada was sixth surviving child in a family of twelve children: 'a regular rough bush youngster I was with my auburn pigtail'. She took piano lessons when 7 from Mrs Hastings of Port Albert, and between 12 and 15 played the organ and led the singing at the three village churches. Later Ada studied pianoforte with the elder Alberto Zelman in Melbourne.

When it became apparent that Ada had a voice of great promise, her parents allowed her to take lessons with Madame Fanny Simonsen, on the condition that she never sang opera. One of her first public appearances in Melbourne was in November 1889 when she took part in the third Philharmonic Subscription Concert in the town hall. In the next four years she sang frequently at oratorios and concerts, including the popular promenade concerts organized by W. J. Turner, and was principal contralto in the choir of Charles Strong's Australian Church. She became well known in Sydney after her début there in January 1892.

In March 1894 Ada left for London where she studied first with (Sir) Charles Santley and then for some seven months in Paris with Madame Marchesi. Her London début was at the Queen's Hall in May 1895 but her big opportunity came when she substituted at a moment's notice for Clara Butt at a concert in Manchester; she was soon singing at principal oratorio festivals throughout Great Britain. While her voice was admired for its rich velvet quality and steady purity of timbre—one reviewer described it as having the 'luscious richness of a Carlsbad plum combined with the translucent purity of rock crystal'—she was praised particularly for her interpretative skills. A favourite of royalty, she was commanded five times in two years to sing before Queen Victoria, and she sang on many important ceremonial occasions. In 1903 she claimed a repertoire of 500 sacred songs and ballads, ranging from Gluck and Handel to Richard Strauss, and she sang in English, German, French, Italian, Norwegian, Danish and Russian.

While on a successful tour of the United States of America in 1902-03, during which she recorded for the Victor Gramophone Co.'s Red Seal Celebrity series, Madame Crossley was engaged by J. C. Williamson to visit Australia and New Zealand. She arrived in September 1903 and was received with acclaim. The young Percy Grainger was among her entourage. She returned to England in February 1904 via South Africa.

On 11 April 1905 at the parish church of St Marylebone, Ada married Dr Francis Frederick Muecke (1879-1945), son of H. C. E. Muecke of Adelaide. She revisited Australia in 1908-09, again with Grainger among her supporting artists. From 1913 she reduced her professional engagements but continued to sing at charity concerts, especially during World War I. As her husband gained eminence as a throat specialist, she withdrew from public life, but her London house remained a haven for newly arrived Australian artists.

Ada Crossley died on 17 October 1929 at Woodlands Park, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. After a memorial service at All Souls, Langham Place, she was buried in St Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley.

Select Bibliography

  • L. W. Matters, Australians who Count in London … (Lond, 1913)
  • B. and F. Mackenzie, Singers of Australia (Melb, 1967)
  • British Australasian, 23 May 1895
  • Critic (Adelaide), 26 Sept 1903
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 23 Nov 1889, 20 Dec 1890, 21 Mar, 26 Sept, 10 Oct 1903, 2 Jan 1904, 20 May 1905
  • Sydney Mail, 17 Mar 1894
  • Gippsland Standard, 15 Jan, 1 Apr 1904, 14 June 1905, 4 July 1906, 15 Jan, 24 Mar 1909
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12 Apr 1902, 19 Oct 1929
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18 Oct 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19, 26, 29 Oct, 2 Dec 1929
  • Crossley clippings and letters (Percy Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Margery Missen, 'Crossley, Ada Jemima (1871–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crossley-ada-jemima-5829/text9899, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Ada Jemima Crossley (1871-1929), by Talma & Co, 1901-05

Ada Jemima Crossley (1871-1929), by Talma & Co, 1901-05

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H37081/23

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Muecke, Ada Jemima
Birth

3 March 1871
Tarraville, Victoria, Australia

Death

17 October 1929
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation