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Hosking, Edwin Clement (1896–1966)

by Peter L. Swain

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Edwin Clement Hosking (1896-1966), singer, teacher and folklorist, was born on 4 March 1896 at Hindmarsh, Adelaide, son of Edwin Hosking, a draper from Yorkshire, and his South Australian-born wife Ellen Waller, née Humble. Educated privately and at various public schools, Clem was a boy-chorister in the College Park choir. At the age of 17 he decided on a musical career, and had singing lessons from Miss Mary Wright. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 April 1916, served on the Western Front from September 1917 as a signaller in the 48th Battalion and was discharged in Adelaide on 6 October 1919.

Studying under Count Ercole Filippini, Hosking moved to Sydney where he was taught by Vincenzo de Giorgio, and by Guido Cacielli at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. In 1921 Hosking opened a studio in George Street and, for more than thirty years, took pupils in singing. He was also in charge of music (1925) at the Pitt Street Congregational Church. In 1920 Filippini had praised his 'very fine baritone voice' and predicted a successful career in opera for his pupil, but, while continuing his studies abroad, Hosking developed a passion for folk-songs and folklore. A member of the Theosophical Society in Australia (1927-38), he was musical director (1926-30) of radio station 2GB.

In 1933 Hosking founded the Sydney Folk Song Choir which he directed until 1952. The choir gave numerous broadcasts and recitals; items were usually interspersed with his informed commentary; on occasions he was a soloist. He was particularly interested in Celtic culture and undertook research into the folk-songs of the Outer Hebrides, which he visited from time to time. Gaining an international reputation as a singer, choir director and lecturer, in 1938 he was created a bard by the Gorsedd of Cornwall and given the title 'Kenyas an Eneson' ('Singer of the Isles') for his services to Celtic music. His influence in creating an awareness of and love for folk-songs was unparalleled in Australia.

During World War II Hosking was honorary director of the Red Cross Concert Unit in Sydney. At Newington College, he was part-time choirmaster (1944-61) and a close friend of the headmaster P. R. Le Couteur and his wife Emma. Initially, the choristers were conscripts and Hosking found discipline difficult. A mathematics teacher was appointed master-in-charge of the choir to keep order during rehearsals. The standard of singing improved. In 1953 Hosking helped to found an adult listening group, later the Wyvern Music Club, Lindfield.

When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Australian committee for music was formed in 1951, Hosking was invited to become a member. Other spheres of service included the Celtic Society of Australia (president 1941-65), the International Folk Music Council, the Folk Lore Association of New South Wales (Folklore Association of Australia by 1947; president 1946-65) and the New Australians' Cultural Association (vice-president). He published two books on the music of the Outer Hebrides, Fine Song for Singing (1951) and Three Hebridean Songs (1953). In Old Tales in a New Land (1957) he outlined the peasant traditions of twelve European countries, many of whose people were postwar immigrants in Australia.

Clement Hosking was of middle height and medium build, and of good bearing. Unmarried, he devoted his life to music and folklore, although he could converse authoritatively on a range of subjects. He was cultured and dignified, 'a charming companion, serenely poised, wise, and warmly human'. His expertise in folklore brought considerable acclaim: Dame Mary Gilmore lauded his literary gifts, Dulcie Holland wrote a piano piece in his honour and Dr Edgar Bainton prepared the wording for an illuminated address which he presented to him on his retirement in 1952. As 'Maitri' and 'Kenyas', Hosking contributed paragraphs to the Bulletin.

A man of mystic temperament, he studied Catholicism before embracing Buddhism. Hosking lived for many years at Killara, but eventually moved into a Methodist aged-care unit at Leichhardt. He died there of myocardial infarction on 9 October 1966 and was cremated with Buddhist rites. A public thanksgiving service was subsequently held in Newington's chapel. The Celtic Fellowship and the Folklore Association endowed Clement Hosking annual awards for Celtic and Hebridean folk-singing at the City of Sydney Eisteddfod.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Glennon, Australian Music and Musicians (Adel, 1968)
  • P. L. Swain, A Quarter Past the Century (Syd, 1988)
  • Australian Musical News, 10, 1921, Aug 1923, Aug 1930, Oct 1951, Apr 1952, June 1952
  • Green Room Pictorial, 1 June 1924
  • Theatre (Sydney), July 1925
  • Newingtonian, Aug 1946, Dec 1952, Dec 1961
  • Sydney Mail, 20 Apr 1921
  • Sun (Sydney), 23 Oct 1935
  • Bulletin, 16 Mar 1955
  • North Shore Times, 7 Aug 1963
  • Hosking letters, newsclippings and scrapbooks (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Peter L. Swain, 'Hosking, Edwin Clement (1896–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hosking-edwin-clement-10550/text18735, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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