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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lemmone, John (1861–1949)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

John Lemmone (1861-1949), flautist and composer, was born on 22 June 1861 at Ballarat, Victoria, son of John Lemon, originally Lamoni, a goldminer from Greece, and his English wife Mary, née Baker. Raised in a musical family, he progressed from a tin whistle to the fife, and played in his school's and in the Golden City drum and fife bands. At 12 he bought his first flute with gold he had panned himself.

In 1874 the family moved to Melbourne where John continued to study the flute and became principal flute with Lyster's Royal Italian Opera Company. He learned some harmony and theory, but claimed to have been largely self taught. On a visit from Adelaide where he played with the Theatre Royal Orchestra, he made his solo début at a Melbourne benefit for the musician Herr Elsässer in May 1884 at the same time as (Dame) Nellie Melba, then Mrs Armstrong. Acquiring the requisite foreign chic by changing his name to Lemmone, he toured Australia and Asia with soprano Amy Sherwin in 1887-89. On 11 December 1889 he married Isabella Jeffrey Lindsay Stewart at Darlinghurst, Sydney. Tours of Australia, New Zealand and Asia followed with singers Janet Patey, Signor Foli and Charles Santley and violinist Pablo Sarasate.

In London in 1894 Lemmone renewed his acquaintance with Melba whose influential introductions furthered his career. He played obbligati at Melba's fashionable soirées where he met celebrated artists and notabilities of the day. He appeared at the Albert Hall and toured with soprano Adelina Patti. His English successes led to a South African tour with Amy Sherwin in 1896.

On his return to Australia in 1897 Lemmone took up concert management, arranging tours by pianist Mark Hambourg and singer Marie Narelle. When Melba toured Australia in 1902 Lemmone was her personal and business manager and associate artist. Though he managed the visit of the Polish pianist Paderewski in 1904, Melba took precedence over his other interests. In 1910 he travelled overseas selecting singers for her 1911 J. C. Williamson opera season, after which he toured with her to New Zealand, North America and Europe. During World War I he arranged Melba's fund-raising concerts in Australia and England. In 1919 when he suffered a nervous illness in Sydney, Melba organized a benefit for him which raised over £2000.

The calm and friendly Lemmone was a good foil for the volatile prima donna. Melba valued him as a friend; the Bulletin described him in 1918 as her 'devoted chum'. Their association did however somewhat obscure Lemmone's talent as flautist and composer of many impressionistic pieces for flute. When he retired in 1927 his musical abilities were undiminished. Even in 1938 his 'vitality and infectious air of personal enjoyment' emerged when he performed on radio for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Lemmone enjoyed an enduring relationship with Sydney soprano and singing teacher Mabel Isobel Irene Batchelor, and was a director of her family's furniture business. They married on 28 September 1943 at Paddington after Isabella's death. He died on 16 August 1949 at Darlinghurst and was cremated. His wife and a son from his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. and F. Mackenzie, Singers of Australia (Melb, 1967)
  • N. Melba, Melodies and Memories, J. Cargher introduction and notes (Melb, 1980)
  • Tatler (Melbourne), 14 Aug 1897
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 May 1884, 29 Aug 1938
  • Punch (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1898
  • Sydney Mail, 30 Sept 1908
  • Bulletin, 21 Feb 1918
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Jan 1919, 16 Aug 1949
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 July 1924
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 28 July 1927
  • theatre programme collection (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Lemmone, John (1861–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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