Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Marsh, Stephen Hale Alonzo (1805–1888)

by Catherine Mackerras

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Stephen Hale Alonzo Marsh (1805-1888), musician, was born on 4 January 1805 in Kensington, London, only son of Henry Marsh. His widowed mother kept 'a finishing school for young ladies' near Kensington Palace. He later gave concerts throughout Britain under the patronage of the Duchess of Kent and the harpist, Nicholas Bochsa, offered to teach him. In Paris Marsh was given an Erard harp, which he took everywhere, even carrying it on a camel in Egypt.

In February 1842 Marsh arrived in Sydney with his wife in the Sir Edward Paget. Ludwig Leichhardt was a fellow passenger and recorded that Marsh often gave recitals to the passengers. He rented a house 'for the enormous sum of 100 thalers [£150]' and asked Leichhardt to occupy 'his little spare room' and 'share some of the expense', which he did for six months. Soon after arrival Marsh was asked by Isaac Nathan to take part in a 'mixed concert' at the Sydney College. He engaged the two Nathan girls to sing at his proposed series of chamber concerts but their father refused and the two musicians became rivals. By 1845 Marsh was able to give a concert 'under the most distinguished patronage' with an orchestra of forty-five supplemented by the band of the 99th Regiment, and 'enraptured his audience by his delightful harp-playing'.

When Nathan wrote Hail Star of the South! Australasia Advance!, Marsh produced Advance Australia, 'dedicated to its inhabitants', describing it as 'The Australian National Anthem'. When Nathan celebrated Leichhardt's unexpected return from Port Essington with The Greeting Home Again: A Paean on Leichhardt's Return, to words by E. K. Sylvester, Marsh immediately set the same verses with a harp accompaniment, which Leichhardt thought 'extraordinarily beautiful'. He capped it with Dr. Leichhardt's March, written 'on the successful termination of his expedition, by his friend S. H. Marsh'.

Nathan's Don John of Austria (1847), was described as the 'first opera wholly produced in Australia'. Marsh followed with A Gentleman in Black, also claiming it as 'Australia's first opera'. In 1859 his cantata for solo soprano, In Thee Oh Lord Do I Put My Trust, was first sung in Sydney by Madame Anna Bishop. Later he went to Melbourne where in 1861 his opera was again performed. His wife had died and he married the 18-year-old Harriet Turner. He left Australia with his family in 1872 and after two years in Japan settled in San Francisco where he continued teaching till 1878. Marsh died there on 21 January 1888, survived by his wife, two of his five sons and a daughter. Most of his manuscripts were destroyed by the great fire and earthquake in San Francisco in 1906.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Chisholm, Strange New World (Syd, 1941)
  • C. Mackerras, The Hebrew Melodist (Syd, 1963)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 May, 1 June 1842, 5 May 1843, 23 May, 8 Aug, 2 Oct 1844
  • J. L. Hall, ‘New light on Stephen Hale Marsh’, Sydney Morning Herald, June 1955
  • Australian, 30 Nov, 3 Dec 1845
  • letters relating to Marsh and Leichhardt, and Report on Leichhardt papers in Mitchell Library and Dixson Library (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Catherine Mackerras, 'Marsh, Stephen Hale Alonzo (1805–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marsh-stephen-hale-alonzo-4157/text6671, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017