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Palmer, Rosina Martha (1844–1932)

by Thérèse Radic

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

Rosina Martha Hosanah Palmer (1844-1932), singer, was born on 27 August 1844 in Hobart Town, eldest of five daughters of Jerome Carandini, Marquis of Sarzano, and his wife Madame Marie Carandini, née Burgess.

Rosina's father was penniless and her mother became the family's mainstay by her tours as a singer, dominating the lives of all close to her. Before her daughters' voices matured she travelled widely to cities and country towns in Australia. Rosina first showed promise as a pianist but was early placed under the tutelage of F. A. Packer for singing lessons in Hobart. With her mother's determined ambitions behind her, and at the risk of destroying her youthful soprano voice, Rosina appeared at 14 as Adalgisa to her mother's Norma in that Bellini opera. From that day her mother encouraged her in nothing but singing. For some years she travelled up and down the country with her mother and later with her sisters giving concerts. In the 1860s they were known as the 'Carandini Family Troupe' and with other performers toured as far afield as India and California.

In Hobart on 8 November 1860 Rosina married Edward Hodson Palmer, cashier and later accountant in the Bank of Australasia. In 1866 they moved to Melbourne; she exchanged her mother's dominance for her husband's prudery and the duty of rearing a young family. The tours were replaced with concerts in the major cities; the operatic appearances ceased in favour of oratorio. When the Duke of Edinburgh visited Melbourne he was so charmed by Rosina's singing that he promised to provide the means for her musical education by first-rate European masters, but nothing came of it. Though it was improper for a respectable matron to appear on the always-suspect opera stage, the poorly paid solo parts with the respectable Melbourne Philharmonic Society and Liedertafels were socially acceptable.

In 1872 Rosina sang as a soprano in a travelling quartet with the American Mrs Cutter as contralto, E. A. Beaumont the blind tenor and S. Lamble as bass, visiting New Zealand and touring Australia. With Beaumont she became one of the two principal singers in the W. J. Turner series of popular concerts in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne. She was also the soprano soloist in the choir of Scots Church in 1880-1910. Her performances were legion and her income small, but fortunately she was allowed to go on singing because her husband's income was only a little larger. Economy won consent but not approval. She became a teacher in the end with an extensive following. When she sang with visiting celebrities she was always praised by them. Charles Santley (1834-1922) in particular regretted that she could not leave her family and sing in Europe, though later she visited America and sang for a notable teacher, Mancusi, who told her that he could teach her nothing more. She might have stayed but her mother was ill and she returned to Melbourne. Predeceased by her husband on 28 June 1928, she died at South Yarra on 16 June 1932, survived by a son and two daughters of her eight children.

Undoubtedly Rosina Palmer had gifts but, like so many talented contemporaries, the demands of her social position and her married state acted as a barrier against full development. Only women of the character of her mother could successfully break through the barricades of convention, compelling respect and admiration, pushing the weaker spirits of her daughters to the sticking point and finally marrying them off to titles and fortunes, all except Rosina.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Times, 29 Apr 1869
  • Table Talk, 22 Aug 1890
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 23 May 1891
  • Australasian, 12 May 1894, 31 Dec 1910
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Oct 1910, 17 June 1932
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 June 1932
  • Kenyon papers, P1735 (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Thérèse Radic, 'Palmer, Rosina Martha (1844–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/palmer-rosina-martha-4359/text7085, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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