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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sherwin, Frances Amy Lillian (1855–1935)

by Deirdre Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Frances Amy Lillian Sherwin (1855-1935), singer, was born on 23 March 1855 near Huonville, Tasmania, daughter of George Green Sherwin, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Dean, and niece of Isaac Sherwin. As her parents had suffered financially from droughts and fires and could not afford music tuition, she was educated at home, her mother teaching her singing and giving her lessons on a piano brought from England by Amy's grandfather William Dean. F. A. Packer took an interest in her and recommended that she concentrate on opera. Her career began in earnest in 1878 when she joined the touring Royal Italian Opera Company as Norina in Don Pasquale. She sang with the company in Melbourne, Ballarat and Sydney; by September her pure and gentle voice had persuaded critics of her ability. Next month she went to New Zealand and on 12 December 1878 at Dunedin married Hugo Gorlitz, a German merchant and entrepreneur who had business interests in Sydney.

In February 1879 Sherwin sailed to San Francisco for a five-week season with the Strakosch Company. On 27 May, despite having just recovered from pneumonia, she sang Violetta in La Traviata and her voice was praised for its great range. She went to New York and Boston where, hailed as the 'Tasmanian Nightingale', she gave performances while continuing her studies. In 1882 she sailed for Europe, spending time in Italy and France. She made her English début at Drury Lane, London, on 7 April 1883 in Maritana, with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. In 1887 she visited Australia; her Melbourne concerts clashed with jubilee festivities and were not well attended, though her opening in August 1888 was well received. To recoup her losses she made an eight-months tour of Asia which ended in Tokyo in June 1889 and then returned to England.

Sherwin sang in Dresden, Hanover and Prague in 1890, receiving enthusiastic reviews. In Berlin she declined a three-year engagement at the Imperial Opera House for Sir Arthur Sullivan's offer of the lead in The Gondoliers. In August she sang at the Prince's Hall, London, and included a song composed by Governor Sir William Robinson. In 1896 she toured South Africa and next year Australia, singing in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart where she was given a great reception, enthusiastic admirers unharnessing her horses and hauling her carriage through the streets. Back in London, where she was regarded 'as the wittiest of all Australian singers and the most polished and easiest of hostesses', she concentrated on concert work, realizing that her acting detracted from her operatic singing.

In 1902 and 1906 Sherwin again toured Australia. In 1907 she retired in England and turned to teaching to support herself and her invalid daughter, but she was not a good manager. Her last years were spent in poverty and sickness but not despair: 'even when her voice was only a whisper she would sit at the piano and sing with an archness and vivacity peculiarly her own'. When Hobart heard of her plight the lord mayor raised nearly £200. She died in London on 20 September 1935 and was buried in the Bromley Hill cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. H. Todd, Looking Back (Syd, 1938)
  • A. Fysh, The Early Days of the Sherwin Family (Hob, 1965)
  • B. and F. Mackenzie, Singers of Australia (Melb, 1967)
  • Sydney Mail, 28 Sept 1878, 31 May 1884
  • Australasian, 21 Dec 1878, 2 July 1887, 13 Oct 1888
  • Examiner (Launceston), 18 July 1879
  • Bulletin, 29 Feb 1880
  • 'Drury-Lane Theatre', Times (London), 9 Apr 1883, p 7
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21, 23 June, 1, 16 Aug 1890
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 23 Sept 1935, p 19 .

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Deirdre Morris, 'Sherwin, Frances Amy Lillian (1855–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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