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Thompson, Gerald Marr (1856–1938)

by John Carmody

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Gerald Marr Thompson (1856-1938), journalist, was born on 11 September 1856 at Paddington, London, son of John Thompson, solicitor, and his wife Emma, née Hitchcock. Brought up in a family atmosphere of music and literature, he was educated at York Gate House, Broadstairs, Kent, and University College School, London. After working in the London and County Bank, he followed his two medical brothers John Ashburton and Charles to Australia, reaching Adelaide on 10 June 1881.

While employed there (1881-82) by the Bank of Australasia, Thompson wrote on music and drama for the Advertiser. He spent three months on the Western Grazier at Wilcannia, New South Wales, then joined the Daily Telegraph in Sydney in 1883 as critic of art, music and drama. Having travelled to Britain and the United States of America in 1886, he married English-born Eleanor Lucy Cole on 7 April 1887 at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney.

In 1891 Thompson succeeded Austin Brereton as drama and music critic for the Sydney Morning Herald and soon added art to his responsibilities. Meeting the considerable demands of the Sarah Bernhardt season, he thereafter contributed a weekly column, 'Music and Drama', as well as commenting on a wide range of Sydney's cultural life. He also wrote occasionally on travel: in 1896 he contributed an extended series, 'From old worlds to new', to the Daily Telegraph. Among the principal artists he interviewed were the Boucicaults, Amy Sherwin, Oscar Asche, Ada Crossley, Percy Grainger, (Dame) Nellie Melba, Nellie Stewart, Hugh Ward and John MacCormack.

As a critic Marr Thompson was, with his contemporary James Griffen Foley, revered by the professions. His judgements, particularly of vocal and dramatic technique, were well-based, he was well-informed on Shakespeare and he was extremely diligent. He strove for originality in his writing and was forthright in his opinions. A contemporary wrote, 'He thunders his criticisms … and his word has been waited for shiveringly'. Thompson's critiques contained a good deal of information about the audiences and their dress, especially when vice-regal personages were in attendance. Conservative in his tastes, he found Elgar's work to be 'always of the most advanced musical idiom', thought that the Dream of Gerontius 'will soon be forgotten' and dismissed Schönberg on the basis of second-hand reports. He did, however, profess an interest in the development of an Australian 'school' of theatre.

Retiring in 1925, Thompson visited England; there he contributed articles on music in Australia to the London Daily Telegraph and sent pieces back to the Herald for which he continued to write occasionally. He was a small man, bald in middle age, with an austere face, ample moustache and pince-nez. Predeceased by their daughter, his wife died in 1927. At St Andrew's Cathedral on 20 December 1932 Thompson married French-born Mathilde Pognon who lectured at Teachers' College, Sydney. Survived by her, he died at his Double Bay home on 28 February 1938 and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £2784.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Fairfax Ltd, Century of Journalism (Syd, 1931)
  • W. A. Orchard, The Distant View (Syd, 1943)
  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • Theatre Magazine (Sydney and Melbourne), 1 Nov 1912, p 5
  • Observer (Adelaide), 18 June 1881
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Jan 1916, 11, 26 Mar 1925, 30 July 1927, 1-3 Mar 1938
  • Bulletin, 26 Mar 1925
  • G. M. Thompson, newsclippings (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

John Carmody, 'Thompson, Gerald Marr (1856–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thompson-gerald-marr-8787/text15409, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 19 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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