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Lucy Charlotte Benson (1860–1943)

by Diana Large

This article was published:

Lucy Charlotte Benson (1860-1943), musician and theatrical entrepreneur, was born on 1 March 1860 in Hobart Town, eldest of ten children of Thomas Westbrook, auctioneer, and his wife Fanny, née Lempriere, a talented singer, and was related to Lempriere Pringle. Lucy was educated privately; she studied singing with del Sarte and Madame Emery Gould, and piano with Herr Guenett of Melbourne and later with Fraulein Mayer and F. A. G. Packer. When 10 Lucy was playing as organist in three churches each Sunday; later she was organist at four Hobart churches of various denominations.

She had 'a sweet voice that lingered in the memory', sang in many concerts, managed, directed and conducted light operas, and was perhaps the first female conductor of opera in the Australian theatre. She produced most of Gilbert and Sullivan, and had been the female lead in H.M.S. Pinafore in 1879. In opera Lucy had met William Benson, whom she married on 2 June 1881 at Bellerive; they had six children.

Her musical career continued unabated: in 1901 she sang before the Duke and Duchess of York and two years later her choir won the eisteddfod at Bathurst, New South Wales. Returning through Sydney they gave a concert and the Daily Telegraph praised their 'high discipline, admirable finish and effective … control'. In 1905 Lucy took an enlarged choir, including eight of her family, to South Street, Ballarat, where they won the championship of the Commonwealth. On their return they received a civic welcome in the streets of Hobart from the city band and the inhabitants.

At this stage Lucy Benson, by her musical activities, had raised £1600 for charity. Not surprisingly she was lauded in verse in the press as able to 'undermine a mountain', 'bound to boss the play', and referred to as 'The Great Commanding Spirit of the South' who could 'organize high Heaven'. For half a century there were few musical occasions in Tasmania, religious or secular, in which she had no hand, either as manager, conductor, soloist, director, accompanist or costume designer. Sometimes she combined all these functions. Her teaching, which was based on a thorough grounding in enunciation and the art of breathing, was another important aspect of her career. Percy Grainger praised her pupils and Amy Sherwin, the 'Tasmanian Nightingale', considered her 'one of the best teachers of voice production' in the colonies. Lucy Benson's accompaniments were described as 'magnetic' by one commentator.

In 1913 she moved, and worked in northern Tasmania, but she returned to Hobart in 1928 and took part in broadcasting. For relaxation she specialized in violet-breeding and the raising of prize poultry. She was still organist at St Mark's, Bellerive, when 83. Predeceased by her husband, Lucy Benson died on 14 October 1943 at Sandy Bay and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. One of her sons, Charles, had a successful musical career in London.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • Examiner (Launceston), and Mercury (Hobart), 15 Oct 1943
  • Saturday Evening Mercury, 19 Jan 1974
  • family papers and scrapbooks (privately held).

Citation details

Diana Large, 'Benson, Lucy Charlotte (1860–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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