Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jacob Richard Clarke (1822–1893)

by E. J. Lea-Scarlett

This article was published:

Jacob Richard Clarke (1822-1893), music publisher and bookseller, was born at Taunton, Somerset, England, son of John Clarke and his wife Mary, née Joggett (Jocket). He left England as a young man and after some time in New Zealand settled in Sydney about 1853. With W. P. Woolcott he formed a partnership as publishers, book, print and music sellers, in George Street, specializing in light music and compositions by colonial and visiting artists. When this partnership dissolved Clarke continued alone, his 'Music Hall' at 205 George Street becoming a popular meeting place for musicians.

In 1856 Clarke dedicated some verses to Lady Denison, wife of the governor, and set them to music, and in 1858 published Peter Possum's Portfolio, dedicated to Nicol D. Stenhouse. After adding engravings and photographs to his business he became a recognized authority on fine art. He saw his Australian Musical Albums, published in 1857 and 1863, as 'an index of our education, refinement and artistic feeling'. They abound in examples of skilled technical production, as well as comprising a representative sampling of works by Australian composers. He was one of the first Australian publishers to produce music with coloured illustrations as frontispieces. His patrons included Sir Alfred Stephen and Bishop Alfred Barry.

Clarke provided in 1874 a display of photographs for the entertainment at the opening of the Sydney General Post Office and about the same time published a series of carte-de-visite-sized views of the city. In anticipation of an increased demand during the International Exhibition of 1879 he over-stocked his shop and was forced into bankruptcy in May 1880. Reduced to the status of an agent in his own business, he was never able to recover financially. A second insolvency in 1885 ruined him completely. Meanwhile, repeated appeals to Sir Henry Parkes to procure him a post in the Agent-General's Office in London so that he and his wife could return to England brought no result. Sympathetic friends secured for him an insignificant post under the government, but even this was withdrawn after two years. He died in poverty on 12 July 1893 at Woolloomooloo, aged 71. His widow had to sell some of his papers to pay for the funeral. By his first wife Louisa Hughes, who died young, he had five sons and two daughters; his second wife Emma Jones, née Gater, whom he married on 10 April 1862 in Sydney, survived him with four sons and two daughters.

Although a failure in business, Clarke was for long a dominant figure in the emergence of Australian music. His publications provided an avenue for access to the repertoire of visiting celebrities, while encouraging the efforts of local composers. He was quick to capitalize on the enthusiasm aroused by contemporary concert performers and numbered among his correspondents such outstanding overseas artists as Catherine Hayes and Lucy Escott. It is hard to see that any cause other than sheer mismanagement should have led to his financial reverses, in view of the extensive connexions which he enjoyed among influential citizens. He was a member of the Church of England, with extreme Tractarian leanings.

Select Bibliography

  • Death of an Old Citizen [J. R. Clarke] (Syd, 1893)
  • manuscript catalogue under J. R. Clarke (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Clarke papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

E. J. Lea-Scarlett, 'Clarke, Jacob Richard (1822–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Taunton, Somerset, England


12 July, 1893 (aged ~ 71)
Woolloomooloo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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