Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Harold Davies (1867–1947)

by Catherine J. Ellis

This article was published:

Edward Harold Davies (1867-1947), by unknown photographer

Edward Harold Davies (1867-1947), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6114

Edward Harold Davies (1867-1947), musician and music teacher, was born on 18 July 1867 at Oswestry, Shropshire, England, fourth son of John Whitridge Davies, accountant and amateur musician, and his wife Susan, née Gregory. (Sir) H. Walford Davies was his brother. Harold attended Oswestry Grammar School and was then apprenticed in architecture, at the same time studying music with Joseph Bridge at Chester Cathedral. In 1886 he arrived at Kapunda, South Australia, and next year moved to Gawler; he formed musical societies in both towns. He was in England in 1890 where he became an associate of the Royal College of Organists and was organist and choirmaster at the Chapel Royal, Windsor Park. On 26 September 1893 at Gawler he married Ina Jane Deland; they had two daughters and three sons. Davies continued studying at the University of Adelaide (B.Mus., 1896; D.Mus., 1902, the first to be conferred by an Australian university). His examiner found him 'an enthusiastic musician of the classical school but with broad sympathies in the direction of modern romanticism'.

In 1902 Davies founded, and for twenty years conducted, the Adelaide Bach Society; as organist and choirmaster, he spent twenty years at Kent Town Methodist Church; he taught piano, organ, singing and composition both privately and at the Methodist Ladies College in 1910-19. He promoted music, through the newspapers and later by radio, speaking on such diverse topics as 'Art and materialism', 'Aborigine: a natural musician', and 'System of secondary education—does it produce real culture?'.

Davies was appointed director of the Elder Conservatorium of Music and Elder professor of music in 1919 and served twenty-eight years as dean of the faculty of music. In 1920 he founded and conducted the South Australian Orchestra and played a major role in both founding and examining for the Australian Music Examinations Board. The fine staff he attracted to the conservatorium established a firm basis for the discipline of music in the State. The faculty of music recorded that he was 'an inspiration and a stimulus to students and professionals alike … And above all he … exemplified … to a high degree the place of music in the art of living'. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Music, London, in 1931.

An interest in Aboriginal music, aroused by Thomas Draper Campbell, led to Davies accompanying members of the university's Board of Anthropological Research on four expeditions to Central and outback South Australia in 1926-30. He was among the pioneering researchers who recorded Aboriginal song (his wax cylinders are in the South Australian Museum). Early publications on this research were 'Palaeolithic music' (Musical Times Vol 18, 1927) and an article in the 1927 Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. The recordings were described by the board as 'probably the most successful attempt so far in this line of research'.

He is remembered as a person deeply interested in aesthetic values and in perfection and use of sound, widely read, sometimes intolerant, and retiring by nature; but once understood, his colleagues and students found him generous and helpful. He sought to reproduce the English musical scene of his background. Davies was forward looking and ahead of his time in many respects, but some considered that he stayed in the chair too long. He did not retire but died of a heart attack on 1 July 1947, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. J. Ellis, Aboriginal Music Making: A Study of Central Australian Music (Adel, 1964)
  • A. M. Moyle, Handlist of Field Collections of Recorded Music in Australia and the Torres Strait (Canb, 1966)
  • V. A. Edgeloe, University Children of the 1880's: Law, Medicine, Music (Adel, 1978, copy Univ Adel)
  • Music (Adelaide), Jan 1897
  • Critic (Adelaide), 20 Dec 1902
  • Australian Letters, Mar 1960
  • Miscellanea, Musicologica, 8 (1975)
  • Mail (Adelaide), 23 Aug 1913
  • Observer (Adelaide), 23 June 1923
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 23 July 1931
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 July 1947.

Citation details

Catherine J. Ellis, 'Davies, Edward Harold (1867–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Harold Davies (1867-1947), by unknown photographer

Edward Harold Davies (1867-1947), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6114

Life Summary [details]


18 July, 1867
Oswestry, Shropshire, England


1 July, 1947 (aged 79)
South Australia, Australia

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