Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Leonard Francis (1866–1947)

by John Villaume

This article was published:

Leonard Francis (1866-1947), choral conductor and singing teacher, was born on 1 April 1866 at Exeter, Devon, England, second son of a manufacturer of footwear. Early experience as a choirboy in Exeter Cathedral bred in him an urge to make music his livelihood. After some demur his parents allowed him to finish his studies at the Pusey-Keith Conservatoire and with Isadore de Solla. He then embarked on the career of a concert baritone.

After visiting Australia on other business, he decided about 1900 to return permanently. Under the name Leonard Francis he came first to Melbourne but by 1903 was singing and teaching in Sydney; the Brisbane Courier of 5 June described his performance (as guest artist for the Brisbane Musical Union) in the name part of Mendelssohn's Elijah as 'a thoroughly good reading'.

He was teaching in Brisbane by August 1905 and in 1906 was offered the conductorship of the Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir whose members came mainly from the Ipswich Welsh community. Although the post involved travelling from Brisbane and back twice a week, acceptance marked a turning point in his career. In 1908 under their new leader the Cambrians became the first Queensland choir to win the major choral event in the South Street competitions at Ballarat, Victoria. In 1910 they repeated their success at a similar Australia-wide competition festival in Sydney.

The impetus thus given to competitive choral singing in Queensland was immense. Almost unchecked by World War I, it reached its peak in 1922-39. During this heyday of the Queensland eisteddfod movement at least ten other large choirs existed in Brisbane and other cities with the Ipswich Cambrians always prominent.

Francis was in demand as a teacher and adjudicator of singing but his reputation rested on his outstanding skill as a choral conductor; the Cambrians were famed for their unforgettable lambency of tone and delicacy of expression. To the audience his beat, though clear, was undemonstrative. 'I will not turn myself into a semaphore', he said, but the choir faced a pair of compelling blue eyes, capable of infinite shades of musical meaning. Although from time to time he also conducted the choir of St Stephen's Catholic Cathedral, Brisbane, the Brisbane Apollo Club and the Metropolitan Choral Society, the Cambrians were always his first love. He was eight times president of the Musical Association of Queensland. Genial and quick witted, he was a member of the Johnsonian Club and played golf from a handicap of 7.

His first wife Kate, née Bland, died in March 1903. On 5 February 1935 at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Indooroopilly, Francis married Winnie Dunoon who survived him when he died on 6 April 1947. He was cremated. There were no children of either marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • Men of Queensland (Brisb, 1929)
  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • Brisbane Courier, 5, 20 June 1903, 12 Aug 1905
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 12 Apr 1941
  • Queensland Times, 7 Apr 1947
  • Percy Brier Collection (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Villaume, 'Francis, Leonard (1866–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 July 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

Life Summary [details]


1 April, 1866
Exeter, Devon, England


6 April, 1947 (aged 81)

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