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Margaret Jane Gordon (1880–1962)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

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Margaret Gordon, by C.B. &​ Co, Talma, c.1907

Margaret Gordon, by C.B. &​ Co, Talma, c.1907

National Library of Australia, 22982594

Lady Margaret Jane Gordon (1880-1962), singer, was born on 3 March 1880 at New Quay, Cardiganshire, Wales, daughter of Thomas Thomas, master mariner, and his wife Anne. Educated privately, she studied singing with Madame Clara Novello at Cardiff and at the Royal Academy of Music, London. In 1904 she made her début in London and was engaged by J. C. Williamson to tour Australia with the Parkina-Földesy Concert Company in February-March 1905. A mezzo-soprano, she charmed audiences with the 'beautiful timbre' of her voice and her vivacity.

When the tour ended in Perth, Miss Thomas joined Williamson's Royal Comic Opera Company. Opening in Sydney on 6 May as Nanoya in The Cingalee, she surprised 'her most hopeful admirers by her aptitude as an actress'. She visited Perth and Adelaide with the company and in Melbourne in September delighted as Hélène de Solanger in Véronique. She returned to Sydney with the company in December.

Petite, with wavy, brown hair and large, expressive, yellow eyes, Margaret Thomas captivated (Sir) Alexander Gordon (1858-1942), a leading barrister, who visited the theatre every Saturday night, anonymously sending her large bunches of violets. Eventually they met and she left the professional stage in May 1906. They visited Britain and were married with Calvinist Methodist forms at New Quay on 26 September. The Gordons returned to Sydney and lived at Elizabeth Bay, where their children were born in 1908 and 1912. Gordon shared his wife's musical interests and was a vice-president of the Sydney Madrigal and Chamber Music Society and the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney.

During World War I Mrs Gordon aided the Red Cross Society and regimental and battalion comforts funds, by singing at concerts and matinées, helping at innumerable fêtes, playing in bridge tournaments and running a flower stall on Saturday mornings. On 23 June 1915 she was chief organizer of a concert at the Town Hall featuring Antonia Dolores, and herself sang 'some melodious little Welsh songs'; over £1000 was raised for the Red Cross. As the 'singing voice', she and Ethel Kelly, as the 'speaking voice', staged Henri Murger's 'La Ballade du Désespéré', set to music by Herman Bemberg, on several occasions.

Between the wars Margaret Gordon worked on committees for many worthy causes, particularly for hospitals, children and the St John Ambulance Association (she was appointed an officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1937). Becoming totally deaf, she no longer sang in public, but remained 'interested in everything'. She loved arranging amateur theatricals—including 'Violet Matinées' for the Women's Hospital and three performances of Berkeley Square at the Palace Theatre in June 1930 for the Karitane mothercraft training centre. She was also 'an indefatigable worker for the arts' and a strong supporter of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Among the young musicians she aided was Joan Hammond, for whom she organized a popular concert in 1936. She loved gardening and had a self-confessed passion for jam-making. Bilingual all her life, she kept up with the local Welsh societies.

A vice-president of the Australian Red Cross Society in 1940-47, Lady Gordon again threw herself into fund-raising during World War II. After the war she went to England, where her daughter had married. She died on 23 September 1962 at Savernake near Marlborough, Wiltshire. Her son and daughter survived her.

Her husband, Alexander Gordon, was born on 22 May 1858 in Sydney, son of Alexander Gordon, London-born barrister, and his wife Annie, née Chambers. Educated privately and in England at Repton School, Derbyshire, he returned to Sydney in 1878 to read for the Bar with Gateward Coleridge Davis and C. B. Stephen. He was associate to Judge J. F. Hargrave and was admitted to the Bar on 31 July 1882.

For many years Gordon attended the Northern Circuit and built up an extensive practice in equity, probate, bankruptcy and company law. He took silk in March 1904. Appointed to the Supreme Court Bench on 27 April 1910, he became judge in divorce and successfully put the practice of that court on a sound footing. 'One of the most able and popular judges', he was noted for his humanity. He retired in April 1928 and was knighted in 1930.

A practising Anglican, Gordon was a member of the councils of Cranbrook School and St Luke's Hospital, chairman of the Hospital Saturday Fund, a vice-president of the St John Ambulance Association and a member of the advisory board of Karitane. Dignified, with a domed forehead and a walrus moustache, he belonged to the Union and Australian clubs and, a keen sportsman, was president of the Sydney Lawn Tennis Club and a vice-president of the New South Wales Cricket Association. He died in Sydney on 7 January 1942 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at £48,967.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15, 23 Feb, 29 Apr, 8 May 1905, 1 June, 4 Dec, 1918, 9 Oct 1925, 17 Apr 1928, 3, 27 June 1930, 19 Apr 1934, 12 Mar 1936, 14 July 1937, 31 May 1940, 9 Jan 1942
  • Bulletin, 16 Feb, 11 May 1905, 17 May 1906
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 11 Mar, 22 Apr, 7 Oct, 18, 25 Nov, 23 Dec 1905, 19 May 1906, 19 Sept 1914, 10 July, 28 Aug, 11, 18 Sept 1915, 26 Aug 1916, 12 Apr, 8 June 1918, 1, 15, 22 July 1922
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Gordon, Margaret Jane (1880–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Margaret Gordon, by C.B. &​ Co, Talma, c.1907

Margaret Gordon, by C.B. &​ Co, Talma, c.1907

National Library of Australia, 22982594

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Thomas, Margaret Jane

3 March, 1880
New Quay, Ceredigion, Wales


23 September, 1962 (aged 82)
Savernake, Wiltshire, England

Cultural Heritage

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