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Charles Edward Horsley (1822–1876)

by Thérèse Radic

This article was published:

Charles Edward Horsley (1822-1876), by Joseph Parkin Mayall, 1872

Charles Edward Horsley (1822-1876), by Joseph Parkin Mayall, 1872

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H15288

Charles Edward Horsley (1822-1876), musician, was born on 16 December 1822 in London, son of William Horsley, composer and musician, and his wife Elizabeth Hutchins, daughter of the composer, Dr J. W. Callcott. Horsley was a piano pupil of Ignaz Moscheles and a friend of Mendelssohn on whose advice he went to Germany to study under Moritz Hauptmann and Louis Spohr. Horsley was the prototype for the hero of Charles Auchester, a novel by Elizabeth Sheppard. He taught music and became well known as a pianist and organist. For the Liverpool Philharmonic Society he composed at 24 the oratorio David and three years later Joseph. He was organist of St John's, Notting Hill, London, in 1853-57.

Horsley arrived at Melbourne in the British Trident on 10 December 1861. He was appointed organist at Christ Church, South Yarra, but resigned after six months. In 1865 he was organist at St Stephen's Church, Richmond. In 1862-65 Horsley was conductor of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society; he won praise for his ability to conduct expressively but was said to be incapable of keeping the beat at all clearly. His cantata Comus, composed in 1854, was performed for the first time in Australia on 7 December 1862. His David was first produced in Melbourne on 30 June 1863 and he was hailed as a 'genius and an accomplished exponent of his art'. In 1866 he organized the musical festival during the Melbourne Exhibition and at the opening ceremony on 24 October conducted The South Sea Sisters, a masque written by R. H. Horne and set to music by Horsley. Always careless with money he lost heavily over the music festival and in May 1867 was declared insolvent. In June, intending to return to England, he sailed in the Wonga Wonga for Sydney where he took part in the opening recitals on the new organ of St Andrew's Cathedral and later taught organ pupils.

Horsley returned to Victoria in 1870 and was appointed organist to St Francis's Church. In April the mayor of Melbourne commissioned him to compose a cantata to a poem by Henry Kendall; titled Euterpe it was performed at the opening of the new Melbourne Town Hall on 9 August and in 1876 at the Crystal Palace, London. Though highly regarded as a musician, Horsley was eccentric and impulsive. His erratic behaviour bred scandal and he lived in one boarding house after another. In 1871 he decided to leave the colony and at a farewell concert in May an appreciative audience gave him a warm ovation. He returned to England where at Liverpool he was well received and formed the Ballad and Madrigal Troupe. In January 1873 he was appointed organist to St John's Chapel of the Trinity Corporation, New York, and conductor of the Church Music Association. He died in New York on 28 February 1876.

Among Horsley's other works was the oratorio Gideon; he also wrote chamber music, piano works, songs, anthems and a church hymnal. In Melbourne he wrote long comments for the press on musical events of note. He edited a collection of glees by his father in 1873 and his own Text Book of Harmony was published in London in 1876.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1882)
  • F. C. Brewer, The Drama and Music in New South Wales (Syd, 1892)
  • G. Peake, Melbourne Philharmonic Society: Diamond Jubilee, 1853-1913: Historical Souvenir (Melb, 1913)
  • W. A. Carne, A Century of Harmony (Melb, 1954)
  • E. N. Matthews, Colonial Organs and Organbuilders (Melb, 1969)
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Oct 1862, 10 Aug 1870
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Oct 1862, 1 July 1863, 18 Aug 1865
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 Oct 1862
  • Australasian, 20 May 1871, 25 Jan 1873, 6 May 1876
  • Annual report, 1894-95 (Metropolitan Liedertafel)
  • Guard book, 1853-87 (Melbourne Philharmonic Society).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Thérèse Radic, 'Horsley, Charles Edward (1822–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Charles Edward Horsley (1822-1876), by Joseph Parkin Mayall, 1872

Charles Edward Horsley (1822-1876), by Joseph Parkin Mayall, 1872

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H15288

Life Summary [details]


16 December, 1822
London, Middlesex, England


28 February, 1876 (aged 53)
New York, New York, United States of America

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