Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Thomas Jefferies (1841–1920)

by Robert K. Boughen

This article was published:

Richard Thomas Jefferies (1841-1920), musician, was born on 2 November 1841 at Hoxton, Middlesex, England, son of Alfred Thomas Jefferies, embosser, and his wife Anne, née Walters. Seven years a chorister at Lincoln's Inn Chapel under Alfred Novello, he was educated at the school conducted jointly by the chapel and the choir of the Temple Church. He later studied violin at the Royal Academy of Music with William Watson and, while still very young, became choirmaster at the Alhambra Music Hall. A violinist in leading London orchestras, he formed and conducted the Saturday Orchestral Union about 1870. Concerts conducted by him at the Queen's Concert Rooms, Hanover Square, and the Music Hall in Store Street received favourable reviews.

Jefferies married Arena Mary Massie, a harpist, at Trinity Church of England, Marylebone, on 3 June 1871 and they sailed for Brisbane soon after. He farmed briefly and unsuccessfully near Gatton and made his first professional appearance as a violinist in Brisbane on 1 February 1872 with Henrietta Mallalieu as accompanist. The two later started the long-lived Monday Popular Concerts which introduced new music to Brisbane. In 1876 Jefferies formed a string quartet and, when his children grew up, a family quartet. With James Brunton Stephens he published an Australian national anthem which won some acceptance.

Soon after his arrival Jefferies had become conductor for the new South Brisbane Harmonic Society, the success of which led to the establishment of the Brisbane Musical Union; he conducted its first concert on 18 December 1872. With (Sir) Charles Lilley as president and William Hemmant as vice-president, the society offered, within its first four years, the initial Brisbane performances of Handel's Messiah, Judas Maccabeus and Israel in Egypt, Mendelssohn's Elijah and St Paul and Haydn's Creation and Seasons. Jefferies also founded the Brisbane Musical Union Orchestra and guided both organizations in 1872-78, 1880-86 and 1895-98.

He had soon begun importing music and instruments as R. T. Jefferies & Co. The partnership of Kaye, Paling & Jefferies was established in 1876 and, when it dissolved in 1881, he resumed independent management with branches in Ipswich and Toowoomba. He conducted the Ipswich Musical Society in 1876 and the Toowoomba Musical Choir in 1884. As organist of St John's Pro-Cathedral in 1873-78 and 1880-82 he introduced sung services in the English cathedral tradition. He was organist of St Mary's, Kangaroo Point, in 1893 and All Saints, Wickham Terrace, in 1882 and 1896-97.

Jefferies gradually retired from the public platform about the turn of the century, because of indifferent health. He was small and heavily bearded with a bad squint in the right eye. He had great organizing ability, high standards, energy, patience and tact. Retiring and shy of publicity, he was a martinet as a teacher. Of his six surviving children, Mary (d.1949) and Vada (d.1952) taught and performed on the cello and violin respectively. His sons Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Richard Beethoven were musically undistinguished. Jefferies died in Brisbane on 4 August 1920 and was buried in the graveyard at Christ Church, Tingalpa. Despite a flirtation with Christian Science, he was buried as an Anglican. Much of his music library was bequeathed to the Queensland Conservatorium.

Select Bibliography

  • Government Gazette (Queensland), 1876, 19, p 541, 1881, 28, p 432
  • Brisbane Courier, 17 Mar 1872, 2 May 1891, 6 Jan 1896
  • Week, 27 May 1876
  • R. K. Boughen, An Account of the Music of St John's Cathedral Brisbane from 1843-1887 (M.Mus. Qual. thesis, University of Queensland, 1974)
  • B. J. Hebden, Life and Influence of Mr Richard Thomas Jefferies (M.A. Qual. thesis, University of Queensland, 1980)
  • P. Brier, One Hundred Years and More of Music in Queensland (State Library of Queensland)
  • IMM 114, p 164 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Robert K. Boughen, 'Jefferies, Richard Thomas (1841–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 June 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

Life Summary [details]


2 November, 1841
London, Middlesex, England


4 August, 1920 (aged 78)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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