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Nathaniel Claude Kingston (1886–1978)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published:

Nathaniel Claude Kingston (1886-1978), musician and theatre manager, was born on 19 July 1886 at Richmond, Melbourne, only child of Tasmanian-born parents Nathaniel Kingston, contractor, and his second wife Isabella, née Stanley. Educated initially at state schools in Melbourne and at Goulburn, New South Wales, Claude was sent to Wesley College, Melbourne, but left at 15 and enrolled at Bradshaw's Business College. He worked as a piano salesman and later for a grainbroker.

Determined to become a musician, Kingston studied piano and organ with Frederick Mewton and Professor Joshua Ives and taught music in his spare time. In 1905 he was appointed organist-choirmaster at Christ Church, Ormond; he transferred to the Presbyterian Church, Elsternwick, in 1908. Next year he acquired from Charles MacMahon rights to the film, For the Term of His Natural Life, which he successfully exhibited in Victoria and New Zealand.

In September 1910 Kingston was appointed organist at the Collins Street Baptist Church; he was soon given charge of the choir. At that church on 13 May 1916 he married Mabel Ella Thompson who, as Madame Ella Kingston, was to have a successful Australian concert and oratorio career, and to direct (1924-40) the church choir. Kingston produced many oratorios and cantatas at the church and at the Melbourne Town Hall, including the first Australian performance (1921) of Massenet's Marie Magdeleine, with Ella singing the leading role.

A new career opened up for Kingston after he visited the United States of America in 1919-20. On his return he worked as concert manager in Western Australia for the entrepreneur Hugh D. McIntosh. In 1921 he became director of celebrity tours for J. & N. Tait who had recently joined J. C. Williamson Ltd. Kingston spent much of his time promoting grand opera, Gilbert and Sullivan, ballet and musical comedies for 'the Firm'. Based in Sydney for nearly twenty years, he managed the Melba-Williamson opera tours of 1924 and 1928, and the visits of such stars as Yehudi (Baron) Menuhin, Mischa Levitzki, (Dame) Clara Butt and Feodor Chaliapin.

In 1940 Kingston came back to Melbourne as general manager of the organization's theatrical business. A director (from 1948) of J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd, he was made its executive-director (1958) and a director (1963) of the parent company, J. C. Williamson Ltd. In 1963 he was appointed O.B.E. He worked part time in his Comedy Theatre office until he was 85, and published his memoirs, It Don't Seem a Day Too Much, in 1971.

Some saw Kingston as a shy, charming, slightly old-fashioned figure. Others regarded him as a shadowy presence who exerted power behind the scene. In a wider sphere Kingston showed a keen interest in horse-racing and the stock market. He died on 24 January 1978 in East Melbourne and was buried in Brighton cemetery. His wife predeceased (1966) him. There were no children.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Himbury, Theatre of the Word (Melb, 1993)
  • Australian Musical News, 1 May 1920, 1 Jan 1923, July-Oct 1934
  • Collins Street Baptist Church, Deacons' minute books, 1910-44
  • private information.

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Kingston, Nathaniel Claude (1886–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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