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Edward John (Ted) McCann (1888–1973)

by Tom Pickering

This article was published:

Edward John McCann (1888-1973), musician and radio executive, was born on 18 April 1888 in Hobart, son of James Robert McCann, musician, and his second wife Frances Amelia, née Revis, shopkeeper. Educated at Thomas Mitchell's and N. F. Mulhall's schools, Hobart, Ted became an apprentice jeweller with Taylor & Sharp and, rejected by the army as physically unfit, was involved from 1917 in the jewellers, Finlater & McCann.

His family was devoutly Catholic (one of his sisters became a nun) and overwhelmingly musical. His father, stepbrother, elder brother and five of his six younger brothers were musicians. McCann's father was born on 28 May 1854 in Hobart Town, son of James McCann, bricklayer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Mulhall, who, it is said, brought the musical gift into the family. After spending 1872-81 in Melbourne James established himself in Hobart as music teacher, accompanist, organist of St Mary's Cathedral and pianist with the Theatre Royal orchestra. He died on 28 October 1916. His son by his first wife Margaret Jane, née Keating, James Robert junior (1878-1938), was a Hobart music teacher and wartime conductor of the Hobart Symphony Orchestra.

Ted's elder brother Arthur Francis (Frank) (1887-1966), also a jeweller's apprentice, born in Hobart on 7 March 1887, was a silent-film pianist before forming and conducting His Majesty's Theatre orchestra. He succeeded his father as St Mary's Cathedral organist in 1916, spent 1925-35 in Sydney as organist and musical director at the Lyceum and State theatres, and returned to Hobart as official accompanist with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. For many years secretary and treasurer of the Tasmanian branch of the Professional Musicians' Union, he died on 29 October 1966.

By 1920 Ted was a violinist in Frank's orchestra. Soon afterwards he established and conducted the Vice-Regal Orchestra at the Prince of Wales Theatre, and later gave performances between film screenings when the 'talkies' threatened the group with extinction. In the late 1920s he moved his orchestra into radio, broadcasting the romantic 'Golden Hour' session from the Tasmanian Broadcasters Company's 7ZL. In 1931 McCann managed 7ZL for the Australian Broadcasting Co. and next year became controller of programmes under the company. From 1946 until his retirement in 1953 he was manager of the A.B.C. in Tasmania, apart from interludes in 1946 and 1947 when he was acting manager in South Australia and Queensland and assistant controller of programmes in Sydney. Hard-working, modest and enthusiastic, he was able at a pinch to combine the roles of manager, conductor, director and producer. One of his unusual broadcasts was that of the opera Maritana performed at the Bush Inn, New Norfolk, where Vincent Wallace actually wrote the aria, 'Scenes that are Brightest'.

McCann undertook other local musical duties. Conductor of St Mary's Cathedral choir in 1915-22, he was eisteddfod adjudicator, organizer of the annual music week in the 1930s and president of the Musical Association in 1945-50. In retirement he continued his customary charitable work and acted as adviser to the radio station 7HT. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1962. He died at Lenah Valley on 18 July 1973, survived by his wife Kathleen Ila, née Tracey, whom he had married in St Mary's Cathedral on 11 September 1920, and by their son.

Bernard Aloysius (1892-1961), fourth son of James and Frances McCann, was born in Hobart on 26 October 1892. He began work as a bass player in Frank's orchestra and like Frank was secretary of the Musicians' Union. The family entrepreneur, he established McCann Bros' music warehouse about 1923 and in 1937 helped to found Metropolitan Broadcasters' 7HT of which he became chairman of directors. He took over the Theatre Royal when it was threatened with conversion into business premises and later sold it to the National Theatre and Fine Arts Society. He had mining interests, particularly at Mount Victoria and Black Bluff, was a city alderman in 1948-56 and a generous benefactor to the Catholic Church. He died in Hobart on 23 October 1961, survived by his wife Ethel Irene, née Sawford, whom he had married on 26 July 1945 at New Town, and by two sons. His estate was valued for probate at £232,255.

After Bernard's death his youngest brother Leonard Charles (1902-1974), a double-bass player, took over McCann Bros. Following family tradition, he was a life member of the Musicians' Union, organist at St Mary's and a director of 7HT.

Select Bibliography

  • Professional Musicians Union of Australia, Tasinotes, July 1974
  • Mercury (Hobart), 30 Oct 1916, 1 July 1957, 24 Oct 1961, 31 Oct 1966, 20 July 1973, 22 May 1974
  • Tasmanian Mail, 2 Nov 1916
  • NS 864/3 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Tom Pickering, 'McCann, Edward John (Ted) (1888–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 3 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 April, 1888
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


18 July, 1973 (aged 85)
Lenah Valley, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.