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Franklin Sievright Peterson (1861–1914)

by Faye E. Patton

This article was published:

Franklin Sievright Peterson (1861-1914), organist and professor of music, was born in Edinburgh on 24 February 1861, son of John Peterson, merchant, and his wife Grace Montford, née Anderson. (Sir) William Peterson, principal of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, was a brother. Franklin was educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, and trained as an organist in Edinburgh and Dresden, Germany. In 1884-1900 he was organist and choirmaster at Palmerston Place Church, Edinburgh, and in 1888, under the new Scottish university extension scheme, was appointed lecturer in music. After graduating Mus. Bac. from the University of Oxford in 1892, he taught at the Edinburgh Ladies' College in 1893 and in 1894 at Fettes College, Edinburgh. He travelled extensively in Europe and was well-known in Britain for his text books on elementary theory and piano-playing, and for his contributions to major musical periodicals. He founded the Edinburgh Bach Society in 1887 and was an examiner in music for several leading institutions. On 24 December 1890 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Croydon, Surrey, Peterson married Georgette Augusta Christina Lichtenstein (1863-1947).

In 1900 he was appointed Ormond professor of music at the University of Melbourne. On his arrival in March 1901 he was described as 'tall and thin, with a small brown beard and a mass of silvery grey hair'. His predecessor G. W. L. Marshall-Hall, on his departure, had taken with him many staff and students from the University Conservatorium; there were effectively two conservatoria in Melbourne and a still-raging public controversy.

Peterson's period as Ormond professor was distinguished by practical and enduring achievements. In 1902 he established the University Conservatorium Music Examinations Board in response to a need for responsible, standardized musical education and to improve the conservatorium's financial position for which he, as director, was responsible. Replacing several overseas examining bodies, the U.C.M.E.B. offered examinations at all levels to students throughout the State, with bursaries and scholarships to the conservatorium. By 1915 all Australian universities were affiliated with the U.C.M.E.B. (from 1923 the Australian Musical Examinations Board).

From 1902 Peterson incorporated a practical chief study into the previously theoretical bachelor of music degree, thus widening its appeal. On his initiative 'normal pitch' was adopted as the official standard for musical instruments in Victoria, in line with Continental Europe.

The University Conservatorium building stands as one of Peterson's lasting achievements. On 11 April 1910 the graceful Art Nouveau structure facing Royal Parade was opened; a commemorative stone pays tribute to Peterson's efforts.

Although his reputation was largely eclipsed after his death when the university reappointed Marshall-Hall, Peterson was an innovative educationist and skilled administrator with a rigorous approach, who oversaw the consolidation of the conservatorium and its integration with the university. He died of chronic heart disease at the university on 21 June 1914; his wife, son and daughter survived him. Conservatorium students sang at the interment in Melbourne general cemetery. His portrait hangs in Melba Hall, University of Melbourne.

His wife Georgette was born in Budapest. She studied music and painting at the Royal Budapest Academy, and music in Dresden and became a portrait-painter, singer, pianist and composer of songs. In 1907 she supplied the music for Ida and Annie Rentoul's Australian song book. She formed a choir at the university and in 1907, as choral conductor for the Australian Exhibition of Women's Work, prepared and conducted a 1300-voice women's choir. With a smaller women's choir she organized activities which raised popular and financial support for Melba Hall. She died at Swanage, Dorset, England, on 19 April 1947.

Their son Franklin George Reginald Sievright (1893-1933) served with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force in World War I. He worked as a journalist on the Argus (1919-21) and on The Times (London) from 1921 as leader-writer then special correspondent.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Musical News, Aug 1911
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 15 Dec 1900, 9 Mar 1901, 27 June 1914
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24, 26 Oct, 4, 9, 15 Nov 1907, 28, 30 Nov 1908, 22 June 1914
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 25 Sept 1909
  • M. T. Radic, Some Historical Aspects of Musical Associations in Melbourne, 1888-1915 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1977)
  • University of Melbourne Conservatorium Prospectuses, 1900-14 (Melba Memorial Conservatorium)
  • Council of University of Melbourne, minute book. 1900-14 (Central Registry, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Faye E. Patton, 'Peterson, Franklin Sievright (1861–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 February, 1861
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


21 June, 1914 (aged 53)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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