Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Sampson (1861–1949)

by Betty Crouchley

This article was published:

George Sampson (1861-1949), musician, was born on 24 July 1861 at Clifton, Bristol, England, youngest child of Edward Chaddock Sampson, postmaster, and his wife Maria, née Masters. Fellow of the Royal College of Organists from 1882, taught by Sir George Riseley and Harford Lloyd, he was organist of St James', Bristol, and St Alban's, Holborn. An unsuccessful applicant for the Ormond chair of music at the University of Melbourne, he became music master at Brighton College, Sussex, in 1888, published textbooks on pianoforte and the elements of music, and was a composer mainly of sacred works, some on the permanent list of St Paul's Cathedral. Sir John Stainer considered him a musician of culture and ability.

Sampson arrived in Brisbane in January 1898 as organist of St John's pro-cathedral, sharing Bishop Webber's enthusiasm for the Anglican service's austere dignity and attracted by the four-manual Willis organ in Brisbane's Exhibition building. He designed the organ for the new St John's Cathedral in 1910 and remained its organist until 1947. Although he was thought genial and pleasant in England, Queenslanders, mostly indifferent to classical music, often found him arrogant. Unwilling to compromise his standards, he resorted occasionally to caustic comments and a 'whip-like scorn' which aroused resentment. An organists' association was formed to prevent him monopolizing the Willis organ, although it was with funds largely raised by Sampson that Brisbane was able to retain it. He later supervised its modernization before its installation in the City Hall in 1929.

City organist from 1910 to 1947, renowned for his pedal work, he won praise as an accompanist from Dame Nellie Melba. He shouldered the financial obligations of his pioneering Sampson Orchestra from 1907 until it became the Queensland State and Municipal Orchestra in 1924, donated to it his extensive orchestral library and conducted it and the Queensland State and Municipal Choir until 1937, achieving a creditable standard with both. The orthodox interpretations and unadventurous programmes, which drew occasional criticism, were largely attributable to the resources available.

'Sammy' taught organ, pianoforte and singing: his pupils regarded him with affection and respect. The best-known was Arthur Benjamin. Author of the Queensland Teachers' Music Manual (1912), Sampson lectured from 1914 to 1930 at the Teachers' Training College, where successors changed his exclusively theoretical approach. He was the Music Teachers' Association of Queensland's inaugural president, musical adviser to the University of Queensland and Workers' Educational Association lecturer. The 'apostle of rhythm', about which he wrote a book, he corresponded with Camille Saint-Saëns.

Tall, of distinguished appearance and gentlemanly demeanour, to this day the only professional musician to have belonged to the Queensland Club, Sampson dominated Brisbane's musical life for three decades. He died in Brisbane General Hospital on 23 December 1949 after being knocked over by a tram. His wife Amy Winifred, née Taylor, an accomplished musician whom he had married in St John's on 28 December 1903, their daughter and two sons survived him. A portrait by his son-in-law Charles Bassett hangs in the University of Queensland's music library.

Select Bibliography

  • Organ Society of Queensland Newsletter, Oct 1974
  • Sunday Mail (Brisb), 28 Jan 1968
  • H. M. Stowasser, The Development of the Music Curriculum in Queensland Secondary Schools (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1983)
  • A. Schultz, Brisbane Orchestras 1920-1949 (typescript, 1981)
  • Sampson papers (University of Queensland Library)
  • Education Dept, music file, A/16232 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Betty Crouchley, 'Sampson, George (1861–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 April 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 July, 1861
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England


23 December, 1949 (aged 88)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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