Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

George William Torrance (1835–1907)

by Robin S. Stevens

This article was published:

George William Torrance (1835-1907), by J. Macfarlane, 1890

George William Torrance (1835-1907), by J. Macfarlane, 1890

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/02/90/9

George William Torrance (1835-1907), clergyman, organist and composer, was born at Rathmines, Dublin, son of George Torrance, master tailor, and his wife Elizabeth, née Flinn. A chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, he attended its grammar and music schools and studied piano and organ. As a young man he was organist at several Dublin churches and at 19 he composed his first oratorio, 'Abraham', and conducted it with great success at its first performance in Dublin in 1855. In 1856 he went to Leipzig for further musical studies and on his return wrote an opera, 'William of Normandy', and in 1859 a second oratorio, 'The Captivity'. That year he entered Trinity College, Dublin, to study for the Church of England ministry (B.A., 1864; M.A., 1867; Mus.B., Mus.D., 1879). Ordained deacon in 1865 and priest next year, he held curacies at Shrewsbury, England, and in Dublin before deciding to join his brother in Victoria.

Torrance arrived at Williamstown in the Thomas Stephens on 15 December 1869. He was appointed to Christ Church, South Yarra, in February 1870 and next year became acting curate at St John's, La Trobe Street. In 1872 he was appointed acting principal of Trinity College, later affiliated with the University of Melbourne, which was opened in February. On 19 November he married Annie Julia Vaughan, daughter of a solicitor; they lived at the college until February 1876 supervising the few students then in residence. Torrance continued at St John's until 1877 when he was appointed to All Saints, Geelong. He was at Holy Trinity, Balaclava, from 1878 to 1895, when the permanent church was built to J. Reed's design and a fine three-manual organ, built by G. Fincham, was installed. Torrance also acted as organist in 1880-82, donating his fee to the organ fund.

In December 1879 Torrance was admitted D.Mus. (ad eund.) at the University of Melbourne, the first degree in music conferred by the university. On 27 June 1882 his third oratorio, The Revelation (Novello & Co. Ltd, 1899), was first performed in the Melbourne Town Hall. He visited Europe with his wife and daughter in 1886-87. Appointed an examiner of music teachers to the Education Department in 1888, with Dr S. McBurney he became a temporary inspector of singing in February 1892 to replace Dr J. Summers, but his services were only briefly required. Torrance was among the finest composers of the period; his works include numerous hymns and anthems, a chant book, and many songs and madrigals. In November 1880 as president of the Fine Arts section he addressed the Social Science Congress, Melbourne, on music; he was an adjudicator at musical competitions and an examiner to the Royal College of Music for the (W. J.) Clarke scholarships. In 1888 he formed the choir for the new St Paul's Cathedral and in 1896 was elected a fellow, honoris causa, of the Guild of Church Musicians, London. With Fincham he also advised on organbuilding for many churches in Victoria. In 1874 he was on the first committee of the Victorian Humane Society, and in the 1890s was prominent in the foundation of the Anti-sweating League. He was remembered as possessing 'much personal charm, and many lovable qualities'.

In 1895 Torrance returned to St John's, but in May 1897 his third and last surviving child died, aged 17, and on 12 October he and his wife left for Europe. Instead of returning as planned they settled in Ireland, where he was appointed chaplain to the bishop of Ossory and bishop's vicar choral at St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny; in 1900 he was made a canon, and was also cathedral librarian. Aged 72, he died at St Canice's Library on 20 August 1907, three days after his wife. A memorial service for him was held in Trinity College Chapel, Melbourne, on 29 August. There are tablets to his memory at the college and at Holy Trinity, Balaclava.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Brown and S. Stratton, British Musical Biography (Birmingham, 1879)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. B. Cooper, The History of St Kilda (Melb, 1931)
  • E. Blom (ed), Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed (Lond, 1954)
  • E. N. Matthews, Colonial Organs and Organbuilders (Melb, 1969)
  • J. A. Grant (ed), Perspective of a Century: A Volume for the Centenary of Trinity College, Melbourne, 1872-1972 (Melb, 1972)
  • E. A. C. Farran, ‘Dr George William Torrance’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 39 (1968)
  • Musical Herald (London), Apr 1892, May 1898
  • Musical Times (London), Nov 1899, Sept 1907
  • Table Talk, 8 Nov 1889
  • Illustrated Australian News, 1 Feb 1890.

Citation details

Robin S. Stevens, 'Torrance, George William (1835–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George William Torrance (1835-1907), by J. Macfarlane, 1890

George William Torrance (1835-1907), by J. Macfarlane, 1890

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/02/90/9

Life Summary [details]


Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


20 August, 1907 (aged ~ 72)
Kilkenny, Ireland

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.