Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Emmeline Mary Woolley (1843–1908)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Emmeline Mary Dogherty Woolley (1843-1908), musician, was baptized on 16 June 1843 in Hereford Cathedral, England, eldest of seven children of Rev. John Woolley, headmaster, and his wife Mary Margaret, née Turner. Emmeline spent her early years at Norwich. Appointed principal of the University of Sydney in 1852, her father reached Port Jackson with his family on 9 July. Emmeline was educated at home with her four sisters and went to Italy at the age of 15. She spent two years at Florence where she studied the pianoforte, theory and composition under the elder Alessandro Kraus and acquired 'a highly finished cantabile in playing' from Pietro Romani. Profoundly affected by her memories of the services in Norwich Cathedral, she haunted churches and became familiar with the masses of Palestrina, Pergolesi and Cherubini. At Munich, Bavaria, she was taught the pianoforte by Julius von Kolb. She returned to Sydney, fluent in Italian and German, after an absence of five years.

Her father's death in 1866 left the family impoverished. Disliking public appearances, Miss Woolley confined her professional work to teaching music. She also officiated as organist at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, for ten years and succeeded in having its old organ replaced. With Ethel Pedley, a close friend who shared her house, Emmeline formed the St Cecilia Choir for female voices in 1884.

Visiting Europe next year, Miss Woolley inspected conservatories in Berlin and Brussels, met many musicians and attended a reception given for Liszt in London. With Miss Pedley, she organized some concerts for her pupils, and others to benefit such causes as the Women's Industries Exhibition and Centenary Fair (1888) and the Thirlmere Home for Consumptives, raising over £1200 by 1895. She introduced many new works, including selections from Gounod's Redemption, Sainton-Dolby's St Dorothea and chamber music by Clara Schumann and Grieg, as well as her own compositions, some of which were published.

Described by the chancellor as 'a daughter of the university', in 1889 Emmeline Woolley joined a ladies' committee to raise funds for a women's college at the University of Sydney. She was a foundation member of Women's College council (1891-1908) and in 1895 declined Louisa Macdonald's request to act as principal because of her own impending visit to England.

As a composer, Miss Woolley was 'capable of considerable melodic inspiration'. Her triumph was The Captive Soul, written for Ethel Pedley's libretto. Scored for a chamber music ensemble, organ, two pianofortes, female choir and soloists, the cantata was performed on 11 June 1895; the choral dirge, 'Hush the spindle, hush the loom', made a deep impression and the manuscript was purchased by Novello & Co. Ltd, London. The cantata was performed in England and in 1906 by students at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide.

During her professional career, Miss Woolley was recognized as 'a pianist with a style at once scholarly and sparkling'. Dark, with strong features and hair severely drawn back, she 'ardently supported' Roberto Hazon's efforts to found the Sydney Amateur Orchestral Society and remained on its committee until 1908. After Miss Pedley's death Emmeline conducted the St Cecilians in 1898-1907. She died of cancer on 18 March 1908 at her Darlinghurst home and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. She left £2000 to her niece Freda du Faur, the mountaineer.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Performing Right Association, APRA Journal, Jan 1971, p 12
  • Bulletin, 8 July 1882
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1895, 19 Mar 1908, 28 May 1921
  • Sydney Mail, 22, 29 June 1895, 4 Sept 1907
  • Minutes of Council meetings (Women's College Archives)
  • Louisa Macdonald letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Woolley, Emmeline Mary (1843–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




18 March, 1908 (aged ~ 65)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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