Robert Sparrow Smythe was the London born eldest son of robert and Elizabeth Smith of Lambeth. He had been apprenticed to Levey and Robson of 23 Great New Street Fetter Lane as an errand boy, compositor and reader. As part of his apprenticeship was the learning of shorthand by which he could notate and find employment in other areas. By the time he was 21 years old a weak bronchial condition drove him to take the long salt air voyage to the clean aired and sunny climate of Australia. He arrived in 1855 on the ‘Kent’ as plain old Robert Smith and sailed direct to Adelaide where he had and uncle Edward and young cousins, obtaining a post on the South Australian Register as a parliamentary reporter. In 1857 he became head of the Deniliquin and Pastoral Times, negotiating one of the highest wages then for a country paper, before quitting the boredom of country life for the city of Melbourne, where he tired setting up his own paper, but having that fold, worked as an early music critic at the Argus from where he covered, in 1861, the arrival of the operatic couple, the gruff Eliodoro Bianchi, a gruff balloon of a man on thin like legs and his frisky wife Giovanna di Campagana-Casali Bianchi and the French duo of violinist Horace Rémi Poussard and violincellist (Louis) Réné (Paul )Douay.
Poussard and Douay arrived to give a concert at an art exhibition o the 4th of June 1861, and had arranged for a two local singers, Amelia Bailey and a talented amateur, Edward Armes Beaumont, then a clerk at a shipping office. Including and recognizing local talent was a source of pride and pride sells tickets. Smythe was sent along to write up the concert for the Argus and it was at the Art Exhibition he met the young Miss Bailey and Msr. Poussard, all of whom would become important to each other. Catherine Hayes, the Irish prima-donna had been in Australia in 1854 and had provided Horace with letters of introduction and Amelia had claimed in South Africa in 1869 that she had been a pupil of Miss Hayes, who by that time was dead and could not refute it nor claim to not recall. I think the best that can be guessed is that Miss Hayes spoke to one of Allan’s classes on her tour in Melbourne, or said a few words of encouragement to one or two standouts. Amelia would have been twelve at the time so could have been possible...
Amelia spent the rest of 1861 in intermittent concert giving, with Mr. Alexander in June and at the Theatre Royale in late July, stretching her wings and breaking out from under the protective shadows of the Philharmonic. In November she is back on the papers giving a concert with Maggie Liddle, the Yorkshire born singer, whose live was to become a dwindling of expectations and the eventual demise when deserted by her husband, Fred Hilton.
In April of 1862 a theatrical ad for a play called “Sea of Ice” advertised it’s coming run with a ‘Miss Amelia’ in a small part. She was never heard from again and I wodner if our Amelia had tried her had at acting to supplement the income, for she really had none of her own.
In 1862, Smythe who had just passed some profitable months in South Australia with the Bianchi’s and was back in Melbourne to take over the editorship of the Illustrated Melbourne Post, the May issue of which featured etchings of Poussard and Douay, and no doubt it was about this time that the Messrs. arranged an extended plan of tour of South Australia, with Miss Bailey as the pretty face and vocal component.
Poussard and Douay were not disciplined in the actual business of managing advertising, sales and money taking and management thereof. Smythe had a little experience of it when he had left the Argus to pilot the Bianchi’s tour of South Australia, which he knew well. He knew negotiating, a little of contract law and had a good head on his shoulders.
Late April, the Poussard-Douay Concert Party arrived in South Australia and from the time they got off the coastal ship, Smythe cracked the whip via a punishing timetable; his time the Bianchi’s had demonstrated most clearly that hotel rooms had to be payed for between concerts and that expense ate heartily into any profit made. The best was to keep expenses down was to sing daily for one’s supper.
Arriving sometime in late May 1862, by the 24th Poussard, Douay and Bailey (along with Smyteh) were at a private party in Adelaide, then a very large newspaper ‘broadside in column’ appeared for a concert at teh Adelaide Assembly Rooms. It was a capital city overture before their June Cavalry charge; Port Adelaide, Glenelg, Adelaide again, Norwood Town Hall and Kensington South. July: Kopke’s Commercial Hotel, Tanunda, Kapunda, Burra Burra, Clare, Waterdale, Kapunda again, Angaston, Tanunda encore, Gawler, Salisbury, Auburn.
August was going to be no less punitive but fate had other plans. Whether by planned revolt or just sheer fatigue or lack of enjoyment that travel affords in favour of saving the coffers, the wheels came of the carriage. Literally. Late in June, in a hurry to make it to the next town, the group set out in the late evening, in a full rain storm, with howling strong winds and and eager horseman plioting four horses, that crossed the Hutt River at full speed, breaking down. It put the brakes on the tour. the gallant Mr. Douay carried Miss Bailey to the bank and the entire party was soaked and had to return to the town they had left, hanging out clothes, instruments, underwear and sheet music all over the Hotel.
After a concert on he 12th at Wallaroo, Smythe, as usual went ahead to book a venue, arrange ads or broadsides, town criers, ticket takers, book hotel rooms and try to find a piano or organ for the concert at whatever town at which they might be advertised. Poussard however, for whatever reason decided to ignore the plan, such as it was and accepted an invitation to stay at Kadina. Smythe, having scouted ahead and having laid out monies, sued Poussard for not having turned up. Neither man a stranger to law courts the case was won by Smythe on the 30th and he and Amelia returned to Melbourne, straight into the arms of another pair of entertainers, though somewhat more odd, Chisholm and Aitken. Both Scots and wacky as a tartan rug.