Rex’s Snippits | Grand Pianos at the BMI

It seems there may have been at least three grand pianos in the BMI, some were hired for a particular event or performance, but the main problem was getting such a large and heavy object up and down the stairs to the hall, as well as getting the piano from Melbourne to Ballarat, especially before the railway in 1862.

Grand Piano in the Humffray Room | Donated by Eileen Anderson
Piano History

1861 Letter to Mr. Charles Fanshawe, theatrical agent, from Mr. Batten of the BMI, explaining that the Mechanics’ Institute is most certainly the best place in Ballarat for a concert performance. 18-02-1861

“Your note dated 13 July reached me this morning. In reply I beg to say that our lecture hall is the largest in the colony and will comfortably accommodate 800 to 900 persons. The terms are for one night four pounds for two nights seven pounds inclusive of gas which will cost from 12/- to 15/- per night. The hall is situated exactly in the centre of Ballaarat; and with the exception of the theatres and one or two concert rooms ( not the most respectable) there is no room capable of accommodating more than 200 persons. Nor do I think that there is any likelihood of success for Miss Marryatt’s entertainment except in the Mechanics’ Hall. We have no piano but one can be hired, as there are two or three on Ballaarat for hire.”

1861 Mr. Weber to play piano at German Ball. theatre events 25-3-1861#117

1861 Advert for concert Bianchi Grand Opera. theatre events #86

1861 E R weber has piano for sale for 100 pound, used for concert by Signor Burich and still in hall. 12-1-1861 A814 (1) 814 (2)

1864 From Anderson & Co. 57 Collins st. East. Order from BMI for bass string unable to supply. (This was a 2D damper wired string) 19-9-1864, A2000

1870 Receipt from Ballarat Early Closing
association for 10 pound paid for tuning piano 12-8-70 A2734

1871 Erard piano for sale newspaper advert 19-10-71 (see Courier extract)

Section of newspaper
Courier article

1871 Claxton Auctioneers advise Erard grand piano withdrawn from sale. 1-10-1871 #1502

1874 A2078 BMI declines use of piano for hire. (it is still in the hall but it seems ownership is disputed)

1876 Nicholson & Ascherbery were paid 45 pound by Mr. Batten (BMI) for a grand piano, please advise when to dispatch A2326. 19-5-1876

1876 Letter to Mr. Batten from Nicholson & Ascherbery Pianoforte Music Wharehouse 45 Collins st. East, that they will be forwarding grand piano tomorrow. ?-5-1876 A2302

1876 Letter to BMI from Nicholson & Ascherbery. The piano was delivered to the wrong place. The Academy Of Music (Her Majesty’s Theatre, Lydiard St.) is asking the BMI to get it from their premises. 13-6-1876 A2371

1879 A second grand piano is to be put from stage into orchestra pit for opera. 17-12-1879 A3131

1886 The Christ Church Parochial Society paid for repair to 1 caster of the grand piano. 1-11-1886 A3235

1910 Suttons Music House requesting testimonial for piano repair. 21-5-1910 A5217

Suttons Music House, testimonial for piano repair.

1925 A Player Piano in use for silent movies in the theatre.

2014 A 1925 R. Lipp & Sohn Upright piano is situated on the theatre stage.

2016 Bechstein Grand piano donated to BMI by member Eileen Anderson is now in the Humffray room.

From Design & Art Australia Online biography.

” John Wesley Burtt, painter, was born in London, the eldest son of John and Mary Anne Burtt. His father John Goulson Burtt (1809 -1901) was an ironmonger. Burtt Snr arrived in Port Phillip in the Strathfieldsaye in April 1853, bringing a cargo of hardware. He established a retail store in Russell Street and appears to have made more than one voyage between England and the colony. In 1858 he again sailed from Britain with his wife Mary Anne, three other sons and a daughter, in the Eagle. The exact date John Wesley emigrated has not been confirmed, but he was resident in Melbourne by 1860 when the Melbourne Directories list him as the proprietor of a family business at the Eastern Market in Bourke Street.

John Goulson Burtt became reasonably prominent in Melbourne public life. He was a vocal advocate of social reform, a supporter of the Temperance movement and the Church of Christ. He was elected to parliament, representing North Melbourne from 1864 to 1874.

Why John Wesley Burtt chose to become a painter is unknown. It appears unlikely Burtt had any formal art training in Britain before emigrating. The earliest notice of Burtt’s work as a painter is in the Argus describing him as a “young artist” and mentioning the “…slight means he has had of acquiring art-education…” (27 August 1869 p.4).

Burtt appears to have had the support of his family in this choice of career. When the Victorian Academy of Art was established in 1870 J W Burtt is listed as a foundation member, and J G Burtt MLA as a subscriber. Burtt Snr supported the interests of his sons and son-in-law during his parliamentary career, giving rise to accusations of nepotism (see for example the Argus, 17 January 1868 p.6, 30 April 1879 p.8 and Melbourne Punch 7 March 1872 p.73). Father and son shared a home in North Fitzroy until Burtt Snr died aged 92, in 1901.

Burtt exhibited a number of works in colonial exhibitions during the late 1860s and 1870s. These were predominantly copies of paintings in the Melbourne Art Gallery (later the National Gallery of Victoria), or portraits of public figures, such as Members of Parliament.

The first public display of Burtt’s work was the inclusion of six portraits of unidentified ‘gentlemen’ and eight copies of works in the 1869 Melbourne Public Library exhibition. The copies included Rachel at the WellSheep in ReposeMelancthon and News from Australia.

Burtt exhibited these copies, and some identified portraits, in subsequent exhibitions: the Geelong Mechanics Institute exhibition of 1869, the Ballarat fine arts exhibition in July 1869 and the Intercolonial Exhibition held in Sydney during August 1870.

Burtt contributed three portraits to the First Victorian Academy of Fine Arts in 1870, copies being ineligible for hanging in the Academy show. The critics were not kind – the Argus thought the portraits of Sir Charles Darling KCB and the Hon Sir James McCulloch were characterized by “imperfect drawing” and the “Portrait of a Lady” seemed to be wearing a wig put on “all awry” (Argus 1 December 1870 p.7).

It has been speculated this portrait of Sir Charles Darling is the painting now in this State Library of Victoria collection. There is no evidence to support this claim. Indeed the portrait was presented to the National Gallery in 1890, when both the artist and his father were alive, and they would surely have claimed credit for the work if it had been painted by Burtt.

Later Burtt exhibited a View of Hobart Town in the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition of 1875, and twelve paintings in the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876 held in Brisbane. Two of his works, Suburban Melbourne and Portrait of J. Bosisto MP were included in the Victorian court of the Intercolonial exhibition held in London in 1886. In 1888 the Melbourne Turn Verein (German choral society) commissioned a portrait of their president, Her W. Weibaden, from him (Argus 28 April 1888 p.13).

The current location of these works is unknown. The only painting positively attributed to Burtt is the large work, Batman’s treaty with the Aborigines at Merri Creek, 6th June 1835, now in the State Library of Victoria collection.

Burtt died in Fitzroy in 1917. He was buried in Melbourne General Cemetery near his mother and brothers, who had all predeceased him. He left no estate for probate.”

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