Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Bit of Jessie Bondage

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Or, stuff about the lady you, maybe, didn’t know...

BOND, Jessie [Charlotte] (b Pratt Street, London 10 January 1853; d Worthing 17 June 1942)

I have decided not to include in this collection of essays those performers who have had an entire book or books devoted to them … and Jessie Bond supplied her own, which is apparently (I have not read it) reasonably factual. But, in spite of the fact that the D’Oyly Carte fictions concerning her pre-Cartesian life have been largely swept away, and replaced by something nearer reality …

Anyway, I’ve decided to deal only with her early concert life and leave her when she takes to the comic opera stage.

Jessie was the daughter of John Bond (jr), a hereditary piano-maker, and lawyer’s daughter Elizabeth née Simson (m 13 April 1848), born in Camden Town, apparently in the Simson house, in 1853. She was the third child of a family which included two elder brothers and soon after two younger sisters.


The family moved to Liverpool when Jessie was three, and she studied piano with Isouard Praeger, making what appears to have been her first appearance at the Hope Hall in his concert of 18 May 1865 ‘aged 11’ alongside another local pianistic teeny aged 12. The next year (8 June 1866) the little girls repeated their act.

She subsequently studied voice with local music-master Ferdinand Alexis Schottländer, and made her public debut as a vocalist 18 November 1869 at a concert of his pupils, singing ‘Ah, quel giorno’ (Semiramide) and her teacher’s ditty ‘Oh, do say yes’. In 1871 (30 January) she made her ‘second appearance in public’ at a concert under her own name, singing ‘O thou afflicted’ (St Peter), the Dinorah goatherd song and his ‘The Spanish Beggar Girl’.

We are told that the teacher was a bad egg, and that he seduced the teenager (or worse) and forced or bamboozled her into a marriage (9 March 1870). A child was born, and died, he was allegedly unfaithful, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1872. Weird story.

Anyhow, Ferdinand whisked off to Ireland, remarried, had more children and lived long enough to see his ex-wife become a star.


Jessie was seen in Lancashire concerts for the next few years: with Mr and Mrs Howard Paul at the Royal Alexandra and the Queen’s Hall, in her first Messiah with the Liverpool Societa Armonica, singing ‘Ah quel giorno’, ‘Nobil signor’ and two of Horton C Allison’s songs at the young pianist’s concert (1872), at Birkenhead with Edith Wynne and Montem Smith in The May Queen, at Oswestry and the Liverpool Institute in more Messiahs and in a number of de Jong’s concerts in Liverpool, Bradford and Manchester (Dinorah, ‘The Sailor Boy’s Farewell’, ‘Looking Back’, ‘Ah quel giorno’, ‘Auld Robin Gray’, Randegger’s ‘Sleep dearest sleep’, ‘The Sailor Boy’s Return’ ‘quiet unassuming manner … ‘a contralto or mezzo-soprano of good quality, not however distinguished by power, and each effort was warmly received’).


She sang at the Liverpool Saturday Concerts (‘Terence’s Farewell’, ‘Wapping Old Stairs’ etc) in 1873, took the contralto music in Elijah with Edith Wynne, Bywater and Orlando Christian in Birkenhead (‘very far above the rank experience has taught us to look for in local singers’) and gave her ‘careful and finished rendering’ of The Messiah at the Liverpool Amphitheatre on Good Friday. She appeared in various miscellaneous concerts, another Messiahat Oswestry, Jephtha at Birkenhead, at Southport with Edward Lloyd, and at the Liverpool Ballad Concerts with Antoinette Sterling, Wynne, J W Turner and Whitney.
In 1876, she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music. The statement that she ‘went to the RAM [as a pianist] and discovered a voice’ is so much nonsense, as are all other versions which elide the first half dozen years of her career into almost nothing. In fact, she passed a modest time at the Academy and very quickly stopped advertising herself as ‘RAM’.

She appeared at the Aquarium with Annie Tonnellier in September 1876, but she returned to Birkenhead at Messiah time, and also gave a concert (‘of the Crystal Palace and Aquarium? … I’ve missed something! Ahha! Sullivan's Aquarium?) under her father’s management, at Douglas, Isle of Man in October. She sang ‘Ah s’estinto’ and Barnby’s ‘When the tide rolls in’ and played piano.

In 1877, she was seen in Liverpool with the Philharmonic Society alongside Mrs Osgood, Cummings and Maybrick, sang at Rivière’s proms at the Queen’s Theatre, the Scarborough Aquarium, the Glasgow Saturday Evenings, Kilburn (Balfe’s ‘Killarney’), with Helen Taylor’s lectures at Sadler’s Wells (Elijah), and with Thurley Beale in the concertina concerts at Langham Hall. On Good Friday 1878 she sang with Fred Packard in The Messiah in Liverpool.

Miss Jessie Bond seemed promised a little career, in minor and provincial concerts, to supplement her teaching activities. And then Mrs Howard Paul got terminally ill. And the tale of Jessie Bond, Savoyard, began.


She joined D’Oyly Carte to play a stripped down version of the part intended for Mrs Paul in HMS Pinafore, and stayed on to play the ‘Jessie Bond parts’ in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Which is related in detail in many books. Including mine.

She played several other engagements away from Savoy in later years (the musical comedy Go Bang, Gilbert’s His Excellency), and even pops up singing with Madame Konss-Baylis’s Gipsy Revellers in 1890, before retiring to a rather more satisfactory second marriage.

Jessie’s sister, [Miriam] Neva Bond (1854-1936) – who shows up in the Saturday concerts at Liverpool, along with Miss Florence Bond and Mr W Bond (‘cello) in 1877 -- also became a member of the Savoy company.

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