Some thirty years ago, maybe more, when I was at the vigorous heights of collecting musical theatre material from years gone by, Ian and I used to spend our weekends scouring the cities and towns of England for programmes, scores, music, libretti, all destined to be fodder for the factual bases of my books. It was great fun, but the collections grew to such an extent that eventually, after about book six, we sold the whole lot to Professor John Ward of Harvard University, and there it is enshrined to this day under the tender care of Ms Andrea Cawelti.
But the habits of years are hard to shake off, and if we saw a second-hand or junk shop on our travels, we still popped in just to see … We picked up a few jolly pieces in those pre e-bay days. A book of Lyster Opera Company libretti in a market in Melbourne (its now in the NZ National Library), a delicious 1901 painting (see Art and the Bikie Blacksmith) at Tahunanui junk fair,
and big bound volume of old music at an antique(ish) furniture place in Nelson. The music was a bit of a I-haven’t-bought-anything-for-a-while purchase. It was outside my area. At that time, I was only working on the musical theatre from the 1860s on, and this was much older than that. But it did include many of the ‘show songs’ of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and it was only $27.50, so I bought it, catalogued it, and stuck it on a shelf where it has gathered dust and dead flies ever since.
But now said Ms Cawelti has persuaded me to take it down, and write a few pieces about what is inside. Could be fun! So I have plucked it from its shelf, peeped inside ... good condition for a tome over 200 years old. Only the occasional tear or stain, inevitably on the first item. Binding pretty fair, with ‘Shade’s Collection’ gilded on the spine, nice bookplate, 123 separate items bound in, most dating from the late 1700s. So, ‘Shade’s Collection’?
Well, the Internet tells me that ‘George Shade was active as music seller and publisher, London; 9 Charles Street, Soho, ca. 1815-1817; East Side, afterwards 21 Soho Square, ca.1817-1840’. And, yes, most of the pieces in the volume are printed by or for him. After 1840, Shade removed, with his wife Sarah née Broxholm, to Liverpool where the 1841 census tells us he was 60 years old. So, evidently, the 1780s show songs that he published were not new hits when he did it. They were some 30 years old.
Shade evidently went into publishing earlier that the Internet says. I see him in 1909 advertising from 26 Princes Street Cavendish Square as publishing ‘The Priory of St Mary an Historical Romance by Bridgett St Hillaire’, before going bankrupt in 1812, but he kept going, with only the odd hiccup, printing, publishing and selling music right up to his death 19 March 1857 at Egremont aged 78.
I have the feeling that Shade was not a very high-class publisher, even though some of his early pieces are priced as 1s6d. The art work and the paper used are both what I would say was medium range. It seems that he published mostly well-known music at affordable prices. Not cheap, just affordable. But we’ll see. I am guessing (again) that the compiler of this book had a subscription to Mr Shade’s firm, although, in spite of the label of the binding, there are sheets from other publishers included.
The compiler. So who was the compiler? Well, we have the bookplate. Joseph Foord Wilson. Did Mr Wilson compile it or just buy it. And who was he? Well, he was born in Newburn, Northumberland on 22 December 1802. He trained for medicine, and in the 1841 census he is listed as ‘surgeon’ with a wife, Sarah, and six children, practising in Chichester. And – bingo – on 17 November 1841 the whole family boarded the London at Gravesend (father as ship’s surgeon) and set sail for New Zealand. The Wilsons were to be some of the very first settlers at the new town of Nelson.
So I guess my book came too.
Dr Wilson became a notable character in the Nelson area, involved in civic affairs as well as his duties as ‘provincial surgeon’ a post he resigned in 1856 after a cabal accused him in court of maltreating a lunatic. He lived mostly in Motueka where he died 23 August 1868, aged 66, followed by his wife Sarah 27 September 1874. His eldest son, also named Joseph Foord Wilson ‘of Wairau’ ‘of Coal Creek’ ‘of Motueka’ was also a prominent man, clerk of the Motueka Court, local Retuning Officer, Inspector of Slaughterhouses, Churchwarden of St Thomas’s. He died 21 September 1901. The next generation became dentists … and I suppose the volume of music got handed down until the multiple great-grandchildren didn’t want all those old ditties any more, and it found its way, at last, to me.
PS I see Dr W is listed in some New Zealand biography books, and that his letters are held in the National Library. They obviously didn't want his music.