LAST MODIFIED Thursday 6 June 2019 9:34

Walter James Turner and family

Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)


To cite this:

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "Walter James Turner and family", Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):; accessed 10 April 2020

TURNER, Matilda (Mrs. James TURNER)

Professor of the Piano

Born c.1830
Married James TURNER (b. c.1831), Claines, Worcestershire, England, 27 July 1852
Arrived Melbourne, VIC, 25 December 1852 (per Covenanter, from Liverpool, 1 September)
Active Geelong, 1850s; Melbourne, from 1860s
Died Moonee Ponds, VIC, 31 May 1894, aged "63"

TURNER, Walter James (senior)

Pianist, organist, composer

Born Geelong, VIC, 3 July 1857
Active Melbourne, VIC, by 1876
Died Melbourne, VIC, 6 April 1900, in his 42nd year (TROVE public tag)


Teacher of singing, pianist, conductor

Born Ballarat, VIC, 23 March 1862 (duaghter of William Redfern WATSON and Sarah DAVIS)
Married Walter James TURNER, St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Melbourne, VIC, 2 May 1883

TURNER, Walter James Redfern (junior)

Music critic, author, poet

Born South Melbourne, VIC, 13 October 1884 (son of Walter and Alice TURNER above)
Departed for England and Europe, 1907
Died London, England, 18 November 1946 (NLA persistent identifier)

As of June 2016, the NLA catalogue still attributes Walter senior's compositions to Walter junior

MEWTON-WOOD, Noel (1922-1953)

Pianist (NLA persistent identifier)

Cousin of W. J. Turner, junior

Danse Aboriginale (1889)

Danse Aboriginale (National Library of Australia)

"The Australian mountain forests are funereal,
secret, stern. . . . From a corner of the silent
forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire dance
natives, painted like skeletons."
- Marcus Clarke.

Sound file:

Danse Aboriginale, for pianoforte, 1889 (realised in Finale with Garritan sounds)

Download .wav file here

Coo-ee by W. J. Turner

Coo-ee, an Australian ballad (National Library of Australia) 


[Advertisement], The Argus (11 February 1876), 8

MONSTER BAZAAR, Emerald hill. - Madam Turner and Pupils, Mr. W. Forbes, Mr. W. J. Turner, Perform This Evening. Admission, Sixpence.

[News], The Argus (12 April 1877), 4

The South Melbourne Tonic Sol fa Association will give its first public performance for the year to-night in the Howe-crescent-hall, Emerald-hill. The cantata of "The Picnic" will constitute the first part of the programme while the second part will consist of miscellaneous selections . . . Mr. T. J. Lambie will officiate as conductor (for the first time with this association) and Mr. W. J. Turner will act in the capacity of accompanyist.

"NEWS OF THE DAY", The Age (19 December 1878), 3 

. . . The second part of the concert commenced with a duet on the piano and cabinet organ from Faust, which was skilfully rendered by Miss Fox and Mr. W. J. Turner.

"Parochial Intelligence", The Church of England Messenger and Ecclesiastical Gazette for the Diocese of Melbourne and Ballarat (4 August 1879), 4 

ST. JAMES'S CATHEDRAL. - The anniversary of the dedication of St. James's Cathedral was celebrated on Friday, 25th July (St. James's Day), by full choral even-song . . . The Rev. Canon Handfield intoned the services. The lessons were read by Canon Chase and Rev. C. Stuart Perry. An anthem, entitled "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?" was rendered by a large choir, conducted by Mr. W. J. Turner, the organist of the church, in a most effective manner. The attendance was unusually large, even the aisles being filled with people who could not obtain seats in the pews. The offertory was in aid of the Choir Fund.

"Marriages", The Argus (12 May 1883), 1 

TURNER - WATSON - On the 2nd inst., at St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Melbourne, by the Rev. Canon Bromby, Walter James, eldest son of James Turner, Sandhurst, to Alice May, eldest daughter of W. R. Watson, Fernville, Albert-park.

St. Paul's pro-Cathedral, Swanston Street, Melbourne, demolished 1885 (State Library of Victoria)

Exterior and interior views of St. Paul's pro-Cathedral, Swanston Street, Melbourne (State Library of Victoria). After it was demolished in October 1885 to make way for the building of the new cathedral, services were held in a new wooden temporary church on the site of the later chapter house, and later in the Athenaeum Hall. Turner resigned after a dispute with the cathedral authorities in 1890 and never got to work in the new cathedral. When it opened for services in 1891, the organist was Ernest Wood.

[News], The Argus (7 April 1887), 5 

A special service in aid of the Bishop of Melbourne's Fund was conducted by the Rev. Dr Bromby at St. Paul's Pro cathedral last night. The church was filled by a large congregation. A choral evensong commenccd at 8 p.m.. During the offertory Mr. Henry Stockwell sang Dr. Stainer's "My hope is in thee everlasting." At the conclusion of the service the choir rendered Gaul's Passion music assisted by an orchestra of amateurs, augmented by Messrs. Zerbini (viola), Meek (trombone), Cooper (clarionette), Killian (double bass), and several others. The principals were Mrs. Bethel (soprano), Miss Vera Goad (contralto), Mr. F. Bethel (tenor), and Mr. S. Moyle (baritone). Mrs. Turner was organist, and Mr. W. J. Turne conductor. The collection was £9 17s.

"Mr. Walter James Turner", Table Talk (10 May 1889), 5

Mr. Walter James Turner.

THE careers of all our young musicians betoken the development that is taking place on one side of the intellectual life of these colonies, and, at the same time, shadow forth the future possibilities of music in no uncertain light. Among these young Australian musicians Mr. Walter James Turner has attracted great notice, on account of his skilful direction of the musical services at St. Paul's pro-Cathedral.

Mr. Turner is nearly thirty-two years old, having been born in Geelong in 1857, and for several years received musical instruction from his mother, to whom he owes all his early training; but, on the family taking up their residence in Melbourne, the lad was placed under Mr. Henry Hughes to study the violin. Mr.-or, as he was colloquially termed, Professor Hughes was a musician of exceptional skill and ability, and with a true perception of talent in young students; but, unfortunately for himself, he was far too good-natured, and, with an Irishman's impulsiveness and warmth of heart, he was constantly assisting and promoting the interests of others, while he neglected his own. Among his pupils was the once favorite burlesque actress, the late Miss Julia Matthews, whose voice would have been placed in the first rank of opera-bouffe performers; but in those days opera-bouffe was only just beginning to dawn on the public. Miss Anna Ford (a sister of Mr. John Ford, the comedian) was another pupil of Mr. Hughes', and this gentleman was also the first to give Mr. John Kruse musical instruction. Kruse has now made a successful London appearance at the Chappell popular concert, where he has taken the place of Madame Neruda (Lady Charles Halle) as first violin in that famous quartette of instrumentalists. Walter Turner, who was a fellow pupil of Kruse, passed from Mr. Hughes' tuition to that of Mr. Philip Plaisted, under whom he turned his attention to the organ and abandoned the violin. About this time too he studied harmony under Herr Julius Siede.

Before completing his eighteenth year he received his first appointment of organist at the Richmond Presbyterian Church, and from this church Turner was engaged by the Rev. Canon Beecher, of St. James Cathedral, as organist and choir trainer, and so pleased was the rev. gentleman with the young man's zeal that he recommended him for the vacant post of organist at St. Paul's Church, and was mainly influential in securing the appointment for his protege, who has now held the position of organist and choir trainer at St. Paul's pro-Cathedral for ten years. A few months ago, on the conclusion of his tenth year, the choir presented him with a large frame of their portraits in recognition of his efforts, and also entertained him at supper at which the late Rev. Dr. Bromby presided. Another musical society which Mr. Turner kept together for some time was the Tonic Solfa Class, of South Melbourne. The Kew and Hawthorn Harmonic Society was also under his directorship, and in this connection his best efforts were the performance of Van Bree's "St. Cecilia's Day," with Mrs. Palmar as the leading soprano, the opera of Maritana, and several cantatas, such as Romberg's "Lay of the Bell," and Birch's "Merry Men of Sherwood Forest."

In 1888 Mr. Turner was appointed professor of music at the Working Men's College, where he has classes on Saturday afternoons, and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Referring to the progress of the students under Mr. Turner, both Professor Pearson and Mr. J. B. Zerbini warmly complimented the young teacher on the excellent work he is doing. During the season of the Adelaide Exhibition, Mr. Turner also won the good opinion of Professor Ives for his series of organ recitals in that city. Subsequently Madame Schiller placed the musical directorship of her concerts in his hands, and at the testimonial concert which concluded the first series, he was enabled to present her with a cheque for £200 as the result of the first testimonial benefit. Mr. Turner has had several ballads published in London, such as "Nor more for Thee," "Silver Sails," "You are still a joy to me," and others. He is now working in collaboration with Mr. E. J. S. Sweet, of the Age office, who has shown such a remarkable aptitude for song writing that he won the commendation of Mr. Alfred Cellier.

Of Mr. Turner's present position before the Melbourne public, nothing need be said, as his efforts in connection with the musical work of Saint Paul's pro-Cathedral are too well-known to need comment. The occasional introduction of an orchestra into the church, as when Barnaby's Rebecca, and Gaul's Passion Music was given, have won for him much popularity, and the congregation are so pleased with his work, that on the demolition of the pro-Cathedral, when the new building is finished, it is understood that some of the influential musical members of the church will endeavour to keep the choir together in order to have a continuance of its present success.

[Advertisement], The Argus (14 December 1889), 16 

Part I.
Dr. C. V. Stanford's Powerful Choral Ballad,
Conductor, Mr. WALTER J. TURNER.

Part II.
1. Scandinavian Symphony .. F. H. Cowen
(Conduotor, Mr. Hamilton Clarke).
(a)Chorus, "Lea Huguenots" ... Meyerbeer
(b) Chorus, "Der Freischutz" ... Weber
(a) "The Earl's March" (dedicated to His Excellency the Earl of Hopetoun) ... W. J. Turner
(b) "Danse Aboriginale" *
(Conducted by the Composer).
* "The Australian mountain forests are funereal,
secret, stern. . . . From a corner of the silent
forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire dance
natives, painted like skeletons." - Marcus Clarke.
4. Handel's largo .. Organ, harp, and strings
(Conducted by Mr. Hamilton Clarke).
Organ - Mr. W. J. TURNER.
Harp - Mrs. LUPTON.
5. "Saltarello" ... Hamilton Clarke
(Conducted by the composer).

Admission.-Reserved chais, 5s.; balcony, 3s.; body of hall, 2s.; south gallery, ls. Box-plan Messrs. W. H. Glen and Co., Collins street, and during the afternoon at the Town-hall yard. Doors open at 7.15 p.m. Commence at 8 p.m.
WM. GRAY, Secretary.


"Working Men's Choral Society", Table Talk (20 December 1889), 16 

Mr. Walter J. Turner's latest compositions, "The Earl's March" and "Danse Aboriginale" were played by the full orchestra. Mr. Turner has quite a knack of writing marches, and this one is as taking as its predecessors. The "Danse Aboriginale" stands on an altogether different level. It is an attempt - the first so far as we are aware - to musically illustrate the native life and scenery of Australia, The "text" is found in these words:

"The Australian mountain forests are funereal, secret, stern.
From a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant,
and around a fire dance natives, painted like skeletons."
(Marcus Clarke).

The dance is in 2-4 time, and, as one would expect, altogether in minor keys, Commencing with a passage in A minor, adagio, in tended to paint the stillness of the forest, it proceeds by modulations, through D minor and E flat minor, to the principal dance, which is in C minor. It is an original piece of music; and to those who ardently desire to see a national school of Australian art, it is a happy omen. Both these numbers were conducted by their composer, who received much applause.

"ST.PAUL'S PRO-CATHEDRAL CHOIR", The Argus (11 February 1890), 5 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS. Sir, - Referring to your leader of to-day, which la evidently based on the ordinary conditions existing between clergyman and organist, I desire to point out on behalt of the choir and myself that the arrangements made with Mr. W. E, Morris, who solicited our assistance, were of a special character. Our services were accepted upon the condition that there was to be no alteration in the musical portion of the service, that it was to be carried out by us in the same manner we had done heretofore under the late Rev. Dr. Bromby, satisfactorily, we think, or we would not have been retained for 10 years. We were not engaged by the clergyman, as is usual in the Anglican Church. The Rev. Stacey Chapman, on his return from a his holidays at the end ot January, decided that he would not continue under the above conditions, and insisted upon my signing an agreement handing over the control of the choir and the musical service entirely to him. We were exactly of the same opinion as when first asked to lend our assistance, and, therefore, had no alternative but to resign.

We are not responsible for the paragraph in The Argus of last Suturday, as it was decided on Friday evening to take no further part in the services of the church on account of the discourteous treatment received during the week following the forwarding of our resignation. I am, &., W. J. TURNER, Organist and Choirmaster. Feb. 10.

"WORKING MEN'S CHORAL SOCIETY CONCERT", The Argus (2 October 1890), 6

"NEW MUSIC BY MR W. J. TURNER", The Ballarat Star (4 June 1891), 4 

We have received from Mr J. Ewins three of the compositions of Mr. W. J. Turner, musical conductor to Ernest Hutcheson, who opens a short season at the Academy of Music to-night. One piece is the song "Love's Caress," the other "Danse Aboriginale," to be played by Mr. Hutcheson; and the third, a song, "You're still a joy to me," which has had a very successful run in musical circles. Mr Turner is a metropolitan composer with a good reputation, and the playing and singing of the pieces above mentioned will be looked forward to with interest.

"DEATHS", The Argus (1 June 1894), 1 

TURNER - On the 31st ult., at her residence, Margaret-street, Moonee Ponds, Matilda S. E. Turner, beloved wife of James Turner, and mother of W. J. Turner, G. A. Turner, Mrs. G. D. Hawkins and Mrs. Fred. Mewton, aged 63 years.

"'Coo-ee!' - An Australian Song", Weekly Times (15 August 1896), 9

[Advertisement], The Age (15 May 1897), 12 

POPULAR SONGS That Have Come to Stay, Published by W. H. GLEN and CO . . . OUR QUEEN, Song, Written by JOHN SANDES, Composed by W. J. TURNER. The title page embellished with a capital photo, of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. All the Above, Price Two Shillings Each. Post Free . . .

"DEATHS", The Argus (24 October 1899), 1 

TURNER. - On the 23rd October, at his mother's residence, "Tieri," Box Hill, William Redfern (suddenly), youngest beloved son of W. J. Turner, aged 13 years 7 months.

"DEATHS", The Argus (6 April 1900), 1

TURNER. - On the 6th April, Walter James Turner (Exhibition Concerts), dearly loved husband of Alice May Turner, in his 42nd year.

"DEATH OF MR. W. J. TURNER", Leader (7 April 1900), 24 

The many friends of Mr. W. J. Turner, musician, who was well known as an organiser of popular concerts at the Exhibition, will regret to learn that he died on Thursday. Some 12 months ago Mr. Turner, as the result of some personal worry, showed signs of mental affliction, and it unfortunately became necessary in the end to put him under restraint. He made no progress towards recovery, but, on the other hand, gradually drew worse until he died. He was in his 42nd year.

"OUR MELBOURNE LETTER", Alexandra and Yea Standard, Gobur, Thornton and Acheron Express (13 April 1900), 3 

(FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT.) A figure once well known on "the block" in front of the music shops in the person of Mr. W. J. Turner, musician and composer, has for some time been missing. It was petty generally known that Mr. Turner's mind had given way, and that he was secluded of necessity from the world. He died the other day at the comparatively early age of 42, but during the lucid period of existence made his mark in the Melbourne musical world - not so much, perhaps, as a musician, but rather as a manager. The shilling Exhibition Saturday night concerts got up by him some years ago proved a great success, and several songs arranged by him took well. It is no libel on his memory to say that he was of an excitable manner, like many other musical people, and harmony is evidently more a stimulant than a narcotic.

"CHRISTMAS MUSICAL FESTIVAL", The Argus (26 December 1900), 7

The musical festival at the Exhibition building, under the direction of Mrs. W. J. Turner, was one of the principal attractions of Christmas evening and although the temperature was rather high for indoor entertainments, the concert hall was almost filled. An excellent programme, marred only by its generous length, was presented, and comprised, in addition to the usual items of a good concert, bioscope views of incidents associated with the South African war, under the direction of Mr. Alex Gunn. The first appearance of Mr Laurance Phillip - a young pianist, who, though residing in Sydney, hails from Russia - was a matter of interest to many . . .

[Concert program] Glen's Concert Hall presents, Miss Una Bourne's piano recitals, Thursday 3rd & 10th December, [1903], accompaniste Mrs. W. J. Turner 

"THE TURNER CONCERT COMPANY", Camperdown Chronicle (15 September 1904), 2 

W. J. Turner, "Opera in English", New Statesman (16 October 1915), 40

. . . I remember when about thirteen being always moved to the nth power of tears by the ballad in Faust sung by Gretchen at the spinning wheel, beginning "Reigned a King in Thule once." The melody used to produce the profoundest melancholy in my heart, so that for the rest of the day (I would usually hear it at a mid-day rehearsal) I would eat nothing, refusing even cake in order to preserve the tragic atmosphere into which I had been transported.

"PLAYS AND PLAYERS", The Age (11 December 1937), 6 

W. J. TURNER'S play The Man Who Ate the Popomack will be followed, at the Comedy Theatre on Saturday by Gregan McMahon's revival of Bird in Hand . . .

MR. TURNER, the author of The Man Who Ate the Popomac and Jupiter Translated, is an uncle of Noel Mewton-Wood, the Melbourne boy pianist, who is now in London. In a letter to Carrie Haase, who is a busy woman these days at Kurrajong House, Mrs. W. J. Turner writes:

"Walter thinks highly of Noel's musical talent and is taking a keen interest in him and his work. He took him with him to Salzburg in August and gave him the opportunity of hearing Toscanini and other great conductors and some magnificent music. They were there nearly the whole month . . . Walter has just finished a book on Mozart, which is to come out next spring. . .

POET, dramatist, critic and novelist, Walter J. Turner was educated at Scotch College, and left Melbourne soon after, in 1909. His father, the late W. J. Turner, Melbourne City Organist, started popular concerts at the Exhibition Building. Turner the younger has written three plays, the last (produced last week) was published in 1922, and there are Smaragdu's Lover and Jupiter Translated. The last named play was staged by Ashley Dukes at the Mercury Theatre, London, in 1933. He has lectured on poetry at Oxford and Cambridge, and written critiques for the "New Statesman" and the London "Mercury." Two novels by him have been published - "Blow for Balloons" and its sequel, "Henry Airbubble." Of the latter Humbert Woolfe wrote in the "Sunday Referee": This is a most remarkable and brilliant book, and must become a classic."


London (AAP) The death of Walter James Turner, poet, writer, and traveller, occurred here yesterday. W. J. Turner was born in 1889, the son of the late W. J. Turner, organist of St Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Melbourne, was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, and became one of the outstanding poets and writers in England. He was some time literary editor of The Spectator and Daily Herald, dramatic critic of New Statesman, and musical critic London Mercury. A long list of his publications included The Hunter and Other Poems, In Time Like Glass, Music and Life, Beethoven, The Aesthetes, New Poems, Mozart. The late W. J. Turner was an uncle of the pianist Noel Mewton Wood, whose mother is at present in Melbourne.

"OBITUARY", The Age (21 November 1946), 2 

Mr. Walter James Turner, literary editor of the "Spectator," died in London on Tuesday. He was at different times, musical critic of the "New Statesman," dramatic critic of the "London Mercury," and literary editor of the "Daily Herald," before joining the "New Statesman" in 1923. Though primarily a poet, Mr. Turner was also a capable musician and critic. He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, and his father, the late Mr. W. J. Turner, was organist of St. James pro-cathedral, Melbourne. Mr. Turner served in the 1914-18 war in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

Published musical works (W. J. Turner senior)

Patourel waltz (by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen and Co., [1883])


Football for ever (song, words by E. Sweet, music by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen and Co., [1889])


Danse Aboriginale (1890)

Danse Aboriginale, for the pianoforte by W. J. Turner, performed with great success by the Victorian Orchestra (Melbourne: W. H. Glen & Co., [1890]) 

You're still a joy to me (Song by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen and Co., [1890])


In an old wardrobe (song, in memory of the late Miss Violet Varley, composed by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen and Co., [1895])


Coo-ee! (an Australian ballad) (1896)

Coo-ee! (an Australian ballad, words by Howard C. Coghlan; music by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W.H. Glen & Co., [1896]) 

The gateway (words by Howard C. Coghlan; music by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen & Co., [1896]) (second edition, [1897])


Our queen (song written by John Sandes; composed by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen & Co., [1897]) 

Gavotte fantastique (for pianoforte, composer by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen & Co., [1898])


Our love (song, words by Stewart Lockyer, composed by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen & Co., [1898])


Weed and the rose (song, words from Atlanta Constitution, composed by W. J. Turner) (Melbourne: W. H. Glen & Co., [1898])


The earl's march (1900)

The earl's march, by W. J. Turner (Melbourne: W. H. Glen & Co., [1900]) 

Walter James Turner, 1925 (photo Ottoline Morrell)

W. J. Turner junior, Sissinghurst, 1925 (photo Ottoline Morrell) detail Wikipedia Commons 

Frederick McCubbin, Princes Bridge, Melbourne

Frederick McCubbin, Princes Bridge, Melbourne c.1901-02, painted 1908 

Selected published works (W. J. Turner junior) 

W. J. Turner, "Romance", in A. Methuen (ed.), An anthology of modern verse (London: Methuen & Co., 1921), 228-29 

WHEN I was but thirteen or so
I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Took me by the hand.

My father died, my brother too,
They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
In the sunlight gleams.

I dimly heard the master's voice
And boys far-off at play,-
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had stolen me away.

I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro from school-
Shining Popocatapetl
The dusty streets did rule.

I walked home with a gold dark boy
And never a word I'd say,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had taken my speech away.

I gazed entranced upon his face
Fairer than any flower-
O shining Popocatapetl
It was thy magic hour:

The houses, people, traffic seemed
Thin fading dreams by day;
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi,
They had stolen my soul away!

W. J. Turner, Blow for balloons: being the first hemisphere of the history of Henry Airbubble (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1935) (PAYWALL)

W. J. Turner, Henry Airbubble in search of a circumference to his breath: being the second hemisphere of the history of Henry Airbubble (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1936) 

W. J. Turner, The duchess of Popocatapetl (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1939) 

Two volumes of fictionalised autobiography, beginning with his childhood and youth in Australia


C. W. F. McKenna, "Turner, Walter James (1857-1900), Walter James (1884-1946)", Australian dictionary of biography 12 (1990)

C. W. F. McKenna, "Mewton-Wood, Noel Charles Victor (1922-1953)", Australian dictionary of biography 15 (2000) 

Wayne McKenna, W. J. Turner: poet and music critic (Sydney: University of NSW Press, 1990)

Jacquetta Hawkes (rev. Sayoni Basu), "Turner, Walter James Redfern (1889-1946)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) (PAYWALL)

W. J. Turner, "Romance" - "Chimborazo, Cotopaxi" [autobiographical] Poem animation

"Walter J. Turner", Wikipedia 


A Sydney composer, also W. J. Turner (William John Turner), published The flower of Australia polka in 1861.

© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2020