Songs of Home

Violoncello, 1814 - photo © Jenni Carter for Sydney Living MuseumsReflecting on the little-known story of music making in the early colonial home, Museum of Sydney presents the exhibition, Songs of Home from 10 August 2019.

In a story never before told, Songs of Home reveals a vibrant musical culture within NSW during early settlement. Beginning with the Anglo-Australian relationship, Songs of Home also explores the first interactions between the musical cultures of the Indigenous people and colonists and reflects on the place of music in our lives today.

From the arrival of the British on the First Fleet with a solitary piano on board to the flood of imported musical instruments, sheet music and visiting international performers, early settlers made the most of the musical resources available to them.

Visitors to Songs of Home will delight in the story of this unknown musical world through instruments and objects as well as a soundtrack of almost 60 compositions, most especially created for the exhibition by Australian and British artists, including Scotland’s Concerto Caledonia and students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Providing a contemporary perspective on ideas of home, people will also be able to hear the work of five Aboriginal composers commissioned to create works that are inspired by themes explored in the exhibition.

“Most of what we know of the music of the early colony comes from the rare objects that have survived: volumes of sheet music bound by their owners, careful handwritten music copies, diaries capturing a lifetime of musical habits, and time-worn musical instruments,” said, Dr Matthew Stephens, Research Librarian, Caroline Simpson Library & Research Centre.

“This exhibition showcases the leading role that Sydney Living Museums has played in Australian music research. Instruments and rich sheet music collections at several of our properties provide insight into the tastes and practices of the people who once lived in these homes.”

Hear the earliest transcripts of Aboriginal songs, follow the story of Australia’s first piano as it made its way to Elizabeth Farm, discover a guitar once owned by Napoleon given to a teenage girl who became a Sydney socialite, view a dagger given by Lord Byron to artistic collaborator and Australian composer, Isaac Nathan and Mrs Macquarie’s cello.

Other highlights in the exhibition include the earliest surviving manuscript and print music from the colony, early band instruments, the first Australian bagpipes, a music box and barrel organ, a piano hauled over the Blue Mountains by an emigrant Scottish family in 1843, and the only known example of a phisharmonicon (a small organ-like instrument manufactured by prominent music sellers, the Ellard family).

“As well as exploring the early history of music making in NSW, this exhibition has created exciting opportunities and collaborations to bring the past to life, revealing this fascinating world of music for the first time,” said Mr Adam Lindsay, Executive Director, Sydney Living Museums.

Songs of Home
Museum of Sydney, Corner Bridge and Phillip Streets, Sydney
Exhibition: 10 August – 17 November 2019
Free with museum entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Violoncello, 1814. Harmony before matrimony, William Brocas, c1805, after James Gillray. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Gift of Miss A Stone, 1936 – photo © Jenni Carter for Sydney Living Museums